Dual Wed 05 September 2018

Dragon Tail

After a week at the exhibition in Atlanta, USA, birth town of Nobel Prize winners Martin Luther King and Jimmy Carter, it is time to collect our rental motorcycles, which we booked a few months earlier. There are six of us for the first part of the trip, four Harley Davidson and two BMW. I booked a GS1200, while my brand companion, who will stay with us until Boston, has been given a GS Adventure. The Harleys are all beautiful: the orange one, well-worn, with Florida plates, is of an Italian friend that keeps it here in the States for when he comes and has more than 50’000 km on American roads, and the three rental HDs all black and brand new. Friday afternoon we travel from Atlanta to Helen, a Bavarian style town in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, founded by Teutonic settlers at the time of the Gold Rush. Before dinner, an aperitif of what is expecting us the next day: perfect little roads, lakes, fields, a lot of green and the scents of nature. At dinner, with delicious Rib Eyes and fried green tomatoes on our plates and a beer, we start planning the next day that will take us to the “Tail of the Dragon”, one of the most famous roads in the world for riders with its 300 turns in 11 miles.

We reach the starting point of the Dragon’s Tail only at 2 pm because, when on a motorcycle from A to B detours are a rule. The Blue Ridge Parkway and especially the Skyline Drive are spectacular, we go from an elevation of 1000 ft to 5000 ft more than once, on perfectly maintained roads and relaxing sceneries. Chattanooga, Franklin, Chickamauga, recall some of the American Civil War (1861/1865) battles, bluebellies against graybacks, Lincoln, Lee, Grant. The Rebel flag can still be seen flying in some places. Cherokee, Appalachia, Eagle Rock recall Tex’ comic books (an Italian old-time series). Some of the faces depicted in those pages can still be seen around.
The place is crowded and is typical American: Harley Davidson everywhere, countless trikes, a few motards and a large representation of four-wheelers like Mustang, Corvette, Porsche. From a supercool Mustang a super-blonde smiles asking us “where’s the party?” … then she comes out of the car and she’s a super-dog … the party is over!
There is the famous “Tree of Shame”, where parts of cars and motorcycles bitten by the dragon, hang. The souvenir shop near the rooms that can be rented for one or more nights, is inevitable.
Passing is absolutely forbidden and when a trike moves in front of me just as I’m leaving, oh well … it doesn’t matter, I’ll do it over again for sure even because the trike slows down to wave every time there is a photographer. So, half-way through, I stop to let it go on so as to have some room in front. It is really beautiful, more than 300 twists in about 16 km, but not only curves … there are also exciting gradient changes and it’s like a road made by American racing oval designers. It isn’t possible to gain speed since one is always curving, leaning, a lot or not as much, to the right or to the left. Two kids slammed their grandma’s Ford into a tree and are surrounded by policemen: a part or two will end up hanging from the Tree of Shame and even the grandmother could become dangerous when she learns about it, everybody carries a gun here and the basic idea is to call 911 only after it happened, never while it’s happening.

 I reach the end and decide I immediately want to redo it, this “track 129” is like a carnival. I descend and slaloming between a few parked Harleys, I’m off again: I look in the mirrors and see a few bikers lifting their beers in my direction cheering. I thought I would pass some of my travel companions along the route, but we are all a bit tired and they are waiting for me before returning to Cherokee.
In Cherokee the only decent restaurant open is the Casino’s, a government concession to all Indian reserves; maybe the natives got tired of trading gold and fur for mirrors and bottles of whiskey, and sell oblivious tourists fake eagle talons, wolf fangs, bear claws and dream-catchers made in China.
The day after we separate, the four Harleys continue their journey towards Nashville, the Adventure leaves for Boston while I head towards Atlanta where my business trip will proceed for Central America, but only after tackling a few off the map dirt-roads, simple stuff considering my Michelin Anakee worn tires. I’m still missing a few pictures I want: the farm with the white fence, a few road signs and landscapes.
The number of miles that separate me from Atlanta (about 150) decreases 1.6 times slower than kilometers, it’s very hot and I rather envy the American Harley riders in jeans, sleeveless T-shirts and open helmets, useless in case of falls. Thinking back to the different people I met during this trip, I recall Frank Boorn who warned us against Ducati riders crossing over on the Dragon’s Tail. His business card states “Harley Driver” and “Over 1.200.000 miles in all 50 States, Mexico, Canada, Holland, Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay”; age in the mid 60s, spiritually in the mid 20s.
Atlanta’s skyline slowly gets closer as I’m riding at 65 mph surrounded by potential killers in cars and trucks all driving at the same speed while texting. The skyscrapers of Westin, Sun Trust and Bank of America are icons, but the city’s chaos makes me wish I were back in the Smoky Mountains.

Fun week-end, now back to every day’s life made of planes and tiles to sell.

Text and photos: Riccardo Reggiani

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