Just Another Day on the Dragon
by bj max
My wife and I have been riding the section of US 129 known as the Dragon Road since the early nineties. In fact, we date back to the time when the “Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort” was just the “store”. Wasn’t much there, then. You could buy a Coke, get a bolonga sandwich and a decal, and that was about it. But since Mr. Pete retired and sold the property, the new owners have made lots of improvements and it’s morphed into a kind of Smokey Mountain gold mine.
The gas pumps at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort are labeled “Dragon Unleaded” and “Super Dragon Unleaded”. Just across from the pumps, they have constructed a deck and you can sit in the shade of an umbrella covered table, sip a cuppa’ Joe and watch the bikes come and go. Or, you can have a hamburger in the newly constructed restaurant. The food is pretty good, the prices ain’t bad and the view of the road through the six huge picture windows is great. You can enjoy your burger and fries while watching motorcycles swarm in and out. Free refills for your coffee. There’s a new concrete loading dock built into the side of a hill where you can load or unload your bike, and every now and then, the steady roar of a motorcycle at full song echoes through the holler signaling that somebody has coughed up a twenty for a test run on the recently acquired dyno.
The popularity of Deals Gap has led to a few new enterprises, too. Photography is the main one. We counted no less than three telephoto equipped photographers along the Dragon snapping pictures. At the end of the day, these young entrepreneurs \upload their pictures to the internet and if you make a note of the photographer’s web address, usually plastered on the side of their car, you can go online and buy some very professional Hi- Res shots of yourself riding the Dragon. Another enterprising fellow operates a video business and for a price he will follow you on his Gold Wing and video tape your ride. Don’t worry; he can keep up with you. Rick, AKA Yellow Wolf, is crazy fast on his 1800 and the locals get a kick watching the squirt bike newbie’s try to catch him.
Riding the Dragon is sorta’ like dancing. Rock one two three, roll one two three, it feels so good to me. No matter how fast or slow you ride it’s all a matter of rhythm and once you get rhythm, you can flat out roll in a dizzying dance that is so addictive you won’t ever want it to end. It empties my head of all the claptrap of the daily grind and my concentration is such that there is no room for the distractions that normally haunt my thoughts. There’s nothing but that road. That beautiful bless-ed country road that tempts and teases me to ride faster. Just a little faster.
And I do. I dive deeper into each curve, pushing the envelope, flirting with disaster. Downshift to second, drop into the curve, throttle up and out, shift to third, gouge on it half a second, back off the throttle, downshift and drop into the next turn, only a bit deeper this time. Downshift, sharp hard right that doubles back on itself, push back vertical, throttle up, shift to third, then push over into a hard left. A quick peek in the mirror and that momentary loss of concentration causes me to dive dangerously close to the centerline. Straighten up for a split second then push over into a sharp right. Steeeeady big fellow. Man, I’ve really got this baby rolling.
My wife and I, until today, have never had a really close call while riding the Dragon, mainly because I know and adhere to my limited skills as a motorcyclist. You have to be careful and maintain an intense concentration for twenty minutes or so and if you don’t ride over your head, you’ll find the Dragon to be a very nice ride. But maintain your vigilance and watch out for trucks, sports cars, squids on squirt bikes and old goats on Gold Wings. All are major hazards in this neck of the woods.
We’ve been lucky when it comes to trucks. Up until this year, we had never met a tractor trailer on the Dragon, but there’s always a first time. Thankfully, some of the locals have started running interference when a truck is spotted entering the Dragon. The first hint we had that something was up was when we met an “escort” car complete with red flags flying. The driver, most likely Ron Johnson of the “Tail of the Dragon” website, was pushing downward with his hand, the classic “Slow Down” signal. So I did, and it’s a good thing because just around the next curve, I met a Peterbilt with a grill the size of an I-MAX screen and half of it was in our lane. The escort car is something new that local volunteers provide as a public service and I thank them. I also want to thank whoever it was that took the time to construct, print and hang the numerous signs along the Dragon warning that “Lane Crossing Kills”
After clearing the truck, I relaxed a little and was just settling down when, from around the next curve, comes a little red MG and man, was he hauling. The wire wheels and high center of gravity suggested that it was probably a late forties or early fifties model. The little car entered the curve going north (the inside) just as I entered going south. Evidently, it’s vintage suspension couldn’t handle the sharp turn and just before the apex, the skinny little tires broke loose and he went into a sideways slide and flashed by us with mere inches to spare. The little MG, which at this point looked like a steam roller to us, got up on two wheels and went chirping towards the side of the mountain. All this happened in an eye blink and just as quick, the next curve was upon us. In my excited state, I shoved the left handlebar down so hard I scraped my left peg. I ain’t never dragged a peg on a Gold Wing before and the noise and vibrations sent up through the frame startled me, causing me to overcorrect and wash up towards the cliff side of the road, scaring me so bad I almost swallered’ my chewing tobacco.
I rolled the throttle forward, slowed way down, moved over towards the edge of the road and motioned a Katana that I’d been holding up to play through. He zooms by, follows the fog line into the next curve, then dives towards the center line, touches the throttle and disappears around the bend.
A few minutes later, we roll to a stop at the Deals Gap store. What a ride. I put the kick stand down, cut the switch and then, and only then, do I notice that my right hand was shaking. Just another day on the Dragon.