Oct 6, 2006

trip report - tail of the dragon...

what a busy but great two days... before i get too far into the trip, i again have to send props and thanks out to my wonderful wife. without too much detail, the kids were out of school, i was on vacation and we were supposed to do something as a family. well, appointments were scheduled during the week and we never did plan something for the family. instead, my wife talked me into taking a couple days and riding the dragon. although that's probably not totally true... my original plan was to hold out and not go - especially since we were supposed to do something as a family. my wife kept talking about me going and the thoughts of riding the dragon became too much - the next thing i knew, i was agreeing to go... so, my plan fell through - but i wasn't complaining...

wednesday morning i packed up the bike for my overnight trip. i left around noon, figuring that would give me plenty of time to get to hickory by 1600. plans were to meet doug at the hooters in hickory. he was spending the morning having his bike serviced in charlotte. i tried to get my bike serviced before i left, but it was kinda short notice. i called the dealership tuesday afternoon but they couldn't get me in that evening. the guy did offer for me to drop the bike off wednesday morning and he could get it back to me by friday... uhhhh, that's not gonna work. so, i'll get it serviced after the trip...

it was a little after three when i got to hooters. doug was already there - which surprised me a little since i wasn't expecting him until closer to four. this was either going to give us an earlier start on the rest of the trip, or some extra time to kill a few drinks at hooters. we ended up doing both... we killed a little time having some leisurely conversation and a couple drinks. i had never really thought about it, but the place is a little slow in the late afternoon/early evening. i was tempted to get my camera from the bike, but there really wasn't much reason...

after the few drinks, it was time to saddle up and head out. we managed to get going before four. the earlier start was good because it would be late by the time we got to the "inn" and it would be dark. not that i necessarily mind driving in the dark, i'm just not so sure about in on unfamiliar, twisty mountain roads.

we decided to take i-40 / rt 74 / rt 129 to get to robbinsville. we had reservations at the two wheel inn - which was just south of robbinsville. the trip from hickory to robbinsville was about four hours. while we wanted to get there, we did take our time and make it a leisurely journey. i took the lead towards the end of the trip because it was getting dark and i seem to have particularly bright lights.

we ended up missing the turn off for the inn. how the heck are you supposed to find a driveway on a two lane road in the dark without some sort of sign?? well, they do have a sign, but it's apparently not lit up at night. figgers... so we turn around and pull up to the office. as we're reading the notes taped to the office door, one of the owners comes around the corner. seems they had just closed the office and were heading home for the evening. instead of just bolting out of there, she showed us our rooms, and opened the garages for our bikes. yes, garages for our bikes.



the neat thing about the two wheel inn is every room has a garage for your bike. it's a really nice set up - and what more could you ask for?? towels to clean your bike?? they supply those. it's great being able to store the bike away for the evening. i would highly recommend the two wheel inn to anyone traveling in the area.

after unloading the bikes and getting them into the garage, we relaxed for a couple minutes. it was probably getting on ten and we were getting tired. the ride out was about 380 miles. a good ride i would say. weather was nice, not too many idiots on the road - the kind of ride you want to have...

thursday morning was up by six. kinda sleeping in for me since i normally get up at five thirty. even after the longer ride the day before, i felt rested. i peeked outside to see a fairly dreary day - i was hoping it was mostly fog and it wouldn't turn to rain. if it does rain, will i still ride the tail of the dragon?? i guess part of that would depend on how hard it was raining. assuming it wasn't raining hard enough to make it a total bust, would i still ride?? since this is my first time riding it, i would be real hesitant. in fact, i might not ride it - but that would be a bust after riding all the way out here. i'll keep my fingers crossed this is just a foggy morning and it will burn off.

i killed some time watching the news and waiting for doug. we didn't plan a specific time, so i wasn't sure what time doug would get going. i guess it didn't really matter since we weren't tied to a schedule - which is one of the beauties of motorcycling. as i was waiting, the fog was starting to burn off. they were calling for some rain, but later in the day. looks like it's going to be a good day for a great ride.

we killed an hour or two waiting for the fog to burn off. it was burning off, but slowly. we packed up the bikes, checked out of the rooms and caught some breakfast before heading up to the tail of the dragon. by the time we finished breakfast, the fog was pretty much gone and i was ready for the day.

doug led the way to the tail of the dragon. i find it's a little easier following someone on unfamiliar roads. you can watch then to see which way the road goes and you can judge the appropriate speed if they are slowing down or speeding up.

