Special Feature: The Tail of The Dragon
"Y'all be careful there, that Tail of the Dragon," the Ford salesman said, "lots of bikers killed up there."
Riding to Robbinsville, QG asked if I thought the turns at the Tail would be as wild as the ones we rode now. Uh, not even close. She decided to sit this one out. So with no trailer and no passenger, I headed out to ride the world famous Tail of the Dragon.
The actual eleven mile section is eighteen miles from town. As I rode, a pickup dogged me, so I let him by. Must be a local, so I decided to pace him. Shoot, if a pickup can make the turns, so can I.
He zipped by and I gassed it to catch up. We rode like that for a few miles, and he began to gap me. What? It's a pickup! Then I recalled my promise not to be stupid on the ride and backed it down to sixty from...well, faster. Two turns later a cop went by the other way. Whew.
The road is two lanes with narrow shoulders and North Carolina doesn't waste money on guardrails. Because of their height, I think guardrails not only don't help bikers, but hurt them. You hit one right and it will catapult you over itself. The higher ones will stop the bike and send the rider flying. I also think guardrails make any driver go faster, as he's not looking at a shoulder and hundred foot drop off.
I got to the dam, a huge thing, the biggest one east of the Mississippi. Our Hoover Dam beats it. However, it's massive. Once past the dam, the road narrows and climbs. The turns, 318 in eleven miles, slow the bike to second gear. The turns vary from nice banking to off camber, and even a few g- outs. Very few straight sections, at least not over a hundred yards. Trees with no leaves make for an advantage, as I can see further ahead. And thank God the road is dry. Because it's so off season, there are few cars or bikes on the road, making the experience even more unbelievable. The best turns are when you downshift and brake, ride into a right hander, throttle out just a bit, then swing left. Such fun, a roller coaster and you're in control!
After a bit you get in The Zone-if you've done it, you know what I mean. You get connected with the road, and just know how to approach the turn, how to accelerate out of it, when to downshift and how to sweep the turn. The bike performs great, and the world is right. It isn't crazy and no overriding the turns, but just good smooth fun, one with the road.
After eleven miles a viewpoint appeared on the right. I glided in and shut off the engine.
Silence. A peace from the fun, the view, outstanding and look! Less than two miles away and a thousand feet below, is the dam. No wonder it's called the Tail of the Dragon. I fired up again and kept going, the road dropping like a New Years' ball and in no time I skirted the lake, the road smoother and faster. I looked to the left and Mr. Sun was running out of steam. Better head back, over the Tail once again, oh yeah.
As I put my gear back on, a truck and lowboy passed, headed there. In no time I caught him and followed as he negotiated the curves. Now, time for a one eighty opinion change. I've read the Tail of the Dragon website, and they are working on getting the big trucks banned from the road. What? My opinion was this; it's a public road, not a racecourse, available for the public. You want me to sign some petition, you can forget it.
Until I followed that truck.
He negotiated a right turn and to keep the back of the trailer on the road, he had to take it so wide that the front of the truck was completely in the oncoming lane. If someone came around the next corner, he would see a huge truck, completely blocking the entire road, the front of the truck in his lane. Therefore, I have flip flopped. Probably can't run for President now. But I would sign it, keep those long trailers off that road. And I know, a sport bike shouldn't come around that corner going eighty, and if he does, he'll be a hood ornament. Actually, a ding on the bumper. But even a car, going the speed limit, would be in serious danger. Enough raving.
I pulled over and let the truck get away while I enjoyed the view and the peace once more. Mr. Sun is dipping and the cold is setting in, better get going. I was surprised how much uphill I encountered on the return, apparently the Tail winds up and down with regularity. Perhaps the only thing better than riding the Tail of the Dragon is turning around and going back. Truly an epic ride.