Tagged Tail of the Dragon

Road to the Smokies – Day 6

This is the story of my road trip from Pekin, IL to Gatlinburg, TN on my Honda CBR 600 RR motorcycle.

After drinking a Fat Tire with dinner last night, I took a nap. Well, that was a mistake. I woke up a few hours later and couldn’t fall back asleep until 3AM. This forced me to get off to a late start this morning and put me leaving the motel at 10AM. The real problem this morning wasn’t lack of sleep so much as deciding where the heck I was going. After deliberating for a few minutes I decided that I would hit up The Dragon again and spend some quality time riding the road back and forth.

The ride through Great Smoky Mountains National Park this morning was aggravating. As usual, I got stuck behind some sightseers who don’t know how to let people pass and went 20MPH the entire way from Gatlinburg to Townsend. After a quick stop to rest my legs and fill up on gas I headed for Foothills Parkway and then The Dragon. I was a little nervous on my first run through because the roads were still quite wet, but my Pilot Power 2CTs performed flawlessly. The only time I had trouble with slippage was when I took a bad line into a turn and ended up touching the yellow line halfway through. That paint is not the least bit forgiving.

Lucy the Moto-dog!

I got some lunch at Deal’s Gap Resort and ran back down The Dragon, feeling more confident with each run through. I stopped at the overlook to rest and turn around and ran into a trio of sports cars: a Porsche Carrera 4S, Mazda RX-7 and Honda S-2000. The guy in the Porsche just reeked of douche and the guys in the other cars weren’t too different. After they took off, I suited up and headed back to Deal’s Gap resort. By this time the road was pretty dry in most spots and I started powering through the turns harder than ever before. When I was resting in the parking lot I noticed a dog sitting in a basket in the back of a trike. The guy sitting next to me on the bench was actually parked next to the trike I was looking at and they were all riding as a group. He told me that the dog’s name is Lucy and she’s logged over 100,000 miles on motorcycles and trikes. Insane.

The "Tree of Shame" at Deal's Gap. This is where your crashed gear goes on display, haha.

After resting this time I headed back down The Dragon and absolutely tore it up. Not that it particularly matters, but my chicken strips are down to half a centimeter on the rear, hooray! 😛 I can’t wait to see the shots that some of the photographers snapped today. I stopped at the overlook on the way back and talked to a couple of guys who were down from Ohio. They’ve been coming down here for over 10 years and said that it’s more fun each and every time. I can confidently say that I will be making this a tradition also.

I took Foothills Parkway and then 73 all the way back to Gatlinburg and called it a day. Nothing new, really, but I’m definitely improving my riding style on the twisties. I’m picking up on the little things and learning how to pick better lines, etc. It’s good stuff.

I think tomorrow will involve more Dragon runs. I’m afraid to ride too far away because I don’t want to be completely sore for my ride home on Saturday. I’ll try and dig up some interesting scenes to photograph tomorrow.

A stream in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

You can see all of the photos from my trip in my Facebook album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2068810&id=197102025&l=9f9eff78bb

Road to the Smokies – Days 3 and 4

This is the story of my road trip from Pekin, IL to Gatlinburg, TN on my Honda CBR 600 RR motorcycle.

Ohhhh, Monday. I did absolutely nothing on Monday. Well, I did go to Walgreens for paper plates and beer, but aside from that: nothing. That’s why I didn’t post anything; sorry for the lag in entries there!

A mountain stream just outside Gatlinburg.

Anywho, on to Tuesday! Today has been nothing short of amazing. I woke up at 7:00AM before the sun was even up and started planning out what I was going to do. I knew I wanted to hit The Dragon and possibly Cherohala Skyway so I figured out the best route to take down there. Around 8 I went and filled the bike up with gas and bought a couple of maps to throw in my tank bag. I came back to the room and lounged around for another couple of hours and finally suited up and left at 10:30.

