Here I was all set to take you on a journey to “Mutley’s” this month and introduce you to The Three Wise Men .. but now I’ve gone and misplaced all the notes I’d jotted down and specific information that allows me to sit down and hammer out a story the day before it’s due. Not too uncommon anymore as, apparently, I tend to blame it on dementia and come up with a “Plan B”. But I guess in the overall scheme of things .. it’s pretty much the same as dealing with the uncertainties of everyday life. You get thrown a curveball .. step into it and lay down a perfect bunt. You get lemons .. make lemonade. People get so bent out-of-shape over trivial crap anymore .. makes you wonder what they’d do if they had to face real adversity. Fire, flood, tornadoes, life changing illness or accidents .. that’s where the real test of character comes into play.
Right now .. my biggest challenge is finding specific photos that I know I have “somewhere” .. among over 60,000 that are currently on my laptop or the uncounted numbers stored on cd’s that fill two huge boxes. Generally, I’m pretty good at labeling the discs .. but with so many memories filed away, I remember what I’ve taken, but finding “specific” ones is often quite frustrating. Certainly not much to get bent-over though, is it? And I don’t.
A long time ago, I resigned to the fact that my life’s “purpose” was to prove that there is, indeed, a “Murphy’s Law”. I can proudly say that I have an impeccable record at establishing that fact. In a way .. it’s a good attitude to saddle up with each and every time you fire up the Iron Horse. If you are constantly aware that it’s not generally “if” something will go awry on two wheels, but more than likely “when” you will be challenged .. your constant anticipation of the “worse case scenario” will more than likely give you that ultimate advantage and save you life.
When I tell people that as I ride I envision each and every object as potential death .. the realism of being impaled by every fence post I pass .. or that every driver is on a damn cell phone and can’t wait to turn in front of me .. that’s just a small price to pay for the freedom of my Soul. I often relate riding to a “live” video game .. as you navigate through countless obstacles to reach the ultimate level .. LIFE.
When people see riders give each other the little “nod” .. a peace sign .. or a low hand single finger of acknowledgement and respect .. they realize that bikers only give that sign to each other, not to cages. Many wonder what that’s all about .. and that’s not counting the many hand signals that serve a real purpose on group rides of any size. Yes .. it IS an acknowledgement of respect to a fellow “road warrior” .. a brotherhood of unspoken bond forged from a “trial by fire” .. and, if you’ve been out there running the gauntlet of life & death .. you understand .. and I won’t go any further. But I’ll add my ounce of humor to it and explain to the laymen who ask .. we’re giving each other the signal that means “I’m still aliiiiive” .. and all bikers understand that one.
OK .. some people my think we’re crazy .. but in truth, that’s more accurate than they’d expect us to admit. We’re “crazy like a fox” .. as we know the woods and we know how to survive in it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again .. “Fear” is what keeps us alive. It keeps our attention on staying alive and not on a radio dial. It triggers that rush of adrenalin that allows us to “feel” life .. to actually live it .. and not just be an observer who watches his or her life go bye and only “wish” they had the courage to jump out of an airplane or paddle through the raging Nantahala River rapids. (trust me .. they’re both an absolute rush!)
So all this brings me to “Plan B” .. facing “the Dragon”. I’m NOT a gamer .. so this doesn’t mean some sort of Barbaric PlayStation Level Six or Living Room Wi Warrior. If you’re a real biker .. you’ve heard of US Hwy 129, commonly called “the Dragon” or the “Tail of the Dragon”. It’s probably one of the most technical and challenging roads in the entire country, with 318 curves in only 11 miles. Pretty awesome, huh? Talk about challenging your “fear” .. this stretch of Heaven is a biker’s dream come true .. yet, on the other end of the spectrum .. it’s also the end of the road for many who’ve tried to slay that Dragon.
I’m a die-hard mountain rider. Bosco loves to climb and I love to turn him loose and see how well he handles the endless twisties and switchbacks in the midst of wilderness. Unfortunately, that’s also found me nearly blind and freezing cold in the damp darkness, fog & rain on treacherously slick slopes at high altitudes wondering “what the hell am I doing here?”. And I’ll admit .. at those times there was an element of “fear” in the equation .. but it’s purpose was to keep my skill-level as high as possible while amazing me as I increased that with each and every exhilarating blind curve. A good rider never gets complacent or over-confident .. and they’re always looking for a good challenge. You can’t get better if you don’t keep practicing .. and we’re never “perfect”.
