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US 129 Sign  

Riding the 
Tail of the Dragon

"Riding a couple of thousand miles doesn't seem that far if you get to ride the Tail of the Dragon."  




Friday  1st Aug 2008



I love to ride.  I put over 16,000 miles on the bike in a little over a year.  I don't go very far from home and I ride mostly on the weekends.  A quick ride to Oklahoma or down to Santo, Texas which is one gas tank away.  I wanted to ride somewhere.  I was looking for a destination and then I thought, "How about Deals Gap, North Carolina?"  It is one of the best motorcycle roads in the country and it is about the same distance from Rochester, New York as is it from Fort Worth, Texas.    I decide to invite my Brother In-Law and copy my sister since they both ride.  My sister was a little offended since I didn't really invite her.  I tell her that I'd love it if she would come but I didn't think she would want to ride a couple of thousand miles in four days.

She tells me she would love to do it so we have a destination, US 129  in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina .  She is a teacher so it will have to be in the dead of summer. I figure that it isn't going to be hotter than Texas so I'm up for it.
GPS Reading

GPS showing my starting mileage and a much dirtier GPS showing my ending mileage.  2,255.3 miles at an average speed of 60 mph with thirty-seven and half hours in the saddle. Starting the trip with a "Brake Failure" warning would bother some people but BMW can't test the system until you get the bike moving, stopping is so overrated.   My son commented on my 93.8 mph max speed but I explained it must be a glitch in the software. He didn't notice the "Reset Max" button which I have a tendency to push when I see blue lights flashing in my review mirrors.

Hotel in Memphis

I drive 500 miles the first day and  park my bike outside my hotel window.  I put my alarmed disk lock on it and head across the street to the "Texas Roadhouse" for dinner.  I try to go to sleep around 9:00 p.m but wake up at 10:00 p.m. to find some guy parked in the handicapped  spot next to my bike checking it out. He jumps on his cell phone and starts to talk.  I watch a little TV and the next time I look out the window he is sitting in a folding chair, next to my bike and his car. He is still on the phone.  I try and get some sleep but wake up every 45 minutes, look out the window and see him on the phone or see his empty chair.  I give up about 4:30 a.m turn on my light and get dressed, by the time I get out to the parking lot he is gone.  I really don't know what he was doing.  Maybe he was a security guard and was keeping a eye on my motorcycle. If he was, he didn't make me feel any safer. 

Sunrise outside of Memphis on Interstate 40

I run down Interstate 40 and see a great shot of the sunrise framed by a overpass, of course if I stopped to take it I would have been killed by all the trucks coming out of Memphis. I take this shot a few miles down the road.   I'm making good time.  I planned on stopping in Memphis 502 miles from my house as you can see on the GPS in the first photo.  I have another 428 miles to go before I get into Deals Gap.  I should be there by 3:00 p.m., even with a lunch break and stopping for fuel. 

I don't have many pictures of me riding my motorcycle because it's hard to ask someone to stand on the side of the road and take your picture.  I also worry that if someone is taking my photo I might do something stupid to impress them.  I get to the Tail of the Dragon around 2:30 p.m. and this road is covered with photographers.  I see at least five and they take so many photographs that even I get bored looking at them. Of course between my sister, her husband, and me, we spend about $200 on photos so I guess it's worth their time.  That also means that this blog will be kind of heavy with photos. 

Not hanging off but a good turn
 Photo by Killboy.com

US 129 is pretty long.  When I first turn on to it, it's called airport highway since it runs past the Knoxville airport  (McGhee Tyson Airport). I figure it will get very twisty once I get off the main drag.  It gets more rural and has some nice turns but nothing to write home about and certainly not worth driving a thousand miles to ride.   I get to Punkin Center and I'm wondering if this is going to be a big disappointment. It has a sign saying  "The Dragon  US 129  T-Shirts, Caps & more"   I ride right pass it and I'm still not too impressed.   I hit Caldenwood and the road goes nuts. It is like riding a roller coaster except you know that the only thing keeping you on the rails is your own skill and the big black asphalt colored streak on my cylinder covers is a pretty good reminder that my skill hasn't always kept my bike upright. 

They talk about "Slaying the Dragon"   I survived it, but I definitely didn't slay it the first time through.  I was thinking about turning around and making another run but I was suppose to meet my Sister and Brother In-Law at the hotel which was about an hour away.   I figured that we might hook up then come back and run the Dragon.  I pulled off the Dragon and rode "Hellbender 28" back toward the hotel not knowing that is a pretty serious road so I was surprised by some of the twisties.   I got to the hotel about 4:00 p.m, stripped off my bags, locked the bike, go to my room and fall asleep.   It was a long day.  I get a knock at my door around 5:30 saying, "Room Service."  It is my sister but they are a little too tired to drive the hour down to the Dragon so we walk across the street to the Casino and I make them buy me dinner. 

We call it an early night and decide to meet for breakfast at 7:30 a.m.  That seems a little late to me but I'm happy they want to ride with me so off to bed I go.  I sleep really well since they parked their two Harley's next to my bike and I assume anyone wanting to steal them would steal the Harley's before they took my bike. 

