US129, Deals Gap,Tail of the Dragon.Three hundred and eighteen curves in eleven miles. Every motorcyclist and sports car enthusiast knows the name, both here in the States and abroad. If you don’t, you’re not getting out enough, or not reading enough. It has been marketed in every motorcycle and sports car magazine ad nauseam since the early 2000’s. It is a huge tourist dollar generator for the section of western North Carolina and east Tennessee in which the tarmac resides. And depending on the day of the week, your mountain riding skill, and the skill level of other users, it has the potential to ruin your day.
It has been a tradition of mine to run the Gap with every new motorbike I purchase, a rite of passage for the bike, if you will. And so, a perfect weekend unfolded for my Honda NC700XD to run with the big dogs and skinny up those chicken strips a bit, and have her proudly wear the sticker shown above. Every motorcyclist and sports car driver who has “tamed” The Dragon recognizes that symbol and what it stands for.
Don’ be this guy. The dragon tail will bite you if you’re not on your “A” game
On a beautiful July Friday morning I jumped on the NC and headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Ironhorse Motorcycle Resort in Stecoah, North Carolina. Situated right off Highway 28, a fantastic moto road in and of itself, Ironhorse is my favorite “upscale” moto campground. No primitive camping here.
Scenes from the Blue Ridge Parkway
Ironhorse Motorcycle Resort. If you want to camp in style, this is the place.
Saturday morning was beautiful. I awoke early to get a head start towards Deals Gap. Weekend traffic on The Dragon can be daunting, with most riders and drivers making US129 their personal racetrack. But if you get their early enough, usually anytime before 10 AM, traffic is less, and the squids haven’t recovered from the night before. I ate breakfast, and with a double espresso for that AM caffeine bbbooooosssstttt, I had wheels rolling north on Hwy 28 by eight-thirty.
Hwy 28, also known as The Hellbender, is a fantastic motorcycle road that T-intersects at US129 where The Dragon begins. A Hellbender is a salamander found only in Appalachia, and grows to over two and-a-half feet long. When it swims, it twists and squirms through the water, just like this ribbon of tarmac does on land.
My one photo stop on Hwy 28 is the Fontana Dam, from the bottom. Fontana Lake was formed when the dam was built, submerging the homes and town of the folks that populated the valley.
Arriving at the Gap and the start of The Dragon about 9:45 AM, I noticed that there was a surprising low volume of motorbikes and sports cars in the parking lot, and no one waiting to start their run. I might have some of this road to myself! Without hesitation, I made a right turn onto US129 North and the start of The Dragon.
The scenery on this road is beautiful, but you don’t dare take your eyes off the road. There is one scenic pullout on this eleven mile stretch, and I stopped to take a photo of the Fontana Dam and Fontana Lake, this time, from above.
Fontana Dam & Lake
It has been 12 years since I ran The Dragon, and that was two up with Roo on our Honda ST1300. A fantastic photo (taken by Killboy; more on that later) hanging in our living room shows us leaned over carving a right hand curve with a Shelby Cobra right behind us. Awesome!
This day, I was flying solo on my NC. What a blast! Every vehicle imaginable was out there: bikes, trikes, sports cars, sedans. I even saw a Cadillac coming in the opposite direction around a curve at speed with his engine howling! Amazing!
Polaris Slingshots are getting more popular, and were out in force this day
Out and back, that 22 miles went quick. But it was getting close to 11:30, and everyone and their mother was coming out to play. Time to head into the parking lot, get my sticker, and people watch.
When I finished my run, The Dragon Store parking lot was filling up
Pretty much everyone obeyed this sign, at least while I was there
Killboy is the premier photo taking company on The Dragon. They set up in multiple places along the 11 mile stretch, on both sides of the road, and take photos of every vehicle that passes, in both directions. They are then uploaded onto their website where you can log on and purchase your photo(s). And yes I did. They now have their own store located right across the street from The Dragon store.
Dragon Yard Art at Killboy
Dragon Yard Art at The Dragon Store (photo op)
The Tree of Shame (Stupidity)
The Tree of Shame (official name) is where bits of bikes come to rest after the rider crashes on The Dragon. Contrary to what the name describes, many riders where this as a badge of honor, as if not having the skill set to control your motorcycle in curvy mountain terrain is something to be proud of. I’ll stick with Tree of Stupidity and leave it at that.
After motorbike and sports car shopping for a while it was time to play on some of the other mountain roads in this mecca of motorcycling. Roo and I have ridden many roads that are more technical than The Dragon, but none have been marketed so heavily and so successfully as US129. A must do if you are in the area, multiple runs if you can, but do get here early!