The Dragon's Tail

Discussion in 'Blogs' started by ghrit, Nov 5, 2010.

  1. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    Rain got in the way of today's plan (Nov 5, '10), dammit, so here's what happened in May of '07, soup to nuts.

    Trip report, May 11 thru 14,2007

    I woke up Wednesday with a scratchy airway, thought the whole plan might have to be scrapped. But after a couple hours, I had it figured that it was jobsite dust rather than a URI. Much better Thursday, so changed no plans.

    First assessment is that the Dragon is overestimated, but still a fun road. Far more so riding on the sides of the tires than the bottoms.

    Friday --
    Mapquest said 8 hours, 53 minutes and 535 miles. On my clock, with a bit of 2<sup>nd</sup> gear in the mountains, it took just 10 hours and 523 miles. Following Mapquest’s directions, no hitches along the way, not one missed turn, I don’t think. BUT: Not every road was as well marked as one may like, but it worked more or less. Somehow, I wound up on Rt 19 instead of 74 which is essentially parallel. 19 is seriously narrow and twitchy, and I hit a thunderstorm of some intensity for a few miles that was nearly white knuckle. 81 was boring, and there is 390 miles of it for this trip. 40 from Tennessee east is entertaining, or it would have been had I been on the bike. Twisty, hilly, with tunnels, and with eager 18 wheelers pushing me and their luck.

    While I was still on 81, I heard a traffic report which said that another motorcyclist bought it on the Dragon, 3 injured. I tried (and failed) to remember to look at milepost 6 for any remaining indications.
    Later note: I have no idea where milepost 6 is. No signs of recent crashes, but there are a number of places where there are scrubs, rubs, gouges in the asphalt, and rubber stains and the like in the verge and occasional guard rail bend.

    The motel is neat and clean, if under amenitied if there is such a word. Has a gas station of sorts and (of course) souvenir shop. A very small (i.e., not two person) shower. Small fridge and a microwave (buy your coffee the night before and heat it in the AM.) They have a pot of pulled pork going all the time up to 9 PM and coffee with Danish in the morning starting at 8. So that is what I did for dinner Friday and breakfast Saturday. No phone (except pay) and no internet. TV limited, but at least the news comes on. Set your own clock, if getting up is required for your lifestyle; it isn’t for mine.

    The skies were threatening, but I took a quick trip up 28 after getting set up at the motel. Nice road, twisty and hilly enough to be very interesting with a couple technical challenges. (Later note, it is called the “Hellbender” with some justification.) Got to the Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort and turned back, whereupon it rained, much less interesting that way. I could feel the leather gaining weight with every mile. I’m just glad it was relatively warm. Also worth noting is that 25 mile per hour wet bullets in the face, I can live without. Had to have the visor partly open; wet on the outside, fog on the inside, and even so, the rain was falling so fast that the road couldn’t be seen except for the reflective centerline markers. Had a couple cars behind me that seemed sympathetic, they held their distance. No place to pull off for ten miles, and no shelter even then, so staying upright was the order of the evening. One minor bobble (front tried to wash out) but recovered without incidental dirt in skivvies. And, of course, the missed turn that sent me to the Fontana Reservoir Dam instead of to the motel. Really wasn’t particularly fond of that excursion, just added a couple gallons to the leather.

    Up too early, planned to do the Dragon first thing. Not. Raining. It occurred to me to have a better look around the room, and discovered that the thing in the corner is an electric heater, so now my boots went on top of it, jacket propped in front of it on a chair. Wet I can deal with pretty easily, but cold is another story. The rain will go away ---. While waiting for that sterling event, a mouse ran over my foot. The door was promptly opened, and the little bugger herded out, much too fast of foot for me to catch and flush, and had no itch to scale the laptop at him for a sure smash. The folks next door were from around Macon, GA, and tipped me to a couple local rides for later; apparently come to the Dragon often.

    It didn’t look likely to clear soon, but it wasn’t raining, so climb into the wet boots and coat and off to meet the Dragon. The road was dry, and at the north end I kept going as far as the Chilhowee Dam, then stopped for pix. A quick look over my shoulder from whence I came hinted at the next hour. So far, the score is Me, 1, Dragon ,0.

    Yep, it rained, and me 30 miles from the motel, with the Dragon laying in wait. As it turned out, the rain was not as bad as Friday, and I made it thru the Dragon with minimal difficulty. Lots of photogs at the bad turns, waiting for someone to spill. I stopped at the resort to take a break, still 20 miles from the motel. There was a video crew there doing interviews for a pilot on great riding roads, so they said. I wasn’t able to find out where or when it might show, but didn’t ask questions. I like staying out of the limelight, and there were a couple kneedragging racerboy types in full zoot more than willing to get filmed. At least one of them seemed knowledgeable. Score: Me, 2, Dragon, 0.

