TL;DR: random person trusts random people from internet, meets said people deep in mountains, doesn’t get harmed and has a fun time. Thank you for hosting this, Ike!
(Make your sandwiches, refill your cup with coffee or tea, and make yourself comfortable. It’s time for one of End’s pointlessly-long stories.)
I wake up at 4:30AM; eat bowl of cereal, get diarrhea because of bad meat in the steaks from the night before, shower, check air pressure and realize I’m running 5 psi low on all tires, refill tires, and I’m out of the house by 5:45AM.
Despite having to stop twice, an emergency restroom stop and one for gasoline, I still got to the starting point on time: the Ingles in Traveler’s Rest, SC at 9AM. This location has been the rallying point for many past mountain runs. We also found a group of a dozen or so Miatas about to leave to enjoy the mountains. Sadly, they were gone before we got pictures or talked to the retiree-aged owners. Oh, yeah, Jordan got a dent from a dildo on the way to the starting point.
Here’s the route Jordan and I took to reach the Fontana Inn Resort:
You might notice the address between the start and finish point, that’s the Wheels Through Time transportation museum that Jordan captured on camera. It was quite enjoyable seeing so many vintage motorcycles, all of them apparently in running condition! It was amusing for me noticing that nearly all of them had drip pans beneath them to collect oil. We also stopped by a diner located just outside the museum. They prepare their fried chicken with lard in a pressure cooker. It’s so unhealthy but so delicious!
It didn’t take as long as I thought to get from our starting point to the resort, even though we took the scenic and twisty route with several stops along the way. It might’ve helped that we drove at quite a brisk pace through the mountains with Jordan leading and me keeping up in the corners.
On the way there, the clouds were starting to darken and Jordan asked me if I wanted to pull over and put up my convertible top. I took my chances, hoping the rain was on the other side of the mountain. I guessed wrong and got rained on for about 30 seconds before quickly pulling over and putting up the top. On the plus side, the interior and myself barely got wet thanks to driving at highway speeds for 20 of those 30 seconds!
So, after Jordan and I took some photos above and below the Fontana dam, I persuaded him into doing a run of Tail of the Dragon (apparently trademarked by Killboy, huh)! It was going well going from NC to TN but on the way back the intercooler pipe uncoupled itself from the intercooler and we ended up nursing the low-powered FiST back to the hotel for repairs.
At this point, I recognize a familiar face from Facebook, Donnie, who brought his sweet Ion Redline coupe, in the hotel lobby. Being the awkward Oppo I am, I introduce myself by saying, “Miata is always the answer.” which got my a nasty look from him in return before we laughed and properly introduced ourselves.
It was good timing that we found Donnie because he came PREPARED for this meet! He brought along cases of tools, hammers, and a reliable Harbor Freight jack that we used not once but twice to recouple the FiST’s intercooler pipe. While working on said FiST, Ike showed up in his own FiST.
Once we had Jordan’s car back together, we got dinner and met up with LimitedTimeOnly (LTO). As we conversed about cars over the pricey but tasty dishes, we attracted two more members of our planned party, Thomas and his father Bruce. That conversation also caught the interest of a Jalopnik and Oppo reader named 86 Josh, who we quickly invited to join in our plans for Saturday.
Wake up at 7:30AM because LTO suggested that anyone wanting to get a shot at an empty Tail of the Dragon needed to do it before 8~9AM to avoid typical tourist and Harley traffic. We arrive at the Dragon by 8. Jordan gets a head start while LTO and I set up our cameras before heading off!
Needless to say, it’s stupid-fun being able to run the Dragon at my own pace with only one vehicle in my way (who quickly moved over, thank you, kind person)! I meet up with Jordan and LTO on the TN end of the Dragon to let our cars cool down for a few minutes before attempting the return. I forgot what hot brake pads smell like and I constantly leave my hood open to help cool off my engine as much as possible, especially since my 16-year old radiator is finally turning olive, a sign that the plastic end-tanks are starting to reach the end of their lifespan.
On the way back to the NC-end of the Dragon, Jordan blows off his intercooler pipe at about the same location or sooner on Friday. Josh arrives not long after Jordan nurses the FiST to the Deals Gap Resort, store, and gas station. LTO offers to take lead Josh and his FR-S along the Dragon while I grab pictures and Jordan starts his second attempt to reconnect his intercooler pipe. Sadly, my GoPro ran out of memory before I could finish my return trip from the Dragon.
Ike, Donnie, and the rest of the party soon joined us as Josh and LTO returned from their run through the Dragon. We all had breakfast inside the motorcycle resort’s resturant before Jordan and I got the FiST’s piping connected for the second time. Also, Ike handed out multiple copies of his specially-commissioned Dragon-themed OPPO logo for us to put on our windows or whatever. While we first through it was a minor mistake to have them printed in black rather than white, I do appreciate the “stealthy” look of it. It doesn’t scream out to the public but rather it’s subtle and only caught by those paying attention.
We decided do round trip start at the NC-end of the Dragon to the Cherohala Skyway and then come back down the Dragon from the TN side.
I led the group of seven cars from Deals Gap to the Sunoco gas station located at the intersection of Route 129 and the Skyway. Donnie and LTO were hot on my ass in their Ion Redline and GTI, respectively. It was easy to figure out that Donnie, given his wealth of experience and knowledge of these roads, was to be our leader for the Skyway. The revised running order was as followed: Donnie, LTO, myself, Thomas/Bruce in their NC Miata, Josh, Ike, and Jordan.
