It seemed like a picturesque country road, Route 129 south through Tennessee and into North Carolina, along the scenic edge of the Great Smoky Mountains. But we started noticing more odd things. Such as a convoy of four Corvette sports cars overtaking us and a sign that read something on the lines of "Last Chance.Trucks Turn Around Here or Else". Perhaps we were coming up to a narrow bridge? But no, the road just kept twisting and turning steeply up into the hills. Then there more strange signs: "No Stopping on Grass for Photo". Well it was a photogenic place but... And we kept encountering motorbikes and more motorbikes and performance cars and more performance cars. It reminded me a bit of a time in rural France when I inadvertently found myself on the Tour de France route and wondered why little pockets of bystanders kept waving and clapping. Were these cars and bikes having some sort of race?
Eventually we found a place to pull off the road and take pictures. I went to look at the sign on the reinforced bear-proof litter bin.
What was all this talk about dragons?
The view looked peaceful enough.
Then I spotted a couple on a motorbike who'd also stopped. I called out, "Hello!". The girl was from Brazil and blew a kiss. "What's with all these bikes?" I asked. Her boyfriend looked at me astonished, "Don't you know where you are?" I must have looked puzzled, "You're riding the Dragon's Tail!", he said, fishing out a map, "People come from all over the world to drive this road". A road which, the map showed, had 318 bends in 11 miles, many of them hairpins. Well there was no turning back now. "Don't forget to look at the dragon at the end!" called out the Brazilians.
So we piled back into sister-in-law's trusty SUV, and re-entered the fray. Dragon-wrangling turned out to be enormous fun - so long as you obeyed the rule to "stay in lane" and didn't look down too much. Oh yes and occasionally pulled over to let the Harley Davidsons go screaming past. Sister-in-law got quite a workout at the wheel and with me clutching my seat, we got into the rhythm of it, posing for the photographers' stalls set up to capture the moment, like they have on those screamer roller-coasters. When we got down to the other side, we felt like a couple of kids, immovable grins fixed to our faces.
Down at the bottom, we found the Deal's Gap bikers' resort with bacon and egg breakfasts, T-shirts pinned to the ceiling, grey-bearded types in Confederate flag bandanas and a gift shop selling such things as beer glasses saying, "I Survived the Dragon's Tail". The Brazilians re-appeared and waved, "You made it then!".
There was a friendly seasonal display
And here, finally was the Dragon, swathed in cobwebs for Halloween.
Bulging red eyes and a fat spider hanging from its mouth..
Everywhere were photos and dire warnings to be careful..
And a "Tree of Shame"
Festooned with bits of crashed bikes
Now it would be fun to do the road in this little fellow..
Amazing what can happen on a road trip. The whole world wants to go somewhere and we find it quite by chance.