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Shenanigans at Tail of the Dragon 2016

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The morning of August 11, 2016 started my journey to the east coast for my first time ever joining the Sixthsphere crew at the Fontana Village Resort to spend a weekend of running highway 129, known as the Tail of the Dragon. Known to push a driver and their car to their limits.

As a driver and owner of the S-series for 11 years, this was truly an exciting moment for me. It was time to stop lurking around the forums, or to "play it safe" with my ownership of one of these wonderful vehicles and actually join the adventure.

I finally arrive in the early afternoon of August 12th after a rather uneventful trip and met up with the first sphere member Leigh Villemarette at the check-in lobby, who was also one of my cabin mates. We got to the cabin and unpacked, proceeded by a destination beer and getting to know Leigh. Not too long afterwards after pointing at (and making fun of) a blue Fiat 500 rolling down the road, it pulled into our driveway. Leigh and I seemed rather confused as someone popped out. Then he introduced himself to us as Brett Caperton. We cruised back with him to his own cabin as he showed us some neat features of the Tech S EMS which is a suitable alternative to Megasquirt. Leigh and I then headed back to our cabin when the rest of the sphere showed up with Tony Cavin and his cousin in a rental Hyundai Sonata, Alex Nazarian on his Kawasaki 300, Brent Gord in his SC2, Tony Salerno in his SL1, and Brandon Cowles in his SL1. Gracefully they pulled into their cabin driveway. However, Brandon zooms past and puts on an amazing display to Saturn's wonderful and smooth shifting automatic transmission as the parking pawl ground and then he parked in the ditch on three wheels. Soon after we all decided to go to Robinsville nearby and eat some mexican food at El Pacifico. Great... more mexican food. Brandon stayed behind to rest and we left. This was the first time travelling together to get a feel for the road on the other half of 129. When we finally arrived we met up with Paul Burdette, Joey Skoda and his girlfriend Amanda. The whole gang was together at last. After dinner we picked up some quick groceries and headed back to Fonatana Village were we cracked open drinks. We also had some wonderful apple pie moonshine and moonshine cherries which were donated by an anonymous, yet awesome, member of Sixthsphere. We all grabbed our swim suits and headed down to the pool to continued the shenanigans. We all got tipsy, Brandon really let loose. Alex had to remind him to keep his head above the water and he couldn't stop laughing and sank below the surface. We all had a great time. Soon after we headed back to the cabins and settled in for the night to get ready for tomorrow.

August 13th brought a lot of driving practice. We woke up and made breakfast and hydrated after last night. Oh, and thank 'jebus' I brought coffee with me on this trip. We prepped out cars and headed out to cruise Cherohala Skyway around 11am. The scenery was beautiful as we overlooked the vast forests in North Carolina. All I can remember is driving and driving a lot. I was having too much fun. I didn't really even know where we were. The only communication we had were 2-way walkee-talkees that we brought. Despite how prepared we were, we did have one incident this day. After some quick fixes and a junkyard visit by a couple of the guys, things were 90% back to normal. We stopped at Subway for a quick bite and began the long journey back to the cabins. I hadn't realized how far we traveled. This was my turn to guide us home too. We stopped for beer since Fontana Village was in a dry county and made our way home around 530pm. Then I started on my infamous lasagna, which I think I actually broke my record on fastest prep time. I exited the cabin while the lasagna was set to bake and I see Brandon cruise up in a rented golf cart and he told me to hop in. What is the worst thing that could happened? That was the ride of my life. More intense than the dragon, more intense than any go kart I've driven, this man was a maniac. We beat the crap out of this thing. You could hear every valve clanking, each crank of a piston, and the sad sad whine of a struggling CVT transmission as it powered up and down hills over the smell of a burning belt. At times I could have walked faster than this poor thing. We met up with a few of the guys playing disc golf as we came barreling in the green way and then took of to finish the lasagna. Ah yes, the almighty lasagna hasn't failed me yet! Everyone loved it. Watching the reaction of my fellow sphere members was priceless. It was a warm feeling inside... or perhaps that was the lasagna in my stomach. Paired with Joey's chicken, it was an epic meal and we all cleaned our plates happy as can be. By then it was pool time again. We grabbed the alcohol and headed back down to the pool for more shenanigans. This time furniture was entering the pool. Lawn chairs served as an excellent device to float the lazy river. At that moment we all bonded. The Saturn family was great. I knew then I definitely wanted to come back in 2017. We headed back to sleep. Tomorrow would be exercise day.