Nancy's Harley

Nancy is a little nervous about riding the Tail of the Dragon so I take the lead, since I'm the old pro with one whole trip under my belt.  Deals Gap 318 CurvesThat lasts for about the first two miles until I almost kill myself watching the review mirror instead of the wildly twisting road in front of me.

Nancy, Tim and Tom

We put Nancy up front so she can set the pace.  I hang back so they won't see any of my mistakes and also so I can slow way down during the straight bits which allows me to accelerate in the turns. I have an advantage since my GPS shows me what the road looks like in front of us.  It doesn't help much when you're in the middle of the Dragon since it is just one turn after another but it is very nice later when we are on the Cherohala Skyway.

Tim and Tom

This the Tail of the Dragon

Tim with Tom way back

Oh my gosh, I'm on a Sport Touring Bike and Tim is pulling away from me.   

Tim's Harley

If you look closely you can see the sparks coming off his Floorboard

We make it to the end of the Dragon and stop for a drink.  
First time through the Tail of the Dragon

If you click on the photo above you can see a full size image.  I got a kick out of  two bikes from New York and one from Fort Worth.

Cherohala / Dragon

We pulled out this map at the Punkin Center Store and decide to do the 120 mile loop.  We came in on Hellbender 28 so we will have covered most of this map before we stop to eat.  We get to the Tail of the Dragon Store and I suggest that we run the Dragon once more, which really means twice more since it is faster to run the 11 miles up and turn around then it is to do other 120 mile loop.  I don't think my sister is too keen on the idea but she has already survived her first run.  She tested the road more than it tests her on her second and then she "Slays the Dragon on the third."  I told her we could head back to the hotel, get some lunch, then run the Highway 441 through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  She points out that it is now five o'clock in the evening so it might be a bit late for lunch. 

We grab some dinner and call it a night.  I don't like riding at night since I can pretty easily outrun my headlights.   They are heading northeast in the morning toward Baltimore and I'm heading west so we will have to run Highway 441 some other trip.  I could have run it, but I wanted to run the Dragon at least once more.   It starts to rain as I pull on to Hellbender 28, which will wake you up. I ride the Dragon and almost run straight into a flock of turkeys, not Texas size turkeys but at least a dozen of them and the road is still moist.   I lose traction on my rear tire on a oil spill that wasn't too bad the day before but is kind of slippery now because of the rain.  I get to the end and think, "Well that was a little scary, avoiding turkeys and sliding through a turn. Should I run it once more, which really means twice more since I have to head west not east?  I figure if I rode a thousand miles to get here I might as well ride it at least a couple more times. 

Going home BMW R100RT

I race through it a couple more times since it too early for LEO to be out. (Law Enforcement Officer)  I head back up airport highway and point the bike toward Nashville.  I get there around noon so it seems kind of silly to stop.  I call the Marriott and cancel my reservation.  I keep the bike pointed west on my way to Little Rock where I have a reservation for the following night. I figure I can talk them into letting me stay tonight and charge me for tomorrow.  It rains a few times but I just ride through it.  Just before Little Rock it really starts to come down.  I watch a car on the other side of the freeway careen out of control  and slide into the muddy median.  I take it as a sign from God and decide to pull up under an overpass.  I put my flashers on and then hop over the concrete barrier just in case an 18 wheeler decides to run over my motorcycle.  I call my sister and they are already in the hotel in Baltimore.  They struggled with the rain as well but at least they are dry and comfortable now.  I call Cheryl and mention that I am thinking of riding straight through tonight.  She tells me as long as I plan on sleeping with the bike in the garage it sounds like a good plan to her, because if I'm stupid enough to ride in the rain in the dark I will never sleep with her again. 

I decide to spend the night in a hotel.  The rain has stopped for the moment so I jump back on the bike and head toward Little Rock. I get there at 5:00 p.m. it's still light and the rain has passed so I decide to keep going.  I figure that I can make it to Texarkana, Texas while it's still light and isn't it a much better story to say I road from North Carolina to Texas in one long run than to stop in Little Rock, Arkansas? 

I had it timed out pretty well, I would pull into Texarkana just before sunset but then I saw a motorcycle on the side of the road and it is an unwritten rule that if you are riding a motorcycle you have to stop and help a fellow motorcyclist.   He had a flat tire and I have a tire plugging kit, really the only thing I could have helped him with since none of my tools would have fit his bike.  It didn't take me too long but I was going to get into Texarkana a little after dark.  I could have stopped in Hope Arkansas which isn't a bad story but not at good as making it to Texas so I rode on.   I was thinking that maybe I should try and make it home since that seemed like a much better story to me, Deals Gap to Fort Worth., Texas but then this huge bladder came off the truck in front of me and scooped along the two right lanes.  I thought, "I never would have seen that in the dark maybe I should spend the night in Texarkana?"   

I pulled into a Motel 6 which is not my normal hotel but since it was 8:30 p.m. and I was planning on leaving no later than 5:00 a.m. I wasn't looking for much more than a bed and at this Motel 6 I didn't find much more than that.   I did have a truck parked under my window with the stereo blasting out tunes until about midnight and I was a little nervous about my motorcycle since it was all alone in the parking lot.   I did get a little sleep but was on the road in time to make it home by 9:23 a.m.  (If you look closely under the dirt you can see the time on my instrument panel.)  

Only 1000 miles to go


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