To Slay a Dragon

In a few days time I depart to the US to ride the Dragon. In a previous post I talked about my last trip and had promised some information on what the Tail of the Dragon is, and this is the purpose of this post. If you like your motorcycles but are not American you may know of the US129. If you are American you will almost certainly know of it. Forgive me for what follows is a blatant cut and paste job. I promise that my next post on the subject will be my ride reports.

The Tail of the Dragon

Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap with 318 curves in 11 miles, is America’s number one motorcycle and sports car road.
Designated US 129, the road is bordered by the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest, with no intersecting roads or driveways to hamper your travel. It is considered “the destination” for thousands of motorcycle and sports car fans throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

The 11-mile stretch of the Dragon in Tennessee is said to have 318 curves. Some of the Dragon’s sharpest curves have names like Copperhead Corner, Hog Pen Bend, Wheelie Hell, Shade Tree Corner, Mud Corner, Sunset Corner, Gravity Cavity, Beginner’s End, and Brake or Bust Bend. The road earned its name from its curves being said to resemble a dragon’s tail. The stretch bears the street name “Tapoco Road” in North Carolina and “Calderwood Highway” in Tennessee and is signed entirely by US 129

The nearby Cherohala Skyway is quickly becoming a destination too, with its remote 60 miles of breathtaking scenic mountain highway.

The Cherohala Skyway (sometimes called the Overhill Skyway) is a 43-mile (69 km) National Scenic Byway and National Forest Scenic Byway that connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee, to Robbinsville, North Carolina in the southeastern United States. Its name is a portmanteau of Cherokee and Nantahala, the two national forests through which it passes. Along with multiple vistas and overlooks, the skyway provides easy vehicular access to various protected and recreational areas of the Unicoi Mountains, including the Citico Creek Wilderness, the Bald River Gorge Wilderness, and the remote interior of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.

The skyway gains over 4,000 feet (1,200 m) in elevation, rising from a low point of just under 900 feet (270 m) at Tellico Plains to a high point of just over 5,400 feet (1,600 m) on the slopes of Haw Knob near the Tennessee-North Carolina state line. The North Carolina half of the skyway terminates near the south shore of Lake Santeetlah.

The area also has other incredible roads like the Moonshiner 28, Devils Triangle, Diamondback 226, Six Gap North Georgia, The Snake and Great Forest Service Dual Sport and Jeep Roads.

 

The Dragon, the beach and the hot tub. Adventures on the US129 and beyond.

In a previous post I mentioned that back in 2015 I visited some of my friends in the US. Flying into Atlanta we rented a Camaro and did a four state round trip taking in The Dragon aka Deals Gap, Knoxville, and finally, Hilton Head Island for a bit of beach relaxation.

It was on this trip that I first experienced the R1200GS through a rental and had a blast riding the US129 ‘dragon’ during the day and drinking beer sat in hot tubs in the evenings. This year I plan to return in July and at this stage have barely given it a thought although I will be just doing the week in the cabin at the base of the Cherohala Skyway. What I do know is that a very generous friend is allowing me to use one of his bikes during the trip. Its a lifesaver as I had entertained the notion of renting a GS from Eagle Rider in Atlanta but the cost for the duration was over $2000 in comparison to $600 for a Mustang/Camaro from Atlanta airport to get me over to the dragon for the same rental duration.

Hopefully between now and the trip I will share with you some more information on the dragon and the surrounding area. In the meantime I hope you enjoy my video of 318 curves in 11 miles from my last trip.

R1200GS on the dragon
Riding the Dragon

Clearing the cobwebs

The lack of posts on here and on Facebook are an indication to the lack of riding that has been taking place. As the weather continues to improve the trips out on the bike will become more meaningful. As I look forward, inevitably I take a glance back and I’ve been reminiscing on last years rides and the tour of the Alps, looking over the photos and watching the video.

It occurred to me that many who might stumble on this blog might not have seen the links to the Garmin Adventure sites. Even on Facebook where they were initially published they are a little fragmented and as a resource they may be invaluable as they would give people access to the GPS routes. So without further explanation, here they are:

Climb every mountain – The Alps 2016

Lets start this post with an important fact. The S1000RR has gone, in fact this happened back in February as many of you will know who follow my Facebook posts. I had hinted at the possibility on my last blog post. In hindsight it was very much a foregone conclusion with the decision even preceding my first ride on a GS that I had rented for my trip to the Tail of the Dragon (US129) in the Smokey Mountains. I had made my mind up. Don’t get me wrong, I love the RR and by comparison the GS (affectionately) can be a bag of spanners but I’ve had more fun on that rental on the 318 curves in 11 miles than I’ve had on any bike. It was also in the knowledge that a GS would open up a whole new world of possibilities, like touring the Alps, and so the RR was traded in for a brand new R1200GS Triple Black with all the toys.

Now that I had the tools at my disposal the next step was to decide upon and plan a trip. This was initiated by a work colleague (lets call him Nick, because that’s his name). His friend Brian, and the third member of this trip, had previously used a company called Bikeshuttle. Basically you ride to Northampton, load your bike on a lorry with all your gear, get a shuttle to Luton airport where you fly out to Geneva. After a restful night (and a few beers) in a hotel your bike is then waiting for you the next morning outside the hotel having come overnight and overland through France. Thats the boring motorway miles (and unnecessary mileage on the bike) dealt with.

Alps
The GS that would tackle the Alps

Planning the Alps

The planning had been maticulous and had at its core a set of routes that I had been sent by someone on a GS forum who had previously done the Alps. The routes did exactly what we wanted by taking in some of the best roads that the Swiss, French and Italian Alps could offer. I set the routes up in Garmin Basecamp and transferred them to the Navigator V SatNav. I also bought paper map backups of all of the Alps in case the new fangled technology failed and I created an in depth itinerary with maps, route information, snippets of Wikipedia information on the key passes, hotel bookings and a checklist of things that we needed to take. The fact that no-one read it was a problem. I once read that if you plan to ride as a group then make sure that everyone invested in the planning of route. I can’t stress that enough in passing on that tip.

The only deviation from the original inherited routes was a slight detour south. To be specific, Monaco. The plan was to put the bikes around the F1 circuit.

As far as prepping the bike there was little to do. It was way off its next service and had fresh tyres. From where I had come from packing was a luxury. Not only had I bought a 40L roll bag that happily say across the ample rear seat. I had luggage, lots of luggage, two panniers and a top box. Luxury! I’d be packing extra underwear for this trip.

The general plan was to head from Geneva to the French village of Bramans. From there we would head south to Menton, away from the Alps, where we could easily visit Monaco. Heading back towards the Alps to get us on our original route we would stay at La Norma before heading off to a place just north of Martigny. We would then ride the Rhone Valley to Andermatt which would be a hub for tackling all the main Swiss passes for a couple of days before heading to Lauterbrunnen, the Swiss Yosemite before returning to Geneva once again. Continue reading “Climb every mountain – The Alps 2016”