Reader Ride-North Carolina and Tennessee: Riding the Dragon’s Tail

Text: B. Van Sickle • Photography: B. Van Sickle, Killboy

I step back from the Tree of Shame—a tall sweetgum decorated with cracked fairings, shattered mirrors, and a hundred other brightly colored pieces of motorcycles that fell, tumbled, and broke apart on the 11-mile stretch I’m about to ride. The name of this tree is questionable. I imagine a quote from a damaged biker would be more apt.

The air is chilly but the pavement looks dry, and the surrounding woods here in North Carolina are leafing out on this day in late April. I begin to pull on my riding gloves in the parking lot at Deals Gap. The decorated tree is behind me, and its warning is already forgotten. A short distance away, a rider on a BMW raises his front wheel as he screams up the approach to the Tail of the Dragon. Riders in close fitting red-and-white armor and high-impact boots mill about in small groups preparing to follow. I give the Beemer
a minute, glance up through the trees to gathering clouds, and then snap my face shield into place. Time to go.

Eleven hundred miles of “blue highways” separate me from home. I’ve walked on Alabama beaches at sundown, admired murals of peanut farming painted on a grain silo, and while standing in weeds by a county thoroughfare in Georgia, I read a sign saying that I had arrived at Little Hope. There, I had finally shed the urge to ride long miles each day and thereafter would travel at an easier pace. I’ll travel another 9,000 miles and cross the country from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico before returning home.

But just now the Tail of the Dragon occupies my attention. Of course, there are other twisty and narrow roads surrounded by cliffs rising on one side and ravines falling away on the opposite that also provide economic benefit to the motorcycle and wheel chair industries. But everyone knows the name of this one.

Two guys on my right heave a massive cruiser from the bed of a pick-up onto a dock in the parking lot. The approach is empty. I push and hold my starter button to churn the triple beneath my seat to life. Engine temperature is good, and running lights shine on my glove when I reach forward to check them. I snick into first gear, ease out the clutch, and then turn sharply toward the Dragon.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the July/August 2014 back issue.