Lieback’s Corner (#20) / 4.26.2013
For the past few years, I’ve taken solo-motorcycle treks from Northeastern Pennsylvania to the same part of the Eastern states due to the area’s beauty and folks – Tennessee and North Carolina.
No maps, no direction. I just get on Blue Ridge Parkway and simply go.
And one area I find myself revisiting time and time again is the famed Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap on US 129 in North Carolina. The destiny carries an aura with it that only motorcyclists can understand, especially once they conquer its 318 turns in 11 miles. And it doesn’t matter if you pilot a cruiser, adventure tourer or a sport bike; the area simply awakes the soul.
My first visit there was back in the Honda Hoot days when dozens of friends and I rode sport bikes and gathered in that prime land below the Mason-Dixon Line. My first experience of Deals Gap was in 2003, and I’ve returned to the Dragon four times to date.
Every time there I find something new that hypes up my emotions for not only travel, but the area. Last summer was a prime example. While on a yet another solo journey that took my trusty 98 VFR and I over 3,000 miles in six days to Clarksdale, Miss., en route to find the root of the blues, I again traveled US 129 to the Dragon.
I stopped for a break at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort, and went inside the souvenir shop to purchase a new beer mug, one of the things I religiously collect while on the road. At the register, I heard someone talking about Wilkes-Barre, Pa., a town just down the road from me where I spent years in my 20s working at a daily newspaper.
Out of pure coincidence, the guy talking was Dennis Skiro, who was from Plains Township, a town just down from my homestead of Bear Creek Township. He was traveling with a few buddies, enjoying life on two wheels while on vacation. We shared some talk and laughs, Skiro telling me he knows some of my (crazy) cousins from Northeast Pa. Immediate rapport began, and Skiro said he’d email me a bit about his trip once he returned back to good ole Pennsylvania.
These things don’t happen often. But when they do any motorcyclists meeting someone from the same town almost 800 miles away gets an emotional feeling – one only a motorcyclist can feel when touring these great states.
So I had to share. I have well over 60,000 miles of solo journeying on two wheels, but have never met anyone from the homestead while on the road. I’m hoping this happens much more in the future, and I run into many more passionate riders like Skiro along the wayFollowing is Skiro’s account of his journey about a couple of good friends enjoying the little freedom allowed during the working year, along with a few pictures attached above. Although Skiro and I have never ridden together, I’m sure we will sometime soon. And I hope it’s somewhere far away from the place we both call home.
From Skiro’s email:
I first rode to the Tail of the Dragon Deals Gap with my friend Joe Humanick in August of 2011. We rode from Plains Township, Pa. to Robbinsville, N.C. in one day. The distance was 760 miles.
The next morning we tackled the the Tail of the Dragon, the famed spot on US 129 that features 318 turns in 11 miles, which we both thought was an awesome ride. We also rode the Cherohala Skyway and a large portion of the Moonshine 28. We rode home via the Great Smokey Mountains, and after washing down the dust in Gatlinburg, we continued on home to Pennsylvania taking our time and doing the return trip in two days. That ride for me, added a bit over 2500 miles to my odometer, and a lifetime of great memories.
In the early summer of 2012, my friend Rick Nutaitis invited me to ride with him and a mutual friend, Bob Wineman, to the Dragon. They had never been there before and were looking forward to a great ride. Not having any other rides planned I eagerly accepted.
I also asked my cousin Dave Wysocki and friend Cher Lear, aka “Prudence,” to join us. They too had never been to the Tail and thought it was a great idea, but were somewhat concerned about the distance. Both are experienced riders but were usually limited to rides of no more than two- or three-hundred miles in one day. I offered the option of doing the ride in two days. After a little coaxing and a little more “ball busting,” they too were eager to attempt to slay the Dragon.
As for machines, I ride a 2011 Harley-Davidson Super Glide. Rick Nutaitis who had his girlfriend Dian two-up, was on a Victory Kingpin and the rest all rode Harleys. Bob’s choice of two wheels is a Road King, Prudence’s a Heritage and cousin Dave’s a 110 Springer Softail.
We met at a local Sheetz gas station early on the morning of Friday, August 18. After a quick coffee we roared out of Plains Township on our way to our first destination, which was a Holiday Inn located in Johnson City, Tenn. The total miles that day was about 550.
After the usual pit stops we all arrived at the hotel, incident free and a bit tired and hungry. We parked the bikes, checked in and had a great buffet at a local seafood restaurant.
That night we had a few drinks while enjoying the comedian who was entertaining in the hotel lounge. Bob thought he was hilarious because he keyed on me for a fair portion of his jokes.
We woke up early on Saturday morning, had breakfast then fired up the bikes for the remaining ride of about 240 miles.
After arriving at our destination, the Fontana Village Resort, we basically threw our things in the cabin and headed out for The Dragon.
We stopped at Deals Gap, took a quick look around and after some good natured ribbing and good luck wishes, the five of us put the rubber on the famous stretch of US 129.
I was through the 11 miles and 318 turns first and was waiting at the large lot at the north end of the Dragon for the rest of the crew. Dave was next, with Prudence close behind, then Rick and Dian, and bringing up the rear was Bob.
I could see the excitement in their faces as they rode to where I was waiting. We got off our bikes, talked for a bit then saddled up to do the return ride back to Deals Gap.
After buying some souvenirs and enjoying a lunch we headed back to Fontana. The next few days had us again on the Dragon then to the Cherohala Skyway and various roads in the general vicinity.
We rode over the Great Smokey Mountains, stopping at the top to experience the fantastic views from Clingman’s Dome. After that it was off to Gatlinburg and a moonshine tasting at the Ole Smokey Mt. Distillery. Then after purchasing several mason jars of moonshine we found ourselves running moonshine to Pennsylvania. The trip was my second to the Dragon and both were memorable experiences.
When ever we get together, at some point the topic of US129 comes up again and again, and we are in the planning stages of another try at slaying the Dragon this August.
Lieback’s Corner is the Online Editor’s column, which delves into RL’s recent motorcycling mind breaths and wanderings.