    With the skies still telling me that the bike is a bad idea for now, the trailer got unhitched and away I went to the Fontana Dam of the infamous Friday night visit. Did a short tour and took some pix, then some souvenir shopping, and back to the motel. The sky was less threatening by now, so on the bike, over to Robbinsville for gas, and a bit more scouting out the area. Rt 129 north from R’ville is fast, not too technical, and scenic enough if you are going slowly enough to enjoy it. The road runs along a river of particular beauty, well worth the stopping and enjoying between the bikes passing at speed. (Harley noise is what it is, and of all the scooters that come to this area, you can pick them out well before they arrive. Others seem to attract less attention.) And so, back to Robbinsville for dinner, then to the motel via Rts 143 and 28. 143 encourages you to put the hammer down, smooth and easy, not too technical. Don’t. NC staters seem to know that as well. Rt 28 from that intersection north gets a bit more technical, but very fun to run. It was still light out, so looked the bike over more or less carefully. What a mess from the rain rides. Up until dark, quite a few bikes went past.

    I woke up around 0720, had a peek out the window. Fog, fairly heavy, so hitting the Cherohala Skyway per plan didn’t happen. The point is to see the scenery, and with this fog, it can’t happen. About 1030, the fog lifted enough to make it worth a try, so out the door and on the road at 1100. Thru R’ville and out 143 to the Cherohala. FWIW, 143 is sucky between R’ville and the start of the Skyway, especially if you are behind a pontoon boat. The road is slow, medium rough, and twisty. But the clouds lifted quickly and the day turned first class.
    Just before the Cherohala starts, there is a turnoff for the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, so I went there. Lovely peaceful place, not many people, lousy with butterflies and bugs. As it gets later, the weather improves markedly. The Cherohala is great for riding or sightseeing in these mountains. (Can’t do both on a bike when hanging in the twisties, of which plenty.) Fortunately, the scenic turnouts are marked so you can plan ahead a bit and pull off for rubbernecking and picturetaking. Unfortunately, not all the best spots have turnouts. So I missed a few.
    At the beginning of the Skyway, I got to chatting with three guys from Michigan. We parted, but at the other end, I caught up with them again. We all finished off the loop together (Cherohala, Rt 360 in Tn, Rt 72, then back down 129, including the Dragon. One of the guys is 69 years old, and not too experienced a rider, but he made it thru with minimum fuss. We all stopped to help a guy that put his Harley bagger in the ditch just before we got there. Banged up, and full of adrenaline, but nothing permanent to him that we could see. The Harley seemed to be all of a piece, but seriously scratched up, maybe the front end damaged. We left before the assessment of that possibility. It still rolled, otherwise it would have taken a wrecker to get it out. As it was, it took 6 guys puffing. Traffic, of course was basically stopped for several minutes, enough to back up the knee draggers. Score: me, 3, Dragon, 0.
    We split up at the resort, the three guys to have a bite, and me to go shopping south on 129. Fred, the older guy, is done riding for today, but Ari and Marty planned to do some more. They did, passed the motel while I was sitting on the porch. Fred is longing for some straight roads, the curves drove him nuts. He nearly fainted when I told him riding on the sides of the tires is more fun than the bottoms. (They are from just north of Detroit, straight roads is what’s there.)
    So I’m at the motel, getting hungry, so I headed out to get a bite to eat at the resort. Got there too late, return to Wendy’s, then back to the motel. Loaded the bike in the trailer, and started packing up.

    Loaded out and on the road home at 7AM. I drove north on 129 thru the Dragon with the trailer, no great problems at all, and very little traffic by the time I cleared the north end. Score: Me, 4, Dragon, 0.
    The idea was to wend my way up 411 to 40 then to 81 and home. My dyslexia got me, confused 441 with 411 and found my way to Knoxville instead. I won’t tell you my impression of 40 east from Knoxville, but strongly suggest you don’t get the same impression. Other than that, the trip was uneventful.

    Was it worth ten hours to get there and another eleven and a half to get home? Worth the rain rides? Worth waiting for the fog to lift? Yes. The roads are smooth, curvy and fast (if you can avoid the cops, which are here, but not too obvious.) And when you are concentrating on technique, little aches and pains don’t register until later. Riding’s essence is the ride, not the destination, and this fit that bill. In spite of the rain, I put about 400 miles under two wheels in two days. Not a lot of riding for the real hard core, but more than I’ve done in that amount of time prior to this run. The Dragon itself is overrated, tho’ challenging enough, it is a slow ride. I was lucky, I guess, in that when I was out, not too many others were except on Sunday when the guys from Michigan and I went thru southbound; well and truly crowded then. I hear tell it is much worse later in the season.
  2. melbo

    melbo Hunter Gatherer Administrator Founding Member

    Was this the trip we came out for a couple hours to visit?
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