July 6, 2016: Lebanon, TN.
345 miles and a full day of riding later: Day 2 is complete. We wrote yesterday that today was gonna be tough, but after today's weather it is safe to say we HAD ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA how insane and unforgiving the South can be.
This place is crazy.
All we could talk about this morning as we pulled away from the HoJo was how we were about to ride the "Tail of the Dragon," a dangerous, world famous, and even deadly (more on that later) stretch of road that starts in North Carolina and makes 318 turns in 11 miles before depositing you into Tennessee. It's crawling with cops (more on that later, too), photographers, and hundreds of guys riding Harleys who are all dressed exactly how you would imagine.
Plus, after yesterday's depressing day through disgusting Georgia we couldn't WAIT to get out of South Carolina and carve some turns on the Tail.
It's hard to keep track, but we're estimating that we made around 2,000 turns before we even got to the start of the Tail. So much for thinking the Dragon would be the highlight of our day! We found some of the most pristine, twisty, 2-lane, traffic-free roads that hugged streams, weaved between lakes, and even passed by the Oconee Nuclear Station. South Carolina had more to offer than we thought, but the true gem was found in the "Highlands" of North Carolina. What a beautiful place that was!
Another welcome change today: GREENERY. Sorry, Georgia, you remain in last place.
I won't go into too much detail, but somebody had a little bathroom accident only a couple hours into today's ride. We pulled into a beautiful turn out (the spot photographed above) so they could take care of the problem and snapped a few photos, swapped camera batteries, and hit the road with one less pair of underwear between us.
The road can be a ruthless mistress, and we'll leave it at that.
Bring on The Tail of the Dragon!
We got to the start of the Tail and stopped at the Stecoah Diner to set up our SENA helmet cams and chug some SOYLENT since the diner was closed & there's not much outside of gas station food around these parts. A nice guy in the parking lot took our photo, handed us a few bottles of water, and some "I Survied The Tail Of The Dragon" stickers. All of us (except a very confident Derric) waited until we actually made it through before we putting them on our scoots.
After a quick fuel up - we were finally on the Tail. The film crew and support van went a few miles ahead of us to give themselves enough time to have the Drone in the air while we ripped by, passing Harleys and trikes (we were the fast guys for once) and grinning ear-to-ear for 11 straight miles. We waved at the film crew as we passed. All of us had successfully slayed the Dragon. It was majestic. Time to put that sticker on.
With the tail behind us, we pulled into a turn out to wait for our film crew. Not one minute later, the cop car we saw earlier pulled in behind us. An eager officer stepped out and demanded to see everybody's DOT stickers on our helmets to make sure they were real (there's a novelty helmet shop on the NC side of the Tail and people frequently get caught wearing helmets that are not legal once they cross into TN). He informed us that our latex animal masks weren't technically legal to have over our helmets, but Officer Weeden lightened up quite a bit once we told him what we were doing (he said we were crazy, actually), and let us take a selfie before sending us on our way with only a warning.
The film crew never showed up (and there's no cell service in this area) so we decided it was best to continue down the road and hope they would catch up with us. A couple miles out of the Tail - Elliott's Zuma had a problem. It was making a loud noise and he was worried it might explode. Once again, we had to pull over. This time it was into a parking lot of what we thought was an empty building made of cinderblocks - but the neon 'OPEN' sign suggested something different. Always up for an adventure (and of absolutely no use, mechanically), Ron decided to go check what was inside and discovered what arguably might be the weirdest & most awesome dive bar in the United States. Appropriately titled 'The Dragon's Den,' there were only a couple strange folks inside on this Wednesday (where shoes are totally optional, as it turns out) and was being run by a guy named Buddy. Buddy was a pretty skinny fella, about 5'8, and sporting a curly blonde mullet. He looked surprised to see someone that he didn't know walking through the doors of his joint. A well-used pool table sat in the middle of the bar and confederate flags covered the windows.
Ron quickly addressed the reason for us being there and Buddy promptly offered to help to fix Elliott's bike (which was somehow missing some very important bolts) by offering up "anything we wanted to take" from an old, unidentifiable, broken down scooter parked behind the Den. Not surprisingly - none of it was of any use to us, but we were somehow able to find a couple extra bolts in our tool bags and we got Elliott's scoot running again. We thanked Buddy and left behind some H2H swag for the Den. The ... [dramatic pause] ... interesting bar folk didn't say much to us and we hit the pavement again. The film crew was still nowhere to be found.
The next 6-ish hours weren't as awesome, but the roads were still pretty great and we were feeling confident that we could skip our planned stop in Lebanon, TN & actually make it all the way to Big Daddy's place in Nashville instead. If we were lucky, we might even have enough time to snag a cocktail on the famous Broadway street downtown. That plan was almost instantly tossed aside when we saw the very dark clouds headed that we were headed directly toward. Less than five minutes later we found ourselves inside our second insane rain storm in as many days - but this time we found a barn a few hundred feet off the road that was large enough to hold everybody - including support vehicles. We also used this opportunity to tackle Derric's challenge: "wash" our scoots in a man-kini.
It was pretty amazing/awful.
Due to our poor time management, bad luck & bad weather - we were now way behind schedule. With Nashville out of the question for the group, Big Daddy decided to head there by himself anyway to see his doctor for something that has been bothering him since we left FL. The rest of us pointed our handlebars East and rode the last ~75 miles in the dark to Lebanon.
14 hours after we left South Carolina - we have arrived. Elliott, Jesse, and Dane took the Sprinter van the rest of the way to Nashville to help out with Big Daddy while Derric and Justin changed all the scooter fluids in the parking lot of the uber-fancy Ramada Inn. Paul ran across the street to grab chicken sandwiches and the only two guys left - Ron & Joe - held flashlights/funnels (necessary stuff for night time maintenance) during the oil changes and kept everyone's thirsts quenched with fresh beers. Today was stressful and we were thirsty.
Oh, and apparently there's another storm en route. Great.
We all just showered and are heading to bed where we'll rest up for a 'short' day of 280-ish miles tomorrow to Jackson, MO. But don't ask any of us what day it is because we're not really sure anymore. Keeping a big crew of 8 dudes on scooters together for ~350 miles everyday is a challenge in itself, but add the huge/not-super-maneuverable Mercedes Sprinter van (which hates making U-turns, sorry Dane) and Honda Element following closely behind is really adding another wrinkle to an already super corrugated arrangement. But by some miracle - nobody has been struck by lightning!
Almost forgot - we saw lots of very beautiful fireflies illuminating the last 50 miles of tonight's ride like a runway landing strip, but our helmets put a dent in the bug population.
Sadly, we end on some bad news. We learned the reason our film crew was held up earlier was due to an accident on the Tail which resulted in a fatality, and unfortunately - they were witnesses. It was a humbling reality check. This may be a lot of fun - but it's still very dangerous.
One last thing: THANK GOD FOR SOYLENT.
Only 9 days left till home. WA or BUST.
--SLOW RIDE HOME