The morning of August 14th we were all nursing a slight hangover. Where's my coffee? The day started again with more breakfast and preparations to depart for Clingman's Dome, the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains. We first stopped by Fontana Dam to take pictures and watch Brandon drive his car onto a very shady trail, then drive forward and ramp it off of a curb to test his suspension. The rest of the trip up there was lengthy. I could hear every one of our little 1.9 liter motors huffing and puffing up the mountain, never really leaving 4th gear. Clingman's Dome was high. At this point we were almost in the clouds by the time we parked. Then we found out it was a half mile hike up a steep grade hill to get to the very top. Alex strode up the hill like going to school in the snow 3 miles uphill both ways. Tony S and I worked pretty hard, but managed to keep up somewhat. We finally made it to the peak and had a great view. We took many pictures and enjoyed the mid sixties temperatures and the clouds swooped through us. Soon after Tony C made it up, shirt off like a white beater and his cousin followed. Joey and Amanda met up with us a few minutes afterward. The scenery was truly a sight to behold. After taking in the beauty of nature, we headed back down the mountain and set our sights towards Gatlinburg. It was small town bustling with life. It reminded me of a mini Branson with entertainment on every street corner. We visited a local brewery for dinner where we discovered we had excellent phone reception and began sharing a small part of our experience to the related Facebook groups where we were greeted so kindly...*cough*. After dinner we headed back to Fontana. Part way through our trip, I hear Tony C chimed in over the radio, "I'm going to fuck with the Porsche," and her pursed a Porsche Boxter until the driver couldn't handle the interrogation of a Hyundai Sonata loaded with four passengers and proceeded to pull off the road to let us pass. This amused all of us. This trip back I pushed my little Saturn very hard on the Dragon. My tires were screeching and I could really feel the under steer at times. Next year would surely be a tire upgrade. Nonetheless I had a blast and found the limits of every aspect of my own car. When we got back to the cabins, I hear laughter. Apparently, Tony Cavin's cousin had left his left over pizza in the trunk of the Sonata... which went through the Dragon. Pizza was stuck to the side of the trunk. A quick cleanse was done and once again, it was time for the pool. The only problem is nobody felt like walking down to the pool this time and seven people wanted to go. Five fit inside the Sonata, so two would have to compromise. Tony C popped open the trunk and WOW the sonata has a very large trunk. Alex (my secret lover) and I spooned in the trunk one the ride down to the pool. When we took off, I heard a faint muffle of someone saying something along the lines of, "hold on, we're going to go through the Hell Bender!". I replied, "WHAT?!", but as soon as I said that, I was thrown against one side of the trunk. It was dark and I had a big hairy man behind me. The sound of exhaust note, and laughter, and tire screeching was disorienting. Alex made sexual moans and things got really weird. Needless to say, we arrived at the pool to find it locked. I guess they didn't like the drunken furniture dunking in their pool? I swear we pulled it all out of the water. Anyway, it was back in the trunk as we headed towards the other pool. This time, when the trunk opened, another car had passed as soon as it opened and the expression on their face as to men exited the trunk was priceless. Luckily, this pool was open and we ended our last night at the Dragon playing a bit of pool frisbee, and sober too!

August 15th was departing day as we cleaned up, packed up, and prepared our vehicles for the long trip home. There was a short hold up to fix a fuel pump issue on Joey's car. However, with some typical Saturn owner ingenuity, he was back up and running. We made our way down to the Killboy store to grab some souvenirs and mark our Sixthsphere territory on a piece of the metal siding of the Killboy store. After a bit of goofing off, we finally said our goodbyes to one another and parted ways. Most headed north as Leigh and I headed south, lingering by each other until we filled up at a gas station. It was time to head home, left with nothing by great memories and expectations for next year.

In the end, the Tail of the Dragon meet wasn't just about Saturns, it was about meeting great people, and getting to knowing them. We were from all corners of the states, but shared something unique. Next year I keep telling myself. Next year.

Updated 08-25-2016 at 09:23 PM by ajs_saturn

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