Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Bonneville At Deal's Gap

I wanted to take a vacation involving my motorcycle and not my dog (sob!) so it was that I was having breakfast in North Georgia after a night time of riding up the Turnpike and I-75.

It wasn't a cute diner with local appeal but I was craving pancakes and bacon so that was what I had. In a chain restaurant. Good enough.

I had no idea North Georgia was a rider's delight but the mountains rose out of the plains north of Atlanta and I could tell it was going to be good.

Even though the four lane went on for a bit I was looking forward to arriving at the day's main event, the Tail Of The Dragon.

It's more properly known as Deal's Gap, where a "gap" is a pass in the Appalachian Mountains, but thanks to it's twists and turns, and it's excessive popularity among motorcyclists, the narrow road is now likened to the twisting extremity of a mythical fire breather.

The Tail Of The Dragon is just 11 miles long, a short section in North Carolina and the rest in Tennessee, said to incorporate 318 curves. The joke is that it is the opposite of a typical Florida Highway which has eleven curves in 318 miles.

As I approached I tried not to get my hopes up. I had visited the North Carolina end last winter on a family drive but this was my first time riding the whole road and I had heard tired old locals bitch, as they do, that there is nothing special about this short chunk of roadway in a range of hills filled with spectacular rides...

It was a weekday and there were a few self conscious riders hanging out at the Deal's Gap resort which offers food gas and lodging and photo opportunities during the summer months only.

The parking lot was not even close to being packed and I stayed just long enough to take a couple of pictures and watch a KTM supermoto roar off up the hill to sly glances from the cruiser riders chatting in the lot.

In the photo below the motorcycle resort is at the junction of North Carolina 28 and Federal 129, and the wiggly section of 129 that straddles the state line is the Tail of the Dragon.

Yup, that was my actual Bonneville at the Tail of the Dragon as shown below:

I was traveling light with two saddlebags (Pelican 1420 cases) and an Emgo top case and a Kermit chair strapped to the pillion. I prefer to ride and not overload the bike. Touring with a wallowing pig is no fun, and besides overloading is hard on the engine and frame components.

Motorcyclists need to be reminded of the rules I guess and the resort makes no bones about whacking the unruly with a metaphorical two by four..."are you sure it says No Actual Parking?"

I think the best way to "do the dragon" would be to reserve a room and spend two nights here, a full day riding and resting.

And not falling off and breaking bits that end up on the infamous Tree of Shame in the parking lot of the resort.

I set off up Highway 129 not knowing what to expect. I was worried I would not be able to keep up with what I imagined would be a stream of powerful fast road racers. I needn't have worried. I got stuck behind some dipshits who had no idea how to counter steer a bike through a bend so I pulled off to take pictures and let them get ahead.

It's Hard to show the full glory of this crazy road in photos or worse in video, but believe me when I say, and I was a skeptic that the Dragon is more fun than any adult roller coaster. As for holding people up let me just say I found myself stalled by two pairs of riders, both pairs had one Triumph among them and the dude on a tricked out retro Triumph with the CAFRACR tag should have pulled over and not embarrassed himself by wobbling round the corners the way he did, like a rank amateur. I tried not to let him kill my Zen by stopping and letting him get ahead but I kept catching up to him too soon on my stock Bonneville complete with luggage and middle aged rider. Eventually he wobbled to a stop at an overlook and I had a half mile of open road to zoom and swoop down until...

The second pair included a Triumph Thunderbird wobbling along at the end of the eleven miles and once again I found myself slowed. I was quite surprised. I was even more surprised to find I had shaved the outside of both boots on the half hour ride. Definitely it was fun and I shall return for another go and if I find myself followed by a rider of greater competence and speed than I, I shall step aside into a pull out and let them by as is my habit. It's only polite.

The return to reality was hot flat and arid and I missed the swooping and sweeping of the innumerable curves of the really fantastic Tail of the Dragon. As reluctant as I am to admit it, it lived up to the hype for me. It really is that much fun no matter what the locals say.

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