the roads leading up to the tail of the dragon are nice. not too twisty - enough to lean the bikes a bit through the turns. as we get closer, the turns start getting tighter. now i'm trying to imagine what the twists and turns are like on the dragon. will they be too much?? you hear about people wrecking... and there is the tree of shame...


but plenty of people have ridden it without problems. no need to psych myself out - if i just ride within my limits, pay attention to what i do, i will have no problems. besides, this ride up to the dragon is practice.

until we cross fugitive bridge. then the road narrows and the turns are tighter. the turns must seem tighter because the road is narrower. whatever, i figure this is going to be the way it is. besides, this is probably mild compared to the way it is. no need to panic - doug and i already said we were going to take it slow. at least the first time through.

we're cruising along the winding road, twists and turns... we pass a sign, "stay in your lane." a reminder this is a double yellow line, two lane road. then another sign, "do not cross the centerline." i don't actually remember if there were skulls and crossbones on the sign, but i do remember some sort of message of death for failing to heed the signs. hmmmmmmm, must the beginning...

twists and curves... just concentrating on the road - applying what i know about turns and counter steering... looking ahead at the line i want to follow into the turn. after the first couple curves, i can feel myself getting into a groove. of course, the more relaxed i am, the better i ride. this is actually a lot of fun. now i can understand what all the hype is about.

i'm managing to stay on my side of the double yellow, which was probably my biggest concern. i realize going off on the shoulder side of the road wouldn't necessarily be a walk in the park, but crossing the double yellow is worse in my mind. at one point, we had three or four cruisers pass us in the opposite direction. the last one was crossing the double yellow into our lane - that was not a good feeling. and now i really understand why they say not to cross the double yellow.

we were cruising along at what i think is a decent speed - especially our first time through. before i know it, i'm being passed by a sport bike. didn't even see this guy coming, next thing i know, he's between doug and me. he stays there for a couple curves and then passes doug. boom, he's gone. i can't necessarily say i agree with what he did... but i never did feel that my safety or riding was compromised by what he did - he didn't interfere with me at all. i guess i can't blame him for wanting to go faster and he managed to do it without affecting me. let him...

before long, we're pulling off at an overpass. kind of a nice break, but i was hoping to ride the whole dragon without stopping. well, i really can't complain, i needed a potty break, which some low-lying shrubs provided great cover. besides, the view was so beautiful.





after admiring the view and exchanging pleasantries with others, we hopped back on the bikes to ride to the end. i decided to lead the rest of the way... we didn't get too far before we realized the overlook we just left was the end. so we found a nice place to stop and turn around. funny, in what seems like the middle of nowhere, we find the official tennessee state toilet.


we're heading back and i'm in the lead... we only got to the overlook before we stopped again. this time it was because we were behind a ridiculously slow cage. not that we were trying to speed back through or anything, but the vehicle was going so slow i could have probably walked faster!!! we decided to let it get some distance before heading out again.

after a couple minutes of watching people come and go, we decided it was our turn again. i took the lead as we pulled out. this time through, i was going a little faster. although to someone who's ridden the dragon a few times i probably looked like a snail going through. it was fast enough for me. i seemed to take the curves a bit faster, dragging the floorboards a couple times. i was definitely enjoying the ride.

there were more people out as we rode back. some riding, some pulled over on the side of the road at pullovers. at one of the larger pullovers, there were quite a few bikes pulled over. i glanced at them, resisting the urge to watch - fearing i would end up with them instead of still on the road. as i passed them, i noticed one bike in the ditch. although it was a quick glance, what i think i remember was a white bike, harley davidson, female rider, she appeared to be okay, and there were two or three other people over there helping her. i do remember thinking how lucky the rider was to have not gone over the other side of the road.

we reached the end and we pulled into the deal's gap motorcycle resort to stretch our legs, take some pictures, buy some mementos, admire the tree of shame and be thankful no pieces of our bikes ended up on the tree today. we talked to a couple other riders, commenting on how nice the ride was, how beautiful of a day it was and each other's bikes. here i am standing at the sign...


after riding the dragon, we headed back into robbinsville. we decided to catch some lunch before heading home. well, i was heading home, doug was continuing his motorcycle adventure with a couple more days in western nc.

we ate at wendy's. while i don't usually mind fast food, i was definitely getting tired of it. i can't wait to get back home and have some real food. it seems like every meal has been fast food.

the journey home begins. it was actually a nice ride home - fairly uneventful. doug and i stay together until asheville - he split off to head a little north. i kept heading east. two stops and six hours later, i was home. and while it was an awesome trip, it sure was nice to be back home. eight hundred miles in two days - not a bad trip at all...