Having just had a small taste of what it was like driving the Tail of the Dragon in 2005, I knew I needed more. So when my wife and I were looking for a place to get away to for Labor Day weekend 2006, I of course suggested driving the Dragon. This was the same wife who had just the year before, flatly declined this suggestion. But things were different this year for a number of reasons.
One of which was in April of 2006, I purchased a Mini Cooper S. I still had my red Miata but now I also had a more comfortable car for my wife to ride in. And since it was a hardtop, there was no chance of me suggesting to drive with the top down. My wife found and booked us a cabin at the historic Tapoco Lodge—one of the lodging sites for Miatas at the Gap and for a similar gathering of Minis, Minis on the Dragon. With arrangements set, we set out on our weekend adventure.
This was the first road trip in the Mini and I must say it was most comfortable—but this coming from someone who had been driving a Miata for almost 10 years. Nonetheless, the almost daylong interstate drive from Memphis was pleasant, but the highlight of the day was the Dragon. With the fun of my first Dragon experience still in my mind, I took the curves in the little Mini with similar delight. But while the Miata drive was a fun wind-in-your-hair roller coaster ride, the Mini was an incredible go cart ride over the 318 curves. And with 30 more horsepower than the Miata, it shot out of one turn and into another with ease, the whine of the supercharger adding a delightful auditory backdrop to the road.
Since it was getting late in the day and my wife had been in the car all day, we decided to make our way to our lodging for the evening. On the way, we passed a familiar looking dam. Turns out, it was the one Harrison Ford (or more likely his double) actually jumped from in the movie, Fugitive.
The next day, we explored the area visiting the Fontana Dam and discovering the Appalachian Trail (AT) actually ran right across the top of the dam. Since my wife has had for some time, the desire to hike the AT, we had to capture her photo on the trail.
This road, which was just completed in 1996, was definitely a worthy cousin to the BRP. Although it didn’t soar to the same heights as the BRP, it still offered fantastic views of the Smokey Mountains. And similar to the BRP, it is just a two-lane road designed for easy driving while taking in the majestic mountains.
As we returned to interstate driving on our way home, I was again saddened that the fun-driving roads were behind us. My second road trip had certainly given me more than just that first taste, but I knew I wasn’t satiated. There would need to be more.
And more came the next year in 2007 when we decided to vacation in the Asheville area. For this trip, our daughter travelled with us since she just happened to be in town. This time, we left early enough in the morning so that we would get to the Dragon with plenty of daylight left. As we neared the beginning of the Dragon, I noticed something I had never seen before—a parking lot full of police and state troopers less than a mile from the beginning of the Dragon.
I tried to put this out of my mind as I began to take the curves. It was another exhilarating experience, at least for me—my wife and daughter will have to speak for themselves.
When we got to the end, my wife and daughter suggested they would hang out at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort while I ran the course again.
This was the first time for me to drive the Dragon by myself; and the first time for me to drive it South to North. Without fear of scaring my passengers to death, I took the curves with even more speed and aggression. On one particular curve, just as my tires began to squeal around the corner, I saw one of the policemen with a radar gun. Fortunately he had it pointed in the opposite direction. When he heard my tires, he turned to look in my direction but since I had managed to slow down quickly, he just shook his finger at me like a naughty boy.
I finished the run at the northern end of the Dragon and turned around to go back. I unfortunately had to drive back past that same policeman to get back to Deal’s Gap to pick up my wife and daughter waiting at the restaurant. I don’t know if he recognized me as the same car that had just received the shaking-finger warning but I do know that I was certainly saved that day from getting a speeding ticket.
During this trip, I also got to visit Montreat and got my picture driving through the Montreat gate, this time in the Mini and with no rain.
And on our return home, I convinced my wife and daughter to take the BRP south of Asheville for the first leg of our trip, which gave me a chance to drive this picturesque road one more time and to get a shot of the Mini at the highest point on the BRP (Note for you detail-oriented people, Mt. Mitchell, at 6,683 feet is actually the highest peak East of the Mississippi River but it is not on the BRP, just accessible from the BRP).
As we got back onto the interstate after the BRP ended, I felt much more satisfied. On my third trip here, I had gotten to make multiple runs on the Dragon and spend more time driving the BRP in another fun little sports car. But little did I know that my future held even more exciting trips for both the Dragon and the BRP.