The Diamondback

Copperhead Road – Steve Earl

Some years ago, when The Dane first got our Z4, we joined the Z-Club and attended one of their annual events.  A large part of these events were drives (It is about the car after all).  During those rides, we learned all manner of things.  One thing I learned in particular that I’d never ever even thought about was that certain roads have an appeal to bikers and car enthusiast because of their twists and turns.

The first road of this nature that I learned about was the Tail of the Dragon.  The “Tail” has 318 curves in an 11 mile stretch.  During this convention, there was great excitement about driving the tail.  At first, I was all for going until I discovered on a lesser drive that I sincerely suck at extreme curvy roads.  The Dane (with some injury to his pride, I’m sure) backed us out of the drive and since then, I’ve always felt a little like a wuss when it comes to “drives.”  That said, The Dane has never pressured me to do any of them and we have lived happily all these years without it.

In the back of my mind, I knew there were other roads like “the tail,” but it never dawned on me to take a look around to see what they were.  So today, I did a little digging…

1. Blue Ridge Parkway – listed as “easy curves.” It’s 469 miles long. Along the way, there are easy stops such as Craggy Gardens, Mt Mitchell, and Mt. Pisgah. There’s a 45 mph speed limit (and take heed to that as a warning).

2. The Tail of the Dragon is 90 miles from Asheville with 318 curves in 11 miles.

3. The Daimondback – steep, climbing curves.  Complete is 38 miles with 190-200 curves.

4. Copperhead Loop – 77 miles along the Davidson River by Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock.

5. Cherohala Skyway which was completed in 1996 after 34 years of construction.  It’s elevation is 5.400 feet for 15 miles and descends another 21 miles into deeply forested Tennessee. It crosses Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests which gives it its name Chero…hala.

In addition, there’s the Hell Bender, Oh My God Corner, Moonshiner28, Devils Triangle, Six Gap and Thunder Road (and many, many more).

From the names, I’m pretty sure you get the idea.  These are NOT your average every day roads.  These are seriously dangerous roads that require skill, guts and more than a little stupidity.  And Lord forgive me, but there are people who are out of their minds enough to live where they have to use these roads on a daily basis.  God Bless Them!

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Our morning at The Big Lynn started early.  I wanted to get the most out of our day and someone at dinner had told us that the fog was scheduled to burn off around noon.  To top it off, The Dane and I both slap forgot about “falling back” from daylight savings time, so we were up much earlier than we really needed to be.

We spent a good portion of the early morning taking our time getting dressed, watching the weather and reading.  By 7:30am (after falling back), we were trudging up the hill for breakfast only a little while after the breakfast bell rang.  By the time we arrived, the couple to my left was finishing up and the couple to my right were just getting coffee.  We all joked again about the weather and talked about our good night’s sleep.  We laughed about the time change and how all of us had completely forgotten about it.

The sweet waitress from the night before was back to serve us a big breakfast of our choice:  pancakes, waffles, sausage, bacon, eggs, grits, and so much more.  After the big meal from the night before, I definitely wanted to get back on track, but a country girl has a sincere weakness when it comes to freshly ground grits and I didn’t have a single regret when all that buttered yumminess hit my tummy.  Besides, I told myself, I earned it after all that walking up the mountain I’d been doing going from the room to the lodge (days later and my legs are still feeling it).

Early morning, it did seem that the fog was going to lift.  By the end of breakfast, it seemed to have come back with a vengeance.  Holding on to the hope that it was going to burn off by lunch time, The Dane and I hung around the lodge.  Others, like us, seemed in no hurry to pack up and leave.

By lunch time, it was obvious that we weren’t going to get a reprieve from the fog and most of us were ready to get on with it.  I’d done a little googling during the morning and discovered a little shopping area just at the peak of the mountain.  Stiffening up my upper lip, I broached the subject with The Dane.  He took a look at the map and said, “Oh, that’s only about a mile or so.  For sure we can do that.” 

We left the lodge and headed up the mountain, chatting away about the people who we’d met and how much we’d enjoyed the stay at the lodge.  Before I had a chance to get too nervous, we were stopping at the top at a quaint little area.  As we walked toward what appeared to be a bookstore/coffee shop, I noticed a sign – “I survived Route 226A.”  I took in a deep breath.  The freaking Diamondback!  We drove half the freaking Diamondback in the freaking fog!

