Riding the Tail of the Dragon
Recently I had the chance to ride the infamous "Tail of the Dragon at Deal's Gap", and I took it - several times!
I was planning a return trip home to New York from Florida and decided to stay in a little town called Robbinsville, NC on Route 129. I phoned ahead and booked a room at the Phillips Motel, located on Main Street in Robbinsville. The one room I had was small but air conditioned with cable TV, and the bathroom (I swear was a converted closet!) even smaller, but for $40 I really couldn't complain. It was only about a block from the true main street (Rt 129) where the grocery store, gas stations, and fast food joints were located. Rt 129, buy the way, is where the Tail of the Dragon resides. It actually begins about 15 miles North of Robbinsville, just over the N.C./Tennessee border. I left Zephyrhills, Florida around 5:15 AM and checked into the motel in North Carolina around 4:30 PM. I had plenty of time to "freshen up" before checking out the Tail of the Dragon. It was a fantastic ride and some of the views were truly spectacular. I had the time to take two full runs (11 miles North then 11 miles South - twice) before calling it a night and going back to the motel. The next morning I had to pass through the "Tail" again, going North on Rt 129 to pick up Rt 411 to Knoxville TN. That means I took 1,590 curves in 55 miles. How did I come to these numbers?
The Dragon boasts "318 curves in 11 miles". Let me tell you those 11 miles are mountainous and almost all 318 curves are WITHOUT GUARD RAILS!. Many curves have little to no shoulders, and some have 1,000 ft. drop offs. Believe it or not there's even a web page showing where (which curves) and when (month & year) Deaths have occurred on the "Tail". It's really NOT for the novice rider, unless you travel well below the posted speeds. Some curves are literal "hairpin" curves. I'll bet I shaved off at least a quarter of an inch off of the bottom of my kickstand, from so much scraping around those curves ;-} Regardless - it definitely was an experience I'll never forget!
Back in the saddle again...
Are you one of the millions of riders who recently (within the past few years)
have made the move back into riding, after a long (10+ years) hiatus? I am. It was almost 25 years for me, between my first motorcycle and the one I chose to get back into riding.
The first one - a Suzuki 550GS was "illegal". No plates or insurance, and no motorcycle driver's license.
But I wasn't too concerned. I was young and foolish, in my early twenties, and I lived with a girl who loved to ride. Life was good.
Fast forward 25 years, or so...
About 4 years ago I acquired this unending "itch" that just needed to be scratched. I wanted to ride again. I wasn't sure why, I just knew deep down that I REALLY wanted to ride a motorcycle again.
This time I would do it right though. I spent about 6 months researching the bikes interesting to me, which happened to fall into the "Cruiser" category.
During that time I also signed up for and took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF)
Rider's Safety course, at the campus of a local community college. It was an excellent experience and I can't tell you how valuable the time spent there has been to me. I truly believe some of the things I learned there have literally saved my life. I kid you not.
All I can say is if you haven't taken one of these "classes" (which ran over three days and nights),
I respectfully suggest you IMMEDIATELY sign up for the next one you can find. Since then I have attended two MSF Advanced rider courses and will take as many as I can find the time for.
Well, enough of this for now - let's get back to my bike purchase.
Reading review after review I finally settled on a black Honda Shadow Spirit VT1100c. I was in love again. I went to my closest Honda dealer, ordered the bike, and waited. Two weeks later I rode out of the dealer's parking lot and into the sunset.
Actually - it was raining a little that day, but I didn't care. I was a licensed motorcycle rider enjoying my 1st ride on my own licensed (and insured) bike. It only took be about 50 years (literally) to get to this point. I was in Heaven.
Are we ever satisfied?
Well - here I am riding along, every chance I can get, happier than a dog with a new bone. But... I start to notice something.
Even though I glide along the city streets quite nicely, I seem to keep looking for another gear when I'm on the open road, and especially when going up those long rolling hills.
I live in Fayetteville, NY and I'm blessed to be just a few minutes from that very scenic Route 20. I ride it almost every day maybe picking it up in LaFayette and taking it through Pompey, over the hills to Cazenovia.
In "Caz" I usually turn off onto Route 13 North and run the "twisties" along the 6 miles of Rt. 13 between "Caz" and Chittenango Falls.
The scenery is - well, beautiful, and you know very well how riding a motorcycle is such a sensory experience. The fresh cool air.
Someone burning leaves somewhere. Even the occasional scented fragrance of fabric softener laundry sheets, like Bounce or Cling Free, coming from someone's dryer - wafts across your nostrils.
..and oh - so much more! It's literally thrilling. I can honestly say that I'm in Church when I'm out riding on my bike.
You know exactly what I mean - don't you?
Got a little tangential there, now didn't I? OK - back to the "missing gear."
Once the Honda VTX 1300C came out I test rode one and immediately decided to trade in my Shadow Spirit 1100 for the 1300C. Second best decision I'd made in the past couple years. The first, of course, was getting back into riding.
It's now a couple years later (2008) and I have almost 40,000 miles on the VTX, all are local miles - no long trips. I haven't put the bike up for the winter since I've had it either, as I'm one of those crazies who'll take the bike out when the thermometer breaks the 40 degree mark.
Well it won't be long now. Spring is right around the corner, here in Upstate New York, and so too are the fresh smells, the cool air, and those immensely welcome feelings of peaceful elation we embrace and envelope ourselves in while riding along the roads. Enjoy!