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Tail of the Dragon Ride Report

July 8, 2011

My first time on a motorcycle was a Honda Nighthawk 750 as a passenger with my sister's latest boyfriend. Instantly, I fell in love with being on a motorcycle...I wanted a bike before, but this catapulted the want into plans. My sister eventually married this guy but he sold his bike and hadn't had one since (some 18 years or so). However, I'm on my sixth bike...my ultimate goal...a touring machine capable of cross country treks as well as the day to day commute...my '99 K1200LT.*

So...my brother-in-law just recently bought a Yamaha V-Star 1300. Him and his buddies at his work planned a weekend trip to the Dragon. Those plans morphed into he and my sister trailering their bike to the Knoxville, TN area (I did tell my brother-in-law that trailers were for boats...he didn't laugh), spending the night with my uncle (who rides an HD Fat Boy), and meeting me at the Dragon (about an hour trip for them, about 3 for me). Then my brother-in-law would meet up with his buddies.*

So there's the back story...here's the ride report:
I spent Thursday evening doing the last minute things like wiping her down good since a recent ride in the rain left her rather dirty. I also packed an overnight bag just in case the weather demanded an overnight stay even though I hadn't planned to stay. I also had to put the top case back on as I had just a few days earlier, for the first time, taken it off to test out the ride. *Not a big enough difference for me to warrant losing the space, so it went back on.

Friday morning, I got up and ate breakfast and was out the door by 6:30 am. The route I had planned was Hwy 28 from Walhalla, SC directly to the foot of the Tail of the Dragon. It's 102 miles of heavenly curves and views, mountains, rivers, waterfalls...amazing stuff...amazing ride! The road surface itself could use some help in a few places...but nothing too bad. But I didn't find that out till the ride home because I took a few wrong turns on my way up.

So...now to that story. It was quite foggy that early in the morning, especially the morning after an evening thunderstorm. Unfortunately, the fog blinded all the great views (I only know because I was able to see them on the way home). *But I can't blame the weather for my wrong turn...I can only blame the age-old disease of "rubber-necking". I found myself in the beautiful town of Highlands, looking around at it's magnificent architecture and scenery and flat out missed my turn.*

Not all bad though. Google maps originally directed me up 107 through Cashiers, NC. *Hwy 64 runs through there too...when I missed my turn, I just happened to be on 64, which crossed 107 and I thought, "that sounds familiar." I stopped for my first time to check my iPhone's gps just to make sure. I was right, so I wound up taking 107 north to Sylva, right on 23 then left on 441/74...which joins up with 28...my original intended route. I only had to stop two more times to check my iPhone's gps. I say "only" because it was quite frustrating to not have my mounted gps solution rigged yet and therefore having to stop to check it so many times.*

Though not my intended route, 107 and 441/74 were nice rides. Not nearly as nice as the 28 route though! I hit a little rain here. It wasn't enough to stop 'again' and put on my rain suit though. So I just pushed through. Once 28 turned off to the north again, it was wet, but beautiful. I wanted to stop and get a snack and some gas but never found a decent spot to do so.*

By the time I got to the end of 28, it was about 10 am. I would've stopped at Deal's Gap motorcycle resort, but it was packed, even for a rainy Friday. Goldwings EVERYWHERE! (Found out later that the Honda hoot or the wing ding or whatever was in Knoxville...about 30-40 miles up.) *So I decided I'd take my first run on the Dragon and see what was on the other end.*

1st run: just me. Roads were dry as the rain stayed on the other side of the mountain on 28. First time was interesting. Not only was the road dry, but clear of almost all traffic other than 30 or 40 MORE Goldwings. The LT did an awesome job handling the switchbacks and sharp mountain curves. *The Dragon itself only takes about 20 minutes or so, it was another 10 or so to the Harley store...which I thought was a normal gas station. So I filled up, sprayed gas everywhere, and cleaned up what I could. I called my sister and they were not too far away so I said I'd stay there, grab a snack, and wait. Then I go inside to find your average overpriced Harley gear...no food, nothing to drink...just Harley junk...er, ummm, merchandise. *

