Making of ‘Tail of the Dragon’: The philosophy of an Übermensch from the back of a motorcycle

When I was writing Tail of the Dragon I envisioned that I was working on a populist oriented novel that would be a throw-back to the kind of films I enjoyed as a youth like Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper complete with wild antics, car chases galore, and nonstop action.  I can proudly report that those elements were successful.  Yet while I was writing Tail of the Dragon the thought did cross my mind I was doing something unique that wasn’t quite so populist resulting in early reviews comparing my work to that of Ayn Rand which prompted me to go and read her novels to understand why.  It was my publisher that made those first comparisons and informed me that my title wouldn’t be listed under general fiction, but philosophy due to the nature of the story.  In hindsight I understand what they were getting at.  Tail of the Dragon essentially does with car chases what a book I greatly admire did as a work of philosophy called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance did as a travel story—it explores concepts of philosophy in the context of events occurring on the back of a motorcycle.  In Zen, the author Robert Pirsig traveled with his son on a cross-country motorcycle trip to discover aspects of himself that were otherwise obscured by day-to-day reality.  In my Tail of the Dragon Rick and Renee Stevens do something similar except they find themselves locked in a liberianesque type battle for their very lives at speeds of over 200 miles an hour in the greatest car chase ever told.  I suppose that if I had just wrote a story in a populist fashion that my results might have been as intended—a modern homage to The Dukes of Hazzard or virtually any Burt Reynolds film.  But I did extensive research in writing the novel putting my wife and I on several long distance road trips to scout out the locations I would write about in telling the story of Rick and Renee Stevens and their super human struggle to live their lives authentically against a rules based society locked in sacrifice to the many systems of existence.  For the many readers who have read Tail of the Dragon and wondered how many of the locations mentioned in the novel were real, I invite at this time for you to ride on the back of a motorcycle as we did the research for the book and see for yourself how Rick and Renee Stevens came to life by watching the short documentary style video below.  Part I is a series of videos retracing the steps that put life into the Tail of the Dragon novel and made it a story more akin to Ayn Rand’s Übermensch novels than Burt Reynolds classic action/comedy, which turned out to be a natural byproduct of motorcycle riding in harsh weather conditions.

Rick and Renee began their journey as a middle-aged couple with a grown child and an intense desire to do some of the things they had suppressed for many years.  The novel essentially starts at the hotel Park Vista in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  In the sequences leading up to their arrival at the hotel, the descriptions of them arriving at the hotel in the pouring rain can be seen for their origin.  When my wife and I visited this site looking for a plausible way to get the main characters into the action of the story with proper motive, it rained on us the entire time.  In the video the unique features of the Park Vista can be seen clearly—and the views out every window are extremely dramatic, each complete with their own balcony.

Leaving the Park Vista for the actual Tail of the Dragon which is over 70 miles away by road, but less than 30 miles as a crow flies, it is impossible to arrive at the mouth of The Dragon in North Carolina without climbing the mountains nearly a mile above sea level putting us easily in the clouds.  This is essentially the same route that Rick and his wife took in the novel their first time to the Tail of the Dragon which is a mystical road located on the western frontier of the Great Smoky Mountains.  The road and terrain changes from Gatlinburg, Tennessee where the Park Vista resides to the Cherokee reservation town in North Carolina are some of the most extreme on planet Earth.  In a very short distance particularly on the back of a motorcycle in the pouring rain like we experienced it, the plant life and atmospheric changes were extreme.  As seen in the video once we crossed through the mountains and arrived in Cherokee we were able to pull off at a rest area and cross a unique suspension bridge that extended across a small river that runs through town.  We sought shelter from the rain for a bit in a gift shop before resuming our journey just a bit more to the south then directly west for our destination.

The Crossroads of Time is a motorcycle resort residing at the corner of what has become known as the Moonshine 28 and the Tail of the Dragon respectably RT 129 and RT 28.  This is where Rick Stevens has the race with the Lamborghini and makes the bet with Killboy to make a speedy run up the dangerous and winding road known world-wide.  By the time my wife and I arrived at The Cross Roads of Time we had been on our motorcycle for many hours in the pouring spring rain and were freezing from the chilly air of late April.  In the video my wife could be seen drying out and eating chicken strips at the bar and grill located at the Crossroads.  It was from that seat where the first elements of the novel began to come together in my mind as I scribbled notes on my hands since all the paper I brought with me was soaking wet.  Later back at the hotel I would more formalize my observations after the hard day of riding around the entire national park of The Great Smokey Mountains ending our long journey much later from the Crossroads at a wax museum at the very start of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  Since the rain was so intense I kept my camera packed away and didn’t get much footage while riding the motorcycle, a situation that I was able to correct in my Part II video coming up in the next article.

Motorcycle riding in the Smoky Mountains is a uniquely American thing to do especially under adverse conditions.  In my novel Tail of the Dragon, it was the perfect backdrop for my story of two people who decide that they are going to rebel against a system of living that has threatened to crush them mentally their entire lives—and dare to break away from the invisible chains that bind us all day by day slowly from cradle to grave.  I did not intend to move away from the populist plot I had worked out in my head, but when on a motorcycle pushing your own limits and stepping out of all personal safety zones, stories begin to tell themselves and as an author the task becomes in plucking such events from the air and capturing them in a bottle for others to enjoy—or learn from.  Thankfully, many have which is all I ever wanted.  Every time I get the reports from my publisher of the book sales I enjoy knowing that readers are sharing in that captured magic residing in that bottle discovered on trips like the one seen above.  I am happy to share a little bit about how the book came to life in reality with footage collected during the research phase of the novel, and provide nourishment to the inquisitive minds of the book’s growing fan base.  In Part II, I will get into a bit more footage as my daughter and son-in-law were able to join me which provided the opportunity to capture some rather spectacular footage on the back of a motorcycle and show how the words that ended up in my novel Tail of the Dragon came to be the work of the Übermensch (overman). 

CLICK HERE to see what my publisher had to say about my novel Tail of the Dragon and look for Part II on April 3rd.

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Rich Hoffman

“If they attack first………..blast em’!”