What most people don't know is that this year's Classic Honda's on the Dragon event almost didn't happen. Last year was quiet for me in terms of obligations, so I had plenty of time to plan the inaugural event. This year has been the polar opposite and I knew by February that it was going to be a big challenge for me to set aside the time to organize the next event. I was chatting with fellow classic Honda enthusiast, Kevin (you may know him from his Facebook page, 3G Southern Civics) about the event when I divulged that there was a good chance it wasn't going to happen. Kevin immediately offered to host the event for me. I was really happy to receive his offer because the thought of the event not happening was not sitting well with me. I immediately took him up on his offer.
Kevin wasted no time in plugging the event. He created an event page and started putting the word out. When I had done the same thing for the first event, there was decent interest, but the final group ended up being only a handful of good folks. This year, however, it didn't take long to realize that people had noticed and the interest in the event had grown significantly. Kevin did a fantastic job keeping the event in people's minds throughout the summer by posting updates and reminders. He also took the organizational side of things to another level by finding a great meeting location, having a logo made for the event, printing stickers and making sure there was space for all the potential attendees.
On the morning of October the 14th, 'Dragon Day', I was able to observe the fruits of Kevin's efforts first hand. By the time I met him at the meeting location, (Mountain Auto and Customs in Bryson City, NC) an hour before the scheduled meet time, people were already showing up. As we stood there chatting, car after car came into the parking area in front of the shop. Soon it was full and we had to ask the neighboring shops for their permission to park in their lots. By 10:15 our group of cars were taking up all three lots. It was amazing. There was a great variety of Honda's including a wagon, prelude, a boosted Civic hatch and several 2nd generation CRX's, but what had me reeling was the sight of six beautiful first generation CRXs together. I live just outside Atlanta and I never see 1Gs. The most first gens I'd seen together before that day was three, and I thought that was amazing to behold, but six?! I wasn't the only one that was being drawn to this group of cars. There was definitely a mutual appreciation for the significance of these cars being together. It wasn't long before we decided to position the cars together in the parking lot for a photo opp. We parked the cars at an angle along the edge of the road and everyone with a camera began shooting the cars. I was so excited to capture the moment that I completely missed the drivers meeting. When Kevin yelled out, 'Let's roll out!' I was still snapping away.
Niles, the owner of Mountain Auto and Customs, was nice enough to lead the group in his Integra coupe, through town to our first destination, The Road to Nowhere. During World War II, the county of Swain in North Carolina, surrendered the majority of their land to the U.S. government for the purposes of damming the Little Tennessee river and thus creating Fontana Lake. The goal was to provide hydroelectric power for aluminum plants in Tennessee and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Manhattan Project. Unfortunately, in the process, 1300 families were displaced from the area and the majority of the main road between Bryson City and Deals Gap, Old Highway 288, was submerged under the lake. In the name of reparations, the Federal Government agreed to replace the road with what was to be called Lakeview Drive which was supposed to provide the displaced residents access to old family cemeteries. Sadly due to some environmental issue, construction was stopped midway through and the project never resumed. Only six miles of the road were completed. Finally in 2010, the state of North Carolina and Swain county reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of the Interior, who agreed to pay them 52 million dollars. That seems like a reasonable solution, but according to Niles, many of the local residents are still upset with the whole situation.
The road begins just outside Bryson city and leads up towards a mountain ridge. It's a beautiful, twisty road that ends just before a large tunnel that leads into the mountain. Barriers keep motorists from going any further, but you are allowed to park in the lot along side the road and continue the rest of the way on foot. When we arrived, there weren't enough available parking spaces, so we decided to back the cars up to the barriers and park along the road. The plan worked out well and we were able to get most of the group parked in one area without blocking other visitors. As we waited for the rest of the group to arrive, we took the opportunity to walk around, enjoy the scenery, and continue to observe and chat about the cars. The short side trip up the mountain served a mild test run before going on the Dragon. All the cars made it just fine, except for one driver who had their gas can tip over and expel it's contents into his trunk. Thankfully the other drivers who were behind him alerted him to the issue and it was quickly remedied.
After about a half an hour of mingling and taking even more pictures, we all headed back into town for some gas and grub. With full stomachs and fuel tanks, we headed out of town again towards our next destination, Fontana dam. If you've been in the area you'll know that most of the roads are great to drive on, and the one leading to the base of the dam was no exception. After another spirited drive down route 28, we all gathered in a grassy field just below the dam. Kevin and I directed the cars to park in the most photogenic way possible for the big group photo shoot. Thankfully the grass wasn't too long and the ground wasn't soft so the lower cars in the group didn't get stuck. We spent yet another half an hour moving the cars around and taking pictures. Fortunately, our brief visit at the dam allowed some folks to finally join us after a late start, but it didn't take long for people to get antsy, especially being so close to the Dragon. It was already early afternoon and we were all itching to drive hard. As people began to pull out, I took a couple last minute photos of the new comers and then jumped in the car. It was time to finally conquer the Dragon.
As the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort came into view, my heart rate instantly rose. The parking lot was crowded which was no surprise, it being 3pm on a Saturday, so instead of stopping, we set out down the Tail of the Dragon right away. If you're a regular reader you'll know all about my fondness for this road, but what made this year's visit great wasn't for the usual reasons. Although I still enjoyed the drive greatly, what really stood out to me was the sight of six first generation CRX's carving up US 129 like a squadron of tiny fighter planes. It was a glorious sight. Not only was it neat to see the 1G's together, but watching so many classic Honda's together weaving through the mountains the whole day was just as impressive. After the first run, we convened on the north end of the Dragon, in the same way we did the first year of the event, to let the brakes and engines cool. I'll give you one guess as to what we did. Yep. Took more pictures and continued our conversations from earlier. By this time, most of the group had met each other and the vibe was really relaxed. You could tell folks were really enjoying themselves, which made me happy. It meant that the event was a success.
As the afternoon light grew dim, those who had a long trip back that night headed home, and the rest of us drove back over the Dragon to Deals Gap to hit the bathrooms and check out the merchandise. After spending some time talking and looking around, the majority of the group headed home. Those of us who remained took one more trip over the Dragon and back for opportunities sake and then parted ways. In the end, no one went off the mountain, only one vehicle had to head back to the shop for a repair, and the only casualty was Jessie's (owner of the yellow 2nd generation CRX) kids' tooth which was dislodged after falling down while we were taking our group photo. The initial pain wore off quickly and soon he was laughing beside his dad, tooth in hand. It was a really great group of people that I had the pleasure of meeting most of, and for those of you who I didn't get to meet, I apologize and hope to see you at next years event... something I'm already looking forward to!
Special thanks to Niles from Mountain Auto and Customs for letting us use his shop for our meeting location, guiding us around the area, and simply being good company.
I'd also like to thank James Savage from the Bento Box Project for flying over from the UK to join us on this event. It was a pleasure having you and we hope you'll be back again soon.
See you all next year!
Photos by Stephen Dettman (On road photos taken by US129 Photos)
Mountain Auto and Customs
760 Main St
Bryson City, NC 28713
The Road to Nowhere
Bryson City, NC 28713
Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort
17548 Tapoco Road
Robbinsville, NC 28771