Back of the Dragon

I keep going on about the Tail of the Dragon, but have you heard of the Back of the Dragon? Aside from sharing the name of a mythical reptilian creature, they have nothing in common, besides having a reputation of being amazing motorcycle roads. My inland route to the northeast was already bringing me nearby, so I decided to check out the Back of the Dragon for myself.

The previous night’s Chateau Walmart was only about half an hour away from Tazewell, Virginia, where I parked at the official Back of the Dragon store, brewery, visitor center, etc. I unloaded the bike, geared up, and headed down the road to Virginia Route 16, the Back of the Dragon itself. It consists of 438 curves over its 32 mile length, as well as 3,500 feet of elevation change. That puts it somewhere in between the Tail of the Dragon and Cherohala Skyway as far as its length and complexity.

The geography is quite different, though. The hills are steeper and more angular than rolling like in Tennessee. Forest and farmland seem to be mixed up randomly. You never know when you’re going to go in or out of the trees. I was thankful for the sun visor built into my helmet, which I could flip up or down as needed without stopping. That was important, because there is almost nowhere to stop along the Back of the Dragon. There’s only one marked scenic overlook.

I stopped here to snap some pictures, the only ones I got along this road. I was wishing my GoPro hadn’t disappeared (again) because I’d love to share some of the amazing views I saw while I was riding, but because there was nowhere to even pull over safely, I couldn’t. I would’ve had to capture still images from the video of my ride.

One person from a group of riders at the overlook asked me to take a picture of them, so I did. He offered to take a picture of me, a rare non-selfie opportunity.

When I got to Marion, I pretty much turned around and rode back the other way to Tazewell. The Back of the Dragon is a fun road, but not for the faint of heart. I’m remembering how Virginia doesn’t believe in guardrails, and there are many sharp turns and steep drop offs without them. The road is a great combination of conditions, though. Some sections are as tight and twisty as the Tail of the Dragon. Others have gentle mid-speed sweepers like the Cherohala Skyway. And there are even some straight, easy sections where you can plod along at the 55 mph speed limit and take a breather. I didn’t suffer any brain fade on this ride the way I did in Tennessee as a result. Best of all, on a Tuesday morning, there was pretty no traffic, faster or slower than me. That let me enjoy the road at my own pace without having to worry about what anyone else was doing.

When I got back to the van, a man immediately came over and asked me how the road conditions are. I told him the road is great, but there’s a Virginia DOT trash detail on the north end, and weed whacking on the south end. He introduced himself as Larry Davidson, the owner of the Back of the Dragon store where I’d parked. He’s personally responsible for the designation of Route 16 as the Back of the Dragon, as well as the rise of motorcycle and car enthusiast tourism to the area, a boon to the local economy after the coal industry left the area. We had a good chat about the road, the area, his love of V-Stroms (don’t tell the Harley guys), and other things. He’s a super nice guy, a genuine rider, and truly one of us.

I’d intended to have lunch at the food truck parked out back, but I couldn’t justify a $19 burger or pulled pork sandwich. Lister was antsy to play outside, so I found a local park, drove there, and let him out to play while I heated up some food for myself. (I’m still loving having a microwave in the van!) By the time I was done, Lister was bored and came back inside, so I closed up and set a course for the afternoon’s exciting adventure: laundry.

My timing today was pretty good. I’d finished at Back of the Dragon by lunchtime, so I had the afternoon to deal with it. There turned out to be a laundromat in nearby Bluefield, Virginia, with enough parking for my van and trailer. Not every laundromat has that much parking, so finding one that does it quite good for me. I wrote this up while doing my laundry. Then it’s another Chateau Walmart tonight. Tomorrow we pick up some speed, and start putting some miles behind us once again.

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