Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tail of the Dragon: Part 1

It was a hot Sunday afternoon in early June. My family was sitting around the pool enjoying the company of my sister and her husband, both of which are avid Harley riders. My husband inquired if they had ever ridden the “Tail of the Dragon”. This piqued my interest, but I was unable to glean any details concerning this curious sounding place from their conversation. Later that evening, I asked my husband about it. From his first description of the road, I was thoroughly hooked. I had to see this phenomenon for myself, but only from the safety of a car, no motorcycles for me.

Imagine traveling along 318 curves, many are blind, in the short distance of 11 miles. The curves have names such as Brake or Bust Bend, Wheelie Hell and the Whip. On one side of you is the mountain wall; on the other side is a plunge into the valley below. Sharing the road with you are motorcycle and sport cars enthusiasts from around the world who are attempting to prove their driving skills to themselves and others.  Sounds like a nice, quiet Sunday afternoon drive, right? Ahhh, no.  This road has claimed over 30 lives since 1995, and the number of accidents are too numerous to count.

Tail of the Dragon Warning Sign
Photo: Brad Snoke
It was a picture perfect Thursday morning when we left Chattanooga for our trip to the Dragon (yes, I did make sure our car insurance was paid up).  We traveled I-75 to the first Cleveland exit (Exit 20) and turned right off the exit. We hit the back roads to Tellico Plains and then to the Cherohola Skyway (also considered one of the best touring roads in America). At the end of the Skyway, was a little gas station called Skyway Food mart. We stopped off for a snack and bathroom break.  I have to admit, these bathrooms were the nicest I saw on this trip. At this point, we were only a few miles from the head of the Dragon.

Fugitive Dam
Photo:Brad Snoke
The beginning of the Dragon, for us, was the Cheoah Dam, locally named Fugitive Dam due to its role as the dam from which Harrison Ford jumped in the 1993 movie “The Fugitive”. As we passed the Dam, I pulled out the map we had printed from the web site. This map had all the points of interest marked so we could see which hair-raising curve we were on. As we took the first of the curves, we were greeted by the beautiful scenery of the Little Tennessee River and the forests of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park.  It was just a few miles of curves and then we hit Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort and the Tennessee boarder which caused a small chuckle. At the state line, between North Carolina and Tennessee, was a chain length fence that was only a few feet long on each side of the road. I assume this is used to close off the mountainous road during adverse weather, but it looked devilishly funny.

Continue to read Tail of the Dragon: Part 2

Also read a few other articles by Dusty Snoke: Dinner at Big River Grille