What's this whole thing about, anyway? Some thoughts about the Gap, its past and its future from Scott Kirkham, President, Roadster Association of the Great Smokies (RAGS).
Some have expressed concerns that the increasing size of the Deal's Gap gatherings ruins what DG was originally about. I couldn't disagree more and I thought I might express my feelings on this subject.
Deal's Gap '97 was a relatively small gathering of Miatae, intended to be a one-time thing in its conception. After that weekend turned out to be such a good time, it was decided to gather again at the same time the next year. Those that were there last year know what a great time it was. The numbers were larger and there were other activities (for lack of a better word) besides just the morning drive. The Great Gap Goodie Giveaway was a huge hit, and Will Brown's impromptu tech session, Blowers and Bars, was a big hit with those that had many questions about different forced induction systems and rollbars.
The beauty of Deal's Gap is that nobody has to do anything but show up and have fun. You don't have to even come to the Lodge at all if that's not your thing. If you do show up, you don't even have to drive if you don't want to. There are no firm plans. The morning drive is merely done because it's "tradition." If you don' t want to do the drive you don't have to. There are no costs to do anything, save your room and board. If you want to camp and cook out, camp and cook out. That makes it an even cheaper trip.
There is no exclusivity to Deal's Gap. Nobody is required to spend their money for the privilege of being there. There is no limit to how many people can show up. Deal's Gap will *ALWAYS* be open to *everyone*. It will *NEVER* ask money of folks just for the privilege of hanging out. If you like the idea of a relatively informal gathering populated by many, many like-minded folks, well, then I betcha Deal's Gap is for you. This, in the simplest of terms, is the purpose of Deal's Gap. Hang out, have fun, go drive, bench race, sleep, throw rocks into the creek. It's your choice. You don't have to do any of it. You can do all of it. That's up to you.
Deal's Gap is what you make it. If your idea of having fun is driving to the Cherohala Skyway or parts unknown with your sweetie, do it! Nobody is stopping you from making your own fun. There are great fishing spots around if that's your bag. There are hiking trails galore, with the Appalachian Trail not but 10 or so miles from Tapoco Lodge. There are horseback riding excursions and whitewater rafting trips in some of the nearby towns. Last year several took a side trip to Cade's Cove and the Parson's Branch connector that leads back to the Gap. They made their own fun.
Again, if you want an exclusive gathering of only a few people, then by all means, Deal's Gap is not for you. But if you want a gathering open to everybody that shares a desire to be with other Miata folks, enjoying a gorgeous, remote corner of Western North Carolina, with Miata enthusiasts from as far away as New Zealand and Alaska, then Deal's Gap is for you.
I, for one, am going to make my own fun. I hope the fun I make is fun for others as well.
As well as:
The very first "Miatas At The Gap"
Aug. 1-3, 1997
Or "we abused our tires we had so much fun!"
7:00 A.M., the beginning of a beautiful, dry August day. The first weekend in August, as a matter of fact. I dragged myself out of bed and jumped in the shower, eagerly anticipating a day of driving and hanging out with what could possibly be dozens of fellow Miata enthusiasts. I'd never done this before, so I was a little nervous, but that's to be expected I guess.
Anyway, after taking my shower and eating a quick and meager breakfast, I headed out to the garage, where Woody waited in all her freshly washed and waxed glory. An hour and a half south of me lay Deal's Gap, home of 318 curves in 11 miles. Waiting on the other side was to be 42 other Miatae and their proud, enthusiastic owners. With a little nip in the air I left a cloud of dust in the driveway as I pointed my car to the hills.
Wind in my hair, shifting and drifting, I attacked the first run of the morning with enthusiasm, running through 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears accordingly, though I must admit, 3rd is usually not of much use in The Gap.
Crossing the border of North Carolina, I settled down and waited for the Crossroads of Time Motel to come up on my left, my sign that I was only 3 or so miles to the Tapoco Lodge, home of the Deal's Gap Gathering 1997. I came around the corner, into the sweeper and bridge that run in front of what I can only assume is Cheoah Dam, site of the dam scenes in the Harrison Ford movie, The Fugitive, and slowed down as the Lodge came up on my right.
There, in the tiny parking lot, were many tiny Miatae, with as many or more people busily going over them, prepping them for a day of fun and *lots* of sun. Man, was there a lot of sun!
Bob Hotaling was the first to come up and greet me. "You must be Scott and this must be Woody. Glad you could make it!"
"Wow, I'm gonna like this," I thought, as I looked for the only recognizable face and car there, Larry Alster and the White Knight. (Larry and I had gotten together at Gilligan's in Charleston prior to The Gap.) I met Bill Gusky and his lovely wife, Kathy O'Connell and many others, whose names I'm really bad at remembering.
Gassing up at the pump was an experience. No 93 octane, so those with highly advanced timing weren't overjoyed, but it didn't seem to make a whole heck of a lot of difference. Everybody was looking forward to the run.
Mary Osmar came up and introduced herself, as she ran around, desperately trying to make sure everything was taken care of before the drive. It was then that I found out that there were 42 cars there, though there were 43 cars originally.
Janet Johnson had taken a little detour off of the road and down the side of the mountain the day before. Janet was OK, though a little shaken and bruised. The same couldn't be said for her car, we found out later. Man, you should have seen the bruises on the tops of her thighs. Ouch!!! She was in admirably good spirits for one who had a very serious accident the day before. Her nickname for the weekend was Flipper.
Cars and drivers began to queue up. I was lucky enough to be first in line, so every picture you see of the entire group has Woody right up front. Flagpoles were climbed, pictures were snapped, and I made a mental note to myself to bring the MSV as well next year, with a ladder strapped to the top so as to facilitate the taking of a group photo. I hope to be a little more organized the next time.
