Deal's Gap

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mark Wallace
  • Air Force Petroleum Agency
A group of seven Air Force riding buddies from several bases met up for a few days of riding at Deal's Gap in North Carolina in mid October 2008. This area, known as "the Dragon," is world famous among sport bike riders for its 318 curves in 11 miles on US 129 between Maryville, Tennessee, and Robbinsville, North Carolina. We came from Washington DC, Dover AFB, Wright-Patterson AFB, Seymour Johnson AFB and Fort Smith, Arkansas. Two retirees, four active duty guys and my dad made up our group of riders ranging from 30 to 60 years of age.

We arrived separately on Thursday the 16th in the late afternoon. The weather was cool but sunny, so we rode the area for a couple of hours before settling in around the campfire with several other riders at the Kickstand Lodge, one of the finest campgrounds in the area for biker hospitality.

Friday morning was cold and foggy, so we rode to the Wheels Through Time museum in nearby Maggie Valley, North Carolina. By the time we finished browsing the museum and had lunch at a nice BBQ joint, the weather was much better, so we headed to the Dragon. The weather was nice on Friday and we did quite a bit of riding. About an hour before sundown, Dennis, my dad and I headed north to Maryville to visit Dennis' friend Jeff and have dinner. The rest of our group wisely decided to head back to camp to avoid riding over the Dragon in the dark later that night. We had a nice time at Jeff's house and he cooked some awesome wings!

I dreaded our trip back to camp as it was quite cool on the ride up to Maryville. However, the temperature seemed much better once we headed back at around 9 pm. Except for some fog the first few miles, the trip was going well. We crossed the Dragon with no problems and the temperature was cool but not UNBEARABLE. I began thinking night was a great time to ride the Dragon because there was no traffic. I think we met two cars the whole 20-something miles we traveled before turning off onto Hwy 28 toward our camp.

About 5 miles down Hwy 28 we rounded a nice right-hand corner onto a long straightaway toward a bridge. It was pitch black out there. The only light was from the three motorcycles. Just before we crossed the bridge, while traveling about 45 mph, something very black and fairly large bounded directly in front of me. It was so close that I had no time to brake or swerve to avoid a collision. It was a black bear and it sent me for a little airborne trip over the bars. I landed on my back and flipped one complete time and slid to a stop on my back.

Dennis took evasive action but, unfortunately, my bike was not going to let him get away without "crashing" the party. After a short exercise in maximum braking, my sliding bike slid into his front wheel and knocked him down. He bounced on his hip and shoulder and slid to a stop a few feet from me. We were both banged up quite a bit but didn't sustain any serious injuries. My dad managed to avoid the accident and came to a stop near our bikes and bodies with a huge lump in his throat. My first concern was making sure Dennis was okay. As soon as he began moving and talking, I remembered the bear. Oh my God, where did the bear go? I couldn't see a thing and worried that he may have survived the collision and could be injured and angry.

Dad turned his bike around so we could see, and low and behold Smoky was gone. That's right folks, after being punched in the ribs by a 300 lb motorcycle at 45 mph, the bear just got up and ran off. No trace of blood or anything. I was happy he didn't decide to retaliate. Dennis' bike was totaled. Mine was bent up pretty bad but repairable. We can replace the bikes. Either or both of us could have been killed or hurt very badly.

I ended up with two sore ankles, one bruised knee and some sore muscles for a few weeks. Dennis had some soreness in his hip and back but he healed up quickly too. Luckily, we both ride with all the gear all the time. Our leather jackets and pants saved us from serious road rash. My helmet took a pretty hard hit on the pavement. I can't imagine the added pain I could have experienced if I had been wearing jeans and a T-shirt or no helmet.

I'm not sure we could have done anything better to avoid the wildlife in the road since he was moving fast and the area was so dark. If Dennis had left a bigger cushion between us, he may have been able to avoid my bike. Next year we will plan to arrive back at camp before dark to reduce the chances of wildlife encounters. I'll always make sure I wear proper riding gear and a good helmet any time I get on my bike. You never know when something can appear out of nowhere in your path. Be safe and keep the shiny side up.
(This article first appeared in the Combat Edge, March/April 2009)