Wednesday, November 02, 2011

MINIs on the Dragon 2011 Recap

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Well, it has only taken me four and a half months to start writing this and about six months to finish it.  But finally I have completed my recap of MINIs on the Dragon 2011.  This was my first time going to MOTD (but not the Dragon) and could be my last for quite a while.  Since my wife's birthday usually falls on the same weekend and soccer is in season for my daughters, getting away for MOTD is a challenge.  The stars aligned themselves this year though and I was able to make a last minute “GO” decision.

Day One


My MOTD adventure started on Thursday.  After dropping my son off at school, I was off, heading down the Interstate to the western tip of NC.  Once past Asheville it was not long before I was off the Interstate onto smaller and smaller roads.  After a bite to eat in Bryson City, it was on up Hwy 28 (aka Hellbender) to Fontana Village to check-in.  Of course, upon arriving at Fontana Village I was greeted to the sight of MINIs everywhere!

From Fontana Village, I headed back down 28 to the Tuskeegee Motel.  While I probably could have found a room at Fontana, the last time I stayed there I found the walls to be paper thin (which I figured would lead to some tough sleeping).  Plus, the rates at the Tuskeegee were quite a bit better.  That was good since I was trying to minimize costs.  The Tuskeegee itself is an old roadside motel – maybe 15 rooms with a little general store/gift shop and a couple gas pumps.  The room was dated, the TV small, no phone, and no Internet.  So roughing it a bit.  But it was in the middle of the country (OK, I guess everything in that area is in the middle of the country), there were cows and horses across the road, I could sit out front and watch MINIs go up and down the road, and the bed slept good.  While maybe not for everyone, it suited me just fine.

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After unloading, I decided the first order of business was to head to the Devil's Triangle.  Up 28 to Deal's Gap where I stopped in the parking lot to see what the crowd was like.  Things took on an ominous note as I was preparing to pull out as a couple SHP cruisers came by lights and sirens going.  As I soon discovered, there was a wreck right up on the Dragon – literally the first curve after you turn out of Deal's Gap.  Seems a car and a motorcycle had tangled, much to the detriment of the motorcycle rider.  After waiting a few minutes, the road was cleared and I was on my way for the first of many Dragon runs.  This one would turn out to be rather slow thanks to the Ford Fusion in front of me.

Once I was done with the Dragon, I headed on west on 129, then turned southwest for some country driving.  Took this route so I would avoid an out and back to the Triangle – instead, it was more of a loop.  As I traveled the backroads of NC and TN, I came across quite a bit of storm damage and instances where trees had been cleared from the road.  This was the day after some of the killer tornadoes had struck in Alabama and they had traveled through this area as well.

Upon reaching the Devil's Triangle itself, I hooked up the video camera and feasted on some twisties.  I found the DT to be a fabulous run.  It consists of Hwy 62, 116, and 330, going up through the community of Petros on the way.  Very rugged country.  As I discovered, the warning on the DT web site is accurate:
BULLETIN: The Devils Triangle is not a place for the squeamish or beginning rider. There are sections with difficult steep switchbacks, poorly patched asphalt, heaves in the roadway, broken pavement, gravel in road, steep dropoffs, and coal/logging trucks to dodge. Other that that it is a great road. RIDE WITH EXTREME CARE .....

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The road itself had a nice variety – some switchbacks, some nice esses, sweepers, etc.  But the description above was accurate as there were a few areas where I had to dodge some broken pavement, loose dirt/gravel or potholes.  But in general the road surface was in pretty good condition.  One thing that was interesting were some of the drop-offs.  These usually occurred in the esses  where you'd come to a curve to the right.  The pavement would go out to an edge and then there would just be an almost straight drop down the side of the mountain.  Probably a good 20 feet or so before you'd hit anything.  And no guardrails.  It was really quite stunning to run across those spots.  It certainly made me want to ratchet up my concentration (as if cranking it up any higher were possible).

With the end of that run, I began the journey back.  After a quick bite to eat, I made my “return” Dragon run just as dusk was starting to fall.  This brought out a bit of wildlife as I spotted a wolf crossing the road and heading up the mountain shortly after I started the run.  I guess it was a wolf.  Since I drive the MINI WUF and I'm a Wolfpack fan, I'm going with it being a wolf.  By the time I got back to the Tuskeegee, darkness was upon me and it was time to settle in for the night.

Day 2


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For the second day of MOTD, I started out with participation in the Dragon Parade.  A nice bonus I discovered to this was that since I had donated some food for the Graham County food bank, I got a CD (pretty sure put together by Xiek).  Scored a few good songs off of that.  The parade itself was maybe half the MINIs in attendance?  So a couple hundred at least?  Not sure, but the access road we lined up on was a long string of MINIs.  This access road was just up from the entrance to Fontana Village, on the other side of the bridge.  We headed up the Hellbender, then a right onto the Dragon.  This was a nice, medium-paced run.  At the end of the Dragon, I pulled off and just watched the rest of the line come by.  Once it thinned out, I headed back up the Dragon at a little better pace and got to see some of the stragglers headed the opposite direction.



When I got back to Deal's Gap, I pulled and parked.  Ran into several THMMC folks and enjoyed breakfast with them at Deal's Gap.  A couple of us decided to do another Dragon run.  It was still early and with the parade over, traffic was very light.  We got in a very spirited run – probably the most spirited run I'd made on the Dragon.  I even had a bit of brake fade by the end (which I don't recall using my brakes that heavily).  Coming back was almost as good, though a little more traffic in a couple spots to slow the pace down a bit.

