Monday, June 22, 2009

Dragonslayers Anonymous

God bless the American roadways!!!

I thought I'd seen it all in GA-75 and GA-348. The five hour impulse drive on that lazy Sunday afternoon was no match to what I discovered on the bumper sticker of a beat up Dodge Ram on I-85. "I slayed the Tail of the Dragon", it claimed, with the emblem of US highway 129 beside a fire-breathing beast of lore. Search results revealed an international rider's paradise just one mountain hop away. Tennessee.

Not going would be a sin knowingly committed. No penance would liberate me.

Deals Gap was three hours away, and the eleven-mile stretch would be a twenty minute drive. I needed to do more. Perpendicular to the Tail of the Dragon extending from Nantahala National Forest into Cherokee National Forest was the mile-high Cherohala skyway. I packed my compass, a bottle of Gatorade and the Zen.

All said and done, I was late! I had wanted to leave by 5 in the morning so I can stay out of the way of cruisers, speeders and roadsters. The map showed quite a gradation in the altitude through the stretch, there was no way I would not have a line chasing me. And now I wouldn't reach the course until 10. Hopefully everybody was still at church.

Getting there was monotonous. Somebody airlift me across NC, please. Floyd wasn't helping, I needed some pumping long-drive anthems. A gentle drizzle was starting to hint the mood of the day. After what seemed like a day shorter than eternity, I started seeing the dragon insignia on souvenir shops. I soon realised Deals Gap wasn't exactly a township, no post office, no police station, just a stop along route 129. It was a resort in itself. A creek flowed to the left, and slowly turned into rapids and rocky white water. Trucks lined the banks and rafters set into their gear to tumble against/with the current. I sighed, but I had more important things to do. I was looking for the 'start line'. There was none.

Turn 1: WHAT THE... Oh, so that was turn 1.
Turn 2: Ay, Caramba!
Turn 6: Aaaaaaaa...
Turn lost-count: O...k...
Turn 318: Let's do that again!!!

So I took a big U-turn and did it all over again, this time with the windows down, Maiden blaring, and stopping to take in whatever little of the view available in an otherwise shielded mountain route.

The rest of the ride was easy. I did, however, miss wheeling some dirt onto a photographer who raised and immediately lowered his camera (as he had done on the onward drive) when he realised that not only were there four wheels, there were four doors to this toy.

Nobody insults the Civic!

This was one road where I religiously followed the speed limit. They weren't kidding when they set it to 30 (Driving to the previous limit of 55, maintained until 1992, looks arduous now). Checking the official site, I see it wasn't too long ago when riders met their end at the very place.

Reaching Robbinsville beyond Deals Gap, route 143 led into Cherohala. What I missed with the Dragon, the skyway made up for in view and speed. For this stretch, it was best to get the Led out.

There was definitely more traffic on the skyway than I'd seen at the Dragon. I realised I had to pull over and take a break just so I would stop tailing the slower drivers. Meddling with the camera was a perfect breather.

The day wasn't without its black mark. When all the fun driving was done and I was back in the plains on my way home, I had to make a blind 150-degree left turn. Only midway through the turn did I realise it was a blind intersection to the oncoming traffic as well. The other driver looked horrified, but we managed to stay off each other's way. Whatever caused me to be two seconds ahead of him in the whole day saved both of us from ricocheting off each other. Call it God, call it destiny, call it probability, call it coincidence. I worship all of them.

I had to refuel. I made it back to the same fuel station in my neighbourhood ten hours after my earlier refill the same day. The Zen died out when I pulled in at the pump - it had been playing since I left there in the morning. Now that's what I call a one-tank trip.


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