Day 2: Surprise, surprise!

Let me say first, that this day turns out to be the only day in which things go wrong. It makes for the one thing not accomplished on the trip.

We set out in fine fettle, and take the route south to Deal’s Gap and Tail of the Dragon. Tail of the Dragon, I should explain, is a road, Rte 129, that takes you from North Carolina into Tennessee, through the mountains.

In Finding Shelley’s Shoes, Frankie requests they go to a motorcycle rally she sees advertised on a billboard, to be held at Deal’s Gap. She and her young husband used to ride the Tail of the Dragon (before he died) and she wants to see it again, she says.

It’s a road trip, and there are always detours and diversions on these road trips, so Shelley agrees.

The reason for the motorcycle rally is that so many riders like to try to traverse (“ride”) the Dragon as fast as they dare. It’s only about 11miles long. But it has 317 curves. Yep, 317. Sportscars love it, too.

It isn’t terrifically steep, but it’s narrow. And you are only supposed to do 35 mph on it, which Tennessee law enforcement will see that you do.

Our plan, despite whatever Shelley and her sisters will do, is to drive the Dragon three times. My husband – and partner in crime – will drive us over to Tennessee and back, giving our GoPro a test run and me a chance to see what I’ll be up against. For I’m to drive it tomorrow, in Shelley’s place. I’ve already gotten a taste of things, because I drove us up here — coming to a conclusion that I had to change the girls’ route, because I don’t want them to get the preview of the Dragon that I did. It should be a surprise. So I will bring them to the resort another way.

The resort itself is a motel catering to the motorcycle lifestyle. There’s a restaurant and a store, and the motel, built of cinderblock with tiny motorcycle parking slots right by the rooms. It’s a little like an old-school Army barracks, but it is tremendously clean. Bikers hover around their bikes in the parking lot, comparing rides and exchanging stories. Everybody eitherĀ  makes us feel welcome or just lets us be.

Hubby is a little embarrassed we’re driving a mini-van, and lord knows what these riders thought, but a mini-van is what the sisters travel in, so it had to be. Once checked in – they offer free bags of ice, by the way – we head for the car and drive the Dragon.

It’s a perfect time of year for this. The trees are thinning, and sun dapples the road. Traveling into the sun isn’t fun, but my husband manages. And all the way along, we thank the biker I encountered before the trip. He gave us this advice:

“There’s an etiquette on the Dragon. If a bike comes up behind you, as soon as you can, pull over and let them pass. Nothing they hate more than being stuck behind a slow car.”

We kept that in mind. When the occasion hits, we have to search for a pull-off, and I won’t tell you how wide they AREN’T. However, our move is appreciated, and judging by the fist pumps of thanks, earns us some respect.

You can’t go but about 50 feet before the road curves. And it’s only 9.5 feet wide. But, it is a fascinating ride, and I’ve gotten a good preview for tomorrow. While still nervous, I think I can do it.

We get back, and go to unload the car.

Now, I have this thing about pulling my own weight when it comes to work. So, on my second trip to the car, I grab my duffel. And a second bag, and a tote, both of which I swing onto a shoulder. And then a plastic bin, my portable ‘office’ for the trip. It’s all heavy, but do-able. I cross the parking lot, noting that I’m a little breathless, probably due to the fact I’m still recovering from being sick right before we left.

I go to step onto the sidewalk that runs in front of our room. As I start to go up, I realize my knee is weak, too weak to pull me up. As I go to step back down, my load begins to pull me over. Almost in slow motion, I topple over, dropping the bin, dragging the duffel, landing on the bag that has my toothpaste in it (which I later discovered squirted out all over the inside of the bag). I hit my knee, my thigh, my back, and – last minute – the back of my head. I think to pull up short just before my head hits the parking lot pavement, but I don’t know if that helped.

So there I lie, trying to assess myself while hubby rushes over. I didn’t lose consciousness. There’s no blood, just tenderness. But I feel at least as foolish as I look, and I’m sure I babble as I try to reassure my husband and the wonderful concerned witnesses that I’m probably all right.

And, it turns out, I am. We keep track of my pupils, and my head. There’s no swelling and no nausea. I don’t try to do much except watch TV that evening.

But, I’ve been given my orders. No driving of the Tail of the Dragon for me. Hubby tells me, “I don’t want you to be at the wheel up there and black out or throw an aneurysm or something. I’ll drive.”

And so he did. My car gets the license plate holder that shows it drove the dragon, and my husband gets the T-shirt. I get the sign that cautions, “At the gap, there be Dragons.”

Consider yourselves warned.


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