Saturday morning arrives with a strange mixture of weather. The sun is out, but there is light rain falling as well. The forecast was for good weather, but those clouds over the mountains are foreboding. The late night means we are some of the last to saddle up and head out at the Iron Horse. On the schedule today is the Cherohala/Dragon loop.
There are three of us. I have not seen these guys in 20 years. Back in High School, I was the rider. I rode dirt bikes until I was old enough to drive. Fast forward to now and I had not been back on a bike till a year ago. I am inexperienced on a street bike and old enough to realize it. I have had the Honda ST1300 since June. These guys have been riding for years. Brian has ridden out here from Charlotte on his Harley Ultra. He's been in this area several times and we let him be the lead dog. Steve drove down from Philly, towing his Harley Softail Custom.
We head out. I follow Brian, with Steve close behind me. We are heading for the Tail of the Dragon. Route 28 is wonderful. It is a pleasant warm up and introduction to the great roads in this area. Soon we are there. Gotta go get coffee, tee shirts and stickers!
Everyone has taken pictures of the tree of shame. I did as well
This sign struck me a funny.
We walk across the road to the new Killboy shop and do some more tourist stuff.
Brian has been here before. He understands what the Dragon is. Steve and I have read everything we can find on the internet. We both know to watch out for the real riders coming up from behind, to move over and let them pass. We have read how we really need to worry about the real riders and try to stay out of their way. I assume I am alone in being nervous, but it turns out Steve has similar thoughts. We saddle up and head up the road.
We quickly pass the state border and the curves begin. The road is dry. The nervous feeling begins to fade away and I realize this is a lot of fun. We are spread apart. Brian's Ultra seems to handle the curves well and I am having no trouble staying with him. Steve is falling back though. His Softail is built for style. That fat rear tire and skinny front tire are not optimal for this type riding.
I slow down on the few straights and start watching my mirrors for Steve. Less of my attention is on what's in front of me and more on behind. Suddenly, in the middle of a curve, a fast rider with loud pipes passes me, startling me in the curve. I lose focus and get close to the edge. Damn, where did he come from. Must be one of the real riders that write those rules of the Dragon I read on the web. I decide right then that I need to focus and ride. I catch Brian and I follow him up the mountain. I find out that my foot drags if its under the shifter, so I get it up on top of the pegs in the curves. Curve after curve, we get a clean run the rest of the way. We don't catch anyone and no more squids.
I had to buy a photo
I don't see Steve behind me. I assume he's more comfortable at a slower pace. This is the first time any of us has ridden together. Soon, we are at the top. Pictures were taken.
WTF, where's Steve? No one comes up. Finally some riders show, but not Steve. They tell us there is a rider off the road, in a good place, but off the road none the less! Crap! We saddle up to head back down and here comes Steve. He has some extra mud on his bike, the new windshield is scuffed and he lost a turn signal lens. He says he's okay, but he's limping around a bit.
It took awhile for the whole story to come out. Apparently, the same guy who passed me, startled Steve even more. He was heading to the edge of the road and didn't think he was going to save it, so he picked a soft spot and headed there. Wet leaves on the dirt shoulder did him in. The next guys along stopped and helped him up and everything seemed okay, so he headed on. Steve's a pretty cool customer, but he obviously was shaken. Who wouldn't be? Further up the road, he pulled over in one of the pull off areas (they are not very big) to allow someone past and he dropped it again. One attempt at the Dragon and it won.
So, we hung around at the overlook for awhile. Not a very good start.
I do love dogs on motorcycles!
We are getting ready to saddle up and a group of sport bikes is leaving ahead of us. The last guy in the group just falls over trying to turn his bike around. None of his mates see him and they are gone. We run over and help him with the bike. He thanks us (I think he did, he wasn't speaking English) and is off. What is going on here?
We head off. Brian has slowed down in the lead. We get down by the lake and it starts raining. Not hard but steady. We stop at the Rt 129 Dragon Harley store and get our rain gear on. From here we follow the mapped route up to 441. The road is pleasant and the technical parts are behind us. We stop for gas and something to drink. The rain has let off, but the weather has made the visibility poor. We turn and head to the Cherohala Skyway.
We stop at the Cherohala Harley store to get out of the rain, which has picked up again.
The Iron Horses
Riders stop coming off the Cherohala Skyway don't have good news. Thick fog, no visibility, don't go that way. We consider our options and there just isn't another way, except where we came from and that's a long way. Our only chance to get back before dark is to brave the Skyway fog.
We hit 3000 feet above sea level and we are in the clouds. Visibility is about 50 feet. Its a very slow ride. We pass by all the parking areas since the great views I have read about are not to be seen today. Of course the mist or rain is there all the time. The Cherohala has plenty of curves, but they are sweepers, not the tight technical curves of the Dragon. Once we get over the mountain and out of the clouds, the weather breaks and we actually can see the sky and clouds for the first time since breakfast. The clouds hang in the mountains in beautiful ways. Perhaps this is why they are called the Smokies?
We roll into the Iron Horse just before dinner. Saturday night is prime rib and it tasted good after a day of riding. Time to relax, have some great conversations and plan tomorrow. The news we hear is that the weather was good for everyone who stayed east of the mountains. We thought we would go up into the National Park tomorrow.
I said something earlier about knowing what the Dragon is. So, I have been there, rode it several times (more to follow), what do I think it is? Its just a road. Really! That's what it is. Its not some impossible collection of curves that require god like skills to navigate. Its not a race track, although some treat it as such. The real hazard there are the riders that write down the "dragon rules" on the web and believe everyone needs to get out of their way while they speed up and down the road. I enjoyed the Dragon and will go back. I won't let the squids bother me next time. Ride my own ride.
143 Miles today