Fail at the Tail


I've wanted to do the Tail of the Dragon for years... The Tail of the Dragon is one of the few motorcycle trips on my bucket list (besides maybe the Bavarian Alps) that I haven't ridden before.
If you don't know, the Tail spans a vertiginous 308 turns in 11 miles from North Carolina to Tennessee,  nestled in between the Smokey Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest, and which is widely considered one of the riding Meccas in the United States.


I stopped short of Cherohala and the Deal's Gap a few years back, when a couple friends of mine went cross country on superbikes, and I reluctantly stayed behind and missed both the Tail and Cherohala, another legendary motorcycle route.  

But after convincing my girlfriend to take my bike down to her Nanny's house, I was convinced that would get the chance in September.  I did get to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway for the second time, but we were headed straight for Hurricane Irma on the way down to Atlanta, and was rained out. 
 However, after getting a chance to visit Barber Motorsports, one of the best tracks and motorcycle museums in the world, I was sure I would get a chance to finally fulfill my dream to ride the Tail on the Sunday before Labor Day. 
 I woke up Sunday raring to go.... and even got Nanny's blessing! I suited up, tossed my girl the truck keys, and said goodbye to the ladies and the tomcat that had been hanging out at the house for the past few days, 
 only to realize the key wouldn't fit in the motorcycle's ignition. I had somehow broken the tip of my key off over the weekend (note the website on the Ducati New York website on the key fob).
 I was confused, then crestfallen. Not sure if I had broken off the key inside or outside the ignition, I spent about an hour fishing with zipties and sewing needles to no avail.
I sat dejected for a while, but managed to convince myself that piling the bike back into the back of the truck and heading toward the Nantahala State Forest and Deals Gap on the way home would be worth it.
The Cherohala was amazing... I managed to strap a GoPro to the front of my truck, but it wasn't really the same. 

After about an hour on Cherohala, we actually got lost somewhere in Nantahala State Forest, as there is absolutely no cell service in the hills, and the rural roads are not terribly well marked either, which is gives the entire area a bit of simultaneous exclusivity and rustic charm. 
Finally, we stumbled upon Route 129 North, and happened upon a sea of bikes at the Deal's Gap Motorcycle resort.
 While I would venture 90% of the motorcycles were Harleys (or some other variation of cruiser), I was struck by 5 or 6 Italian sportbikes ridden by experienced looking gentlement in full track leathers. 
We stopped off at the "Tree of Shame," a collection of parts from crashed bikes along the Tail of the Dragon, which reads, "No gain... and a lot of pain."
Finally, late in the afternoon I finally got the chance to drive the Tail of the Dragon, though to say the feeling was 'bittersweet' is an understatement.  I felt bad driving with a motorcycle in tow, both because I couldn't ride a perfectly good Ducati Streetfighter in the back, and that I would slow down other riders along this epic route.

As luck would have it, I actually got stuck behind a couple slower Harley's and got some great video footage of the entire Tail.  My little Toyota (even with a motorcycle in the back) actually handles the turns quite well, even if my girlfriend didn't think so...

Postscript

I posted my sorrowful broken-key photo on social media, and received an outpouring of support.  My friend Arthur mentioned a bunch of buddies from an MV Agusta club of his were planning on heading down to the Tail in a few weeks, and though I didn't have an MV, I would still be welcome to join them.  I pondered for a few minutes and then called the hotel in Tellico Plains to book a reservation.


© 2017 Tigh Loughhead

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