Tail of the Dragon recently took a day off to tour the
area which is located just to the east of
. US 421 just east of the intersection with TN91/TN133 has been given various names by riders …. The Striped Snake and Motorcycle Playground. Some riders compare this section of road to the Dragon but we found it fell far short in many respects.
We began our journey on our KLR650s in Elizabethton where we made a quick stop at the covered bridge built in 1882 over the
We then headed north on 91 through the small communities of Hunter and Carter bordering the
. Not much going on here, but after about 16 miles of rural yawning the road suddenly rises into the forest and gets your attention. The pavement is broken, heaved and badly patched, but we like challenges. One side of the road is rock cliff and the other side a drop-off making the Dragon look tame. Not only are there metal railings in many spots, but one section has just the posts - teeth ready to chew up any rider sliding into them. This is not a place for knee dragging, losing concentration or getting run off the road by another vehicle. Two miles of this and we cross the
and begin the descent into
After a couple of interesting curves the road quickly flattens into the valley floor with bucolic views of farms with distant mountains in the background. The center of the
community is at the crossroads of US421 and TN91. The small store known as the Country Store offers fuel, food, and rocking chairs on the front porch. We passed on the food hoping to find a more appetizing place up the road.
Heading north on TN133 there are several more miles of straight asphalt and farmlands. Finally we find a few sweepers leading once again into the forest. A scenic stop on 133 is the Backbone Rock Tunnel. The 20-foot tunnel was carved in 1901 to allow passage of trains carrying timber. It just may be the shortest tunnel in the world as claimed by the locals. This is a great place to stop and have a picnic lunch. There is also a campground located just north of the picnic areas.
hiked up to the top of the Backbone while I explored Beaverdam Creek.
Continuing north on TN133 we crossed into
and arrived in the town of
. We stopped at the Baja Café hoping to find a good lunch, but the place was a little too authentic to its south of the border name for us. Dot’s
on 91 was supposed to be a good biker diner, but it was closed. The Damascus Old Mill Restaurant was only open Wednesday through Saturday, so we parked near Laurel Creek and watched the ducks and geese while eating a quick snack we had brought just in case. Guess Mondays isn’t the best time to ride if eating is a requirement.
is an avid bicyclist we made a quick stop at JC’s Outdoors, one of the bicycle rental places in
. The Creeper Trail is one motorless ride that I might even be interested in taking one day. The 17-mile bicycle trail follows the old railroad bed through the
. Rent a bike, catch the shuttle to the top of the mountain, then coast just about the entire way down (2-3 hours). CLICK HERE FOR INFO
We scooted south on VA91/TN91 (
Mountain City Highway
) for a few miles into
before deciding to turn around and run US58 east. This turned out to be a great ride through the
- mostly sweepers through the woods, but good enough to wake
up. After 22 miles we took a right onto VA751 (
) and entered
. The scenery on US58 and VA751 is mostly Christmas tree farms. Must be a good business because these farms are everywhere on the hillsides.
At Sturgills we hung a right on NC194 passing through the backwoods towns of Lansing and Bina. At Warrensville we took a right onto NC88 which turned out to be a great twisty ride through the county. We did hit a short patch of loose gravel on a newly paved section once we reentered
. We then turned right onto the four-lane US421.
the four-lane turns into two and we were soon on what is known as The Striped Snake. The really twisty section is only about 4 miles in length east of TN 133. The pavement is good, but the corners are repetitious, lacking the variety of the Dragon. Locals claim 489 curves in a 12-mile radius, but this must include the driveways too from what we saw.
At the crossroads we headed back south towards Elizabethton on TN91. This pass we enjoyed the dangers of the descent over the tricky two-mile stretch with posts like gaping teeth.
There is another section of US 421 to the west heading for Bristol that we didn't ride on this trip. We rode it years ago and locals consider it even better than the eastern section.
TOTAL MILES FOR THE DAY 153 miles
STATES COVERED Three states,
HIGHLIGHTS The lesser rated back roads
We recommend these roads to cars, touring bikes and cruisers looking for good sightseeing roads. We wish we had more time to explore the really back roads a little bit more. The KLRs are great for getting deeper into the backwoods even though we have them set-up for the street.
Sportbikes can have some fun on US421, but the good sections are short.
Motorcycle friendly camping at Switchback Creek Motorcycle Campground near Shady Valley CLICK HERE