I left Gatlinburg heading South on 441 and another section of the Foothills Parkway towards Cherokee NC and within about 5 minutes the sun turned to rain.
The morning was spent in the rain, in the sun, in the rain, in the sun, in the shade of the Smokey Mountains where the temps were at least 15 degrees cooler than the open areas, and then back into the sun. And that was just the first hour or so of the day to Cherokee NC.
From Cherokee I rode US 74 to its intersection with Rte 129, then headed North through Robbinsville and then past the Cheoah Dam, landing at Deal’s Gap just after noon.
Deal’s Gap Motorcycle resort exists at the southern end of the Tail of the Dragon, an 11 mile section of US 129 filled with 318 curves, and is a starting point or ending point for all who dare to try to tame “The Dragon”.
Complete with a takeout store, motel rooms, a general store and merchandise mecca filled with stickers, T shirts, mugs, and an assortment of Dragon paraphernalia, and the Tree of shame, Deal’s Gap resort is a must before tackling the Dragon.
My orange T-shirt is definitely High Vis for those rare days I ride without a jacket and Max’s windshield now sports my Deal’s Gap Dragon with the Canadian flag just above the headlamp.
You will also find Killboy photographers along the Dragon who capture images of you during your ride that you can download for a reasonable price to commemorate your ride on The Tail of the Dragon.The image below is A Killboy image of me and max.
If you’ve never ridden the Tail of the Dragon, it’s a ton of fun providing you don’t overdrive your abilities. Some of the curves are mostly straightforward, some are at the bottom or top of a rise, and there are more than several hairpins. What makes the Dragon unique in my experience is the fact there are no side roads and no driveways, just trees, gravel, pavement, and other riders.
The torque and dynamics of the Sportster made the ride a blast, gearing down for the corners then coming onto the throttle at the apex of the turn, shifting up into third and occasionally fourth, only to release the throttle and gear down for the next turn.
You spend a lot of time down shifting and braking, leaning and accelerating and I can see why the guys and gals on crotch rockets enjoy posting their fast trips on Youtube.
As a paramedic I have seen what happens when a biker loses traction, and have treated road rash more than twice, so while I had a ton of fun taming the Dragon, I made sure to respect this unfamiliar stretch of blacktop and so that some of Max didn’t wind up on the Tree of Shame, or worse.
Chilhowee to Pigeon Forge
The Dragon just kind of ends without fanfare and the curves straighten out as Rte 129 takes you West towards Chilhowee.
I left 129 and the Dragon behind and headed North on another section of the Foothills Parkway through Happy Valley, and while I had no set destination in mind other than Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge is where I ended up after transiting through Townsend and Wears Valley.
The Parkway ride was clear and sunny and the roads wide and winding compared to my 11 miles on the Dragon.
I stopped at Smokey Mountain Harley Davidson in Pigeon Forge to browse and take a couple of pictures, and picked up a long sleeved shirt and a couple of poker chips as I usually do, then headed back to Gatlinburg hungry, thirsty, a little bit tired and a little bit sad it was over.
I dropped my clothes off at the laundromat, trekked down to Howard’s and had a drink and ordered supper, headed back to put my clothes in the dryer 45 minutes later, then went back to Howard’s and ate my ribs. After supper was done I went and got my laundry then back to the hotel to pack for the start of the ride home the next day.
When I got off Max at the hotel that evening Max’s speedometer showed I had travelled 1985 miles since I left home. They were 1985 fantastic miles. Despite the rain.