ROAD TO: «TAIL OF THE DRAGON» TRIUMPH BONNEVILLE
When you talk to people about riding in the US it’s very common to hear that it’s boring, tons of highways and endless straights with overzealous cops, but that’s just a fraction of what goes on on this huge country. With that in mind I planned this trip very differently. I wanted to show how entertaining the US can be, not counting the amazing off road opportunities there are. I got in touch with the guys over at Eagle Rider in Orlando, Florida. Eagle Rider sells and rents motorcycles all over the world, with 64 stores in the US alone. You can also find them in Brazil, Canada, Mexico, France, Netherlands, New Zeland, Portugal, Singapour, Spain and the UK. They have a very diverse portfolio and prices for everyone starting at around U$99 a day. I booked my bike, and after a quick stop at AIM Expo, I was ready to go. The bike? The amazing Triumph Bonneville.
The landscape is almost as beautiful as the Bonneville’s paint job. This will be my ride for the next 5 days.
As soon as I arrived to Orlando’s airport I called Eagle Rider, they sent a van for me – thanks guys – 15 minutes later I was talking to Mindy, handing over my credit card and licence and almost ready to go. A couple security recommendations like «always wear a helmet» , no «burnouts or wheelies«, and «always lock the bike» with a disc lock they provide. Finally a U$100 deposit and there I had it, an almost new Triumph Bonneville for my US road trip. The bike came with a pair of leather saddlebags, more than enough for my 5 day trip, and with a couple of ROK straps I tied my backpack to the back seat. Let’s go.
Every inch of the Triumph Bonneville is a piece of art. Riding it is the only thing that compares to looking at it.
Day 1 Monday: Orlando, Florida – Savannah, Georgia – 280 Miles.
I got out really early that day, I wanted to make the most of the trip and was very eager to ride the bike. I checked the weather forecast and it seemed like a pretty good day to ride. I was wearing the Fame and Fortune jacket from Speed and Strength paired with the Rust and Redemption pants. Casual protection wear for this vintage trip. Perfect. I did however bring the thermal liner just in case, and thank God I did. The road would take me trough Daytona Beach and all the way to Jacksonville, Florida. However as I rode on the highway heavy winds lowered the temperature dramatically from «cold» to «it’s fucking freezing». I was ill prepared so I had to stop a couple of times, grab some hot cocoa and regain my temperature.
Before I left the day looked a little cool, but I just didn’t know what I had gotten into.
I took out my liner, put on an extra sweater thinking this would do the trick but it didn’t. I rode as I could but the strong cold winds were wearing me down as sudden bursts kept hitting my head. I almost froze. The cold is in fact a very dangerous and silent enemy. It was a very hard day for me and I almost called it quits. I don’t know how I made it all the way to Savannah. I took out my cell phone and booked a hotel on booking.com. If you’re travelling abroad the best thing you can do is get a working data plan for your smartphone. Internet can be a life saver. I booked a room in the Oglethorpe Inn & Suites a nice roomy, comfy hotel with included breakfast. I liked it a lot. I got there, stored my luggage and went out again in search of some proper thermal clothing.
The Oglethorpe Inn & Suites was my first stop in Savannah, GA.
Under Armour was my first thought, I rode around Savannah’s historical center but there wasn’t any mall to be found. I loved the view though especially along the riverside. I popped out my GPS and a store came up. I started riding as the GPS directed and got all the way to the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, a very large and impressive bridge. It’s almost 2 miles long and is high enough to allow shipping ships to pass underneath.
I put almost everything I had on. I was COLD.
From there on I wound up in a secondary route with amazing landscapes, a twisty road that kept on going, but where is the store? I rode for a while before checking the GPS, which read «ETA: 20 minutes» – I messed up – I though about going back but this seemed like the safest way to solve my clothing issues so I pushed forward. I made it to Bluffton, South Carolina, about 24 miles out of Savannah. A very colorful town almost taken out of a movie, full of wooden houses. A single main street that goes through town where the store was located. I bought what I needed and finally I could start exploring.
Pro Tip: Temperature is not the only thing to be worried about; thermal sensation is also an issue. Rain gear will help in a pinch.
Bluffton is a very beautiful town that looks like taken out of a movie.
On the way out I saw a sign that read «Bluffton Oyster Co» – and I love me some oisters – so I took another detour and headed all the way to the shores of river May. There’s an old house that reads «In service from 1899». The oyster business prospered in the 20’s with 5 different business dedicated to it, and made it the town’s primary attraction. Funny thing, they use the oyster shells as one of the materials to pave the road. The more you know.
Secundary roads have all the advantages, less traffic, better landscapes, curves and less cops. The Montana Garmin GPS was very much appreciated.
Back in Savannah I stopped in the historic center I had only glanced a while ago. There are amazing constructions, old fashion stone roads and a pier. Cargo ships go through the river filled with containers, a common sight from the many restaurants present there. As a side note there are a lot of «tour guides» offering their services there, and can be annoying at times.