So I called my sister and told her I'd come their way to try and find a gas station for a snack. I left the HD/gas station (how weird is that?) and passed through Punkin' Center, where I could've stopped, but rather than being overrun with Goldwings it was covered with HD's. It could've had what I was looking for (coke and snickers) but I wasn't sure so I kept driving and found a little gas station at 129 and 336. About the time I stepped off my bike, I see my uncle, brother-in-law and my sister (in my uncle's 'Vette) come over the hill. So I wave them down...suddenly realizing I still have my helmet on and they have no idea what my bike looks like. Luckily, they still stop, we hug and shake hands, I grab my coke and snickers, and we're on the road again.*

2nd run: I can tell from just a few curves that my uncle is a timid rider. The first really sharp one caused some terrible *but unmistakeable noise behind me and some floorboard sparks from the Fat Boy. *This naturally slows him down a little. So it's a fairly slow pace the 20 miles or so back down to Deal's Gap where they're meeting their buddies. Otherwise, it was rather uneventful.*

Arriving at Deal's Gap, we decide to see what's available for lunch only to find out that everyone else thought the same thing. The lines were 30 people long for both the food and the merchandise, so we decided that we'd ride down 129 in the opposite direction from the Dragon to see what might be available in Tapoco for lunch. Pulling out of the parking lot, I was in the lead and had to stop for another bike to enter the drive. I went to put my left foot down and there was nothing there! By the time my foot touched the ground the momentum was too much to handle and over she went! I stepped off as two guys were coming to help. Embarrassed, I said, "Yay, I get to practice picking her up!" The guy laughed and said, "I'll just be here for support then." So I got in position and began to lift. Apparently, as she went down, the little bump she was on had managed to hit the gear shift just enough to pop her up into neutral so she immediately began to roll backwards. The other guy helping grabbed the front brake and we were fine. Sweating bullets now, more-so from embarrassment than the heat, we were off and rolling south. *We had no idea Tapoco was only a name on the map, nothing much to speak of as far as businesses, *much less anything to eat. We did however see the Fontana Dam, made famous when Harrison Ford jumped from it in the movie "The Fugitive." After 15 or 20 minutes of seeing nothing more but road, trees, and a river/lake, we decided to turn around and take the Dragon back up and go into Maryville for lunch.

3rd run: rather than lead the way, setting too fast a pace, I offered to bring up the rear this time. So my brother-in-law and sister led the way, my uncle next, then me. It was fairly uneventful back up 129 to Deal's Gap, but once we hit the Dragon, about 4 or 5 turns in, my uncle decided it was time to make things interesting! A somewhat slow curve to the right with an immediate switchback to the left...he started fine in the left, but *began drifting up to the right. Rather than try to compensate by leaning further into the curve, he made the big mistake of looking at what he didn't want to do (go in the ditch) and slam on the brakes (which of course makes the bike want to stand up straight, thus eliminating the ability to turn). And from good to the ditch in about 2 seconds flat... The Fat Boy didn't like the ditch so it threw itself down in protest and my uncle too. Luckily, he probably was only going 10 mph or so by the time he met the ground face to face.*

From there, I honestly can't remember much. I pulled a little past him and tried to park so I could go help him. Since the Road was turning left but about to turn back right, the road was banked to the right already. Well, you know the stubby kick stand issue...I just couldn't find a place to park the LT where it wouldn't fall over as soon as I stepped off it (other than park in the middle of the lane setting myself up for the perfect T-bone). Luckily, there was another guy behind us who was able to help...by the time I got off my LT, he already had my uncle up and back on his bike. We rode about 1/4 mile to a paved pull off and stopped to assess the damage. No mechanical issues, but a few battle wounds. Nothing to leave behind on the infamous Tree of Shame. My uncle only had a strawberry on his left elbow and a bruised ego. We had to dig some rocks out of the brace for his left floorboard, but that's it really.*

