The Redneck Files
by bj max
In the world of two wheeling, I don’t guess there is a more famous stretch of public highway than that eleven mile section of US 129 known as Deal’s Gap. The name is synonymous with motorcycling and like Bike Week, Americade and Sturgis, riding Deal’s Gap is on every motorcyclist’s “things to do before I die” list.
I’ve learned that Deal’s Gap is just another fun road as long as you don’t ride over your head. There are threats, but nothing that can’t be dealt with if you mind your P’s and Q’s. For instance, squids on sportbikes can be downright dangerous. For some reason they have to pass and seeing as how Deal’s Gap ain’t nothing but curves, they pass in the curves. Exciting to say the least. Then there’s trucks. Big trucks that take up the whole road as they bellow and smoke and bend themselves around the corners. Meeting one of them in a blind curve is loads of fun. Another threat that you wouldn’t normally consider is hurricanes. That’s right, hurricanes. Back in ’99 me and a buddy of mine got caught in the remnants of Floyd as it gasped it’s way through the heart of Dixie before blowing itself out somewhere around the Shenandoah Valley. That was fun too.
These are all legitimate threats but they can be managed if you keep your wits about you. But, there are always exceptions. On a recent trip to the Smokies, I learned of another danger one might face at the Gap. One even more ominous than squids, log trucks and hurricanes, a threat that I had never even considered before.
At the local meeting of the Happy Bottom Riding, Yachting and Snipe Huntin’ club last month, the Chapter Director asked if anyone in attendance had ever ridden Deal’s Gap. Several hands shot up and after acknowledging them he asked, “What’s the biggest threat to motorcyclists ridin’ Deal’s Gap? Anybody know?” Hillbilly, my long time friend and co-conspirator, blurted out “Bear Hunters”.
The assemblage slowly rotated in their seats and stared at my old ally as if turnip greens had suddenly sprouted from his ears. How in the name of Grizzly Adams could bear hunters possibly pose a threat on the most famous motorcycling road in North America? Well pull your chair up a little closer ’cause I’m fixin’ to tell you.
Deal’s Gap, AKA “The Dragon”. Three hundred and eighteen curves in eleven miles. That’s what it says right here on my ball cap. However, that claim has its detractors and believe it or not, there are those who have actually taken the time to count the curves. Me, I never did. I was always too busy having fun to be counting curves.
Deal’s Gap is an awesome road no matter what the curve count. The section of 129 known as the Dragon, twists and coils its way through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains like a rattlesnake on acid. There are dozens of hairpins, switchbacks, lotsa’ blind curves and trucks. Yes, trucks. Big trucks. So big in fact that some of them need all of their lane and most of yours to negotiate the curves.
Fall is one of the most popular seasons in the Smokies and motorcyclists come in droves. The days are warm and the nights are cool and crisp. Perfect riding weather and the mountains, resplendent in their brilliant fall colors, are nothing short of breathtaking.
Motorcyclists aren’t the only sportsmen drawn to this area in the fall. In Tennessee, bear season opens in September and for two weeks bear hunters and their dogs converge on these mountains from all over the country. Smoke from their campfires hangs heavy in the chilly morning air and pickup trucks are parked all up and down the Dragon Road. Small groups of hunters lean against tailgates sipping camp coffee, checking their guns and discussing the previous day’s hunt as they prepare to head out to the sounds of the hounds. If you cut your motor you can hear the dogs barking in the distance as they chase the black bear through the hills and hollers of Appalachia.
For the most part, the hunters and bikers have adopted a live-and-let-live attitude over the years and with the exception of a few isolated incidents, they live in harmony during the short but noisy hunting season. But now and again, as with everything else, a jerk arrives on the scene, and as usual, when this happens trouble ain’t far behind.
The jerk in this story comes in the guise of a young block-headed bear hunter. In this kid’s warped little mind the motorcyclist and their noisy machines were ruining what he considered his private killing grounds, spoiling his day of joyful slaughter. With every passing motorcycle he got madder until finally, unable to control his anger any longer, he scrambled down near the road, hid behind a tree and waited for the next rider to come along.
If you’ve ever ridden Deal’s Gap then you know that he didn’t have to wait long. Just a few curves north of his position a sport bike came slicing up 129. Down, up, around and back and then, just as the rider straightened out of a right hander and positioned himself for the left hander coming up, the young hunter calmly stepped from behind his tree and pitched a six foot chunk of deadwood under the front wheel of the speeding motorcycle. Notice this nut didn’t place the log in the road hoping a rider would come along later and run over it. Nope, he wanted to make sure he bagged a biker. So, as the rider approached, he just tossed it right out there in front of him as he sped by.
The rider hit the log and went down of course but, fortunately, he was wearing full leathers and even though his bike was busted up, the rider himself only received a few minor cuts and scratches.
At this point, you would think the hunter would have scurried off into the woods like the weasel that he was, but no, not this clown. He wasn’t that smart. To add insult to injury he ran across the road and confronted the downed rider. Naturally, the biker came up swinging. Meanwhile, over at the Deal’s Gap store they got wind of what was going on and called the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Two cruisers were promptly dispatched to the scene. The troopers arrested the hunter and, after his release from the hospital, carted him off to jail.
We first got wind of this story from a BMW rider out of Detroit. He warned us of the bear hunters and told the tale as written above except in his version the troopers never showed up. Not true said a group of riders at the Deal’s Gap store. According to them, they got there in record time. (We verified this story through several motorcyclists, the proprietor of the Deal’s Gap store and the Tennessee Highway Patrol)
The young hunter supposedly told the state police that the bikes were scaring the bears away. Well, as the saying goes, that old dog won’t hunt. If there’s anyplace in the Smokies where bears are used to motorcycles, it’s Deal’s Gap and I can’t imagine a motorcycle scaring one off. In fact, I can’t imagine anything scaring a bear off. But even if this were possible, the motorcyclist had a little rectangular tin plate bolted to the back of his motorcycle authorizing him to ride that particular highway and any other public highway he had a mind to, hunters or no hunters and if anybody’s got a problem with that they should take it up with their congressman. I sincerely hope that little jerk got some time outta’ this. He most certainly deserved it.
For the record, Hillbilly and I rode the Gap twice right after this incident occurred. The hunters were parked all along the highway taking a mid-morning break. As we cruised by, they smiled and waved. From their friendly attitude we concluded that hostility towards motorcyclist did not run rampant through the ranks and this was merely an isolated incident. So if you have future plans to come to Tennessee and take on the Dragon by all means do. Not only is it one of the most challenging roads in North America, it’s also one of the most beautiful. I highly recommend it. Especially in the fall…during bear season.