The forecast for Thursday morning was even more sketchy than Wednesday. Waiting for the roads to dry out from the overnight showers, I loitered around the lodge a bit that morning before meeting up with a couple of buddies to meander down to Franklin for lunch. From the lodge we went down US-19 past Endless River Adventures where I spent the previous day, and then on to Wayah Road. Wayah Road is another fantastic mountain pass in these parts, yet it barely qualifies as “paved” in a few spots. Similar to county roads in Ohio and Indiana, the road is maintained on a pretty limited budget. That aside, the tight curves and frequent changes in elevation make it another must-ride.
About halfway to Franklin, we skipped onto NC-711 for a short bit. While freshly paved, rumors have it that it’s not paved in its entirety, something I’d assume skip in the rain. If anyone has been down to these parts lately, I’d love to hear a more in-depth report on whether or not 711 is paved from one end of Wayah Road to the other; it definitely looks like an awesome twisty addition to the “Wayah loop”.
In Franklin, we stopped for lunch at Caffé Rel. The Triumph guys have raved about this place, so much so I knew about it all the way back in Dayton (yet for some reason I didn’t take a single photo… I expect I may find some fiery comments below in the coming days). Already quite full from breakfast (including at least 3 cups of coffee), I pretty much stuck to the standard pasta staples, however the crab bisque was probably the best I’d ever had. Attached to a gas station, don’t be fooled by the utilitarian exterior, Caffé Rel is another awesome food destination when riding the area.
From Franklin we road back up “Moonshiner 28” to the lodge. If I hadn’t mentioned previously, NC-28, also called “The Hellbender”, is undoubtedly a local underdog, considering that the Dragon, the Cherohala Skyway, and the Blue Ridge Parkway tend to catch most of the press. Unlike the Dragon, NC-28 isn’t overly congested with traffic, but still loaded with tight, slightly banked curves cut into the hillsides (posted speed limit is also 55 MPH in most places). Riders should definitely be prepared for blind and decreasing radius curves when twisting their way back from Franklin; there are also many driveways along the route, the day we rode through there were several spots with gravel and grass clippings in our path.
Stopping at the lodge I thought I had sufficient clear weather to get a quick run across the Dragon before dinner. As luck would have it, not five miles up NC-28, the skies opened up. For a split second, I debated turning back, but after last year’s Dragon Raid, I told myself it was just a little rain. My first solo trip across the Dragon this year, I figured I’d endure the weather and take the time before I missed another chance. Traffic was extremely light on 28 headed toward Deal’s Gap; I was quite appreciative as I was forced to navigate around a few precarious piles of wet leaves, and evidence of a large limb laying in the middle of the road. Arriving at Deal’s gap, I took a moment to get situated in the parking lot before trekking across the Dragon. I exchanged a few stories with a my buddy Dan who happened to be headed back to the lodge, but was just waiting on the previously mentioned limb to be removed before proceeding back (apparently the road was closed at one point).
The Dragon was almost completely barren headed west, the only other bike headed my way was a Honda ST1300 that I let by; that guy was absolutely killing it, despite the wet tarmac. Considering the light traffic, on the far side I stopped to take a photo of the “curves next 11 miles” sign. With the relaxed pace and private nature of the ride, I stopped at several places on the way back to get photos I wouldn’t normally get a chance to take, including an awesome shot of the low clouds at the overlook. About halfway through my trip back toward the gap I realized this was almost exactly when I crossed the dragon for the first time; Thursday last year, around 6 PM, soaking wet (perhaps a new tradition was born?). Stopping at the Tail of the Dragon T-shirt shop, I took the mandatory photo of my bike in front the steel dragon, chit-chatted with my buddy Dan, still drying out, before creeping back to the lodge.
Despite the rain my FirstGear Rainier Jacket and Escape Pants kept me dry, just as planned. A little damp on the forearms and just a few drops in the armpits from zippers that don’t seal out every last drop, but I had no complaints. My new anti-fog visor performed as advertised; what a difference that would have made the year prior! My gloves on the other hand were soaked through; when the big drops started to fall I debated switching to my waterproof gloves, but I figured I could stuff them with newspaper overnight and just move on. (Photo purchased from Killboy.com)
For an otherwise rainy day, I couldn’t complain as I still managed to put nearly 200 miles on the bike. I undoubtedly kept my speed down throughout the day, making sure I would keep positive grip with the rear wheel on so much, unknown, damp pavement across the state. Fortunately, I would still get a chance to see all these roads again in dry conditions in the coming days.
Back to the Triumph Dragon Raid 2015