The rest of the Dragon ride and up to Maryville was even slower than the floorboard scraping instance mentioned earlier. But that's understandable...I'm sure if the Dragon threw me in a ditch, I might approach each of its curves with a new respect too! We made it to Maryville, had lunch at TGIFridays, we calculated an alternate route back to the Dragon, and then we stopped so they could fill up their bikes.*

About now the rain started drifting in. The clouds didn't look nice so we decided better safe than sorry and put on our rain gear. The new route was to take 129/411 into downtown Maryville, take 73 to 336, then 336 down to the Foothills Parkway which T's into 129 much closer to the Dragon. However, no gps mount yet, and no street signs for Hwy numbers in downtown Maryville, called for another unscheduled stop, in the rain, to check the iPhone's gps. Once we got our bearings, we were off and riding again. We found 336 just fine. Within a few miles, the road name turned off right, Montvalle Rd, *...we chatted about it at a red light and got lucky by going straight and found a confirmation road sign within a quarter mile that we were still on Hwy 336. Whew, I thought we were going to have to stop again to check the gps!*

Not too long down the road, the rain eases up but the dark cloud straight ahead over the mountain looks ominous. But then, we see a sign for 336 turning right. Not remembering this from my look at the map, I *took the right. As soon as I did, I second guessed myself and should've listened! Even though 336 technically did turn, the route we chose from the map should've had us going straight to get to the Foothills Parkway. However, the right we took, took us to the gas station where I first met my family after my 1st run. So much for the short cut!

We start back towards the Dragon and I stopped at the HD/gas station to chat about taking off rain suits. We thankfully decided to leave them on because the Dragon was wet this time.

4th run: though not raining or even misting anymore, the Dragon was soaked. After my uncle's earlier spill, and now the wet roads, a turtle could've beaten us back to Deal's Gap! Luckily, I've been practicing my Ride Like a Pro slow riding skills! Just kidding, it wasn't that bad, but it was still very slow going. Nothing interesting here. We made it back to camp and found their buddies just getting ready to ride their first runs after trailering their bikes up from Alabama. We decided to stick around at camp, get their bags moved in, and shop in the now empty gift shop. I bought a shirt, a pin, and a single shot of Advil.*

It was time for me to say my goodbyes and get on the road back to SC knowing I had about 3 more hours of riding ahead of me. I took 28 all the way to Walhalla...I think it's nick named the "Moonshiner's Run" or something like that. As I said in the intro...this was an even better ride than the Dragon to me. The Dragon is about the road...28 has the road AND the views. Take this road at some point in your life. Trust me.*

After stopping a few times for the scenery and for dinner at Micky D's, it was about 4 hours to get home. 9 pm arrival.*

So...stats:
6:30am departure - 9:00pm return = 14.5 hours. I estimate that about 10 hours of that was actually on the LT. What a great day!
Consumed: 5 Cokes, a breadstick, a couple bites of a Cesar salad, a bowl of Mexican tortilla soup, a cheeseburger, some fries, and a snickers...and two Advil
Animals almost hit: deer, coyote, dog, kitten, squirrel, crow, man taking picture from the middle of the road
Miles travelled : 436
Avg mpg: 50.7
Avg mph: 40.1

Notes to my future self:
1. Get the gps mounted yesterday
2. Advil does a great job easing the stock seat blues on those long days
3. Too much brake at the wrong time can send you in the ditch in 2 seconds
4. Take a real map as there may not be cell service where your going, thus no data service to get to the maps on your iPhone.*
5. Don't eat salad on long saddle days
6. Dropping the LT isn't as bad as it sounds thanks to it's design
7. No words can adequately describe some views, experiences, or feelings.*

God bless. I hope you enjoyed reading this ride report.*
 

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Good job there Pastor................very good job..............I appreciated the pros.........jim
 

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Every once in awhile, someone like yourself starts a thread about riding those Nawth Gawja, SC, NC, TN roads - I read 'em and get my travelin' juices runnin' and of all the times, my Bro in Cumming, GA calls and sez "gitcher butt down here and let's ride". Well, I been promising him I would, so my bucket list just got a repeat entry - thanks, Pastor. Great read. Best regards, and glad your uncle is ok. :)
 

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Thanks for the report. I hope to go there someday. Me and a friend went to Kennedy Space Center the last week of May and I'm planning to write a ride report of that trip. Just getting my notes together.
 