I set out down Route 73 (Little River Rd.) toward Townsend which ended up being a gorgeous route to take. It winds down through Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a long time and has some nice mountain stream stop-offs. The only bad part is tourist traffic. The only time I seem to get fatigued while riding is when I get stuck behind people who are going a sight-seeing pace, and there are only two or three spots where passing is legal on 73. That’s not to say you can’t go around in other places if you’re quick enough.

Route 73 eventually opens up into a picturesque mountain valley town called Townsend. There isn’t much on the main strip in Townsend other than some restaurants and a few gas stations, which makes it a nice quiet place most of the time. If you’re looking to get away from the bustling tourist-infested places like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, this route is for you.

Parked at an overlook on Foothills Parkway.

After filling up in Townsend I continued down 73 for about 8 more miles until I came to Foothills Parkway. This road connects US-321 and US-129 by traversing Chilhowee Mountain. There are many great overlook stops on this road, and the road itself is just a blast to ride. There are a lot of sweeping corners and a few tight turns here and there, but the best part is definitely the view. I had to stop at almost every overlook the first time I rode through just to take in the amazing scenery.

Once you make your way down Foothills Parkway you’ll run right into US-129. If you take a right you’ll ride along Chilhowee lake for a bit and eventually come to a town called Vonore, but if you take a left, you head to The Dragon. This is where things start to get awesome.

The Tail of the Dragon, aka Deal’s Gap, is said to be one of the best motorcycle roads in the world. With its claimed “318 curves in 11 miles” it certainly makes for a challenging length of roadway if you feel like putting your skills to the test. Here is a link to a poster of all the curve names: http://www.tailofthedragon.com/maps/poster2007.pdf

My first time through I took it quite slow and ended up getting stuck behind a pack of cruisers. This allowed me to get a handle on the corners and make a mental note of the sketchy parts of the run. After a nice 25-minute cruise I had made it to Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort. This place is exactly what you need after riding all day. They have a nice big store, bathrooms, plenty of bike parking, good food, and best of all some pretty awesome people.

I got a nice BBQ pork sandwich from the snack bar and took a seat at a table to relax for a bit. After a few minutes a gentleman came up and asked if he could join me, and I was glad to have the company as I hate eating alone. We had a good conversation about life in general, and he left me with a few tips on where to find some more good roads in the area.

After lunch I threw all of the gear back on and got ready to tackle The Dragon in the other direction. This time was a lot more fun as I didn’t get stuck behind cruisers, and I had a much better idea of how crazy some of the turns are. There is no way to describe just how amazing this ride can be when you’re able to really get into it. This time I stopped at the overlook halfway through to take some pictures and got some nice shots of Chilhowee lake.

The view from the overlook on Tail of the Dragon.

I finished up my second run on The Dragon and headed back over Foothills Parkway toward Townsend. My second run on the parkway was a lot more fun as well, as I knew where I could really open the bike up and have some fun. I caught myself doing 95 in some spots and had to force myself to slow down lest I get busted by the THP. My favorite thing about the parkway is that there doesn’t seem to be much traffic on it, and what little traffic you run into can easily be passed in most spots.

After that run on the parkway I headed back home on 73. Nothing much exciting there… until I ran into a couple in an Infiniti G36 Coupe. They got stuck behind some traffic in the park and you could tell they were bored with it. (I can’t blame them; being stuck behind slow traffic on those roads really bites.) The two of us finally found a decent passing spot and took off around all of the traffic. We both raced our way through the rest of the park at a healthy pace and ended up parting ways just after getting into Gatlinburg. Running through tight turns and two-lane roads at that pace is so much fun, especially when there aren’t any side roads where you have to worry about traffic pulling into your lane.

All in all, today was amazing. Breathtaking views, challenging roads, good weather, great people. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store.

A panorama of the view from an overlook on Foothills Parkway.
A panorama of the view of Chilhowee Lake from the overlook on Tail of the Dragon.

You can see all of the photos from my trip in my Facebook album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2068810&id=197102025&l=9f9eff78bb