Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Deal's Gap and "The Tail of the Dragon"

The only tread on that rear tire is on the edges!

9:00 PM

Look Rock Campground, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (again)

A relay tower stands not far from the tent with it’s red flashing aero beacons. I'm sitting at a picnic table outside the campground office, where there is an electrical outlet and lighting!


Last night, due to coffee and the storm, there was little sleep. At 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. I was still looking out at the sky, waiting for some break. Earlier, it had cleared briefly, so I climbed out and removed the rain fly and opened things up to air out. Then the storm came on again with a vengeance.

Slept until 9:30. Thankfully, it was starting to clear. I don’t really like camping in the rain. The tent doesn’t stay dry inside. Moisture gets captured between the rainfly and tent and eventually soaks inside, and also comes up from underneath, despite the plastic tarp I keep under the tent.

(That's probably how that vegetation grows along highways out in Utah!)

Went over to take a “primitive bath” by the restrooms. I was the only camper here and still I found the bathhouse “closed for cleaning”. There was an outside faucet and I proceeded to strip down naked, splash myself with water, soap down and rinse off.

A few minutes later, just as I had pulled on my clothes, a pick-up truck arrived and three young women piled out and hurried into the restroom, chattering all the way. They took little notice of me. A few minutes earlier and we would all have been very embarrassed.

Washed clothes in my folding bucket and rigged a clothesline on which to hang them. The day turning sunny, warm and breezy, perfect, as I had hoped it might turn out.

Everything sufficiently dry, I was finally ready to move on at 1:30. I needed gas, so I headed into Maryville, following a sport bike the initial 11 miles of Parkway. I was keeping up with him, though I suspect he wasn’t pushing it that hard. He made it look so easy.

At the first gas station, I filled up, then asked if Maryville has a Cracker Barrel. It was pretty funny as the owners, apparently South Asian, and new to the area, tried their best to explain to this clueless traveler.

Found the Cracker Barrel on highway 129, across from Wal-Mart. I had a particularly good server. Went for the pancake breakfast: 3 pancakes "smothered" in blackberry sauce, two eggs, turkey sausage and coffee. Their prices seem quite reasonable. About the same as I would pay at a Denny’s for an equivalent meal (about $9.00 with tax). Is the quality better? I think so, but it’s also a different atmosphere, and that influences the "flavor". By the "decor", you’re led to believe it’s not merely a coffee shop. They try to convey a more upscale feel, but it really is not so different. ("I definitely need to do more research!" Thus I'm assured of more pancakes.)

Continuing my evaluation, Cracker Barrel restaurants appear to have a single floor plan: restaurant in the left half of the building, gift shop on the right. The front of the restaurant lined with Tennessee rocking chairs for sale. Dark interiors, brick-colored tile floors, slatted walls partitioning sections, a big fireplace in the dining room. (A vaguely club-like, or mountain lodge-like atmosphere.) Not very cheery.

The walls are "carefully cluttered" with Americana. I wondered if the items on the wall are merely replicas, but the cashier told me there’s a big warehouse in Western Tennessee where this memorabilia is all accumulated. The buyer actually goes out to estate sales in search of this stuff, she said. There are tags hanging off each knick-knack with a small bar code. It’s all inventoried and tracked.

The first Cracker Barrel store opened in Lebanon, Tennessee in 1969.


How do you find Deal’s Gap? Simply follow the motorcycles. From Maryville, the most direct path was clear. (And different than the way I had come into town.)

Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort

Rode up through "The Tail of the Dragon" once again and stopped at the primary gathering spot, Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort. While taking some photos, I caught sight of a woman riding in black leathers, a braided blond ponytail hanging from behind her helmet. I wondered if it was the same woman I saw yesterday. Went inside to look around. A pretty basic snack bar, and a gift shop full of t-shirts and other souvenirs. For me, nothing of interest. When I came out, the woman was seated outside. She was not the same person, but was fair, blond, blue-eyed. When I went over to my bike, she asked about my travels.

Tara O'Brien of Toronto, Ontario looking quite stylish in her leathers. It's her sixth visit to Deal's Gap. On my last day there, she led a group of us along some of the area's twisty roads.

She reminded me quite a bit of an old friend, Catherine, and said she was from Toronto (home of my last long-distance romance.) Too coincidental. (All my favorites lining up: Canadian, blond, blue-eyed, very pleasant). She wondered where I was staying. How long I’d be around, where I’m going. (I kept looking at her and thinking "how much like Catherine", one of the sweetest people I’ve known. Not fair to her, but it fascinated me.)

We talked for quite a while, until her friend, Francois joined her. ("Oh, well. Fantasies come and go.") Before leaving, she introduced herself: "Tara O’Brien of Toronto." She was riding a Yamaha R1 YZF. She has visited The Gap numerous times, coming down here specifically to sharpen her riding skills.

She wanted to take a picture of me with the bike, and I automatically asked to take her portrait as well.

Last night I was lamenting the absence of a female friend. Today, I received this unexpected little gift - a brief yet very enjoyable conversation with an attractive young lady. Life is funny that way.

Riding the "Tail of the Dragon" is a humbling experience. I was caught so many times misjudging a curve. The pros demonstrated how it’s done.

Except for the final photo below, all the "action" photos are by "Killboy" (see below)

On one pass, a pick-up hauling a trailer came around a curve hanging over the centerline, into my lane. I was already sweeping wide, and forced to quickly adjust, my new path took me off the right shoulder and into a small ditch. Rode a few yards through the trough then back onto the pavement, just fortunate the bike's momentum carried it through upright.

Made many passes up and down "The Dragon", scraping the center stand often and occasionally my toes, especially if I tried to shift in a left-hand turn. All the while aware that my rear tire had virtually no tread. (Actually, the centerline of the tire was bald, but I knew the sides still had tread, so I was actually more confident the greater the lean angle.)

Noticed photographers at a couple curves, apparently photographing everyone who passed. Late in the day, after eight or nine runs, I stopped to ask one pair of photographers whom they’re doing it for. “For you!” They have a website from which you can order your pictures. See Killboy.com. They take as many as 2,000 photos in a day, then post them to the site. I noticed the husband-wife team both using Canon 30D digital SLRs, a newer version of my camera.

“What speed do you use?” I asked, curious what it took to freeze the action.

“What do you mean?”

“How fast a shutter speed?”

“Well, that depends on the ASA, which of course you can adjust.”

(“You can?”) Embarrassed to admit I didn’t know how, I told them my camera was new. The husband showed me how it's done. When I later had a chance to check my camera, I discovered that it has been set at "ASA 100" (which is great for bright daylight scenes) probably since purchase. Consequently, I was trying to capture speeding motorcyclists at 1/60th of a second! And no wonder it was so difficult to capture pictures in low light, or when using a flash! (Note to self: always read owner's manuals, and make sure you understand them!)

The husband-wife team who created the "Killboy" site charges $5.00 a shot. It may sound like a lot, but they spend most of their days sitting by the roadside, snapping pictures of everyone who passes (and many, like me, who pass repeatedly.) Not the easiest way to make a living. (The only tread on that tire is on the edge!)

Riding "The Tail of the Dragon" (photo by yours truly)


Drew Kampion said...

Looks just like Hwy. heading up to Felton!

Drew Kampion said...

Hwy. 9, I meant to say.