In the Great Smoky Mountains, right near the North Carolina and Tennessee state line, is a place called the Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort. Locals call it “the Gap”. It’s open from March 1 (just before Daytona Bike Week) through late November, and it has become the Mecca for motorcycle enthusiasts. Outside their door is “the Dragon”. From right past the Tennessee line to the Tabcat Bridge at Chilhowee Lake is an eleven mile experience that every biker MUST put on his bucket list, right next to Sturgis. Oh, and don’t forget the Beartooth Pass in Montana; the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH 1) up the western coastline; or US 50 across Nevada .. the list goes on .. it’s ALL good when you’re on two wheels .. and even if you’re not.
That entire area though, with the Blue Ridge Parkway; Foothills Parkway; Cherohala Skyway into Robbinsville; nearby Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg .. is some of the most incredibly beautiful landscape you’ll ever see. Even though I prefer the dry-hot climate riding, this area in the summertime is still high on my list of all-time favorites. I’m just a nature-lover .. and this area has it all.
The weekend I spent there, on my way through to Virginia, I rode the Dragon three times. It was hot, dry, perfect weather for riding, and crowded with bikers from all over the world. The worst part was the fact that they had just completed resurfacing miles of the Dragon with fresh asphalt .. about thirteen inches deep at the outer edge .. then straight down. Few guardrails .. a narrow road .. and lots of crotch-rockets all trying to set some sort of land speed record. Needless to say, there were six deaths on that particular stretch that weekend alone. It was interesting to note that every so often there would be an emergency vehicle just parked by the road waiting for immediate response to an accident. On one curve I saw a freshly plowed rut that looked as if a foot peg had left it’s final thirty-foot mark before it ended into the abyss. I couldn’t even see how far down that drop went .. but I knew whoever left that mark was in serious trouble.
The inside curves were just as treacherous in places .. a steep edge from the fresh asphalt into a gully wash at the base of a rock wall. When I came upon a rider who’d ended up in that predicament, also riding a Road King Classic, it was a ways before I could find a place to pull over and walk back to help. By the time I got back to him .. a few riders coming at him from the opposite direction had stopped traffic and it took six of us to lift the Hog out of it’s waller. He was just lucky that he kept himself out of the jagged rock wall before coming to an upright stop. Others just weren’t so lucky.
Along the route .. at what few places there were to pull over due to the enormous number of bikes out there .. I got a chance to visit with some of the riders who had installed video cameras on their bikes, front and rear, and were viewing the footage amongst fellow riders. It was pretty cool to see it on film .. since I really didn’t take the chance of riding one-handed and snapping digital shots like I normally do. So my shots of that ride were rather limited.
Coincidentally, my niece and her husband, Lindsey and Chris (owners of Iron Aces Speed Shop and publishers of this newsletter) got to ride the Dragon this summer. Someone started a great business shooting photos of the riders maneuvering the Dragon and selling the pics to those interested in keepsakes. I saw their postings several weeks ago and they were awesome!
One of the most interesting and unique features at Deal’s Gap is the “Tree of Shame”. You have to laugh when you first see it .. as it immediately reminded me of a Christmas tree. However, this tree is adorned with dozens of broken motorcycle parts instead of shiny balls and tinsel. The bigger parts are signed and dated .. and I even saw an entire arm cast that was autographed with the inscription “the Dragon bit me on …” and I forget the date .. dementia again. The sad fact remains .. each mangled piece left behind as a “tribute to the Dragon” represents someone’s heartache and anguish. I was in a biker bar a few years back and on the Speed Channel they were doing a special on US 129. I just happened to catch the close-ups on the “Tree of Shame” and it made me laugh and smile. I mentioned to some of the other bikers I’d met that I stood right there at the base of that tree and read many of the inscriptions of the poor souls who had been “bitten”. Small world, huh?
We ride for many reasons .. and those who don’t all have many of their own. The cruelest prison is the one we build for ourselves out of “fear” and regret .. so don’t let your fears keep you from doing something that your heart knows is right .. or anything else that YOU really want to do.
Life is way too short for regrets … and if you allow your “fear” to guide your path .. that resulting heartache and anguish may never be rectified.
Until next time .. ride smart .. ride safe
and the Adventure continues …