GAS IS AVAILABLE OFF THE PARKWAY AT ANY OF THESE US OR STATE HIGHWAY INTERSECTIONS…
US 250 – MP 0
US 60 – MP 45.6
VA 130 – MP 61.6
US 501 – MP 63.9
US 460 – MP 106
VA 24 – MP 112.2
US 220 – MP 121.4
US 58 – MP 177.7
US 52 – MP 199.4
VA 89 – MP 215.8
US 21 – MP 229.7
NC 18 – MP 248.1
NC 16 – MP 261.2
US 321 – MP 291.9
NC 181 – MP 312
NC 226 – MP 330.9
US 70 – MP 382.4
US 74A – MP 384.7
US 25 – MP 388.1
NC 191 – MP 393.6
US 276 – MP 411.9
US 74/23 – MP 443.1
US 19 – 455.7
Our trip to the Tail of The Dragon in Tennessee to North Carolina and cruising the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway from Cherokee, NC to Fancy Gap, VA
1,182 miles – 3 1/2 days – 6 states – Beautiful scenery – Every riders dream roads- Great people & places!
Tom and I have been wanting to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway for many years. Finding enough time to take this ride was nearly impossible. Tired of missing out on such a beautiful ride, we settled for a long weekend to make the trip, Labor Day weekend 2012.
Our plans were set, we would leave on Friday morning. Dominating the news during the week leading up to the weekend was the arrival of Hurricane Isaac.Threatening to move from the gulf; north-east to the Ohio/Kentucky/Tennessee area at the exact time we had planned our trip.
We decided in order to make the most of three days and beat any bad weather from Hurricane Isaac, the best route would be to haul ass down I-75 from Ohio to North Carolina, enter the Blue Ridge in Cherokee, NC then leisurely ride the Blue Ridge north back towards West Virginia then west to Ohio and home. Since we were going that far south we decided to hit The Tail of the Dragon (318 curves in 11 miles) at the Tennessee-North Carolina border. We’ve heard many stories about the Dragon and thought it would be a shame to be so close and not ride it ourselves.
Our route: Get on I-75 in Sidney, OH and go south on all the way to Knoxville, TN. In Knoxville we would hit SR 129 towards North Carolina. The Tail of the Dragon is on SR 129. Riding the tail would take us to Robbinsville, NC and from there we will make our way to Cherokee, NC to start the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We had our bikes packed and ready to roll before going to bed Thursday night. We would leave our house at 7 a.m., travel 20 minutes to town to gas up and hit Interstate 75 south. We were fueled up and hitting the entrance ramp on I-75 at 7:30 Friday morning. The morning was beautiful with clear blue skies and cool temperatures in the 50’s. The traffic was heavy, it was Labor Day weekend after all, but rolling smooth. The only obstacle I had to overcome was my hesitation (fear) about going through Cincinnati, Ohio at 9 a.m. on a Friday morning, on a holiday weekend, during rush hour. I-75 in Cincinnati is not pleasant in a car, on a motorcycle….ugh!
We rolled through Cincinnati and crossed the Ohio River bridge into Kentucky without a hitch! We made our first stop just south of Florence, KY where we topped off the tanks and took a short 10 minute break. We were back on the road by 9:30, making great time! So far the weather was holding out beautifully. One more quick stop at a rest area along I-75 for water and restrooms, then on to our planned stop south of Williamsburg, KY, to get our helmets on, feul up, and take a quick look at the weather radar. Check the helmet laws for the states you are traveling through.
We hoped to make it to Knoxville, TN, stay the night and be fresh for the Tail of the Dragon in the morning. I had checked out a great website with TONS of information at tailofthedragon.com prior to leaving that was all about the Tail of the Dragon and they suggested motorcyclist arrive in the morning hours (and on a weekday) to avoid the sport cars and truck traffic. Well, since it was a holiday weekend (probably the WORSE time to go) I at least wanted the ‘time’ of day to be in our favor.
The radar check in Williamsburg did not look promising and making it all the way to Tapco, TN, the start (or end; depending on which direction you are coming from) of the Tail of the Dragon. It was looking like we may have to ditch that plan and cut over to North Carolina and hit as much of the Blue Ridge as possible in our weekend journey before the storm washed out our whole trip.
We decided to forge ahead and make it as far as we could before being forced to head east to avoid Isaac. I-75 in Kentucky and Tennessee is a BEAUTIFUL ride. Such a pleasant change from 75 in Ohio. We were thundering through the beautiful mountains, both of us melted into our seats, our bikes rumbling in unison, enjoying every mile of the ride.
I don’t even know what time we rolled into Knoxville, but we knew we had plenty of time to hit SR 129 and tackle the Dragon that day. We checked out the map and seen when we hit Alcoa, TN we would be getting close. In Alcoa we stopped for a Gatorade and peeled off the long underwear we started the day in, the temperature was rising and we were sweating our asses off!
