Spring Ride 2009 - Tail of the Dragon

Quick ride diary -- May, 2009 -- Myself and my brother-in-law, Richard. 5 days & 4 nights the week before Memorial Day Weekend. Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio. Approximate mileage: 2000.

The weather on the whole trip can be summed up easily - Chilly mornings, reasonable afternoons until later in the week when some warmer temps started making their way in. Not a drop of rain that I recall. Couldn’t be much better. :-)

DAY ONE (500+ miles): Left Schaumburg / Hoffman around 8AM. Took 355 all the way down and shot east into Indiana, south through Indianapolis. Saw what we thought to be a “road alligator” (a chunk of retread truck tire) on the road south of Indy - Until it started to move. It was a rather impressively sized turtle. Right out there in the middle of corn fields. No idea... Other than breaking out of the Chicago area, nothing much to see.

Final destination for the evening: Hampton Inn in the south end of London, KY. Very nice place. Good people. Good coffee too.

DAY TWO (300+ miles): Left London, went south into Tennessee. Hit the Tail of the Dragon a little after noon - which was very cool, as we weren’t originally expecting to get there until late that day. The push on day one paid off.

The dragon was very cool... Never rode it before. Took it pretty easy - added floorboard extenders (out 3/4 of an inch) recently and didn’t want to test the scrape-factor. Crazy crotch-rocket riders all over the place -- off season, on a weekday. Gotta keep your eyes open and your attention on other things - which is a shame. Stopped at The Grill in the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort for some grub. A table of rocket-riders near us were comparing tickets. One guy was a little miffed because he had just received his third “reckless driving” citation so far that day. It wasn’t even 1PM yet. These guys seem to think that their moving violations are some sort of admission fee to an amusement park ride.

In most states, you get three moving violations in a few years and they yank your license. Over there, they probably send you a Christmas card for supporting the local economic matrix.

Anyway - The Dragon is a section of public highway (129) 11 miles long with 318 curves. Yes, that’s a curve - not a gentle sweeper in most cases, but switchbacks, tight twisties and the like, on average every 183 feet (and that 183 feet includes the curves). If the road isn’t enough, don’t ride it if you startle easily - The rocket-riders whip past you - in your lane in many cases, without warning. White knuckles, knees dragging, the whole nine. They think it’s a race track.

After lunch, spent the rest of the afternoon sampling the local scenery, which is most impressive. The famous Blue Ridge Parkway, the Cherohala Skyway, whipping through the seeping curves of the Smoky Mountain National Park until we finally wound up in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Best Western “Twin Islands” -- Now here’s a nice place. Laundry, pool, playgrounds for the kids, right on “the strip” (if that’s what they call it in Gatlinburg). A fairly unique feature to all the rooms (if I’m not mistaken) is that they’ve placed everything right on the (re-routed, I would imagine) river. So your entry door is on one side of the room and a door to a balcony right over the river is on the other side. Very nice people also. Had a hand-written “thank you” card in the mailbox before I even got home a few days later. If I ever bring the family to Gatlinburg, that’ll be the first place I call for a reservation.

It’ll surely beat the nightmare about to happen the following evening...

DAY THREE (600+ miles): Another chilly morning - left Gatlinburg around 9AM and decided to do some “state-tagging” (see how many states you can hit in one day without going crazy out of the way). But we really wanted to get some miles behind us to make for a couple easy days back home. Set our sites on Athens, Ohio. Headed northeast into Virginia - Always had mountains in view, but they never seemed to get any closer. About as interesting as a box of sand. Turned north and headed into West Virginia - Now THERE are some nice views - Long, mountain sweepers on 70MPH interstates. Beautiful. Warmed up nicely too - First “t-shirt” weather on the trip. Started to head west into Ohio and we were starving when we finally pulled off in Athens.

Athens is a college town. Didn’t know that. Didn’t want to stay there. Had sammiches at Quizno’s and took off toward Columbus. Stopped in Columbus for coffee and decided to push it to Dayton. Stopped in Dayton for gas and decided to keep pushing to Indiana.

Where we stopped in Centerville.

A word of advice if you ever want to stop in Centerville, IN. Don’t. Just keep going. We stopped at the Super 8. I normally like Super 8. I’m not looking for much. A clean room, a clean bed, a shower and maybe some WiFi. It was around 1AM and we were freaking tired after 600 miles of riding and sight-seeing. We checked in, grabbed the keys and opened the door to a stench of mold that I’ve not encountered in the most water-damaged basements I’ve ever been in. Outlets hanging off the walls, cigarette burns in the sheets, bathroom door didn’t close (pretty fresh looking toilet though), stains on the towels, pillows that had a strange, black substance inside their worn-out covers. It was absolutely disgusting. The only thing missing were bugs. The WiFi sucked too, adding insult to injury. I can still taste the mold... I have photos. But I’d like to see what the corporate office is going to do about the complaint I filed the day we got back first... Another word of advice - No matter how tired you are, go into the room before pulling all your luggage off the bike.

DAY FOUR (around 300 miles): Not much to say. Spent the day in the breeze trying to get the stench of the Super 8 out of the clothes that we slept in (didn’t even want to know what was under those sheets). Pulled around 300 miles across Indiana and Illinois to the Capital - Springfield. Got a room at the Best Western right on the east edge of town, cleaned up some and wandered around the Land of Lincoln’s downtown digs. Amazing architecture. A pretty awesome feeling of historical significance in the almost empty downtown area (I guess it turns into a ghost-town after 5PM when all the offices close).

It was actually hard to find a place that was open to eat - Pulled into the Chesapeake Seafood House and ate like kings for around $50. Great food, great service, very reasonable prices. Highly recommended if you’re in the area. A very relaxing time downtown and at the Best Western (also highly recommended) and rested up for the ride home in the morning.

DAY FIVE (around 250 miles): T-shirt weather all the way home. Shot up I-55, jumped off the beaten path to ride one of the original beaten paths - Route 66, which is right along I-55 for many of the miles. Otherwise, the typical, boring cruise through central Illinois until the traffic started to get heavy with rude drivers dodging in and out of lanes with no warning and whipping around semis as if they were standing still with no regard to any other traffic.

Yep, felt like home again. :-(

Unloaded luggage, and took some Ibuprofen for my back. Washed the bike and went for a ride.

Oh - I snapped a few PHOTOS along the way...