P4-2019-01 – TAMING THE TAIL OF THE DRAGON
STORY AND PICTURES BY MICHAEL COHEN
A lovely stream paralleling our road through the Great Smokey Mountains
One morning in early October, upon completion of both the HPDE season and our SEM/PCA tours, I woke up and decided that I needed to take a road trip. High on my bucket list of places to go was Tail of the Dragon, eleven miles of two lane road with 318 curves located along the eastern border of Tennessee and the western border of North Carolina. The road has long been a destination place for motorcyclists and sports car drivers.
I called my good friend and past SEM/PCA president John Keilly and asked him if he would like to join me for a couple of days driving the Tail of the Dragon and the surrounding areas. John likd the idea, so we studied the weather forecasts and decided to rendezvous at the historic Tapoco Lodge in Robbinsville, NC in early November. The Lodge was recommended to me by Howard Gilson who recently stayed there on his way back from Porsche Parade in order to drive the Tail of the Dragon..
On Thursday morning November 8, I buckled myself into my arctic silver 2000 Porsche Carrera cabriolet and headed south. My plan was to take back roads for part of the trip in order to enjoy the curvy, hilly terrain of southern Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Beneath a cloudy sky, I took I 75 to I 70 north of Dayton, OH headed east and in Springfield exited the expressway and headed south on route 68. From there, my GPS placed me on route 134, a lightly travelled fun, fast two lane road with lots of curves and straightaways. That evening I stayed in Lexington, KY. The following day it was raining, but I decided to stay with my plan and drove to Tapoco Lodge via back roads. The route to the Lodge took me via the Tail of the Dragon. Unfortunately it was still raining and I got stuck behind a Mazda pickup truck driving the Tail at about 10 miles per hour. I arrived at Tapoco Lodge about 3:30 pm and checked in. The facility which was built in the 1920’s by Alcoa as a corporate retreat is truly lovely. John arrived a few hours later, in part due to his Garmin GPS giving him faulty directions.
The next day, Saturday, after breakfast at the Lodge, John and I get into our silver Porsches (he has a 2006 Cayman S) and headed for the Tail of the Dragon about fifteen minutes from the Lodge. The weather cleared – the sky was blue without a cloud and the fall foliage was breathtaking in its yellow, orange and red glory. Driving the Tail is amazing. The road has no side road access and is narrow and unbelievably curvy with beautiful scenery and severe drop-offs. The speed limit is 30 mph which sounds slow but in fact is actually somewhat aggressive for many of the hairpin turns. It is important to stay to the far right on the road, because if someone coming the opposite way crosses the yellow center line, there can be dire consequences. Upon completion of driving the Tail which took about forty five minutes, we headed south to the Cherohala Skyway, a lovely smooth fast road with some fun curves that reaches almost 5,000 feet above sea level. The views continued to be breathtaking. The entire day’s drive was approximately 120 miles
On Sunday, we repeated driving the Tail of the Dragon, but this time took a northern loop. The weather again was clear with temperature in the mid 40’s and I led our two car Porsche caravan somewhat more quickly through the Dragon now that we had some experience with the road. Our 140 mile trip took us through the southern section of the Great Smoky Mountains, following babbling brooks and through heavily wooded areas with great foliage throughout. We stopped in Cherokee, NC, a small Indian town with lots of leather shops and other craft stores for lunch.
On Monday we said our good byes and departed. I drove the 600 miles back via I 75 and arrived home in ten hours. The trip was truly a great adventure, and I recommend it for anyone who wants to take a fun road trip.
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