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  • Sarah Merrell

What It's Like to Live at One of the Top Motorcycling Destinations in the World

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

(Photo credit - Jim Bentley)

The Dragon, located in the Smoky Mountains along the North Carolina and Tennessee line, attracts thousands of motorcyclists from all over the world who seek the thrilling 318 curves in 11 miles. Although The Dragon is the most famous road in this area, a handful of other great riding roads exist like the Cherohala Skyway, Foothills Parkway and Moonshiner (Highway 28). It's a beautiful place that's packed with breathtaking mountain views, rivers and lakes. Between the scenic beauty and winding roads, it's a motorcyclist's dream. But for us locals, we have a far different experience than those who enjoy the road as tourists. From time to time people ask what it's like to live at one of the top motorcycling destinations in the world, so here's an inside look.

Celebrity Sightings and Filmings

If you hang around The Dragon long enough, you're bound to run into a celebrity. Sometimes the celebrity is in town just to enjoy the road, or the person may be there filming. Some of the locals have met quite a few celebrities--I‘ve only met one. Norman Reedus (from The Walking Dead) came into town to film an episode of AMC's Ride with Norman Reedus and I had the opportunity to be part of the filming. It's not uncommon to see film crews on The Dragon. The Discovery Channel has filmed there and production companies have filmed television pilots. There have also been movies produced. For example, there's a scene in The Fugitive where Harrison Ford jumps off a dam--which is why Cheoah Dam (located along US 129) is known as Fugitive Dam. It's always exciting to see The Dragon on TV or in movies.

Meeting Interesting People...and Their Bikes or Cars

Since people do come from all over the world, I love to just walk through the parking lot of Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort on a busy day or sit by the fire pit and listen to the stories of what brought people to The Dragon. The best part is that I've met, and become friends with, a lot of women riders who have visited The Dragon. I'm not shy about starting up conversations--so whenever I see a fellow girl on a bike (especially a sportbike) I try to strike up a conversation. I've met some awesome women over the years. But in addition to meeting people, I love seeing the variety of bikes and cars that come through. On any given day, there can be multi-million dollar Italian sports cars, vintage motorcycles or completely custom bikes. And sometimes the person is nice enough to let me try their bike! Living at The Dragon has enabled me to try out all different types of bikes. I think this has helped me become a better rider, but I’ve also learned to find something in each bike to appreciate.

Local Knowledge

Disclaimer: I am not recommending speeding on The Dragon. But I will say that as a local, you learn The Dragon and surrounding roads like the back of your hand and develop an intimate knowledge of the roads. On The Dragon, I know every pothole and divet in the pavement. I know where the road is off-camber and I know the areas where it can be dusty/dirty and there's less grip. I know the curves that are decreasing radius and the ones that open up. And the same can be said for anyone who regularly rides it. I've had some people tell me I'm fast, but my response is that I'm really, really not--I just happen to know the road well.

It Can Be Frustrating and Even Scary

Many people who visit The Dragon have poor riding etiquette or are just plain dangerous. For example, The Dragon has over 100 paved pull-offs that slower traffic can use to pull over and let the faster traffic by. But either people don't realize they need to do this, or it just plain hurts their ego to pull over. Either way, it can be frustrating when trying to get a good ride in and end up stuck behind a parade 10 cars or bikes because one person won't move over. During the season, it also can become very busy and trying to ride The Dragon is nearly impossible. So when it gets busy in the afternoons I usually end up putting my bike up and waiting for the traffic to clear out. When you really want to ride, this can be hard. I think the most frustrating part of all though is that I frequently see people who ride (or drive) very dangerously. People will ride outside of their limits which leads to them crossing the double yellow into the other lane and causing a crash. This puts both themselves and others in danger. I've had friends hit head-on and they have been severely injured. Sometimes I feel like it's only a matter of time before it happens to me or my husband, and the thought of that is scary.

There's a Sense of Camaraderie

It's been nice getting to know the other locals--they're really cool people. Although I ride alone quite frequently, I never feel alone because there are almost always other locals around that I can connect with. On Sunday mornings the Deals Gap Breakfast Club meets at the Resort to watch the MotoGP and rides afterward, and whenever I stop at the Overlook for a break while out riding, or stop into Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort for a meal, I can find locals to sit with and talk to. They've all been very kind to me and I feel like we all look out for one another. Early on when I first started riding The Dragon, one of the local women was like a mentor of sorts. Every now and then when she'd see me out riding, she would hop in front of me and let me follow her. She showed me the best lines and provided some great advice. Over the years, the various locals have really helped me improve my riding, and I hope I can do the same for others.

Never a Dull Moment

Oh, where to begin! You never know what will happen or what you'll see. One time I was at Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort during Women's Sportbike Rally and while we were lining our bikes up for a group photo, a man--who was completely naked (and I mean COMPLETELY) rode into the parking lot and got off his bike. Not a great sight! Other times I've seen people's bikes catch on fire or someone will crash doing something as simple as leaving the parking lot. I've even seen people try to run and hide from the police (which never works out well for them). You just never know what to expect.

But that being said, in the off season months, it’s pretty dead. And it’s actually this time of year that can be my favorite. Sometimes it’s like I have the road all to myself. It’s blissful.

Overall, It's Pretty Darn Awesome

I don't think a day goes by that I'm not thankful for where I live. Although I love traveling to track days or trying out different roads in various areas of the country, I always enjoy coming back to my home turf. Riding The Dragon brings a sense of peace and tranquility that I can't quite find anywhere else.

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