Photos & Story – Joseph Boyle
This past May, I survived “The Tail Of The Dragon”. US 129, internationally known as “The Tail Of The Dragon”, is located in the Great Smoky Mountains. It is a favorite road for motorcyclists, sports car drivers and bicycle riders. Riding from Knoxville, Tennessee, we started the “Tail of the Dragon” at Tabcat Bridge. Route 129 eventually took us across the state line into North Carolina at Deals Gap.
The “Tail Of The Dragon”, called just “The Dragon” for short, is only 11 miles long. Why so much fuss over a road that is only 11 miles long? The reason for the road’s notoriety is during those 11 miles, you encounter 318 turns including many decreasing radius turns which tighten up on themselves.
Many riders run too fast ending up in a ditch or in the trees. At the end of the road there is what they call the “Tree of Shame”. Tons of motorcycle parts, picked up at crashes, swing from the tree as decoration reminders of what happens when a rider crosses the safety line. The Travel Channel reports there are 12 crashes a week and in many years 1 to 3 deaths. A rider can slay The Dragon or The Dragon can slay the rider.
The Dragon has an interesting and notorious past. The Cherokee Indians inhabited the area starting around 1540. The first white hunters and trappers began using the road in the 1700s. The road started out as an animal track stomped down by large herds of buffalo. Cherokee Indians and white settlers died fighting on this road. Starting in the 1830s, following the “Trail of Tears” when our country forced the Cherokee off their land onto reservation land in Oklahoma, the white settlers came and took over the Cherokee land. The road was used during the Civil War. There is a location on the road known as “Toll Booth Corner”. Private land owners started collecting tolls from people who wished to cross their private land. Anyone attempting to evade the toll was subject to being tracked down to be hung along side the road which gave prospective toll evaders pause to reconsider their desire to cheat the toll keeper. The road gave moonshiners an escape route from the revenuers.
Movies such as “The Fugitive”, “Thunder Road”, and “Two-lane Blacktop” were filmed on the Dragon.
While I do not have a death wish, I wanted to experience “The Tail of The Dragon”. It is billed as the best motorcycle road in the world. If anyone asks if I have slain the “Dragon”, I can say “Yup”. I guess you can call me a “Yupper”, not to be confused with “Yuppie”.
You really have to concentrate when riding the Dragon. Head and eye placement riding tactics are crucial. Gawking can be deadly.
Some corners were so tight, sparks flew off my Harley as I my bike scraped on the asphalt.
Two new friends of mine, Kevin & Kim, who I refer to as the 2Ks, are from Minneapolis, Minnesota. As I write this article, the 2Ks are heading out on a 3,000 mile motorcycle ride that will include, “The Tail of The Dragon”. I guess the “Dragon” is catchy. Who knows, maybe the 2Ks just want to be more Joe Boyle-like. Two-Ks, have fun.