Thursday, May 12, 2016

Can't Get Enough Tail

I pulled up to the stop sign at the end of the road leading out of my subdivision.  As I came to a stop, I paused for a moment to take it all in.  The sun was pouring through the windshield with a comforting warmth as the cool breeze gently swept through the cabin.  I had somehow managed to get up early on a Saturday without becoming cranky, the weather was perfect, the car was clean, and the whole day was mine to do as I pleased, without obligation.  These moments are rare and the short time that they provide must be used wisely.  What better way to take advantage of a moment like this than to take a road trip to the Tail of the Dragon.  I couldn't think of a better way, and that's where I was headed.  A crisp exhaust wale resonated off the face of the houses along the main road as I pulled out and gave it the beans.  It may have awakened a few unsuspecting residents, but I didn't care, this day was for me and my first gen.

The journey to the Tail of the Dragon takes just under 3 hours at a normal driving pace.  This would probably seem like a long trip, just to drive along yet another road, but for those who have already tasted the guilty pleasure that is the Tail, no journey is too long.  For me, the trip never seems that long, and that's because of the route I take to get up there.  I live in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, GA, just south of the Appalachian foothills.  My journey to the Tail consists largely of beautiful mountain roads, lined with picturesque pastures, quaint mountain towns and national forest.  The first 15 minutes of the journey begins with stop and go traffic along a four-lane highway.  But, as the road switches to two lanes, the noise and congestion of civilization is left behind and is replaced with the quiet, natural beauty of the mountains.

I'm not much of a city slicker, even though I could be.  I grew up outside of Chicago, and went to college down town.  I love the city, Chicago being one of the prettiest cities in the world, but I can only take so much at a time.  My heart is, and always has been pulled toward the tranquil beauty of nature.  So as I drive further and further away from civilization, the calmer I am inside.  I continue to follow the smooth asphalt trail north as the mountains grow taller, the forests thickens, and the wildlife become more abundant.  It's easy to get lost in a place like this.

The last town to pass through before entering the Chattahoochee National Forest is the small mountain town of Cleveland.  Situated in a quiet valley surrounded by mountains, this picturesque town surrounds a center square where the old courthouse building is located.  It's a perfect example of the idyllic mountain towns that are scattered across north Georgia.

As  the road winds out of Cleveland and into the National Forest, it begins to climb as the elevations increase.  Between Cleveland and the state border, it is mile after mile of postcard worthy landscapes and scenery.  Just when I think it can't get any better, I cross the border into North Carolina, and the breathtaking mountain scenes are only broken by amazing mountain lakes, and incredible scenic overlooks.  Not long after crossing the border, the winding mountain roads dump out onto another four lane highway.  At this point, you would assume things would become boring, but they don't.  The highway stretches between clusters of mountains and passes through a long, wide valley that looks like it is straight out of a magazine.  The valley is littered with fields of yellow flowers, cattle pastures, and farm houses.  Bordering the valley on both sides are two majestic mountain ranges.  It is a 25 minute drive through heaven.

As  I left the valley behind and headed back into the mountains, the roads re-assumed the center of attention.  The mountains are much taller and closer together than the ones in Georgia.  The valleys are narrower with some sections of the road bordered by cliff walls.  This topography change causes the road to turn sharper and climb and descend faster.  I knew I was getting close.  The final sign that the Tail was close, was the river.  The last portion of the road that leads to the Tail of the Dragon follows a river that runs along the valley floor.  It is last landmark that you pass before heading out of the valley and up to the entrance to the Tail.

If  you've read my  article on my first trip to the Tail, you'll know how much I appreciate this place.  It's special, specifically for the first gen owner.  It's a place where a light-weight, well handling car, with not a lot of power, can feel invincible.  There are only three or four sections of the road that require you to shift into third gear.  Otherwise, you can stay in second.  For the EW3, second gear is the meat and potatoes.  The power band, in second, is rich and plentiful, almost giving you the impression of torque (Something Honda owners know little about).  It's the perfect ratio for pulling out of a sharp turn, and getting you to the entrance of the next turn quickly.  Not having to shift very often is helpful as well, considering you're going to need both hands on the wheel to keep from flying off the mountain.  It's a first gen owner's driving paradise.

I did four runs on the Tail.  The first was smooth going the whole way as I warmed up the tires, with no slow cars holding me up.  As I turned around at the bottom of the mountain on the Tennessee side and headed back up the mountain, a couple guys pulled up behind me, one in a Lamborghini Gallardo, and the other in a Nissan GT-R.  "Here we go!" I thought to myself.  It's time to see how fast this thing can go.  I put the hammer down and started to pull away.  The three of us began tearing up the corners like a knife through butter.  I didn't start holding them up until the straight sections that required me to shift into third.  Before I even thought about grabbing third, the Lambo's horns were on my bumper.  It was fun while it lasted, but it was time to find a turn off and let them by.  Sadly, before we reached the nearest turn-off we encountered a slow moving vehicle.  A woman in a new F-150 was crawling along, well under the speed limit.  It quickly became apparent that she was either completely unaware of the purpose of a turn-off, or she was purposely enraging the line of cars behind her, which was growing in length.  It was during the next 20 minutes that I got a taste of what it was like for the Indian's when they traveled along this route years ago, on foot.  Needless to say, she never turned off.

My  third run was clear and faster still.  The tires were warm, and I was starting to remember the road enough to anticipate some of the corners.  As I reached the turn around where I met the Lambo and GTR on my second run, I was met by another pair of cars.  This time, it was two newer model Minis.  They were clearly meaning business, judging from the tire manufacturer stickers, and aftermarket wheels, so I went for it.  Over the first mile or so, we were all running together without holding each other up, but I could tell the Mini's were catching me in the corners.  It wasn't long before I had to let them by as well.  They definitely knew what they were doing so I decided to duck in behind them and let it all hang out.  That's when I took a corner on three wheels for the first time.  What a feeling!  I gave it my best, but the Mini's left me behind.  Their cornering speeds were ridiculous.  Regardless of being left behind, I was so surprised at how well the CRX did next to the cars of today.  As I headed back toward the North Carolina border, beaming with first gen pride, I realized that I had yet another journey full of beautiful mountain views and picturesque scenery ahead.  I couldn't have been happier.

Driving photos courtesy of US129 Photos, and


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