Blues Travels

The Driving Enthusiasts Web Site

A Few More Thoughts On The Dragon

I had some interesting dialogue with folks at vwvortex.com

Some of them were family people who took offense at my rather staunch stance regarding who should and who should not be on The Dragon. They felt as if I had no right to do this. They felt that The Dragon should be enjoyed by everyone, and not by just a few. They felt that by warning certain people to stay off US 129, I was being harsh, judgemental and descriminatory. Well, maybe they are right. But here is the problem as I see it.

As I understand it, The Tail Of The Dragon is internationally famous. Such is the lure of The Dragon. Apparently, the roads are so demanding, the best drivers from all over the world come here and challenge it, according to the locals at any rate.

Bikers have the advantage on The Dragon, because their small size automatically turns any single lane into two lanes. The bikes are more nimble and can travel at great speeds, well in excess of 100 MPH. Sports cars, being wider, have no place to go. They have one lane to enjoy. So, they must stay in their lanes at all times. Cars have much less room for error, and as a result, even when driven aggressively, cars do nottravel not much more than 40 mph. In my case, I was usually going around 35-40 at my fastest, and usually much slower than that in the turns. On the straight aways, I could give it some gas, but in a car I just had to respect my limitations, especially since so many drivers were sharing the road with me.

Properly driven, a sports car and a sports bike can be a lot of fun on The Dragon, but it does make you sweat. If it doesn’t, I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe you are just good. Maybe you are not pushing yourself. The question is, should push yourself at all? I think I could make a case for an affirmitive answer to that question. But the real question is this: Is The Dragon dangerous, and if so, should just anyone drive it? I think the answer can be found with the mix of riders on that road, coupled with the challenge of the road itself.

At any moment, there is a wide array of travelers on The Dragon. The majority of travelers, it would seem, are highly skilled drivers. Maybe it was not always this way, but it certainly seems to be the case now.

These road warriors come here to test the road and themselves. For them, driving is a vital part of their existance. They share a symbiotic relationship with their vehicles and the roads they drive on. They spend more time in there cars or on their bikes than they do at home. They live for the rush that testing their limits brings.

Then, there are your joy riders that love to glide along the belly of the beast. Not many, mind you, but they are there. These are folks, usually with their families, who are out for the day, on The Dragon “to play”. They are there to see the sites. These are the folks who get caught by surprise when a bike or a sports car comes at them at higher speeds. And these are the folks that just wish US 129 was a safe road that had no speed demons on it. They just want to be able to enjoy the drive and not feel like the lives of their families are at risk.

Then you have your idiots. These are the people who know they have no business on The Dragon. They are driving super wide pick up trucks or land yachts that take up two lanes. These people cannot hold a line because there vehicles take up one full lane and part of another. They are constantly crossing over into oncoming lanes of traffic; sometimes ALL the way over. In fact, I was behind a truck driver yesterday. He did this so many times I lost count. Not only that, he was busy picking his nose half the time. Clearly he did not take this road seriously.

Finally, there are just people who are poor drivers. They are very old. Or very young. And they are just a hazard everywhere they go.

Throw all of these people on a road that is as demanding as US 129 and you have a recipe for disaster. You end up with resentment, ego’s, incompetence and sheer recklessness, with a healthy dose of responsible, skilled drivers and riders thrown into the mix.

So, whho should drive The Dragon? I am not sure what the answer is unless it is this: The skilled speed demons are here to stay. The reckless morons are here to stay. The Blue Haired set is here to stay. People in cars that are fit for only a rodeo are here to stay. And people in cars that are fit for the junk yard are here to stay.

The purpose of these Dragon related entries is to get people to think about a few things :

1) I wanted to discourage as many people as possible from driving on The Dragon for the wrong reasons. Notwithstanding the varied mix of drivers on The Dragon at any given time, and the inherent risk that alone poses, The Dragon is no place “to play” or to site see. The road demands your complete attention. Save the site seeing for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

2) People need to keep in mind that the Dragon is a treacherous piece of road in its own right, at any speed. It demands competency at any speed, any way you look at it. If you do not have much experience on roads that tax the limits of your abilities, do not take a crash course on The Dragon. If you do, you will be sharing the road with drivers of great skill and who test that skills regularly on US 129. I strongly suggest you find another stretch of road to drive on, until you gain some meaningful experience on some less demanding mountain roads. This is just one mans opinion, mind you.

3) Also, as long as well trained speed demons are on The Dragon, I really think that the safest thing for families to do is to steer clear. Why put your family at risk? No matter how slow and how carefully you drive, until the speed demons are not on the road, they are the limiting factor. I am not saying it should be that way. I am just saying that is the way it is. If there was a stretch of country road near your home that was famous for fatal accidents, would you pile your family in the car and head up and down that road on a daily basis, tempting fate? Why should we view The Dragon as any less of a risk to your families well being?

4) If you are not comfortable with other drivers coming at you at a break neck pace, then do not drive The Dragon. Those speed demons come from all over the world to do just that: drive fast on The Dragon. At least, this is what I am told. And my own experience is consistent with that claim. For the time being, they are here to stay. If their presence unnerves you, then it is best for you to find other wonderful roads to enjoy. And there are plenty of them.

Finally, I have spoken to a handful of people who say that many of the wrecks on The Dragon are innocent enough and that people get back on their bikes or back into their cars and continue to drive on down the road. The idea is that just because there are wrecks on a weekly basis, the wrecks are not all that bad and therefore it is really nothing to worry about.

I regret to say that I just cannot buy into that line of reasoning. Sure, if you slide your car into a wall at 30 MPH, what’s the harm, right? Just a few thousand dollars in damage repairs, if you are lucky. So what if you lay your bike down at 75 MPH. Just get right back up, dust yourself off and start all over again. Right?

Don’t be ridiculous people. No accident is a good accident. And every accident has the potential to be life threatening, which brings me to my final point.

The best way to avoid accidents on The Dragon is to realize that to drive it is to risk your life. People hate to hear me say that because they think I am being melodramatic. Well, am I? I mean, think about it. When you get in your car to drive to work, don’t you assume a risk? Don’t you assume that it is possible a truck will rear end you? Isn’t it possible you may hit someone else? Sure it is. And that’s just on normal roads, highways and byways.

What we are talking about here is not a normal stretch of road. The is The Dragon. Just being on The Dragon by yourself is more dangerous than your average trip to the drug store. Add to that all of the variables I have sited above, and you have to conclude this is dangerous territory. You must respect the realities here.

If you decide to drive The Dragon, just be prepared in every way possible. Will doing so guarantee your safety? No. But it will reduce your chances of getting hurt by large margins.

Have a great day!

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November 8, 2004 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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