The Tail of the Dragon and on to the Atlantic Ocean

Written September 2nd, 2013.

If you haven’t seen on facebook or instagram, I have finally arrived in North Carolina to rest for a couple of weeks before returning back to the west coast via a different route than the one I arrived on.

Thursday morning was a foggy, damp morning.  Putting away my tent and other camping items was interesting as I had to try to dry everything off from the intense dew that settled during the night.  No bears had come, though the people in the neighboring cabins asked if I’d heard them in the night because they saw a great deal of trash strewn about.  They all got a good laugh when I told them about the dogs.

I set out around 10:30am, I was psyching myself out a bit about the Tail of the Dragon, thinking it would be nerve-racking, when it really wasn’t.  It is a well-known motorcycle and sport car route that has 318 turns in 11 miles, sometimes called Highway 129 South.  Many signs warn trucks to turn turn around because there are so many switchbacks to come.  The route takes riders over the mountains and through some very green forest area.  Before you get to the actual switchbacks, the road is parallel to a river.  I pulled over to take some great scenery pictures because the view was too good to pass up!

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Overlooking Chilhowee Lake before getting into the switchbacks of the Tail of the Dragon.

Going through the turns was so fun, it was smooth and simple, like just practicing how to weave on the most perfect course.  For the first time of my entire trip, I didn’t have music or audiobooks on, just pure silence.  I didn’t need any distractions like I normally do, the road was more than enough entertainment for me, or anyone.

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I stopped at a viewpoint overlooking Calderwood Lake.

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Looking North from the viewpoint.

Along the way, photographers were intermittently stationed to capture photos of riders and put them up on the internet for sale later.  I went through just before 11:00am on August 29th if you happen to find any of those sites.  I found one of the sites and the picture of me totally made me look like a guy.  Oh well.

When the route was over, I couldn’t believe it was so simple and enjoyable.  I would’ve gone through it again if I wasn’t planning on riding all the way across North Carolina by the end of the day.  The first ten miles of the route are in Tennessee, the last one mile crosses into North Carolina – it was pretty cool.  At the end (or the beginning, depending on where you start) there is a restaurant where hundreds of bikes were parked.

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Only some of the motorcycles in the lot. About 12,000 go through the tail of the dragon each day.

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Coolest General Store ever… biker heaven!

I stopped to get lunch, since I did not have breakfast, and to enjoy the atmosphere of pure biker heaven.  I ordered a bacon and egg burger for lunch because I couldn’t decide if I wanted breakfast or lunch, so it was perfect.

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My burger that was kinda breakfast kinda lunch, but completely awesome.

There were beautiful bikes of all kinds parked outside the restaurant.  My favorite was a practically brand new Honda CBR 1000 Repsol that had all sorts of Repsol additions; a GoPro decked in Repsol, a backpack with the Repsol colors and logo, etc.  If you don’t know what Repsol is, it is a color scheme for a sport bike, commonly seen on race tracks.  It is red, orange, and white and so sweet looking; before I ever got a motorcycle, I would refer to Repsols as my “boyfriend bike,” though I would never own one because I don’t find CBRs comfortable.  My roommate had one, so I just lived vicariously through him for a while – remind me to tell him to look up “JohnnyRepsol” on the Repsol forums, whatever that means.

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The Repsol CBR with its matching GoPro. Some people go overboard, in a good way 🙂

There were riders of all types at the restaurant and a couple of them even saw my Oregon plates.  Some guys from Michigan told me they thought their trip was long, riding the whole way from home, but then they saw my bike and knew it wasn’t all that bad.  Most people that made the trip trailered their bikes to nearby campsites or hotels… I definitely out-badassed them all!

While there, I took a lot of photos of the bikes, the dragons, and the Tree of Shame.  The Tree of Shame is a tree that is decorated with all the gear and parts from bikes that have been wrecked on the Tail of the Dragon.  Really, you have to try to wreck on this route – the speed limit is 30 and if you’re going much faster than that, you’re asking for trouble.

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The Tree of Shame: a collection of wrecked parts.

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The newest addition to the lot: a hand-carved emerald dragon.

