From Toronto to the Tail of the Dragon (318 Curves in 11 Miles)

Toronto to Ottawa to The Tail to Toronto (3500 kms)
The Tail of the Dragon (Tennessee/N. Carolina)

THE TAIL OF THE DRAGON – an 11-mile stretch of Hwy 129, straddling Tennessee and North Carolina. With 318 curves within those 11 miles, the Tail of the Dragon has become a motorcyclist’s mecca. In 2016, the women I rode to Prince Edward Island with decided to ride to the The Dragon together. I was “in” as were two additional women: we totalled seven (five from Ottawa, one from Montreal and me from Toronto). Our ages ranged from 42 years old to 60 years old.

As I mentioned in my last post, I unwittingly test rode what instantly became my “dream bike” in May 2014 (just weeks after I bought my Triumph Bonneville) at a BMW Ladies’ Demo Day. The bike was the new BMW R nineT. It’s a cafe racer styled bike BMW introduced in 2014 to commemorate 90 (“nineT”) years of making motorcycles. From the moment I test rode it, I knew it was MY bike! I took pictures of it at the demo day and announced to my partner when I returned home that day that I had a new love in my life. I waited a respectable two years and then in 2016, I traded-in my Bonneville for a demo 2015 BMW R nineT. I’ve not looked back since! Although it was my third bike in three years, my BMW is a keeper!

My 2015 BMW R nineT

As I did when I purchased the Harley and the Triumph, I took the one-day Advanced Technical Skills course through Riders Training Institute. It’s really valuable to spend eight full hours on a new bike – you learn a lot about the bike and about you on the bike. Each time I’ve done it, I’ve been a lot more confident on my new bike by the end of the day. I was going-up from the 865cc Bonneville to the 1200cc R nineT so the Technical Skills course was particularly valuable – my new bike had a lot more power than either of my previous bikes (the higher the ccs the greater the power).


While I’d accumulated quite a bit of gear for my Triumph, most of it was either Bonneville-specific bike gear or it was Triumph branded outerwear. So, I had to stock-up on BMW gear. And to think I thought the Triumph branded gear was expensive! I was in for a rude awakening on BMW gear – yikes!

The BMW R nineT is promoted as a bike that comes “ready for customization”. That’s just marketing doublespeak for: we set you up to spend more money on your already expensive bike from the moment you buy it! I must confess that didn’t affect my love-affair with the bike. And, I must further confess that I welcomed the excuse to buy more gear. So, before I took delivery of my bike I had the BMW Motorrad (BMW motorcycle side of the business) dealer: switch-out the seat for a Mustang-brand seat, add a small wind screen, add a rear fender and replace the stock rear shock absorber with an after-market adjustable one.

A few months after delivery, in anticipation of the Dragon’s Tail trip, I also purchased a CorTech tank bag and a CorTech tail bag. I also replaced the small windscreen I’d originally added with an extremely pricy (but beautiful) Wunderlich windscreen. You can see the bags and the windscreen in the below pic from the day I left Toronto.

Leaving Toronto, ON for 10-day trip

I learned from my Triumph experience to ease-up on the Manufacturer-branded outerwear. Watching the other gals during my first trip, I also learned the value of layering outerwear. So, I bought a women-specific Olympia-brand hi-viz mesh-fronted jacket that came with a zip-in/out thermal lining and a zip-in/out water-resistant lining. I also bought women-specific mesh pants (with armour). It’s really important to buy breathable motorcycle clothing for safe summer riding. I actually kept my Triumph-branded touring boots.

DRAGON’S TAIL TRIP (July 22 – 31, 2016)

As was starting to become customary, I rode to Ottawa on July 22nd, the day before the trip truly began. Then, we all converged on one well-located home the following morning and we all left Ottawa together. The city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee was our end destination as it was a good location from which to do The Dragon. Because of the shorter travelling days when riding (versus driving), the 1600 km trip from Ottawa to Gatlinburg was a three-day ride for us.