Savannah is a place to come back, lots to do, lots to see, plenty of great food.
I fire up Trip Advisor in search of a restaurant and get 2 hits, first The Grey a restaurant located in an old decommissioned bus station – Closed – and Corleone’s Trattoria, a famed Italian restaurant that was also closed. Strike two. I wound up eating in a forgettable restaurant near the hotel, bad luck I guess.
Pro Tip: A little research goes a long way, just checking the best listings in Trip Advisor will give you an idea of what to look for and what not to miss.
The landscapes sure do change in the US, constructions we are not used to see in Colombia.
Once in the hotel I got a warm shower and finally got some rest. I checked the forecast for tomorrow and it seemed as my luck was going to change, as it kept getting warmer as I headed up north – weird right – but with my proper clothing I was determined to keep going.
Day 2 Tuesday: Savannah, GA – Deals Gap (Robbinsville) North Carolina – 404 millas.
I woke up at 6 am as I am an early riser early rider, but I wasn’t going to get anything done at least until 8 am as it was still dark and very very cold. It was going to be a long day of riding, but leaving this early would be suicide. I ate my breakfast and, when the sun came out, headed out to the Great Smoky Mountains.
The Tail of the Dragon, 318 curves in 11 miles.
I didn’t plan ahead for this trip, I only had to make it back to Orlando Saturday at 9 am, and the GPS and Internet access were my only tools. I wanted to explore and stay where attention grabbed my eye.
Pro Tip: Technology is your friend.
The Tail of the Dragon is one of the most famous USA routes as it has 318 curves in 11 miles. It’s immortalized by all the crashes, accidents, videos reported by people like Killboy , and the ton of riders that go there make it a must go location for motorcycle enthusiasts everywhere. I was really pumped up by riding there but also very anxious, what if I became one more of the in the long list of victims of the dragon, what I had to hang a piece of the motorcycle in the tree of shame? I intended to stay in the Deals Gap Motel, so I wrote ahead. I booked with my credit card and got my instructions. Restaurants open until 5 pm, reception until 6 pm, if you get any later you’ll find your keys with your name on it at the door. U$71 bucks for the Deals Gap experience. I finished texting and kept on going towards The Tail of the Dragon.
The tree of shame collects broken parts from accidents in the area.
If you are not in a hurry the best thing you can do is deviate from highways and go into back roads. This led my to the Cheoah Lake dam. An amazing view, with tons of camping sites. Big luxury homes on every side of the road and some hotels. Lots of tourism I guess, as I also saw a lot of fishing boats and luxurious sports cars heading to the dragon. The adventure.
One of the may pictures Killboy took that day. For him, a job, for me, an unforgettable memory.
There’s not a single bike that you come across that doesn’t give you the biker wave, non existent in Colombia. The nature and tranquility that you get from this place is truly unique, as well as the wildlife that awaits on the side of the road as the pack of vehicles come through. The feeling is great.
Ride, stop, photograph, repeat.
After many stops and photos, I made it to Deals Gap, I was very excited. I made in time to grab a quick bite in the restaurant a do a proper check in. In the meantime motorcycles kept going up and down. The parking lot was full of every type of bike there is, sportbikes, touring bikes and advs, cruisers and vintage bikes, you name it. The tree of shame was there as a healthy reminder that it’s not to be taken lightly. I made my way up through the dragon’s tail. Turn after turn I got my feel of the place, as other motorcycles got out of your way if you were faster, everyone waving and enjoying a fine patch of paved road for your two wheeled joy ride. As I rode every fear went away and I’m getting more and more comfortable. As I get out of a turn I see parked car, and the famous Killboy shooting his camera away at the beautiful Bonneville and me. On the way back I stop to say hello and chat for a while. He’s been doing it for 12 years, and sells them on his website. «It’s a good life» he says, «indeed» I reply as I make my way back down.
This is the sign you are looking for, great food, great people.
Back at deals gap I found the restaurant was already closed. It took longer than expected to ride the dragon so I now I’m looking for more food. There’s another restaurant a couple miles down that’s open til 9 pm so that’s were I headed. On the road I found the machine room for the Cheoah Dam, but there’s no insider tour this time hahaha. The view however is worth it. Finally I get to the Historic Tapoco Lodge, Hotel and restaurant. It’s far better than Deals Gap Motel but it also costs twice as much. The Tapoco has 2 restaurants, Jasper’s Restaurant and SlickRock Grill where I ate some very american Hotwings and a juicy Hamburger. The people in the hotel is great as everyone is into riding, and the setup next to a river is very comfy. No internet service though so I couldn’t tell anyone how I was doing. Someone is going to be very worried tomorrow.
Pro Tip: When riding solo establish routines to let someone know you’re ok and what to do in case of not being able to communicate. Let someone know where you plan to go and when to consider something an emergency.
This was my experience in my first 2 days riding in the US with the Bonneville, now I head on towards the Jack Daniels’ Distillery and finally the Barber Museum! Tune in next week!