Tail of the Dragon

Leaving Pennsylvania to meet Darryl in Tennesee.

Every motorcycle trip brings the same dilemma. Do I get an early start and try to beat the morning rush, or sleep in and head out after the rush has come and gone?

Last summer, I was planning on taking a trip from Yardley, PA., to meet my longtime friend, Darryl, in Maryville, TN. Since it had been more than 20 years since I last saw Darryl and I was anxious to get my vacation started, I decided leaving early was the better option.

Waking up is never my favorite thing to do, especially at the ungodly time of 5 a.m.! But the thought of my upcoming adventure was the needed boost to get up and underway. After some last minute packing, I was underway by 6:30 a.m. and just in time to catch the morning rush-hour!

July in Pennsylvania is hot, humid and just plain miserable, and this morning was no exception. The air was heavy and a thick fog was blocking the sun. At least it wasn’t raining and things were supposed to clear by mid-morning.

My plan was simple, head west on the PA Turnpike, then south on I-81. Traffic was better than expected, the weather started cooperating nicely, and the miles rolled by quickly. No real need to rush, as I anticipated arriving before Darryl, so I’d stop whenever/wherever I wanted for food, fuel and the occasional walk to stretch my legs. Maryville was nearly 700 miles away, but with all highway travelling, I was easily able to average 50 miles-per-hour, even with stops.

Fuel stops were sometimes an adventure. If it was just a gas and go, I’d be in and out in a few minutes. Things rarely worked out that way, however. I’d usually meet someone who noticed my New Jersey license plate. I’d spend some time answering questions about “where are you going? How long it would take? Aren’t you tired? You’re doing that on a Sportster!?” It didn’t really take long and was actually a welcomed break before heading back to the highway, even for an old, grumpy, anti-social person like me.

I hit the Tennessee border just before 7 p.m. A short stop for food, Facebook update, phone call home and I was underway again. GPS showed I was about 2 hours from my Maryville destination. Darryl texted an update and was equally as far away. He was coming from Alabama and had gotten tied up at work a bit longer than expected, but was making good time.

Traffic hadn’t really been an issue up to this point but was getting to be more problematic as I got closer. Still nothing too bad, and I arrived at our arranged meeting place a bit quicker than anticipated. I didn’t know if Darryl had already made room reservations, so I waited in the parking lot. He pulled in about 30 minutes after I did. After a quick hello and look over each other’s motorcycles, we got rooms and dinner.

We spent the rest of the evening laughing and catching up on the past 20 years and planning the next day.

Darryl is one of the unfortunate souls known as a morning person. Not a regular “it’s 8 o’clock, let’s go” morning person, but rather a “the sun is coming up in a couple hours, we should clean things, organize everything in the house, paint the room, fix the car and get ready to leave” type morning person. I am NOT one of those! Still it was a reasonable time when we got underway the next morning. We had breakfast and tried to plan our route to the Tail of the Dragon. We managed to find our way to the Dragon without difficulty and were rewarded with what might be the most fun road I’ve ever ridden. Oh, and rain! The rain wasn’t too bad, but we stopped to put on wet gear and dealt with foggy goggles and helmet visors for the next few hours.

After the dragon, lunch at a great restaurant and more scenic roads, we headed toward Darryl’s place in Alabama. We stopped by his job site briefly, so he could check on the progress made during his absence, and it was just after dark when we got to his place and I met his wife, Loretta. I’m sure she was more-than-thrilled to have a couple dirty, smelly guys on motorcycles invade her serenity, but she was a good sport and a great host.

Sunday was a quick trip back to Tennessee, then hanging out with Darryl and Loretta. We played some guitar as well, which we haven’t been able to do together for more than 20 years.

Monday was back to reality for Darryl as he went back to work. I took off for Georgia to visit my sister and my niece for a few days. By Thursday, I was back on the road for Pennsylvania. I was in absolutely no hurry and planned on taking a good portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway over the next day or three.

It seemed to take forever to get out of Georgia. Way too much road construction and traffic was miserable much of the way. Once past Georgia, the roads cleared and it was smooth sailing to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I hadn’t been on the BRP before and I stopped at many scenic overlooks. I took pictures and enjoyed the view. The weather was great and traffic was sparse. It was getting late, so I headed back to the interstate to grab a room for the night.

Friday, July 26 would be my final day on the road. I left from Bristol, VA and would have a mostly uneventful trip the rest of the way. I stopped at Waffle House for breakfast. First time I was ever there and it might be my new favorite place for breakfast!

Traffic was manageable the rest of the way back, until I got close to Philly. The PA Turnpike might be one of the worst major highways in the U.S., with potholes, traffic, and construction. Near Philly, an accident detoured me from the Turnpike and it took a little while to get around it and back on track. Still, not too bad and I was home for dinner.

Observations: The interstate system in the east is terribly inadequate. The amount of road construction is ridiculous and the roads are still in horrible shape.

We should consider making the right lane the passing lane/fast lane, since slower traffic seems to use the left lanes?

Little kids like motorcycles. Dogs do not.

Bonnie makes a really good copilot from her home command center, advising of bad weather/traffic and offering rerouting/lodging options.

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Tail of the Dragon

Leaving Pennsylvania to meet Darryl in Tennesee. Every motorcycle trip brings the same dilemma. Do I get an early start and try to beat the