Appreciate the comments. This one is going to be a little long, I wrote this for another forum so I’ll copy it here. Note, the only editing done was to remove the edge of a tree branch from the first shot in the “Tail of the Dragon” section. All shots are as they came off the camera otherwise.
What is it about driving?
The joy of driving feels intrinsic. I wrote out a 3 paragraph dissertation to try to get to the bottom of it and while I was able to figure out “what” I liked, I still couldn’t figure out “why” I liked it. The closest I came was relating it to a craft, something I care about and want to do well as well as see it be done well by others. As nice as that thought is, it still lacks a definitive motivation. Cars are easy to like. They can touch upon our senses of sight, sound, and motion in an exciting way. They can be tinkered with like a giant puzzle, or showed off as a status symbol.
But what makes the drive so alluring is that you control the excitement. I find a similar draw in my other hobbies, riding BMX and backpacking. It can be mundane or life threatening depending on your choices. And then of course there’s the travel aspect, the ability to see new things and explore the world around you. You can travel at a pace fast enough to cover hundreds of miles per day, yet slow enough to take in the scenery and appreciate the world around you.
Tail of the Dragon
Some combination of the aforementioned tactile feedback, excitement, and freedom of mobility lead me to drive ~700 miles really just to drive one road. Now of course, that’s a bit reductionist, but we’ll start there. The road is exactly what you think it is, a scribble on a map with no intersections, no houses, and no distractions. My car felt right at home, as it is set up for autocross and the Dragon’s sharp turns and short straights catered to it’s set-up in nearly perfect symbiosis. It’s great fun, and a bit of a workout. And the ambiance is automotive heaven, sitting at a turnoff for 20-30 minutes and hearing something approach, then blast by, is fun in and of itself. Not to mention my introduction to the road involved chasing a C6 and C8 Corvette. It’s like my Forza dreams came to life.
However, the Dragon has some real competition in the area. Route 28 to Fontana Dam is arguably better to drive as it’s a bit more open and flows a little nicer, even if it lacks the novelty of non stop corners. And the scenery is fantastic, there’s not much to see on the Dragon if you even have time to pull your eyes off the road.
But out of the three famous roads I drove, I’d say the Cherohala Skyway is the crown jewel. The best scenery, the best flow, the longest route. Massive elevation change, numerous turn outs for great vistas, long sweeping corners and the occasional sharp switch back, this was a great road for driving bliss. Not too much effort required, but a lot of reward.
The Smoky Mountains
Despite coming all this way to drive, I somehow found myself doing a bit of walking. The first walk was to the Shuckstack Fire Tower, a steep ~3 mile climb up ~2200 feet with a fantastic view from the rickety old fire tower. It was a great introduction to the Smokys.
To start my only full day in the area, I ran the “Chasing the Tail of the Dragon” hillclimb road before dawn broke. After a brisk climb, I was able to view the sunrise over the mountains and Lake Santeetlah. I think the pictures speak for themselves, it was gorgeous.
After my morning hillclimb, I started down Cherohala and took a break to do this short (~2.5 mile total) walk to Huckleberry Knob. Stunning view, and given the gentle terrain there’s no reason not to see it.
After driving the rest of Cherohala, Route 360 up through Ballplay (ha), and taking a crack at the dragon, I needed a break from driving. A slow (genuinely, not car guy “slow”) drive through the Joyce Kilmer forest brought me back to the bottom of the hillclimb, where there is a trailhead not too far on an adjacent road. It was an ambling walk with no big vistas or destination, and it was nice to slow down and let my mind wander. After I wrapped up, I went back to the dragon, ran it once each direction, and headed back to my cabin. A great way to end the day.
(Since this is a game forum where not all of you have actual licenses, DO NOT cross the double yellows in real life)
Okay, let’s talk about it. I, like many others, didn’t come here to drive slow. This may sound hypocritical, but I was quite frustrated with the double yellow crossing I witnessed. Not just the sports cars, regular people were the biggest offenders. In my video below, the video ends when I catch up to a Florida tagged Ford Escape who hit the trifecta of bad etiquette: Driving at a walking pace, not using turn outs, and using half of the oncoming lane. If I and many others can blast through while maintaining our lanes, how are people not able to keep it in the lines while going <10mph? In regards to “spirited driving” safety, it is important to drive below your limits. To me, that means not breaking traction, not locking up the brakes, driving a little slower than you can see. As a result I was able to have a good time while avoiding some unforeseen obstacles such as bicyclists, oncoming traffic in my lane (!), and a log that found its way into the road. And many others have the same experience, are able to enjoy the road without incident and go home with great memories. In my opinion, the people that will crash on the Dragon are people who’d crash anywhere, you just have a lot more opportunity to let your ego overtake your skill here. Basically what I’m trying to say is, going faster may be less safe, but if you’re in control, I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s overtly dangerous, especially compared to the Ford Escapes/Nissan Rogues/Dodge Rams that are crawling in the oncoming lane around a blind corner. I’ll get off my soapbox now.
I didn’t spend too much time trying to capture videos, I tried to get one of the dawn hillclimb but the footage is kinda trash, and only bothered to get one of the Dragon. Here’s my obligatory vid:
Tail of the Dragon Video
When I left to go home, I decided to take Cherohala. Being 6 AM, I got a completely uninterrupted drive all the way through. I think this would be a way cooler video with a better camera set up, and it’s obnoxiously long, maybe use it as white noise to fall asleep to? Figured I’d post it since I have it.
I definitely recommend checking out the full album at the top of the post, I think they’re some of my better pictures I’ve taken. Also, if you enjoyed this, you might enjoy my cross country trip or trip to Acadia. Thanks for reading
Some of my favorites: