September 22 2009 by Jason Fogelson
Today is going to be a real motorcycling day. We're going to ride the Tail of the Dragon .
The Tail of the Dragon is one of the most famous motorcycling roads in the United States, and has become a real destination ride for people from all over the world. The main reason is its layout: 318 curves in 11 miles of smooth blacktop, winding through beautiful tree-lined hills in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Officially known as US 129, the Tail of the Dragon is a lovely, challenging road that emits a siren call to bikers the world over.
A word of warning about the Tail of the Dragon: Any road this famous will attract its share of idiots, morons who forget that they are on a public road with other traffic. A search of YouTube will reveal a myriad of moronic behavior, hooliganism and wrecks that could easily be avoided with a touch of common sense. I wouldn't ride the road on a busy weekend - it wouldn't be any fun. The key to enjoying a safe ride on the Tail of the Dragon, as with any ride, is to ride safely, ride within your limits and respect the rules of the road. 'Nuff said.
We seem to have lucked out. The forecast called for clouds and rain, but the skies are clear over Chattanooga. After a hearty Southern breakfast at the City Cafe Diner, we check out of the Best Western Heritage Inn and saddle up Melvis for our last day of riding. I decide to wear my full leathers for the day, despite the heat of the past few days - safety over comfort.
We bid farewell to Chattanooga, and head into some of the most beautiful roads we've seen yet. Leading to US 129, we cross the state line from Tennessee into North Carolina along the Cherohala Skyway, a gently winding road that ascends into the Smoky Mountains.
At the base of US 129, we head north toward the Dragon. We ride past the renowned Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort without stopping - too many bikes, too much hubbub for our taste today. We just want to ride.
318 curves in 11 miles is not what Melvis, the Ultra Classic Electra Glide, was designed for, but he does a great job. The speed limit on the road is 30 mph most of the way, though the flow of traffic often moves more quickly. With Robin on the pillion, and fully loaded with all of our luggage (and souvenirs) aboard, Melvis is true to his name, gliding along the Tail of the Dragon with classic elegance. Side-to-side transitions, usually the weak point in a touring bike's handling, are easy and predictable. I push Melvis, but never find his limits in terms of cornering or handling. It is a memorable ride, a wonderful day, and I'm very glad that we decided to detour into North Carolina on our Tennessee trip.
After the Dragon, we have to rush toward Knoxville to return Melvis to his rightful owners and catch our flight back home. We linger for a while in Maryville - well, okay, to be honest, we are lost for a while in Maryville. I don't know how it happened, but we eventually find our way back to Knoxville Harley-Davidson on Lovell Road. We stop for an early dinner at the Waffle House next door to the dealership, a great Southern tradition. Nothing like a double cheeseburger and hash browns with ham, mushroom, onions and peppers to carry you through a transcontinental flight.
Back at the dealership, Sean Hickey checks in Melvis and finds no problems. We reluctantly unload and repack our gear for air travel. After 1106 miles on the road together, we'll miss that bike. Fully loaded with two passengers, Melvis delivered over 42 miles per gallon and never a hiccough of complaint. Once again, Harley-Davidson rental proves its worth.
Patrick from Odyssey Airport Taxi shows up right on schedule to take us back to McGhee-Tyson Airport. We spend the whole ride to the airport telling Patrick about our ride. Patrick takes notes about some points of interest - I wouldn't be surprised if he took a trip to Gus's in Mason for some fried chicken some time soon.
Flying home, our heads still spin from all that we've seen this week in Tennessee. Robin and I agree that we've just scratched the surface of the state, and that a return visit is in order. We'd love to spend more time in Memphis and Nashville particularly, and more time exploring the interior of the state.
Wherever we wind up going, you can bet that we'll be returning on two wheels.