By BILL FREDERICK
This adventure to the Tail of the Dragon got started innocently enough – Scott Tillesen happened to mention that he was going to ride by himself to Milwaukee for the 110th Harley birthday celebration, and he said he intended to ride the dragon on his way there.
That sounded interesting to me because I had never ridden the Dragon – I’d been up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway many times, and I had ridden a bit in the Smokey Mountains, but I had never made it to the Dragon. I told Scott that if he could put up with me I might like to ride along with him as far as the Dragon, and then head back home when he continued his trip northward.
Scott suggested that I ask other FWCMC members if they would like to come along, so I put out an e-mail inviting anyone and everyone along. That got a response from Danny Buckley and Jim Lawrence. We started making plans.
On Saturday, Aug. 24, we headed north from Scott’s driveway.
|Minor repair to Jim's bike on the way out of Florida|
We started off Sunday by looking around for a breakfast spot. The two places I found on Yelp were out of business. We ended up in an IHOP about 20 miles up the road.
Our plan was to ride a couple of hours to the Dragon, spend some time doing that road, then riding on to Maggie Valley for a visit to the Wheels Through Time motorcycle museum. That didn’t even come close to working out; it took longer to get to the Dragon than we thought because of the country roads and the fact that we decided to include a tour of the Cherohala Skyway, which turned the 11-mile Dragon into a 120-mile loop. We hoped we would get to Maggie Valley by mid-afternoon; instead, we rolled into town at 8 p.m., just in time to meet ol’ pal Roger Reed for dinner.
Anyway, back to the Cherohala Skyway and the Dragon…
|Scott leads the group through a turn on the Dragon|
If you haven’t ridden the Dragon, it should be on your bucket list. Go back to the July newsletter and read Jim DeLeo’s story about riding up in that area, and Google up some stories and pictures. The Dragon is something like 318 curves in 11 miles, which means a lot of banking, turning and countersteering. We came upon one accident (a sport bike traveling in a group of sport bikes) and one section of construction that reduced the road to a single lane, with traffic controlled by temporary traffic lights.
Actually, the stress level on the Dragon was less intense than I expected. It’s challenging, but not so tough that any decent experienced rider shouldn’t be able to handle it. It also was shorter than I expected – it was over pretty quickly.
Once we got done, we rode on to Maggie Valley. As it turned out, the shortest way to Maggie Valley was going to mean a return trip on the Dragon, something that none of us really wanted to do. So we took an alternate route, north and east through the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. This was a very beautiful ride, but it added some time to our day.
There was going to be no time for the museum in Maggie Valley, so we decided to put that off until the next morning. We got to Wheels Through Time at just about the 9 a.m. opening time.
|A 4-cylinder Henderson|
Besides road bikes, there are board track racers, hill-climbers, dirt track racers, choppers, bobbers, and one-off machines of all types.
|An Indian drome racer|
Owner-founder Dale Walksler was on hand, and as we were leaving he was out in the parking lot, happily giving a sidecar ride to one of his museum visitors.
After about an hour-and-a-half visit, we were ready to go. This was Monday morning, and we wanted to make it home by Tuesday afternoon. That meant a 350-mile ride to Americus, Ga., that afternoon, and then another 350-mile ride on Tuesday. We got to Americus by about 6 p.m., and we were on the road again the next morning by 7:30. We were back in Pinellas County by around 3 p.m. after a long day down US19.
This was a great ride. We saw a lot and did a lot in just four days. I think maybe we’ll put this back on the schedule for next year. Anybody game?