Quest for the Tail of the Dragon

Quest for the tail of the dragon

by Bruce Lessard


My passion to ride the tail of the dragon  became reality aug 5 leaving  toronto with an easy destination of dearborn michigan. Crossed the border and witnessed the hard times of detroit with street upon street of abandoned buildings . As soon as you cross the line at dearborn you are welcomed by starbucks and gas stations without cashiers in cages. Thus my first night turns out to be Extended Stay America totally adequate with all you need and the temptation to cook with all the facilities but trust me go with the order in pizza. I left behind a pound of cheese and a bottle of mustard as well as microwave pizza chips etc.

Day two i land in cinncinati make no mistake I75 is nothin but a quick way across a lot of flat land. One of the busiest trucking routes in North America its all about the quicker you get to your destination the better. Check out rubberonroad.com for more on that one. I maintained a 70mph average easily picking up to 80 to pass a transport or two. As i booked my first three nights in advance the second stop was Cinncinati Ohio staying at the millenium downtown.

Just my luck a bridal convention in town and hotel full of potential brides. i took a ride sans helmet as is legal in Ohio.I paid 8 bucks for parking overnight in a local lot as recommended by the concierge. Actually night security told me just drive out exit gate dont bother paying but in the morning a bike that loud commands attention which is what i got so decided to keep it on the up and up and paid up.

Day three found the geography gradually much more interesting as i rode deeper into kentucky.

Tiring and motivated by the thought of a hot shower and sleep i was feeling good.My destination in Robbinsville NC seemed close as  i took turn off for I129 as dusk was settling in after 6 miles or so on pretty much isolated  road i came across a gas station store . Jesse sitting outside informed me that Robbinsville NC was 47 miles thru the smokeys and id have to ride the tail to get there. I was at the wrong end of the dragon damn. You gotta do what u gotta do i found myself heading out in to the night with nothing but my destination in mind 50 so miles later after what seemed an impossible task i  arrived in Robbinsville.

Riding the tail at night like that is a magical experience. Lucky no bears were wandering the road that night. The number of bikes parked right out front of hotel assured me i was in familiar territory and the microtel in Robbinsville is more than you can ask for with free breakfast and friendly staff. They even supply towels just for wiping down the bike in the morning.

Across the street in the bank parking lot was a market where local farmers and artisans brought their talents and harvest to sell early saturday morning. The dragon truly earns its name my best ride ever.

Graham county is a dry county and thus the night life reflects that but after an amazing two days there i rode the dragon on my way out. By the way the restaurant at dealsgap is where you want to eat. Good food. Sunday i headed for Nashville because so close i had to see it. Sunday i was not sure whether to head home or check out Nashville which was 200 mi or so away and would change my route back to Toronto. Nashville here we come ….

My phone dead and not connecting with friends or family for days i pulled off in Knoxville at a Holiday Inn Express and asked if i could pay to use internet. The guy at the desk told me to help myself so i got out my emails, booked a room in Nashville via hotwire and planned my trip home. Nashville is definitely the place to go for music. Most bars on the strip had entertainment even though it was Sunday night and even my hotel (Hotel Indigo) which i highly recommend had songwriters night.  I never thought id complain about the heat but it was incredibly hot with the sun beating down and temps averaging about 100 degrees day and night. The temptation to ride without helmet was now what seemed absolutely necessary. Next day Nashville to Indianapolis another 300 mi or so also without helmet. Obviously the helmet is a life saver but i must admit it was a very liberating experience.

I had planned to stay in Windsor on my way home but the thought of waking up in my own bed was too tempting. I questioned my reason as i maintained approx 80 mi an hour down a stretch of the 401 that seemed to go on forever. I finally made it home and when i looked at clock i couldnt believe it was 2:30 in the morning. I had left Indy at appr noon so twelve and a half hours later.

I have to say Vera made it all possible. The 2006 1200 Harley Sportster XL (formerly Bucks ride) took me there and back under some pretty grueling conditions without a hitch. Altogether over 2300 miles from wednesday to wednesday. An amazing trip and just a taste of whats to come im definitely still a rookie but there is no better way to learn than to pack up and hit the road. The rest will take care of itself.

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Day Three: Time to Hit the Tail! But the Victory is Bitter Sweet

Day 3 miles 600-920

Bad news, today it turns out I had to part ways with my travel companions. I took Brent to the dealership this morning to see what could be done. They said they’d take a look as soon as possible and even guessed that the problem might not be as bad as we guessed (just some dirty carbs). I had figured that if we could get out by 1 or 2 and the repairs wouldn’t be too expensive, then we could all make it to the tail of the dragon. Unfortunately, by 12 they had not yet gotten to his bike. So, because of time and financial constraints on all sides, and after a sad farewell, I decided to push on. We thought that if the bike turned out to be done early enough, they should give me a call and I’d wait up down the road, but I didn’t end up hearing from them.

For the rest of the day for me, I knew I had to put some miles behind me because of the late start, and I at least wanted to hit the beginning of the Tail by the end of the day. So after high tailing it to Knocksville, I made it to rt. 129 which would lead me into the mountains and straight to the tail of the dragon.

The beginning of rt. 129 is pretty boring as you go through towns, but then it starts to get so scenic and the roads so windy that I didn’t even notice when I had started on the Tail. Of course, once you start to see that there is no more straight aways and you’re making 180 degree turns, it’s hard not to notice. The driving though was fantastic. As with skyline drive, the weather was perfect and the road was packed with bikes (much fewer cars this time though). However, with around 318 turns in 11 miles, this ride was slightly more challenging. A drive like that can really show you what your shortcomings are as a driver. Needless to say, I didn’t set any time records navigating it, but I made it all the way through (though I think I’ve scraped my footpegs more times in the past 3 days then in my full 3 years since I started riding).

The end at Deels Gap is quite a site. There’s a nice big biker tavern/motel right off the side with plenty of signs advertising the Tail, plus souvenirs inside (I got a T-shirt). Most notable though has got to be the tree of shame, which has parts of some of the bikes the Tail has claimed (on a more somber note, throughout the route there are little memorials set up for the lives that it has claimed).

Once I got through, it was around 6 and so only a couple of hours of daylight left. Even though I was done the more dangerous part, I was still in the park and didn’t want to get caught driving after dark. So after about an hour of navigating through the park, and taking a few side roads, I managed to find a nice spot right off the road and next to a lake. So I set up my tent for the first time of the trip, collected some wood for a fire, and cooked up some Mac and cheese. I was having some trouble lighting the fire for a while and so out of desperation I thought I’d try something. I had brought with me some Chinese liquor called baijiu, which is 56% alcohol and in all honesty tastes like lighter fluid, so, I thought, why not give it a shot! And whadya know, after soaking some cardboard in the stuff, it lit right away. So bottoms up and “ganbei,” this ones for Brent and Pam! Hope everything gets sorted out, drive safe, and it was great riding with you for the time we had, miss you guys already!