My husband and I come from two entirely different worlds. He grew up on a ranch in New Mexico, and has been a dive master, a jump master, a professional photographer, a glass artist, an aspiring drummer, a motivational speaker and last year, became a whitewater raft guide AND a ski instructor. He has also been riding Harley’s since he was 19. I like black and white movies, preferably the kind with subtitles, or without sound. I collect old books. I am a painter, a gourd artist, a handbag designer, and my idea of a really, REALLY good time, is sitting on the back porch with the dogs and a glass of red wine watching the sun set.
Shortly after we met, we went to Turks and Caicos on our first vacation together. I wanted to lay by the ocean and have a waitress bring me a cocktail every hour or two. He wanted to go “exploring”. We wound up walking five miles in the blazing hot sun our first day with no food or water, no suntan lotion, no idea where we were going and no way to get back, because there was no bus service from where we were, to where we needed to be. We were so sunburned by the end of the day that it hurt to lay on the cool cotton sheets back at our hotel. The next morning, we rented a scooter, and drove from one end of the island to the other, a decision that beat both “The Forced March”, and cocktail hour by a wide margin.
I am amazed by how quickly and how deeply I fell in love with riding, having previously only been on the back of the dirt bike my uncle used to own when I was a kid. I think I still have some gravel in my knee from the time we went down hard on my grandmother’s driveway. I am still in the passenger phase of this newfound affair, but I am so inspired by the unparalleled joy of exploring the world on the back of a bike, that I am eager to pursue as many adventures as I can.
Last October, we decided to head to Maggie Valley, North Carolina for the first annual Kickstart Classic, a joint venture created by the Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum, American Iron Magazine, and Baker Drivetrain. Designed to celebrate vintage bikes of all kinds, the Kickstart Classic was little more than a thinly veiled excuse to ride amazing old kicker bikes through some of the most breathtaking country on the planet, on two of the most beautiful fall days you could ever begin to imagine.
Everything from a 1933 Harley, to a 1936 Indian, to a motorcycle and sidecar rig that cobbled together from bits and pieces of two or three different bikes from four different time periods were already parked and waiting, while the staff of American Iron assembled everyone in front of the museum for a group photo. Dozens of riders from New York to Connecticut to Tennessee brought their vintage bikes to life one after the other in a cacophonous roar, and then we were off.
Because we were on Michael’s 1988 Heritage Softtail Classic, we were supposed to ride in the back of the pack to give the kickstart bikes center stage, but within minutes, were separated by traffic lights, vehicles and a questionable set of written directions, coupled with a well-meaning but uncertain tour guide who brought the entire flotilla to a screeching halt to go back to the gas station we’d just passed to double-check our next turn. Approximately half the riders went the wrong way on Highway 28 and headed south when they were supposed to be going east, but by the end of the day, we all pulled into Panhead City, a treasure trove of vintage bikes and biker memorabilia tucked away in a narrow glen outside Rome, Georgia, where ice-cold beers, hot homemade stew, and a spontaneous awards ceremony spearheaded by Burt Baker of Baker Drivetrains awaited us.
Several riders elected to stay on the property at Panhead City under the open starlit skies that night, while the rest of us packed up and headed into Rome and the comfort of a nice, warm bed at the Days Inn Hotel. Following a breakfast of bagels, waffles and bananas, bikers splintered into two groups; the ones headed for Leeds, Alabama, and the continuation of the Kickstart Classic, and those headed for home. We fell in with a lone rider on his way back to Chattanooga, Tennessee, intent on retracing our steps back to Maggie Valley and then home to Mars Hill just north of Asheville, but when we made a pit stop in Tennessee for gas, we were invited by another group of riders to join them on their first visit to the Dragon’s Tail.
We’d been on the Dragon’s Tail twice before, but this group was as different from the group we’d ridden in with the day before, as night is from sunrise. We thought we would go along for the ride, if for no other reason than to see the Dragon’s Tail through the eyes of people who were all relatively new to the whole biking experience The riders we joined had new bikes, new helmets, new leather jackets and chaps, and most hadn’t ridden together before, if they had ever really ridden at all. As we wound our way alongside the Ocoee River on Highway 64 past whitewater rafting outposts and zipline adventures, we realized that these weekend bikers, most of whom were salesmen or teachers, weren’t even remotely interested in the camaraderie that comes with the true biker lifestyle. The riders we’d left with in Maggie Valley had at least a hundred of years experience between them, and most were dressed in whatever clothes they had available. One rider looked like a henchman from Wicked Witch’s Army in his elbow length black fur gloves, while another had a yellow ribbon tied around his leg in tribute to all the riders who couldn’t be with us that day, and still another was dressed in jodhpurs and a wide leather belt. There were no airs and no affectations, just a sheer love of riding and the true pleasure of each other’s company. There were no strangers among this group, even though most of us had just met minutes before the ride began.
We decided to part company with the group we’d joined up with once it became clear that our presence wasn’t really appreciated, and stopped in Bryson City for a buffalo burger, fries and a beer at Jimmie Mac’s before heading home on Highway 19, on a day that was the perfect blend of amazing weather, lush fall colors, clear blue skies, and an unforgettable first group ride with some of the most beautiful bikes, and some of the most enjoyable riders, I may ever have the opportunity to meet in my lifetime.