Cold wintery weather makes me long for warm summer days when I can drive with the top down in my little red sports car.
And it was a warm August in 2005 when I got my first chance to experience the fun little road in eastern Tennessee—Tail of the Dragon. I first learned about this highway that brags of 318 curves in just 11 miles in one of my car magazines. The article featured a weekend Miata gathering—Miatas at the Gap—that included photos of Miatas everywhere on this road that runs along the western edge of the Great Smokey Mountains.
When I first approached my wife about the idea of taking a trip to drive this road she had no interest. While she thoroughly enjoys taking trips, it is the destination that interests her, not the driving itself, which would be the focus of this trip. I mentioned the idea to my sister who happened to live in Memphis at the time and when we discussed this idea along with a visit to Montreat, a special place for us growing up, she was sold. We made our plans and soon took off.
When we left home the weather was nice for almost a daylong interstate drive. Once we were close to Knoxville, we pulled over and put the top down. From there, it was a relatively short drive to the beginning of the Dragon.
Having owned and enjoyed a Miata for almost 10 years, I had never experienced anything like driving it on this road. With a grin on my face and a short laugh at almost every curve, I zoomed over the too short 11 miles in no time. At one point as I was weaving up and down from one curve to the next, I literally felt we were on a roller coaster ride. When we got to the end of the road right at the North Carolina state line and pulled to a stop, my sister admitted she had been scared to death the whole time but that it was so much fun, she would do it again. Unfortunately, we still had to reach our final destination for the day—Asheville, NC—so we continued on our way satisfied that we had survived our first encounter with the Dragon.
Once my sister was no longer fearing for her life, she—who is quite the photographer in her own right—became my personal paparazzi for the rest of the trip snapping pictures left and right while I drove.
Once we neared Asheville, the weather took a turn for the worse and sadly we had to put the top up due to the rain.
The next day, we made our way to Montreat, my enticement to get my sister to come along. But the rain followed us there as well.
Nestled among several mountains, rain is not uncommon in Montreat; it’s just when you only have one day out of 365 to be there, it seems it could have held off. But undeterred, we snapped away photos as we dodged the raindrops.
And upon leaving, my sister even agreed to stand in the rain and get my shot driving through the well-known Montreat gate.
Our next excursion for our road trip was to hop onto the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) and take in some of the sights we had so often seen growing up. As we began our ascent up the BRP, the rain held off and the mountains living true to their name stood majestically among the smoky-looking clouds.
As we made our way up the winding roads, my sister would agree to jump out and get a shot of me in the car on a particularly pretty stretch. My intent was not just to get shots of the Smoky Mountains but of me in my little red car with the mountains as the backdrop.
As we emerged from one tunnel on the BRP, the weather immediately changed and became not just cloudy, but rainy as well.
As we neared our ultimate destination, Mt. Mitchell—tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River and site of many cookouts growing up—the rain really began to come down and visibility was essentially nil as we were right in the middle of a rain cloud. But my sister willingly braved the cold and rain to snap some shots of me in the car.
I must say that my sister was really a good sport when it came to driving with the top down. For anyone who has a convertible knows, we will endure almost any poor weather to get to drive with the top down. And my sister never complained although we did have to stop to buy her a hoodie when it got rather chilly on the BRP.
The last day of our trip, I suggested we take the BRP south of Asheville as the first leg of our return home to experience a little more fun on the road. We loaded up on coffee and began our ascent of the BRP.
The Smoky Mountains again lived true to their name as we got some of the best photos of our trip, and with no rain.
As we neared the end of the BRP at milepost 469, I knew that this road trip had just given me a small taste of the exhilarating experience of driving the BRP and the Tail of the Dragon in a fun little sports car. I knew there would have to be more; and there would be!