Driver's meeting: Mary asked everyone to turn their driving lights on, with myself and the chase car running headlights as well. I informed everyone that brake fade could be a very real occurrence if gearing down is not used as well. Various other statements, comments and suggestions were thrown out and we all headed to our respective cars.
Gentlefolk, start your engines!!! We headed out to the Gap, a large caravan of little cars. Wow, that looks cool in the rearview! Ripping into the Gap, I could hear the sound of many exhausts echoing through the trees. Grinning at the looks on passing motorists' faces, we attacked each corner with gusto. I could hear chirping and squealing tires behind me. We were having some serious fun. It took a while to get everybody up to speed, but it happened soon enough. Later, upon reviewing the videotape of the drive, I could hear Kathy saying on the CB, "If it's as slow as this the whole time, we definitely won't have to worry about safety," or something to that effect. I couldn't help but giggle. The pace definitely picked up once the tentative nature of an en masse start was overcome. Heck, I was nervous just being the lead car. Rest assured, I plan on having a CB next August so I can hear the discussions about Seinfeld, the warnings about other vehicles coming, smart-alecky comments and questions about our destination.
Part 2...the run through the gap, and onward into the jaws of tourist hell.
The scent of well-heated rubber mingled with the acrid smell of brakes and a few clutches as the last of the group piled into the pullover and Doc, Mary and I discussed where to go next. Little did I know, but I was about to lead everyone on a bit of an adventure. Cade's Cove in the summertime. Don't do it.
Many of us would play boy racer, slowing down enough for the car behind us to get away and then launching ourselves into the curves, to catch up with the car in front and do it again.
Pulling over into the only gravel pullover large enough for all of us on the other side of The Gap, we waited for the others. Grins were abundant.
"Can we do that again?"
"Wow, what a road!"
"Man, you're lucky to live so close to this place!"
"Whose brakes do I smell?"
"Are we there yet?"
"I gotta go to the bathroom!"
"You shoulda gone before we left the lodge."
Foothills Parkway. A lot like the Blue Ridge Parkway. 5th gear most of the time. Cruising at speed. Absolutely negligible traffic. Turn right at the end and head to the mountains.
Townsend. Get stuck behind a slowpoke and wait.
"Lookie there Gretchen! Live bears, funnel cakes, handmade dulcimers and plastic doohickeys! Let's stop."
Cades Cove. Oh my god. What a nightmare. I hadn't been to the Cove in about 7 years, so I wasn't real up on what it was going to be like. It was a nightmare. We turned into the picnic area and proceeded to get split up into about 3 dozen different little groups. The Park Rangers came out in a flash, desperately telling us to go away, as they didn't need this kind of mess all at once. People were snapping pictures. Little kids were saying, "Mommy, I wanna go for a ride!" Somebody got on the CB. I borrowed somebody else's mic and we tried to get the whole thing together. Finally, we decided that Doc would lead one group out while I led the other. I gave them directions to the others on how to get to the picnic area at Foothills Parkway and we immediately fragmented into half a dozen other groups. We got out of there without much further ado, thank goodness.
Someone told me that the phRedd (top up) that we passed on the way up to the Cove belonged to the Cove store's proprietor's daughter and that she called when she got to a phone, saying, "You should see all the Miatae headed your way!" Cool.
Driving back through Townsend, it seemed to work a little better with smaller groups. Kathy O'Connell passed me, headed the wrong direction. I think she said she just had to get some of that corn she saw advertised on the side of the road. I'm glad it wasn't boiled peanuts. Yech! Getting back onto the Parkway, we headed towards our rendezvous at the picnic area.
One stop before the picnic site. Those ahead of us waited for us at a scenic overlook. Once we were all together again, it was off to lunch. Mechanical crises struck, as one party member couldn't get his car to start. Huddled under the hood, with three or four toolsets out, they figured out the problem and all was well in Miataland.
The picnic area was perfect. We had almost enough spaces to park and it was completely deserted. Everybody backed into spaces and put cockpit covers on. What a photo op! 3.5 dozen Miatae lined up side-by-side. I must have blown an entire roll on different cars and the group as a whole! Bathrooms were available and everybody proceeded to gorge themselves on the lunches that they had had the lodge make for them.
Lunch eaten, we moseyed on back to the Gap. It was as exciting as the first time, but this time I wasn't leading, so I got to do the Boy Racer thing. Hang back, hang back, hang back, go go go go go go!!!! Wooooohooooo!!!!! Mechanical music, adrenaline surge!!!!
Many chose to break off and drive further, taking in the glorious day that it was and driving until they could drive no more. Others hung out in the parking lot, vying for the few shady spots that existed, and talking Miatae. Horseshoes were played. Bob and gang pitched rocks into the creek, trying to hit one of the boulders. Others slept in the couches in front of fans in the lobby area of the lodge. Still others went back to their respective cabins/rooms and took naps. As it wound down to dinnertime I said my good-byes. I had a made a bunch of new Miatafriends. My face hurt from smiling so much. What a great group of people! I said good-bye to Mary Osmar and she said, "Next year. First weekend in August." What could I say, but, "Of course I'll be there!"
Deal's Gap is south of the Smoky Mountains National Park, skirting the border. US 129 is the technical name for it. Motorcyclists call it The Dragon. I call it fun. Most of it lies in Tennessee, with a little tail of it in North Carolina. It is near Tapoco, Robbinsville and Fontana Village. Accommodations are sparse at the foot of the Gap, but there are places to stay within an hour's drive on both sides of the mountains. Knoxville, TN, the closest city, is about 60 miles North of the Gap. I encourage all that can to make it this year and the subsequent years. It ain't real organized, but it sure is fun. Who needs Funkhana anyway?