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I've got some pics on Flickr, but I can't seem to post them here. I'll try to figure it out later. Good stuff!

Thanks for the views and the replies.
 

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The Dragon is a nice ride... but a lot of hype! The real ride is in getting there, once you're there the crowd of people can kind of turn you off. I've noticed the Dragon regulars who hang out at the store and ride up and back 16 times a day, some even have scraped up farings and leathers to show for it! There's the tourist, who want to just run to the top and get their picture taken, many travel from all over the country for the photo-op. There's the timid, who read about the Dragon in a magazine and should still be practicing turns in the local schools parking lot. Them there's the cars that take their half out of the middle of the lane, waiting for the timid biker coming the other way.
I'm in South Carolina myself, about 2 1/2 hours from the Dragon, I've rode it many times but after the first time the thrills kinda gone. Lot's of hype, cool shirts and stickers for the people who have to have the been there done that tee shirt.
I enjoyed your write up... but dropping the bike in a parking lot and a friend losing it on the Dragon is pushing your luck. Not just your luck but the luck of everyone else riding. Too many riders fall victim to other peoples carelessness, inexperience or just plain stupidity.
I'll stick to the mountain roads that don't offer a tee shirt or sticker but have plenty of views and clean air in front of you....
Just my 2 cents....
 

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Nice report on the "Dragon." I loved reading your commentary. Can't imagine how you remembered it so much detail.

The Dragon can be a nice ride if it isn't too crowded. The scenery is super. Too many bikes and I get nervous though....

Next time you plan to be the area, ride through southern WV. You'll have many roads to yourself and you can go for over a 100 miles and not see another bike. There are loops that go between WV and VA around the Blue Ridge Parkway that are awesome. The hills, mountains and curves are just as exciting as the Dragon and in my opinion, a lot safer.
 

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Pastor, good reading about your first time to the Dragon in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

Two things, "Fugitive Dam" is Cheoah Dam which is just down the road from Tapoco Lodge, and as far as the Hondas, they no longer have the Honda Hoot, but they may have been having their annual WingDing!

Next time you should ride the Cherohala Skyway as you were right there at it Also, if you are looking for a great place to stay while in the area, Ironhorse Motorcycle Lodge in Stechoah, NC just off of Hwy 28 is your best bet. Run by some good people.

Now that you have "broken" in your new to you bike, the rest should be gravy! :D
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Dan...I remembered it in so much detail because I resisted my usual urge to put the "pro" in procrastinate! I wrote the report beginning as soon as I got home that night and finished it up the next morning. Helps in remembering the details!

pkpr...my brother-in-law and sister with my uncle apparently rode the Cherohala Skyway. They had the same impression. I should've planned on staying overnight with them...I just had no idea there was SO much to see and ride in the area...I just thought it was about the Dragon itself.

We did luck out on that Friday ride. There was a 70-80% chance of rain, so we think that it kept a lot of people home that day (even though we only saw about 10 minutes of rain all day). I was expecting somewhat bumper to bumper traffic, but it was really light. Not quite as light as it was on Moonshiner's 28...that still was easily the best road/scenery I've had in a long time...maybe ever.

By the way...here's a pic at a boat launch on Hwy 28 in the evening...great pic of my unique white LT and the fog over the river. Love it...

 

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DanDiver said:
Nice report on the "Dragon." I loved reading your commentary. Can't imagine how you remembered it so much detail.