Now, I must tell you.  It’s called the Diamondback for a couple of reasons. First, it’s sort of shaped like a diamond. The other reason is because, a diamondback has a forked tongue and like a forked tongue, the Diamondback has two ways to enter as it’s a loop.  There’s the right hand side and the left hand side.  From what I’ve read, advice tells you to enter the left hand side and travel around the loop clockwise.  The road includes somewhere between 190 – 200 curves depending on who you talk to.  The total loop is about 38 miles with the right side being about 11 or so.

I knew, because of the drive up to the Enotah (Brasstown Bald) in Georgia, that there would be a sticker that you could get somewhere nearby to go on your car.  A sort of badge of courage for surviving the drive.  I marched my hiney right into the souvenir shop and asked for the sticker.  There were several to choose from.  The Dane was lolly-gagging around, so had no idea what I was up to.  By the time, he came in to find me, I’d bought the sticker and a tee-shirt (which I almost never do).  He chuckled a bit and said, “Silly, you can’t put that on the car until we’ve completed the whole route.” 

So, that’s what he thinks.  I think I earned that sticker.  We did the Diamondback backwards in the fog.  I might not have a lot of courage, but I did survive the Diamondback – barely.

After finishing my purchase, I went right outside and put on the dang tee-shirt and wore that sucker with pride.

The sales girl at the shop overheard our conversation.  She offered up a bit of advice and said, “Don’t finish the ride backwards, it’ll kill your brakes.  Best to go back down and come back in the other way and drive back up.”

Well now, there was going to be NONE of that!  I’d noticed on the map that there was an entrance to the parkway nearby and I deemed it as an escape route.

OMG – it wasn’t!

By the time we got to the end of the turn-left, turn-right (which we couldn’t figure out), we ended up going the wrong way and the fog kept coming in thicker and thicker.  By the time we realized we were going the wrong way, half the battery life in my phone was gone.  We got turned around (barely).  By this time, we were down to zero visibility and hit a tunnel.  

The way the light hit the fog at the other end was nearly blinding.  It rattled my nerves more than I could stand.  By the time we got to the first overlook (that I could see), we stopped for me to catch my breath.  I looked up at The Dane (still enjoying this adventure) and flatly said, “Get me off this mountain.”

He took the phone and fiddled with the GPS and found that we were about a mile or so from the turnoff to get back down the mountain to Marion, NC.  We got back into the car and turned around (yet again) to head to the turnoff.  The only way we could tell where the road was supposed to be was by looking at GPS, now 0.4 miles, now 0.2.  Luckily the turnoff was just where the GPS said it would be or we’d probably have careened off the mountain.

I could tell the road was steep, but the fog was still so thick there was no way to judge.  Up ahead, I could see just a little clearing of the fog and a sign post.  As we approached, I asked The Dane to stop, so I could get a good look.  The sign said and I quote, “The Road Gets Worse…”  I swear to you that this is an absolute true statement.  There was other stuff written below it, something about trucks, but I was so absolutely stunned.  It was like something out of a horror film and we were going to go down that thing or go back up with no chance of getting out of the fog!

The Dane turned to me as if waiting for an answer.  Up or Down?  I nodded to continue going down. 

The road got worse.

There were run-offs for runaway transfer trucks with fresh, deep grooves.  Signs that warned to “stop here, cool brakes.”  In places, it was so steep that I was sure some transfer truck was going to take us out.  I concentrated on breathing and keeping my eyes closed.

And finally, the fog was overhead and we could see again.  Bright fall colors sprang into view.  We could see the bottom of the mountain and all the traffic below. 

For a silent moment, I looked over at my husband and thanked God for him.  That he’s a safe, contentious driver.  That he’s a fine man who doesn’t spend time bitching about my fears.  That he took the time to find out how to get me off that mountain without making me feel like a fool.  For loving me, even when I’m a pain in the ass.

But, I don’t care what he thinks about “not putting on the sticker because it’s cheating.”  I’m going to put that sticker on the car and wear that dang shirt till the threads come loose.  No matter what he says, I survived the freaking Diamondback!

 

Jacket – Lane Bryant (old, similar here); Striped top – Old Navy (similar here); Jeans – Old Navy; Shoes – Blowfish; Hat – Forever 21 (similar here); Diamondback tee – Little Switzerland Cafe & General Store; Jewelry, Cato.

Until next time, enjoy your day to the fullest!

~PJ

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