Inspiration: Big Trip

Inside the Devil’s Triangle by accident

9 Lessons well learned

As Daniel Côté prepped for his first motorcycle trip, the plan was for a fairly gentle introduction to the visceral joy of seeing what’s around each new bend – not dropping his bike in a ditch.

His planned destination, the Blue Ridge Parkway, is America’s longest National Park dissecting Virginia and North Carolina along the mountain chain once made famous by the Trail of the Lonesome Pine country song.

The plan was to be a 12-day trip south from his native Ottawa in Canada, with glide through valleys and sweeping roads on a trusty 2016 Triumph Bonneville T120.

Daniel with his Bonneville
Daniel with his Bonneville

An unexpected turn

His diary entry just six days in, after the trip took a slightly unexpected turn, tells a rather different story. With half of his journey done and heading for home, Daniel had inadvertently strayed into the area known as the Devil’s Triangle to be lashed by the Tail of the Dragon.

He wrote: “What an absolutely exhilarating experience! The curves, the sun through the trees, the climbs, the drops, the hairpin turns, the blind curves, the observers, the photographers, the riding, feeling the machine become part of you, feeling at one with the road, eyes always on the road, looking for hazards, expecting the worst, planning the next manoeuvre, slow down approaching curves, speed up exiting them. What a ride!”

The road to Mount Mitchell

No place for the beginner?

Billed as “no place for the beginner” this 44 mile loop of some of the sharpest and steepest switchbacks and two-lane twisties in existence carves its way through the Oak Ridge in the mountains of eastern Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, and is a Mecca for riders chasing one of the planet’s definitive trips.

Daniel’s diary read: “I hadn’t noticed it before this morning, but I was smack in the middle of the Devil’s Triangle and, I don’t mind admitting, a little apprehensive.

“It can’t be that bad though as I can see many older folks here on bikes. Perhaps the scare stories are apocryphal but it’s always best to be aware of what could happen, practice your skills and keep sharp all the time. And never, never fool around and take unnecessary risks. I thought I’d be fine… no, really!”

Halfway stage was meant to be the start of a leisurely and flexible schedule return home, but Daniel hadn’t counted on being lured further in to the Devil’s Triangle.

“Guess what I’m doing next?”

A quick look at the map and he reassesses his travel plans. ”I can do part of the loop and continue on my way from the end of the second of the two fun sections. Guess what I’m doing next? Wheee!

“I go around to the first twisty part and have loads of fun with it. Got to be careful, of course, there’s a little more car traffic than the Tail of the Dragon. I’m a little more cautious on this road and take it a little slower. It’s still quite fun anyway! Super twisty all the way up the mountain, and all the way down too,” he writes.

So at what stage did the trip get dangerous? At its most mundane when he stops to take a picture of one of the spectacular switchbacks, of course.

Webster’s Beacon
Webster’s Beacon

“I pull over to the edge of the road. There’s no shoulder, so I’m right on the line. Engine still running, right foot on the rear brake pedal, I unzip my jacket to pull out my phone and to my astonishment the Bonnie starts to lean to the right, and I have no way to support it,” he recalls.

“It just drops down into the ditch. I do my best to take my right leg out of the way while the bike topples over. It’s top down in the ditch, the engine has stopped, the lights still on. After panic, I start smiling and chuckling to myself about putting my bike in the ditch on the Devil’s Triangle. In a dumb way it’s funny.”

2016 Triumph Bonneville T120
2016 Bonneville T120

The Dragon – fun for much longer

Bike drops usually bring out the best in riders but this time it’s a motorist that helps Daniel retrieve the stricken bike and he dusts it down, checks it over, turns the ignition and it runs.

“I slowly ride off, hyper-sensitive to how it feels. Is there any wobble? Does anything seem loose? No, the bike feels normal. This section of Highway TN 116 is pretty normal, albeit curvier than regular roads. What a fun road! I’m so focused on it I forget the bike had dropped. Compared to the Tail of the Dragon, this one has some twistier curves, but the two sections are relatively short. The Dragon was fun for much longer.”

That moment when you realise things can’t get any better road-wise on a trip had been reached and Daniel escaped the triangular playground and headed for home via Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls

His final diary entry read: “I can almost smell home and I look forward to having a good hot shower and a nice cup of coffee before heading back out to teach my Aikido classes. I arrive safe and sound, a bit sad, but elated, tired but reinvigorated, like all motorcycle trips should leave you feeling”.

Nine things he learned…

  1. Always know where the ignition key is.
  2. Always put the kickstand down when stopped.
  3. Practice making U-turns.
  4. The Bonneville T120 is fast! It’s also really powerful and heavy.
  5. Allow for more time at stops and visits.
  6. Take a more leisurely pace and take time to explore.
  7. Meet all kinds of people, start conversations and listen to their stories.
  8. Don’t believe what you read or what people tell you – you must experience it yourself.
  9. Riding 4,858km is an unbelievable experience I’d gladly repeat, anytime.