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 I rode my VFR to The Dragon and back on Friday. Round trip, door to door  525 miles and  11.5 hours. For motor enthusiasts worldwide the Dragon is a place of legend. 318 turns in an 11 mile stretch of asphalt that has no houses or side roads to distract from the task at hand. I feel fortunate to have a little history with this place.

  I first heard about The Dragon in the middle ‘80s. Someone was wearing a T Shirt with the inscription “I survived Deal’s Gap 318 Turns in 11 Miles”.

WTF ? Where is this place ? I want to try it out !

 One Sunday  after encountering that shirt I drove my CRX from Chattanooga,TN to where I thought the Dragon was located. In typical male fashion I asked not ( for directions) and found not ( The Dragon ). Later after retreating empty handed,  I learned that I was only a few miles from the lookout that marks the north end.

 Time passed . I moved from Chattanooga to Charleston. Then on to Ft Lauderdale and finally Charlotte. In 2000 I finally found myself ripping through all those turns for the first time in my Celica GTS. Aside from a Harley rider I talked to on the North end ( The Lookout ), the Dragon was empty. I would come to learn that having this place to oneself is a rare treat.

 I rode ( Dragoned ?) my Honda 500 Interceptor round trip sometime in October of 2001. The ride started at dawn ( in the cold ) and ended at dusk. The store parking lot where everyone congregates on the south end was packed. This store is home to the “Tree of Shame” where unlucky riders and drivers have bits and pieces of  parts or gear ( from accidents on the dragon ) nailed to it. So far earning a place on the tree has eluded me. My personal gear on this trip reflected my evolving attitude towards PPE and the necessary funding to obtain it.My feet were shod with leather work boots. Soon I would  own  proper  motorcycle boots. No more Penny loafers sans socks.

  My next round trip pilgrimage  was aboard my Suzuki SV650S. On this particular cloudy  Saturday traffic on the Dragon was light and I was able to ride the entire length aggressively. If I recall, Mother Nature served up a brutal thunder storm the last  hour of the return ride home. Later I felt  lucky to be in my garage soaked, mulling over the day’s fortunes and my sore back side.

 Planning a day trip can be fun. You pull out the map or maps, think about optimizing a route that minimizes traffic and maximizes fun on twisty roads. Look at distance, fuel tank capacity and gas stops. This could be a WW2 foray into Germany with Mustangs flying bomber cover....but it’s not. Ideally I want to ride the Dragon with a half empty tank of gas and fill up on the way home. My VFR has good range, over 250 miles in most cases. The final route I choose takes me out on back roads including Hwy 28 ( The Moonshiner ) and back on Hwy 74 and Interstate 40 .

  My trip started  Friday at 0545. Garage door up, VFR rolled out and started. I’d already checked the air pressure, brake light, turn signals...all the normal preflight stuff. Thursday night’s internet showed the makings of a good day (Friday) with moderate chance of rain in the afternoon.

  The first 15 minutes of most rides I take require me to shake the cobwebs out of my brain and make sure that the interaction between me,the bike, and the surroundings are crisp. On some rides that confident feeling is instantaneous and on others it takes time. Weather was ideal, a bit chilly for the first 2 hours as I rode across Hwy 11 in SC , twisty 178 back into NC , and then Hwy NC64 into Highlands and Franklin. Moonshiner 28 starts outside Franklin and its freshly paved asphalt was a delight. Even with the occasional  slower vehicle  that had to be dispatched, the ride was fun. When everything comes together you’ll notice that idiotic involuntary grin or an occasional whoop to punctuate an especially tasty sequence of twists.

  “I just came from the Dragon and saw Tennessee Troopers bust 10 bikes at one time !”  This revelation fresh out the mouth of a Honda ST rider I talked to at Fontana Dam. I’d occasionally heard stories about crack downs on the Tennessee side but, never had any personal dealings.

  NC Hwy 28 Intersects Hwy 129 at the store where all the motorcycles and cars congregate. At that moment of my arrival the small section of 129 that climbs past the store to the Tennessee state line was empty.  I turned onto that road, nailed the gas and accelerated vigorously up the hill in front of the parked masses making glorious V4 music.  It was my 5 seconds of fame. I was keenly aware that this display of bravado would be short lived. Upon crossing into the volunteer state I was greeted with 3 sights.

