Our Ride at Deal's Gap
2 July, 2006

Keith, Shawn, Timm, and Doug spent a long weekend at the "Mecca of Motorcycling", the area just south of the Great Smoky Mountains national park. Timm rode up from Florida on Friday, and the rest of us rode down there Saturday from Central Ohio, along SR-33, I-77, I-81, I-40, and US-28, to arrive at our hotel in Franklin, NC. We spent Sunday riding, and then the Ohio crew headed home on Monday via I-75 and I-71.

The crown jewel of the region is, of course, US-129 between Tennessee and North Carolina, a.k.a. the "Tail of the Dragon" at Deal's Gap. There are, however, some other outstanding roads in the area. After spending the morning at the Dragon, we tooled down the Cherohala Skyway, which has views of incredible vistas right and left from the mountain ridges, and in the evening we rode US-28 down through a tip of Georgia and into South Carolina. US-28 has to rank as one of the most awesome touring roads I've ever encountered -- deep woods, twisties, rocky streams with cascades and pools, hills, cliffs, blind curves, waterfalls ... you name it.

Here are a few pics we took on the trip. There aren't really any of the roads themselves, because we were too busy riding!

We started at the east end of the Dragon, at the Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort (a motel, restaurant, and souvenir shop). Right in the middle of everything is the "Tree of Shame", sporting remnants of bikes that got eaten by the Dragon.

A viewing station toward the west end of the Dragon was used as a rest area and turn-around point by many of the bikers. We had a lady take a picture of the four of us, and then decided that she should be in some pics, as well.

Uh-oh. At a gas station where we stopped just before getting to the Dragon, Doug noticed that my rear tire had a thin crack running part-way around the circumference, right in the middle of the tread area. The tire was pretty well used (about 13k miles on it), so I figured I'd replace it when I got home. Silly me. Riding the Dragon consists of a seemingly endless series of WFO-throttle immediately followed by stand-it-on-the-nose braking and whipping it into a parts-dragging lean ... repeated about every three seconds. Shawn, right on my butt for the first pass, said he could see the tire void growing wider as we flashed through patches of sunlight. At the end of the run, the crack had become several lines of carcass, as can be seen in the first pic below. By the end of the return run, there was a seriously wide stripe of steel belt exposed. A blow-out was not more than a few miles away. So, we headed for the local repair shop -- rather apprehensively, as they had not answered their phone (and it was a Sunday, BTW).

It turned out that our fears were ungrounded. Not only was Ken Wheeler's place open, but he had a a grill area set up for the holiday weekend, and burgers, dogs, chips, and soda-pop were free! You didn't even have to buy anything. What a guy!

Ken was replacing a master cylinder when we arrived, and said he could get to my tire (which he had in stock!) in a half-hour. So, we pigged out on the free lunch. Then, just for fun, and to help speed things up, we removed the rear wheel from my bike and rolled it into the garage. One of the local ladies helped out a bit, before Ken got to work on it. Ken, by the way, has a ton of knowledge and pretty cool sense of humor. If I lived in the area, his garage definitely would be a major hang-out. And, he did the tire right, too, taking no shortcuts (unlike me, when I used to work in a tire store). New valve stem, rim brushed, cleaned, and lubed, a spin balance ... the works.

Twenty-five minutes later, we were putting the newly-shod wheel back on the bike, and Ken was hard at work on the next guy's bike. The new tire was mounted and balanced while we watched, and the cost was only $10 more than I pay Iron Pony for the unmounted tire! If you are ever in the Deal's Gap area, please stop by Wheeler's and buy something. This kind of customer service needs to be encouraged and rewarded.

These last few pics are at a viewing area along the Cherohala Skyway. If I get more photos from the other guys, I'll add them to this page and expand the text.

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