Everyone knows about the Dragon but the Skyway is severly underrated in comparsion, especially if you don’t have a light, small, and nimble vehicle like a Miata, a S2000, or a sportbike/crotchrocket. The Skyway makes up for the low-speed, tight, technical turns of the Dragon with long and fast sweepers going up and down the mountains. Cherohala Skyway is better suited for GT cars like Mustangs, Vettes, Porsches, and other big and powerful cars. The Miata was certainly being worked hard to keep pace with the two leading forced-induction cars ahead of me!
I won’t say exactly how fast I was going but it was certainly interstate speeds on a road with only a 55 mph limit. Donnie’s Ion basically disappeared in front of me for the most part while I barely kept up with LTO’s GTI. Thomas did an excellent job keeping up with me in the heavier but better-composed NC MX-5. Josh, Ike, and Jordan all kept up with me as well but I expected that with all of them having 200 hp on tap!
After a quick rest stop at the Turkey Creek Outlook, surprised by the sudden appearance of cell phone reception that’d alluded us at the Dragon and the hotel, we continue toward the TN-end of the Dragon at a more leisurely pace.
We stop at the lake just before re-entering Tail of the Dragon on the TN side of the road, grabbing another group photo.I
While we took our photos, we noticed the heavy presence of TN police passing by, nailing speeders and stereotypically generating easy revenue. We decided to take it easy on the Dragon on the way back to the resort. A convertible Mustang got pulled over for speeding and sport bike had crashed on the Dragon just after a 129Slayer photo outpost, possibly wrecking while showing off for the camera. After turning off from the Dragon, we came across a F-150 Ecoboost who did an epic job leading us and, after letting us pass by, keeping up with Ike at the tail-end of our group!
After some debating in the parking lot of the resort, we agree to a late lunch/early dinner. I thought about making s’mores that weekend but decided not to since we weren’t actually camping...even though there was a fire pit going on the other side of the restaurant parking lot. IT’S NOT THE SAME. And we immediately followed up dinner with beer, chatting about cars and Donnie’s crazy adventures (he has so many good ones), and Ike held a written poll for the two awards trophies he had with him. RamblinRover joined us with his sweet 60s Ford Galaxy and Justin from Oppo FB brought his white MK7 GTI.
Ike, after a few minutes and a beer or two, came up with the category: who brought the Most Oppo Ride to the meet? We had two Miatas, a modified Ion Redline Coupe, two GTIs, and two FiSTs...everyone brought Oppo cars! 2nd place for the Most Oppo Ride went to Donnie in his sweet Ion Redline Coupe that hadn’t be recycled into Cola bottles, rocking a ride from a dead brand, and modifying an uncommon car to go faster in the straights and the corners.
Who was going to take first? Would the answer continue to be Miata? The answer is...
No, Jordan won it by having one of the newest cars break down not once, but twice while everyone else’s car stayed together...even my 16 year-old Miata didn’t rupture its tired plastic radiator or leak fluids. What were the trophies? Porsche 924 quarter windows (are you jealous, Stef Schrader?) with Dragon-themed Oppo stickers on them. Jordan’s has three stickers while Donnie’s has just one.
After letting the beers pass through our systems, we decided to make a sunset run back up the Dragon. I needed to get some stickers from Killboy, LTO wanted to catch the sunset at the lookout point, and Justin had to go back that way anyway to get home to feed his dog. Donnie, Josh, and Ike hitched rides in Justin’s GTI, Jordan’s FiST, and LTO’s GTI while I tagged along in my Miata.
After stopping by Killboy’s store for pricey swag, and learning that some squid crashed into one of Killboy’s workers cars on the Dragon, we began our climb to the lookout! LTO had already left ahead of us and I invited Ike to experience “Our lord and savior Miata Christ” since everyone needs to ride in a Miata with the top down at least once. Ike and I chatted about my Miata and his Fiero project car while the ride was convincing him to get a convertible...although, maybe something that better suits someone of his height and he was having to look over or under the top of the windshield frame! Eventually, we reached the scenic outlook...
After spending an hour at the near-highest point of the Dragon, we ventured back downhill. This time with Donnie riding in Jordan’s FiST, Ike riding in LTO’s GTI, and Josh getting a ride in my Miata. We stopped by Fontana dam one last time for some arty shots: my Miata’s headlights assisting Jordan in taking pictures of his car.
As we pulled into the resort, I heard this concerning whirling noise coming from the Miata when I put it into neutral and let off the clutch. Fearing this was my throwout bearing going out, I decided not to push my luck on Sunday and took the interstates rather than more mountainous roads. After emptying Donnie’s cooler of beers, we all thanked Ike as he thanked us for coming out before heading to bed.
Sunday morning passed pretty quickly, Jordan and I were the first ones to leave the resort but not without meeting up with Thomas and Bruce who were MIA last evening. By the time we got to Asheville, Jordan and I split up as he decided to skip breakfast and make a bee-line for his house. Me, having a longer journey home, elected to stop by the next Cracker Barrel for brunch...which give me digestion issues as soon as I got home. Book ends, eh? Start the trip with a bad stomach, finish the trip on a bad stomach!
After spending a few hundred dollars in gasoline, resort room, museum admission, and food I was 100% satisfied with the meet! I’d forgotten how damn fun it is to carve up some twisty mountain roads! I feel like I’m a faster but safer driver out on the Dragon by having four additional years of driving and autocrossing under my belt. I never pushed the Miata hard enough to have an “OH SHIT!” moment unlike two FWD Oppos who each had a close call Saturday evening. I can’t wait to do it again, maybe in October?
Also, thanks for Donnie, Jordan, and everyone else finally correcting me on my pronunciation of the word “Oppo” as I had been using a short “o” instead of a longer one. Shoutout to AestheticsInMotion for recommending earplugs while driving a Miata for hours! You really saved my eardrums and my sanity that weekend!