1)      A parked TN State Trooper  Tahoe ( Blue Lights Flashing )

2)      A freshly apprehended sport bike rider ( Repsol Leathers ) with a BMW GS TN trooper behind him ( Blue Lights Flashing )

3)      A speed limit sign. Posted speed 30 mph.

Welcome to the Thunder dome.

The last time I remember looking at the posted speed limit it was years ago and 55 mph. I’d always laugh because aside from a few short straight sections anyone would be hard pressed to exceed 40 mph in the overabundance of hairpin turns that make up the bulk of the Dragon. My ride from south to north was a low speed procession . I was behind 4 cruisers, a Triumph Speed Triple and a Grom. The police were seemingly everywhere. Damn. The return North to South was little better. Once again I was stuck behind 3 cruisers but, at least they were being ridden in (for them ) a  spirited fashion.

Dragon Photographers took a bad-ass picture of me doing a one handed dab. Not hard to do when you are probably going less than 30mph and mainly concerned about not hitting slow moving traffic in front of you.

  I took 28 back to 64. Fueled up outside Bryson City. Drank some gator-ade and gobbled down a sandwich during that stop then proceeded to smoothly and rapidly slab it back home. The first part of the trip was mainly 2 lane twistys. The last part divided 4 lane highway and interstate where the main challenge was not conspicuously speeding. Like Harrison Ford’s quip about “flying casually” to Chewbaca in Star Wars, the VFR maintains a vigorous pace with little perceived effort. If you aren’t diligent, triple digit speeds appear all too easily. Descending Black Mountain eastbound on I40 felt like dropping into Dante’s inferno. Soon enough I was back in my zip code. As I rolled the hot VFR into the cool  garage I thought about the day’s excellent ride. Tennessee’s highway gestapo excepted, it had been exceptional.  My bum didn’t even feel too bad. Thanks Sargent ! Thanks VFR.

 Many motor enthusiasts feel compelled to make a pilgrimage to the Dragon. Might I  suggest planning a trip in the middle of the week? You don’t have to do a 500+ mile round trip like I did. Stay closer by and enjoy some local hospitality. Ride safe.

 

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Great write up RC79NC001, I had never heard that there are no houses or side roads on the TOTD, I can understand why it is so popular now. Great shots too. One day I hope to make it to the USA and ride it myself.

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Great write-up!  I've been to that area several times now, a few of those trips being the VFRD event formerly known at TMac (RIP), and I do 2-3 Dragon runs each trip.  It does stink to get behind slower traffic, but when the road is open in front of you it's glorious.

 

NC 28, to me anyway, is *almost* a better road.  Less traffic, more flowing, and has a few places where you can pass slower motorists.  Also, I never knew 28 was nicknamed The Moonshiner.  Thanks for that!

 

"When everything comes together you’ll notice that idiotic involuntary grin or an occasional whoop to punctuate an especially tasty sequence of twists."  Yes, absolutely.  On those rare occasions I manage to perfectly nail a couple hard corners, once I'm out of it I'll pump a fist and yell "Woo!!" in my helmet.  Goofy, I know, but it's such a great feeling I have to celebrate for a brief moment!  🙂 

 

As for "not conspicuously speeding," that is a challenge for me, too, when returning from a full day of riding and I just want to get home.  I live in NE Ohio, and it takes 1-2 hours to get to any decent twisties.  I generally try to take 2-lanes there and back, but sometimes have to slab it to get home before dark and before my brain and body give out after hundreds of miles.  So whether I'm on rural state routes or freeways, on my way home the speed tends to creep up.

 

I'm hoping to get down to that area before the fall.  Thanks for the reminder about how important it is to go!

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Hi, Thanks for checking my story. I'm lucky to have pretty good stuff less than 2 hours away. Southern Ohio has some incredible roads. I'll be there when all this Virus stuff plays out. 

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I've ridden the Dragon about 18 times now. My first experience was on a Suzuki SV650N with a couple of riding mates who were also on their first date with the Dragon. It rained hard on the way there, so much so that we had to pull over, fully bummed out, as this was the goal of our 7 day quest. After it let up, we had about a 20 to 30 minute ride to reach the start point on the North Carolina end. The sun suddenly came out and the clouds were gone. By the time we got there at about 11:00am the pavement was dry and there was not a soul around. No riders, no cops...no one. We had the entire Dragon to ourselves! We rode that bitch as hard as we could both ways. It was the best ride I've ever had and will likely never happen again. It was awesome to say the least.