We were back on the bikes and right in the middle of a traffic jam!! It must have been close to 5:00 and everyone and their brother was either getting off work or getting out of town for the long weekend. First bit of advice for anyone traveling to the Tail of the Dragon…. DON’T GO THROUGH ALCOA, TN!!
Finally making it through Alcoa and back to smooth riding, I now had to time think about where we were heading. The TAIL OF THE DRAGON! You hear all the stories….”I scrapped my foot boards the whole time”, “somebody dies on the Tail of the Dragon every day”, “semi’s jack knife on the turns and run motorcycles off the road”. Go to tailofthedragon.com/dragon_trucks for proof! But….since I had checked out the website prior and read all the myth busters I felt a little more at ease! But still, it WAS 318 curves in only 11 miles, and it was still very dangerous.
And here we are, getting ready to tackle the beast on a FRIDAY EVENING on LABOR DAY WEEKEND!! After riding over 400 miles already that day! WTF!?! Have I lost my freakin mind?! Needless to say, I was starting to get nervous for the
first time. I had heard that they no longer allow semi trailers on this part of 129, well then, why all the signs for several miles leading up to the Tail that read something like…”Truck Advisory…S curves ahead… steep grade… etc…Tractor trailers may want to consider an alternate route” to me that doesn’t mean ‘banned’ that means ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK and I am sure many do! When I see the signs, then I REALLY start to get nervous! Do a search ‘trucks on the tail of the dragon’ and you will see ample proof that trucks ARE NOT banned.
We see several more indicaters we are about to begin our descent into the Dragon. Time to pull over one last time and gather my nerves. A swig of Jack, a smoke, and hell yeah, let’s tame this beast!
SPOILER ALERT!!! DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU WANT THE TAIL OF THE DRAGON TO BE A MYSTERY UNTIL THE DAY YOU ENCOUNTER IT!!
Advice tidbit number 2: If you enter the Tail of the Dragon from the Tennessee side you are on the drop off side, as in, if you go too far right in your lane you will drop off the mountain. If you enter from the North Carolina side you have the mountain to your right and the oncoming traffic lane to your left. The website I had checked out said ‘DO NOT SIGHT SEE WHILE YOU ARE RIDING THE TAIL OF THE DRAGON’. Let me reiterate that….DO NOT SIGHT SEE WHILE YOU ARE RIDING THE TAIL OF THE DRAGON!!
It can be deadly and it can be as dangerous as you make it. Riding unexperienced, too fast, and careless will get you killed. BUT if you ride in your OWN comfort zone and handle curves well, you can really enjoy riding the Tail of the Dragon. There are riders who are on the tail to see how fast they can go. There are some pull offs along the route, if you have riders behind you that want to go faster than you, pull into the pull off and let them pass. Do not feel pressured or pushed to go faster than you are comfortable going, you can seriously injure yourself and/or your motorcycle. Do NOT ride in a staggered formation if you are in a group. You need to be single file, you will need your whole lane in some of the turns.
We conquered the beast and waiting at the end was Deals Gap and across the road another cool place with a BBQ Pit on the front porch. At Deals Gap sits the famous ‘Tree of Shame’, The Tree of Shame is a just that, a tree. It is draped with motorcycle parts gathered from the road from the unfortunate souls that were burnt by the Dragon and didn’t make it through unscathed. You have to take your picture in front of the Tree of Shame!
We had a blast riding the Dragon and actually wanted to do it again, faster of course. But it was nearly 7:00 pm by this time and starting to get dark, NOT a good time to be on the tail!
They also have rooms to rent at Deals Gap. Since it was close to getting dark and we had no where to stay for the night we inquired on a room. They said they book up for Labor Day weekend a year in advance. If you are planning to stay at Deal’s Gap, plan ahead!
The lady at the counter told us Robbinsville, NC would be our best bet. We fired up the bikes and continued on 129 towards Robbinsville, keeping an eye open on the way for any campgrounds. On the way to Robbinsville we passed a few mountain lodge resorts but none with any vacancy. We also rode pass the Tapoco Dam, the Dam that the infamous scene in the “Fugitive” was filmed. The scenery continues to be absolutely beautiful.
We arrive in Robbinsville at dark. We pulled over to the first motel we seen, the San-Ran Motel, a quaint little family run place. The vacany sign was lit! While checking in the owner tells us we should ride the Cherohala Skyway before we leave the area. I knew we didn’t have time but wanted to check the map to see exactly where this was.
Tom and I find the Cherohala Skyway on the map….it was on the way to the Tail of the Dragon, damn! Oh well, now we know and we wouldn’t have had time on this trip to take such a scenic ride anyway.
We get a great nights sleep and wake up in the morning to numerous bikes parked in front of the rooms at the hotel. I love it! It seems every time we travel we wake up surrounded by fellow riders, whether at a motel, hotel, or campground. Awesome!
A quick stop at the local grocery to get Gatorade and almonds, fuel up the bikes, then onward to Cherokee, NC and the Blue Ridge Parkway!!
We had an amazing ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway – beautiful!!