North Carolina is the home of a notorious stretch of highway, given the foreboding nickname, “Tail of the Dragon.” This 11-mile stretch of road boasts a brutal, punishing 318 curves that snake along the North Carolina/Tennessee border. This road could make even the most experienced driver succumb to carsickness, but a surprising amount of motorcyclists flock to this treacherous highway to get a taste of its topsy-turvy twists.
While it was once a relatively unknown stretch of highway, the Tail of the Dragon grew in popularity in the 1990s as motorcyclists started to utilize its curves for an adrenaline rush. The road’s popularity and visibility has continued to grow since then, with thrill seekers making a pilgrimage to the Appalachian community near the highway to cruise along the notorious road. This stretch of highway is so popular that photographers make a living by lurking in clearings and snapping pictures of bikers zipping by, which can later be purchased by the riders.
In fact, a whole industry has arisen out of the site’s popularity among motorcyclists. The rest stop nearest to the highway, Deal’s Gap, is a testament to the sense of camaraderie and community that the lure of the Tail of the Dragon has fostered.
Among the road stop conveniences and swarming bikers stands one of Deal’s Gap main features: the Tree of Shame, a tree decorated with the scraps of motorcycles damaged while riding the Dragon. The tree bears testimonies to the treacherousness of the Tail. It is a memorial that pays tribute to failure. As the tree’s adorning plaque proclaims, “No gain and a lot of pain.”
The flotsam and jetsam that adorn the tree juxtaposed with their cheeky accompanying texts present a light-hearted, tongue and cheek approach to describe the perils of this road. However, prospective riders should be adequately informed about the real dangers the road poses. Its twists are sharp and can catch even an experienced rider off guard. Specific sections of the 11-mile odyssey have daunting labels like “the whip,” “the hump,” and the stomach churning “gravity’s cavity” that require focus and careful navigation. Furthermore, big-rigs and pickup trucks whose GPS points them to the Tail, believing it to be a helpful shortcut, can get trapped on the road, increasing the danger to other drivers. (However, trucks longer than 30-feet are now banned from the road.)
Despite the danger, riders still flock to the Tail of the Dragon. It’s a biker’s destination ride– a unique road surrounded by a flourishing biker culture.