Around 1pm I finally got back on the road.  The first 60 miles or so was a winding highway through the forest and misty air of North Carolina, it was very enjoyable.  I had to cover nearly 500 miles if I wanted to make it to the beach by the end of the day.  As the day went on, it got warmer and warmer.  I drank all two liters of water in my Camelback and refilled it at a gas station.  While at this particular gas station, I took the time to rest and call my grandparents to let them know I was going to make it to them around 8pm.  While sitting in the parking lot, a small shiny skink-like lizard darted by.  You know you’re in North Carolina or south of it when you start seeing lizards running around the place.

When I got back on the road, I realized I was riding toward an ominous dark cloud and was not looking forward to probably hitting rain for the first time during my entire journey.  When I started to feel sprinkles, I was still under blue sky, then the rain dumped on me out of nowhere.  It wasn’t like rain back home because it was sharp, like tiny razors were skidding along my skin.  It wasn’t cold, it was warm and comfortable.  I laughed most of the way through the rain because I thought I’d be miserable in it, when really it was a refreshing break from the heat.  The rain was so intense that I thought about stopping under an underpass or gas station if one came up, but I saw a glimpse of blue sky before I could settle on any big decisions.  The downpour only lasted about five minutes across two or so miles.  No big deal for an Oregonian, that’s for sure.  I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans with my riding jacket buckled around my waist by my backpack and everything was drenched.  Before I departed for my trip, I had put water resistant spray on my jacket – which did no good since I wasn’t wearing it – and on all my bags, so they were only wet on the surface.  However, my jeans, boots, and t-shirt were soggy as heck.  Fortunately the humidity was still high and it took less than thirty minutes before all the clothes I was wearing were completely dry.  It was like a free, hilarious shower.  I told my grandmother that God was being funny because he didn’t want me boasting that I rode the whole way without hitting weather, so he made sure to hit me hard and keep me humble.

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The sky only forty minutes after a torrential downpour doused me.

My route east was mostly Interstate 40 straight across from Asheville to Greensboro to Raleigh and on.  After Raleigh, my grandfather had told me to keep riding until I saw signs for Interstate 70 East Bypass toward Clayton.  Well, I saw interstate 70, but not the bypass.  After a few more miles I saw Interstate 70 Business toward Clayton, so I figured that was what he meant, so I took it.  Every mile or so I was stopping at a stoplight, what a pain.  I attempted to call my grandparents, but no answer.  My map said this would take me the right way, so I kept going.

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At least I got to snap a quick picture of the sunset when I stopped to check my map.

By the time it was 8pm, I was still two hours from the coast and I was tired as heck.  But I knew it was worth it and kept going.  Finally, I got about 30 minutes away from the coast to New Bern, North Carolina.  Ever since I read a book by Nicholas Sparks called “The Wedding,” I’ve always wanted to visit New Bern.  When Sparks spoke about the town in his book, he perfectly described the sleepy, old fashioned town.  The quaint kind of town most people imagine growing old in, as the couple had in his book.  The one reassuring thing about riding so late was the warmth of the air.  I dislike riding at night, but the warm air kept me comfortable and positive.  I finally arrived at the beach condo around 10:15pm, which was very rewarding because I got to settle myself in and greet my grandparents.  The second longest ride of my trip and it was well worth it.

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Water tower that is a want to be lighthouse that says: Atlantic Beach, NC.

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View of the beach from our condo.

The next day, we woke up around 8am and set up a canopy on the beach.  My grandfather and I walked the beach and combed it for all kinds of amazing shells.

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So many shells!!

 We spent the entire day out in the sun.  I think my grandpa has some weird obsession with shells because everywhere we went he kept eyeballing the beach and grabbing the coolest whole and broken shells; he says he’s collecting them to fill a part of his garden with, but I think he found about 100 pounds too many.  He must have over 200 pounds of shells in total at their house now, no exaggeration.

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My grandfather has an obsession with shells….

