By JR Owens “Spider”
It had been a long time since I woke up to crisp clean air in the morning. As I exited through our hotel room door that opened to the parking lot my world seemed surreal; a misty fog hung over and between the peaks of the nearby mountain tops, the grass laden down with dew and our motorcycles stood sleepy and wet. I and a group of friends had left Central Florida two days before, where the air too was moist, but not like this air, and it was much warmer as fall doesn’t arrive in Florida in September the way it does in the mountains in North Carolina.
The first to wonder outside that morning, I picked a couple of thick white towels from a plastic bin outside that the hotel proprietor Blain Shobe -aka- Gizmo, had left for us to wipe down our bikes. I laid a towel on my seat and a towel on my roommate Mile’s seat to soak up the morning dew. I went over the windshield, the handlebars and hand-grips, cleaned the mirrors and wipe dry the top of the gas tank, and then began to retrieve the luggage I would carry that day from the hotel room. By that time others were stirring outside and they too were busy cleaning their bikes for the days ride. The ride that Monday morning would be up the mountain near the Tennessee border to a popular motorcycle resort called Deals Gap. Deals Gap stands at the crest of a section of famous roadway called the Tail of the Dragon.
Bikers and all types of motorcycle enthusiasts come to the Smoky Mountain resort each year between the months of March and November to ride the Tail of the Dragon, a winding road that snakes down the mountain. The Dragon is considered to be one of the most technical and challenging roads in the country and is said to contain 318 curves along its 11-mile path.
During our two-day journey to reach the hotel in Bryson City, NC, Miles and I rode with the rest of the group the first day but set out on our own on the second. Our separation from the group of about 12 other riders wasn’t about them, but about doing our own thing and riding our own ride. As David Thoreau stated, some of us “march to a different drummer.” Looking back it’s difficult to distinguish which day of riding was best. Riding the Dragon on Monday was a challenging ride of beauty, and the reason we made the journey in the first place, but our lone ride on Sunday seemed like the essence of freedom. We cruised at our own speed with no companions to keep pace with. We stopped where we wanted and reflected on what we had seen and what lay ahead. I think we would both agree those two days of riding were the best we’ve experienced on our bikes to this point and wonder how we could ever match the experience.
When all the bikes were readied for the trip to the Dragon on Monday morning, the group rode into Bryson City for breakfast. The food was good and everyone seemed filled with anticipation. After eating we gathered outside to begin the apex of our journey.
The winding roads to the resort at Deals Gap proved somewhat challenging themselves as we traveled up the mountains pass along the scenic route. Our guide, Gizmo, took us across the Fontana Dam where Harrison Ford made his famous jump in the movie The Fugitive. The dam was also a point of interest we would view from the Dragon later. We arrived at the resort about mid-morning with smiles on our faces and the stir of anticipation still rumbling in our bellies.
At the resort we toured the general store. Some of us bought t-shirts to wear in remembrance of our journey and others got patches to sew on their vests. We took photographs outside: individuals, small groups, the entire group – again remembrances – as if we might someday forget. Then we accomplished was we set out to do, we all successfully road the dragon, a stretch of roadway with sharp curve after sharp curve, some banked like a race track. The ride itself didn’t seem that challenging to me, just a lot of fun. After the Dragon we stopped for a while, the adrenaline rush still flowing through us, and then we rode through the afternoon along lakes and up and down winding mountain roads. It was a great day of riding.
The following day, Miles and I traveled on our own once more, to my brother’s house in Sumter, SC, where we spent the night. We left Sumter at about 8 a.m. and rode the 410 miles back to Casselberry, Florida, arriving home just before 5 p.m. We were travel weary, yet we were already talking about where our next adventure might take us.
(A special thank you to Blain and Cathy Shobe of the Two Rivers Lodge in Bryson City, NC, and to all the members of the Southern Cruisers Riding Club, Central Florida Chapter 131.)