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Empty Dragon +Good Weather= The Dream Shot !

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Thanks for sharing memories of riding the Dragon.  I have been there (rode from Canada , so not a 1-day event!) 4 times.  The first time down we came in from north (near Maryville, TN) and can remember it raining hard and just stopped and started to dry when we spotted the infamous "HWY 129" sign (off the 411) and thought here we go!  After 5 mins or so we thought this is not that spectacular!?  We kept riding thinking it would change, and we rode and rode until we finally hit the real 129 Dragon and where blown away.  It was a weekday late in day so very quiet and remember how alert I become with heart pumping a large grin on my face.  Over the next couple of times down we discovered more of the roads in the area and could not get over how many great rides exist and if I could just take 30 miles of one of many runs home to Ontario how grand it would be!  Other notable ones I have experienced and are a must are:

 

1. The Entire Blue Ridge Parkway (lightly traveled and no trucks allowed) - 2days of bliss

2. Hwy 28 ("Hellbender on north and Moonshiner on bottom)

3. Hwy 421 ("The Snake") out of Bristol to Mountain City

4. Hwy 80 ("Devils Whip") near Little Switzerland

5. Cherohala Hwy

6. Hwy 209 ("The Rattler") to Hot Springs 

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Not Tail of the Dragon but much closer to home for me here in North Queensland, Australia.

Just outside of Cairns, Gillies Highway has 263 corners and 800 metres of elevation in just 11.8 miles (19 kilometres) And in just over a week I am heading to this area for five days of riding 🤤

 

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Lucky you. That road is on my bucket list, sadly, my bike gently sleeps during this f...ing Victorian COVID lockdown.

Have a great trip Phil, wishing you good weather, ride safe.

Cheers.

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Good read. For a lot of folks the Dragon / Deals Gap area offers a lot of good riding. There’s a lot of good roads and areas that get over shadowed or forgotten about though. Our first time through the Dragon was the spring of 2001 on our way back north after a NY to Florida back to NY trip on our Busa. The next time wasn’t until 2014, once again on the Busa but we’d rented a cabin over near Gatlinburg and made a few trips over making a few laps each time. The police presence is much higher these days, even in 2014 they were keeping a closer eye on things and strongly enforcing the speed limit of 30mph. I’m planning on going back one of these days and re-riding the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here’s a couple pics, one from 2011 traveling and one from 2014 videoing. 

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2 hours ago, Philois1984 said:

Not Tail of the Dragon but much closer to home for me here in North Queensland, Australia.

Just outside of Cairns, Gillies Highway has 263 corners and 800 metres of elevation in just 11.8 miles (19 kilometres) And in just over a week I am heading to this area for five days of riding 🤤

 

25DF428B-23B4-460A-A216-34382A7D9856.thumb.png.446fd5122d0a94cc3fab7b073171c85e.png

What a great photo Philois! An image most of us probably think of when we hear the phrase great mc road.

 

Three years ago I rode...err...OK, drove, Gilles/52. In a crummy rental car. But wow, I know you have some motorcycling fun in store!

 

I am incredibly fortunate to live near some first class roads here in NorCal, but I dream of the perfect pavement you folks in AUS and NZ have. Send us some of your roadway engineers!

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I can’t claim the photo St Stephen, just downloaded it, but yes it is a great photo.

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After moving out of Illinois, I now live about 30 minutes from the Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway. Moonshiner 28 is another great road in the area. Truthfully there are so many good roads here I've gotten to the point where I avoid the Dragon in summer because of the sheer number of bikes and sports cars on it. 

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During one TMac years ago, fellow VFRD member Bent introduced a few of us to Wayah Road down in that area.  It's more of a backroad really, tighter than most of the really popular roads down there.  I don't know what the pavement is like now, but back then it wasn't a road for the faint-of-heart.  I have to remember to ride that one again next time I'm there.

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rode the dragon for the first time  several years ago on my Grom. The Smokey Mountain Crawl. was a great time. hope to make it up there early fall this year to ride on the VFR. 

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Another great road is the Back of the Dragon. Runs from Tazewell Virginia to Marion Virginia. The road runs up and down 3 mountain ridges, so some great elevation changes and hairpins. 32 miles in all with over 300 curves. 

https://www.backofthedragon.com/

Great route to take when on the way to Deal's Gap from the north. I happened upon it by chance on my first run to the Dragon. I make sure I ride it both ways every trip down there.

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