When he was finding shells in the surf on his own and his pockets got full, he would grab the small shells with his mouth and hold them in there until it was also full.  It was easy to tell when this happened because he looked like a human chipmunk standing in the surf… I’m surprised he wasn’t dehydrating from having all that salt in his mouth.

On our walk along the beach, we also found four horseshoe crabs that had died and washed up.  We were going to keep those for the garden too, but fortunately grandpa forgot about them.  Imagine how bad that would smell up their car!

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Grandpa has crabs… horseshoe crabs, that is.

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Close up!

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Even closer close up. Horseshoe crab eyeball.

After I became exhausted from beach combing, I hung out for a minute in the shade.  My grandparents were telling me about the fishing they had done the day before and I told them I had never been fishing.  My grandpa was very excited to hear that and said we could go fishing that afternoon.  High tide was around 4pm so it was best to start getting things set up as soon as possible.  Apparently you can fish right there at the ocean… how cool is that?  I learned how to cast, which I think was my favorite part because it reminded me of throwing a lacrosse ball with a lacrosse stick, and I learned how to cut up bait to put on my hooks.  In all, I caught three fish, two of which we threw back.

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Getting ready to go fishing for my first time ever!

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I unexpectedly caught something, I hadn’t even felt it tug on the line.

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Teamwork!

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I caught a flounder and let him go.

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Grandpa searching for shells again…

My grandmother accidentally caught a brave crab that just wouldn’t let go of the bait, and grandpa caught several fish, a couple of which were bait and two were for food – which we never ended up eating.  Nevertheless, it was a great experience and I found out I really like fishing.  The next adventure we plan on having is a day of golfing.  My grandfather doesn’t get around well enough to be able to golf, but my grandmother is very excited to take me this week – I am excited, too!

After our adventurous day on the beach, Friday night concluded with us going to a restaurant on the water in Atlantic Beach then walking around the bay in Beaufort.

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The classic taste of home. Oregon brewed.

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Sunset at dinner. Gorgeous.

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Walking the pier area in Beaufort.

Apparently Beaufort is where Navy Captain Michael John Smith, the pilot of the Challenger, was raised and we found a memorial in his honor.  Here, many pennies were placed at the base of the memorial and my grandmother said it had to do with who had visited, but different coins meant different things.  So, like I usually do, I consulted Google to answer the universe’s questions.  For military memorials and graves such as Captain Smith’s, it is custom to leave a penny showing you visited, a nickel if you went to basic training with him, a dime if you served with him, and a quarter if you were with him when he died.

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Pennies gathered at the base of the memorial for Navy Captain Michael John Smith of the Challenger.

You should all be well versed in the history of the Challenger accident, so I think it’s safe to say there won’t be any quarters left here.  All that we saw were pennies.  This did made me think that I wish I would’ve left a dime for Specialist Hunt back in Oklahoma on behalf of Sergeant Baker, but I guess I’ll know for next time.

After our walk, we called it a night.

***

Saturday morning consisted of running around the condo, packing everything up, cleaning out the rooms and the refrigerator, and trying to fit all of grandpa’s shells in the car.

Most of my stuff fit in the car so I had to haul very little on my bike for the way back.  The way back was another 4 hours on the bike, more than I had expected, but oh well, what’s another day.

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Coffee and breakfast at the Waffle House.

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Waffles are best when wrapped around bacon.

Since getting back everything has been laid back.  We got take out Chinese for dinner Saturday night, I got to see my uncle – my mom’s brother who is ten years older than me – for the first time in at least twelve years, and I went to church and listened to my grandmother preach on Sunday.  Sunday afternoon and evening was filled with flashflood warnings and thunder and lightning storms, very typical of out here.  The rain just kept on falling but has cleared up today.

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Hanging out with Grandma and the dogs.

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Flashflood and thunderstorm warnings all day long.

I have been enjoying laying back and catching up on homework and other life things.

Expect to see periodic posts about my musings that I thought of along my journey and some updates on anything fun I’m doing while still out here.  I imagine I’ll stay for at least another week or so because I want to get in as much time with my friend Andrew and my grandparents as possible.  I miss them all and who knows when I’ll be able to make it out here next.

Much love from the East Coast!

-H

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