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Tail of the Dragon / Deals Gap Trip Report and Road Review
I've been reading about the Tail of the Dragon for ages, as it's provided ample fodder for many car and motorcycle journalists over the years. In fact, if it wasn't such a spectacular stretch of road it would be a cliche. A lot of car and bike clubs have included an annual trip to the Tail of the Dragon on their calendars for decades. I'd read about, I'd watched dozens for on-line videos of drivers and riders taming the dragon (or failing to do so with the inevitable result) and I'd even talked to people who had done it. However, I had not actually been able to ride its 318 curves confined to just 11 miles myself.
I lived in Calgary, Alberta and Deals Gap is not exactly what you'd call near by. In planning the route for our Canada - Argentina trip we included a number of 'must do roads', and since we may never find ourselves in North Carolina or Tennessee with a pair of motorcycles at our disposal again, we made sure to include the Tail of the Dragon on the list.
The section of Route 129 known as Deals Gap, or The Tail of the Dragon runs along the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GreatSmokyMountainsNationalPark), so there is very little development to spoil the fun along it's famous 11 miles leading to the North Carolina state line. The speed limit was reduced from 55 mph to 30 mph in 2005 with the intension of increasing the road's safety record, however the 'Tree of Shame' which is covered in broken motorcycle parts is a constant reminder of the dangers associated with' over doing it' on 'the Dragon. Even with such reminders in place, on the day we were there we saw a Harley rider in the ditch. Luckily she was not hurt and her bike was undamaged, so she was able to complete the route with only a bruised ego.
After checking in to the truly lovely Appalachian Inn B&B (http://www.appalachianinn.com/) for some much needed R&R, we unloaded as much of our heavy luggage as we could so that we could really enjoy ourselves on the surrounding roads, which not only included the Tail of the Dragon, but also the Cherohala Skyway which covers another 60 miles of mountain highway.
In fact, all of the roads in the area have something to offer, providing amazing riding, offering great views or leading to fantastic hiking. As a result there is also a lot of impressive machinery on display, we saw any number of Porsches, Corvettes, hot VWs, tuned Imprezzas and Evos, Ducatis and Aprillias and a huge number of tricked out Japanese sport bikes, not to mention a group of curiously identical Lotus Elises. The highlight was probably the group of 15 or 20 mint Austin Healys we passed as we neared our destination, now that is something you don't see everyday...
We decided to start the day off with the Cherohola Skyway as a warm up. It was a great ride and the weather was perfect, however had we not just ridden the entire BRP a couple of days before it would have been even better. As it was, the riding was fast and steady, the views were impressive and we topped off the route with some delicious ice cream, conveniently located across the street from an excellent motorcycle accessories shop, Tellico Plains Motorcycle Outfitters http://www.tellicomoto.com
We exchanged some words with some fellow GS riders before heading off the the day's main event, the Tail of the Dragon. We tackled it for this first time riding from north to south, and all I can say is that it was worth the wait, it is not a cliche, and it is a truly great stretch of road. It may only be short, but it really packs in a lot over the those 11 miles. This side of the Nurburgring there are not a lot of roads that offer so much in such a short distance. We road it a number of times over two days and really enjoyed it. True, it was a bit crowed one afternoon, and the speed limit is only 30 mph (with a noticeable police presence keeps things in check) but it still delivered on all of it's promises. And if I were to be completely honest, there weren't that many occasions where I would have chosen to go much faster. I would have preferred to be riding the Ducati Hypermotard that was also exploring the roads while we were there, but that's another story...
Tennessee and North Carolina offer an abundance of great riding experiences, and while the Tail of the Dragon is only one of them, like everyone says - it is worth seeking out.
**If you're interested in going, check out this Route from Toronto, Alex
created. My maps coming soon!**