This article is Part II of the Making of Tail of the Dragon, the novel. CLICK HERE to review Part I. Many have asked me regarding my most recent novel how much of it is real, and how much is fiction. In regard to the fiction, the story is what I intended to be the greatest car chase ever told in any format, so much of it is fiction. Yet the foundations of the story are rooted in reality–in actual places in and around one of the most dramatic examples of capitalism and adventure anywhere, joined in a ménage à troist with nature – The Great Smoky Mountains. The Tail of the Dragon is one of the most dangerous and spectacular roads in the entire world featuring 318 curves over an 11 mile span, and in Part One I showed how the approach to The Dragon looked from the East with the point of origin beginning in Gatlinburg, Tennessee as it was when Rick and Renee Stevens began their first journey in a similar fashion. However, later when Rick returned to The Dragon after his stint in the Blount County jail with his $20 million dollar restored Firebird to exact revenge on the Tennessee Highway Patrol he arrived from the West. This would of course take Rick and his wife across the famed Cherohala Skyway known as The Mile High road, since portions of it reside above 5000 feet above sea level. From atop the Mile High Road motorcycle riders find themselves above the clouds and well above the airplanes that can be seen flying around Knoxville to the North and Chattanooga to the South. It was from a small hotel room just north of Chattanooga on I-75 that my kids joined my wife and me on a research gathering expedition by motorcycle while I was writing Tail of the Dragon.
The path taken in the video by our small research team was virtually the same used by Rick and Renee Stevens in their souped up 700 HP armored Firebird fulfilling their destiny to become the modern version of Bonnie and Clyde. The descriptions that ended up in the novel were derived from the journey seen above as we sought to see, feel and taste the environment that feeds the Tail of the Dragon by the only access from the West there is, the snaking, twisting, oxygen depriving monster called The Cherohala Skyway. I love the road so much that I made sure that the famed car chase from my novel began on this road from a rest area similar to those shown in the documentary footage. Many bikers die on this road routinely. It is uncompromisingly beautiful and dangerous at the same time. The views make it impossible not to look around, but any mistake can send you straight off the edge to meet death in an instant.
On the way up, our crew took frequent breaks to photograph the various levels of topography for the benefit of my written words. I took many notes along the way and focused on capturing the roguishly independent nature of the typical visitor to the region. The politics of the area is to the right of a proclaimed libertarian from suburbia. The independent steak evident in the motorcyclists is rebelliously self-determined and weary of any organization or institutional control. Meeting some of these people up close and personal at our various stops, most of them live normal lives wherever they came from, but once they climbed on their motorcycle and hit the Cherohala or The Dragon, they become the staunchest freedom fighters in America. This mentality tends to be the byproduct of embracing such dangers with the gift of leisure time. It’s not difficult to understand this trend once the motorcycles are parked at the highest points of the Cherohala well above the cloud line. It is something to behold sitting quietly with ones thoughts and eating a packed sandwich from civilization which feels millions of miles away as clouds blow around you. Being one with the clouds in this fashion is even more empowering than flying in an airplane, because stopping in a cloud layer is not possible any other way. Only mountain climbing, or high altitude motorcycling can give that sensation.
This time around our visit to The Crossroads of Time was not encumbered by heavy downpours of rain, so I was able to spend more time capturing the area the way it typically was on any given weekend throughout the year – particularly the summer months. The culture at The Dragon is one that is fiercely independent and openly embraces danger, even death the way tribal warriors used such threats to their personal safety to prove their manhood. This is why there is a Tree of Shame where wrecked motorcycles are exhibited not so much as a disgrace but as tokens of pride. Inside the Crossroads Bar and Grill area there are also pictures showing the grotesque accidents that have occurred on the Tail of the Dragon where victims proudly display their injuries and deformities caused by near fatal wrecks on the area’s infamous roads. It’s all part of the mystic and the participants openly welcome fate and whatever it brings. In my novel Rick Stevens would evolve into an Übermensch (overman) type of character becoming a legend to the people who frequent the Tail of the Dragon. That meant Stevens would have to have more guts, recklessness, outrageous courage, skill, wit, and sheer determination than the average Dragon rider – which is to say a lot.
Our team intended to take the Foothills Parkway over to Townsend, Tennessee as discussed at the hotel, but discovered The Dragon was closed near Tabcat Bridge due to a rock slide. So there was no way to travel further into Tennessee from the Tail of the Dragon, (RT 129) with the road closed. With our hotel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee this meant that we had to go back through The Dragon the way we came in Part I approaching Gatlinburg from the South instead of the West. Because of the good weather conditions I was able to capture more of the wonderful views through the Smoky Mountains from the perspective of a motorcycle, which many people do not give themselves the pleasure to experience. There really is nothing like it.
That night at the hotel I recorded my notes for the day, pages and pages of notes thoughts and feelings that eventually ended up in the novel. The total sum of that 200 mile journey only makes up roughly 5 pages of material in the novel so there was much more information that needed to be gathered which will show up in future articles. But the hard-core essence of what makes Tail of the Dragon and The Cherohala Skyway such uniquely American places was captured on the back of a motorcycle with death looming by closely waiting for a mistake to be made. It is because of the character in such places that Rick and Renee Stevens go to such extremes in a car chase that ends up being resolved in The Oval Office of The White House. The spirits of the people who visit these places is unfathomably independent, and share a love of rugged individualism that is simply lost to modern life’s luxury vehicles and climate control systems. This is how the Tail of the Dragon novel came to be such a libertarian oriented story. It was not politically intentional at the time, but an observation of reality that could not be ignored. That reality deserved a voice, one that I was able to give it in Tail of the Dragon the novel.
The book is doing what I hoped it would. I originally thought of it as a populist endeavor, but the more I got into it, I realized that the audience would not likely be the masses driving their kids to soccer practice, or thriving to pass school levies – but would be those who have long suppressed in themselves a love of liberty, life, and danger swelling to escape. I enjoy the messages from my publisher when they complain to me that Amazon.com is having a difficult time keeping the book stocked. My response is to print more books so they are always available. I have my doubts that this work will ever end up on a New York Times Bestseller list due to the nature of the story. It is an uncompromising analysis of American philosophy shaped from the perspective of a motorcycle and achieves its aims by the roads less traveled. But for every copy sold I feel pride in knowing that roughly every five pages of text in that book was created with roughly 200 miles of travel upon such roads in an epic journey that put a dot at the end of my personal philosophies and set me on a new personal journey which readers here at Overmanwarrior’s Wisdom are enjoying on a daily basis. I am extraordinarily proud of my work in Tail of the Dragon, especially now that the book has been out for a few months and people are buying it, enjoying it, and sending me emails asking questions. These articles and videos are my attempts to answer those questions and explain that the pride I feel is not from the monetary or sales figures provided by Tail of the Dragon as a novel, but in the roads less traveled which went into its construction. Those roads are an experience I can share through literature what 20,000 miles of motorcycle travel while writing the novel afforded me through sweat, sunburn, hunger, cold rain, punishing wind, excruciating heat and a thousand possible deaths provided as my mind worked through problems of philosophy that can only be solved living by the seat of one’s pants.
Stay tuned for more MAKING OF videos and articles to satisfy the quandaries of curiosity coming in from the novel’s readers. And thank you to those who have given Tail of the Dragon the benefit of your attention in the first two business quarters of its release. CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE BOOK’S WEBSITE.