Group Meet-up Point (Ottawa, ON)

We had great variety in our bikes: two Triumphs (one Bonneville T-110 and a Tiger), a Honda Shadow (cruiser), a Suzuki Versys, a Kawasaki Ninja, my BMW R nineT and a Can-Am Spyder (three-wheel motorcycle). We were a pretty impressive group making our way down the highway en masse. And, we were an all-woman group. That was not lost on motorists on the highway or road-stops nor was our gender lost on townspeople as we rode through towns. Whenever we stopped at gas stations or at rest stops (like the below) it was the Spyder that often garnered most of the attention. I must confess, my fragile, new-BMW ego took bit of a hit…


One thing you need to know about late July 2016 is that we were having a significant heat wave in Toronto. In preparing for the trip, I hadn’t accounted for the fact that if it was hot in Toronto, it would be hotter the further south we went. Here’s the one unfortunate thing about riding a motorcycle: there’s no air conditioning! When you’re riding on the highway, the movement of air provides little relief when the air that’s moving is hot. Much worse, when you’re stuck in traffic, it can be excruciating with the heat in the air, the heat from the pavement and the heat from the bike.

Now, I’m ALL about gear and safety. So, imagine my quandary when it became patently obvious that it was way too hot to wear full gear. I was faced with a choice: wear my full gear and hope it would protect me when I invariably passed-out from the heat OR ditch my armoured jacket and try not to get into any accidents. I stripped-down to just a t-shirt, a safety vest and my mesh armoured pants. Oh, and by-the-way my helmet is black so it was like I was wearing a little oven on my head – I did not remove my helmet though… I even convinced a fellow rider who was finding the heat unbearable that she needed to ditch her gear. Everyone did – it wasn’t an option.


We pulled into Gatlinburg late in the afternoon of July 25th. Once again, the gals organizing the trip had done an outstanding job of finding home base accommodation. We were in a beautiful log cabin nestled in the forest in the hills just outside of Gatlinburg. It was a huge cabin allowing for ample personal space. The full-sized kitchen allowed us to cook a number of meals there.

Our Home-away-from-home (Bear Falls Resort – Gatlinburg, TN)

July 26th was a bit of a “rest day” given our three-day journey to get to the area. So, we spent that day exploring Gatlinburg and its sister town, Pigeon Forge. Now, I actually did NO research in advance of our trip so I had no idea what to expect in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. Although they both epitomize commercialism run amuck, there’s still something redeeming about them. The main street in Gatlinburg is like Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls with a wax museum, a Ripley’s Believe-it-or-not, etc. And the main street of Pigeon Forge is akin to the Las Vegas Strip (true story!) with themed hotels and attractions.

Wonderworks Indoor Amusement Park
Hollywood Wax Museum
Titanic Museum

The morning of the 26th we rode the 15 minutes to Pigeon Forge. I was stunned because emerging from the Tennessee hills was a valley full of commercial enterprise. We made our way to a large outfitters shop on the far end of town – incidentally, in addition to fishing rods and camping gear it sold assault rifles and grenades (it definitely upset my Canadian sensibilities).

When we left the outfitters shop to head back, the main street was full of traffic and it was mid-day. Even without full gear, the heat (from the air, pavement and the bike) was unbearable. One member of our group felt faint so we had to pull-off the road for a while just to cool down. Shortly thereafter we went to the Harley-Davidson shop. Curiously, we were able to park right by the front door and hardly anyone was inside. As we started to make our way out, we finally ran into other motorcyclists – they were from Barrie, Ontario! In speaking with locals we learned that people who know better don’t go out on their bikes during the peak heat of the day – no wonder the only folks on their bikes were Canadians!

Now, I can’t possibly talk about Pigeon Forge and not mention the one thing it has that Vegas doesn’t: Dollywood! One of the gals in our group wanted to just see it, but not go in. No one else offered to go with her, so I did. We had a fun photo-shoot there – I’m glad I joined her.