The Dragon can be a nice ride if it isn't too crowded. The scenery is super. Too many bikes and I get nervous though....

Next time you plan to be the area, ride through southern WV. You'll have many roads to yourself and you can go for over a 100 miles and not see another bike. There are loops that go between WV and VA around the Blue Ridge Parkway that are awesome. The hills, mountains and curves are just as exciting as the Dragon and in my opinion, a lot safer.
Now, you're giving away secrets! You're right on the money on that one! WV is the motorcyclists gem for riding. We just kind of stumbled on it, but now we go back as a group regularly. Just got back a month ago from a flawless week of riding! And you never seem to run out of roads there.
 

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Thanks for the write-up! Glad no one was seriously hurt. A couple of good object lessons and some great scenery. Hope to get over that way some day.

So many roads, so little time. :bmw:
 

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wjhanna said:
Now, you're giving away secrets! You're right on the money on that one! WV is the motorcyclists gem for riding. We just kind of stumbled on it, but now we go back as a group regularly. Just got back a month ago from a flawless week of riding! And you never seem to run out of roads there.
I had a 1,000 ft mountain (East River - now with a tunnel / I-77 I think, that goes through it) less than a mile from my house with a paved, winding 3 mile ride to the top and another to the bottom on the other side that I learned to ride on! We would race to the top and then back on 350 Honda's.

I just got "the" call telling me that my new K1600 GTL is ready to be picked up and soon I'll be heading back to WV to see how she really handles. Riding around Florida, it's hard to wear down the sides of the tires. I always go up there with a fresh set!

It's easy to spend a week or two in WV and never hit the same awesome road twice. It really is a hidden gem.
 

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1worshipguy said:
By the way...here's a pic at a boat launch on Hwy 28 in the evening...great pic of my unique white LT and the fog over the river. Love it...

I like the albino Lt. I like white vehicles period. I've never understood why more motorcycle companies don't use this color. Harley had a beauty called 'pearl', I think.
 

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wjhanna said:
Now, you're giving away secrets! You're right on the money on that one! WV is the motorcyclists gem for riding. We just kind of stumbled on it, but now we go back as a group regularly. Just got back a month ago from a flawless week of riding! And you never seem to run out of roads there.
I too just stumbled upon West Virginia last week and must agree it is a fantastic place to ride. I started from Long Island, NY and drove to Front Royal Va. I took Skyline Drive down to 33 West. This was an awesome road through the mountains. I want to get back to WV sometime this summer. If anyone can share some routes, I'd appreciate it.

Thanks,
Alan
 

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Well, I too just came back from WV this week. I rode down from Toronto (7.5 hrs)

I honestly think it's one of the best places to ride in the U.S.
Each day I rode for 5-6 hours on the most incredible twisting roads.
But the best part......there were basically NO other vehicles on the roads I was on.

The only downside of WV is there are very few hotels in the small towns. Their economy is in the tank.

I went to this website http://wvmountainrider.com/default.aspx. I took out a WV map and highlighted every route from the website. On each day I just rode and rode, connecting up each highlighted route.

There are incredible views, waterfalls, towns etc.
On some of the routes I might see a handful of cars in an hour.
Also, never saw a single police officer.
 

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Thanks for the report and the details. The Dragon is still on my bucket list but now that I've read your report, I'm convinced going without the crowds is a must.

Maybe mid week is the ticket.
 

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Great write up. Thanks for the read. It's easy to miss the turns in Highlands, "Yep! Been there and missed that!" In addition to 28 being called "The Moonshiner's Run," it is also nicknamed "The Hellbender." No intended irony toward your profession, it refers to a type of amphibian, like a salamander.

Anyway, a good story, I look forward to the next one.
 

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Have to agree with some above, the Dragon and the other twisty road Hellbender 28 are great the first time thru, but to me there are just tooooooo many curves.

The Cherohala Skyway is a much better ride....the elevation change I think is from about 1500 feet up to just under 6000 feet, all that with some spectacular views.
 
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