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The Tail of the Dragon Is No Fun (Deal’s Gap, Tennessee)

"The Tail of the Dragon is not a difficult road to ride," the official website assures wary motorcyclists contemplating navigating its 318 turns in 11 miles. And here's the official summary...

"Medical help is 30-45 minutes away. The emergency room is at least an hour away. This is no place to be injured." Or, I might add, historically speaking, killed.

So good luck to the biker(s) at the receiving end of the police car racing past me at the head of Tail. And the bikers getting medical attention from the ambulance racing past me as I left the Dragon two hours later.

Sure, the warning mostly applied to the "serious" sports bikes careening through the two-lane, freshly-paved, tree-lined blacktop. Knees-out riders on race-ready machines in full leathers, unimpressed with the cop car standing guard at the starting point.

The heads-up is also aimed at the hordes of Harley riders determined to prove their lumbering leviathans are nimble, in their own peg-scraping way.

It must be said, it's also a cautionary note for a 190-pound Wandering Jew on a 839-pound BMW carrying a 100+ pounds of luggage. A man with moderate motorcycling skills with paranoia riding pillion.

The speed limit is 40mph, but roadside signs recommend 15mph here, 25mph there and "stay in your lane" on a frequent basis.

For good reason. The Tail of the Dragon is what's called a "technical" road. It curves, dips, bobs and weaves like a LSD-infused hippie at a Grateful Dead concert. You know the term "reverse camber"? That too.

Staying in my lane was a Rubik's Cube-level challenge. Especially as there are no passing places per se, and plenty of motorcyclists ready to do so at extra-legal speeds.

Sensibly enough, there are dozens of small turnouts for slower machines to get the fuck out of the way. Which I did some five times.

I made it to the finish line with the same sense of relief I experienced at the conclusion of simunition training – with Special Forces operators determined to inflict the "pain penalty."

I pulled into the Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort to burger-up, adrenaline down and hang with the members of Dragon cult.

Wait. They sell beer?

I wasn't the only one ticking the Been There Done That box. The crowd was evenly divided between old fat white Harley guys and younger regulars. For some reason, the Tree of Shame, adorned with the wreckage of the Dragon's victims, was unattended. Go figure.

The road leading out of the Dragon was nothing like its iconic predecessor. It was the kind of sublime sweeper through verdant North Carolina countryside that Fritz and his pilot were born to ride. Just like so many of the backroads we traversed on our journey from Nashville to Knoxville.

Why would anyone in their right mind bother with The Tail of the Dragon when Tennessee and North Carolina are home to a world of two-lane twisties with minimal to no traffic (thank you Apple Maps' "avoid highways" and millions of Americans more interested in efficiency than driving pleasure).

The only drawback: laughable speed limits. Not that I was laughing when a Tennessee State Trooper pulled me over for cruising at 73 in a 45. On a wide-open six-lane road .

"You must've just come off the highway," he said, offering an excuse for my transgression. I hadn't, but I figured a head nod was the better part of valor.

"You get pulled over for speeding a lot?" he asked. "Not for years," I revealed, feeling like the world's fastest slow poke.

Old-white-guy-not-on-a-Harley privilege; he let me go with a warning: "People pull out from side roads," he warned, despite the fact that there weren't any such roads for miles and you could spot a car joining traffic from Austin.

Ambling away, Fritz and I dreamed of a two-lane curvy road with no cops, no side roads and breathtaking views of the Smokey Mountains.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is that dream come true.

Uncle Sam calls the BRP "America's Favorite Drive." This morning, the usual tourists were sleeping or at one of the dozens of churches I passed on the way to motorcycling Valhalla.

Riding the Skyline Drive bit from Maggie Valley to Asheville – motoring through and above the clouds – was easily the most beautiful, relaxing, exciting and rewarding ride of my life.

So much more rewarding than The Tail of the Dragon. As I said, that description also applies to thousands of miles of backroads in the region. To the point where I'm giving serious thought to relocating to Knoxville.

I'll report on my Marble City sojourn in another post. Suffice it to say, Knoxville is the exact opposite of the abandoned historic downtowns cited in previous reports. A perfect jumping off place for a Wandering Jew looking to settle down – for a while – in a two-wheeled wonderland.

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3 Kommentare

18. Juni

agree about skyline drive. a special part of the country.

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Chrisopher Bove
Chrisopher Bove
16. Juni

The Tail can be a fun, relaxing ride or a mean, vengeful bitch soley determined by the hubris of the rider. Totally agree, the rides to and from are somenod the most relaxing, beautiful rides to he had. No radio signal, long before cell phones. Just you, your thoughts and your pipes. As close to God as you can get.

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16. Juni

I love curvy roads like that, but it gets a bit hairy when there is also amazing scenery to distract me.

If you make it out West, try California Hwy 1 going West from Leggett to the coast. Or Oregon Hwy 3 from Enterprise to Clarkston. I know I've had a good time when my wrists and triceps hurt, and that's riding a bike that only masses about 500 lbs loaded.

Have you discovered the Butler Motorcycle Maps yet? They are a great aid in trip planning for those of us who want to stay off the main highways and seek out the curvy little rides. The downside for some people is that they are not available in elect…

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