Me and the Spyder-rider at Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, TN
Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, TN


On July 27th, we rode the 1.5 hour trip from Gatlinburg through Great Smoky Mountain Park to the start of the The Dragon. You can see below below why the range is called the Smoky Mountains.

Group break in the Smoky Mountains en route to the Tail
Another group break en route to the Tail

The Tail of the Dragon skirts the southwest border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park going between the North Carolina/Tennessee border and Chilhowee Lake in Tennessee. To get a better sense of the Tail of the Dragon and its appeal to motorcyclists, check out this segment made by a local North Carolina TV station: It’s 10 years old, but still very relevant.

Exciting as the Tail of the Dragon is, it’s important to remember that it’s a very dangerous road. According to a January 1, 2018 article in the Blount County “The Daily Times”, from 2011 to 2017, there were 20 fatalities on “The Dragon”. Motorcyclists account for the overwhelming majority of the accidents. From 2011 to 2016 (the year we went), 545 of the 708 vehicles in accidents were motorcycles and 14 of the 16 fatalities were motorcycle pilots or passengers.

3 of the 318 curves on the Tail of the Dragon

We couldn’t have picked a better day to do The Dragon: the weather was clear and the road was dry. As you can imagine, it was an exhilarating experience! Remember: at the time I did the The Dragon, I’d only been riding motorcycles for three years. So, it was also a great accomplishment for me to successfully complete such a challenging road.

One thing I hadn’t expected was that all along the trail were photographers who take pics of the riders and then provide website details for riders to purchase pics of themselves riding the Tail of the Dragon. Unfortunately, none of the pics of me felt worth purchasing. However, below are some pics of others from our group:

Deals Gap, NC is either at the start or the finish of The Dragon, depending on the direction you go. For us, it was at the finish. There’s a souvenir shop at Deals Gap from which you can purchase all manner of memorabilia of your Dragon’s Tail experience. That’s also where you get the contact details regarding the photographers who took pics of you. All pics are uploaded on a site and you can decide if you want to make a purchase.

Also at Deals Gap is the Tree of Shame. It’s a makeshift shrine to folks who have been “bitten by the dragon” (were in an accident). Each bike piece is signed and dated. It’s also a place where folks who “slay the dragon” (successfully complete the Tail) can take a moment to be thankful they’re not adding anything to the Tree.

Successful Dragon’s Tail completion? Check!
Dragon’s Tail Tree of Shame (bike parts from accidents)
The Dragon Slayers!

We wrapped things-up at Deals Gap (laden with “I did it!” testimonial souvenirs) and completed the final segment of The Dragon. We returned to Gatlinburg a slightly different way than we came and we spent some extra time enjoying Great Smoky Mountain National Park. That night, we went to an acclaimed local restaurant and developed a first-hand appreciation for why Tennessee BBQ is famous.


We headed back to Canada on July 28th. The Dragon’s Tail took under 15 minutes to complete. So, the trip wasn’t solely about doing the Tail of the Dragon – the Dragon’s Tail just gave us a destination. The trip was really about building camaraderie with friends, challenging oneself and experiencing the beauty of the Shenandoah Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains.

In the Blue Ridge Mountains
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park
Final Group Pic


Just four months after we returned home, a fire swept through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and into the city of Gatlinburg, killing 14 people and injuring 190 more. The fire caused over $500 million of damage. 2460 structures were damaged or destroyed including the place we stayed (in the pic below). Apparently, that entire log cabin community (Black Bear Falls Resort) was destroyed.

Former Black Bear Falls Resort, Gatlinburg, Tennessee

9 thoughts on “From Toronto to the Tail of the Dragon (318 Curves in 11 Miles)

  1. That’s my old neighborhood, glad you got to experience it! And happy you found a BMW to be “your bike”. I did the same, after many other attempts, with a BMW RT, and then finally, a GS! Wishing you many happy miles!


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