Toccoa, Tallulah Falls, and the Tail of the Dragon
Updated: Dec 26, 2020
It was crisp and cool this morning when I opened my motel room door and stepped into the early morning air of Athens.
Within just a few minutes, I was on the road again. As I continued north, the countryside became more and more rolling.
I stopped briefly in Toccoa to visit the Paul Anderson Memorial Park.
I was met there by Paul's daughter, Paula and her husband, Edward.
They told me how the park had been started by a class of local 5th graders to honor their home-town hero.
It's a very pretty little place. The best part to me is a quote from Paul that is engraved around the base of the fountain: "If I, Paul Anderson, the strongest man in the world can't go a day without Jesus, how can you?" It's something to think about for sure.
Just a sort of mini side rant here: I just don't understand folks who don't believe in God. Many of them look at those of us who do as sort of hayseeds or something. They scoff at our faith and look toward "science" like the "Big Bang" theory. Just look at how intricately the universe is made. An explosion did that? I don't call that science. I call it used oats. It's like saying that a tornado blew through a junkyard and built me a new Corvette.
Rant concluded. From Toccoa I continued to Tallulah falls and on across the North Carolina state line.
I was entering the Smoky Mountains and it's no wonder how they get their name, as the tops of the hills in front of me were all shrouded in a low-lying, smoke-like fog. By noon I had reached Topoco, and a few minutes later, Deal's Gap...the beginning of the infamous Tail of the Dragon.
US 129 is the official name of the route that snakes through the mountains to provide bikers from all over the world with a monumental challenge in counter steering. There are lots of curvy mountain roads out there, and I've been on a few, like the Suches Loop in northern Georgia or like a lot of places in West Virginia, but none of them compare to the Dragon. What makes the Dragon particularly wicked is that all those hairpin turns and serpentine curves are packed into just eleven miles. So how many curves can be in only eleven miles? Try 318. It's as if the rider is never really totally upright at any point in the entire route.
The Dragon has a very nasty but nonetheless well earned reputation for downing bikers.
At the Deal's Gap Outpost, there's a "wall of woes" with photos of bikers who have crashed along the treacherous stretch of road.
There's even a "Tree of Shame" where parts of bikes left on the road are hung on display for all to see.
I know plenty of people who have done the Dragon, and all of them lived to tell about it. Well...except that one guy. I was determined to do it without leaving any bike or body parts behind. So I leathered up so that if I did go down, at least the skin I would be scuffing up would be cowhide and not Ken hide.
I had another little thing going for me too, the gremlin bell. The gremlin bell is a small pewter bell that is attached to the bottom of the frame of a motorcycle near the road. Note the growling bulldog motif.
The legend goes that the bell attracts evil little gremlins that would otherwise find their way into a bike's engine or transmission and raise H-E-double hockey sticks. The sound of the Bell is interesting to the gremlins and so they crawl up inside it and get stuck there until the sound of the Bell ringing eventually drives them nuts and they fall out harmlessly onto the road.
Bikers know this story is true because it's the only real explanation for what causes random potholes.
The absolute law about the bell that cannot be violated is that one cannot simply go out and purchase a gremlin bell for one's self. That will not work, and may even be bad luck. Instead, it has to be given to you from someone else who wishes you safe riding. It's the love that is the active ingredient that turns on the bell's magic protective power.
I've been around some superstitious people in my life. Some soldiers (especially paratroopers) for example can be maddeningly superstitious. So can some sailors (especially blue-water ocean sailors). I've been in both those crowds. I don't know a single biker though who doesn't have a gremlin bell.
I took my earplugs out so I could hear it ringing around those curves. It rang non-stop. It was challenging, and boy, it was FUN! I did it twice, and the second time was better than the first (one sort of has to do it twice to get back from Tennessee).
Afterwards I treated myself at the historic Topoco Lodge and Tavern, a really neat old place tucked in right next to the river.
During the course of the day I had a chance to talk to several people who wanted to compliment me on my bike or who asked about my vest or my shirt, both of which have the Arabic letter N on it, for Nasrani, a deprecating term for the Christians whom they persecute, spraying it in red paint on the doors of their homes or businesses much like the Nazis did to the Jews.
I wear it as a sign of defiance.
We are so fortunate to have the freedom to worship as we please. In recent months we've gotten a hint of how it can be not to have such freedom. Imagine places where one might be murdered just for being a Christian. Imagine if no one fought back, if no one helped, if no one cared. That's why I ride. Thanks to all who have already donated. Or who are praying for me. Or who are sharing these stories. It all helps and I appreciate all y'all.
Also, I wanted to give a special thanks to Bobbi Sue, a very nice young lady at a little Italian bistro I had dinner at tonight. There were no seats but she found me a place and was very interested in my ride, saying that what I am doing is "super cool." Thanks for taking care of me. Will Ken's gremlin bell keep working? Stay tuned for tomorrow's episode!
God bless all y'all!