From there, we headed on down the Hellbender to Fontana Dam to cross that and take in the view from the other side.  Very impressive.  From there, we split up as I ran on down 28 to Bryson City to get some gas.  The others went back to Fontana Village for some lunch and the plan was for all of us to meet back up for a run on the Cherahola Skyway.

When I got back to Fontana Village though, no one was in sight at the designated meeting place.  After waiting a bit, I figured they had perhaps headed on out.  So, off I went.  Of course, the one time I wanted to get in a speedy run on the Dragon, I couldn't due to the traffic.  After waiting at the end for a little while, I decided to head on.  Heading out on 129 I came across the second wreck of the weekend.  This time, I could see one or two motorcycles in the ditch on the side of the road.  I can't imagine it was good news for the rider I saw that they had stabilized on the ground as the ditch was pretty much full of big, sharp, nasty looking rocks.

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The ride down to Tellico Plains was enjoyable with splendid views.  And I spotted a sign for a Friends meeting.  I always like seeing those.  The Cherahola Skyway was a nice drive.  Traffic was light, though I did get stuck behind an very slow car at one point.  They finally pulled over to let me by.  That said, I wasn't “wow”-ed by the Skyway.  I see may people posting about how it is one of the better roads in the area.  Maybe if I had been with other MINIs I would have enjoyed it better.  As a final note, I discovered later that the group I had planned to meet had actually decided to leave later than agreed upon.  So the whole time I thought I was chasing them, they were actually behind me.

By time I got back to the hotel, it was dusk, so it had definitely been a long day.  And once again, I came upon a wreck.  This time, in a sharp corner on the Hellbender, a motorcycle had to lay it down and ended up sliding into a MINI in the oncoming lane.  The next day I would see the MINI being taken home on a rollback.  I also figured out that the motorcyclist was staying at the Tuskeegee Motel.  As bad as it looked and as bad as he felt about taking out the MINI, he was glad he had hit it as he probably would have gone over the guardrail and down into the water had he not hit the MINI.  So the MINI saved him from a (probably) worse result.

Day 3


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Saturday would bring an early start as I did the Sunrise Drive Through the Smokies.  It was interesting as I had to “trade” a spot with another THMMC member in order to get in on the drive.  Of course, once there, probably only a third of those who signed up actually showed up.  Which made for a good size group – about 12 or so MINIs.  We left in the dark from Fontana Village and headed out on the Dragon.  The turned right to head up the Foothills Parkway to take in the sunrise.

We then headed into Townsend for a stop at a combination gas station, grocery store, small restaurant/deli for a quick bite of breakfast and coffee!  We then looped back through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  This included Little River Road which was a wonderful twisty road that followed a river.  About the only downside was even this early in the morning, traffic was already heavy.  From there, we took 441 which included a “spiral” that did a complete 360 (someone was thinking outside the box to design that) before a stop near the road up to Clingman's Dome.  We then headed back down through Cherokee and Bryson City before heading back up 28 to end at Fontana Village.

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That was just in time to get back for the panoramic photo.  Really it was more than just in time as we actually had to wait a while to get lined up in our spot.  That did give me some time to talk with agranger and look at his radio setup.

After watching the panoramic photo, I hung out at Fontana Village for a while with some other THMMCers.  But, while watching Twister apply some decals, I missed a group headed out for a run on Wayah Road.  So once again, it was time to take off in pursuit.  Leaving Fontana Village, I saw the aftermath of yet another wreck – the fourth one for the weekend.  This one involved a MINI and a small red car at one of the entrances to Fontana Village.  It was clearly a bad wreck and I later saw some video of the wreck.

I did know they were planning to use Upper Tuskeegee Rd (which started close to my hotel) then Yellow Creek Road before coming out on Hwy 129 (near the large water line that crosses 129 for those familiar).  From there, it was down through Robbinsville (where I topped off my gas again) and on to Wayah Road.  Wayah is a nice twisty road, especially the southern part that climbs then descends a mountain in the area.  When I got to the end, I ran into a couple motorcyclists and chatted with them for a while before heading back.

After catching a bit to eat in Robbinsville, I headed on up to Deal's Gap and decided to take in another Dragon run.  Had fun on that one following a group of Mazda RX owners that were in the area for the weekend.

I got back to the motel and caught a few winks before heading back to Fontana Village for the final event – Midnight on the Dragon.  Heading out from Fontana shortly before midnight, we headed up to Deal's Gap to stage there.  From there, it was time to run the Dragon in the dark at midnight.  For the most part, this seemed to be a pretty hard core group of drivers, so the pace was definitely on the quick side.  Between the pace and the darkness, probably the most adrenaline rushing motoring I've done in my MINI.  Really not sure how my nerves made it, but it was a great way to cap things off for the weekend.

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After getting back to the Tuskeegee, I was definitely wore out.  Got a good night of sleep and in the morning, headed home.  Since I made the decision to go to MOTD so late, I didn't really get a chance to participate in some of the non-driving events that are held.  But that was ok.  It gave me the opportunity to make up my own schedule.  As far as the driving, the Devil's Triangle was a great run, Midnight on the Dragon was a truly exhilarating experience, and the Sunrise drive was some nice fellowship time.  It would be nice to go again or to do MINIs Slay the Sleeping Dragon.  I guess one day the dates will fall right and/or the soccer season will not be in conflict.

As usual, there is a photo gallery with many more photos from MOTD 2011.

Thanks for reading!

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