It's a good weekend for motorcycle riders from the flatland to go to the mountains for an all-day ride in the curves of mountain highways. Awhile ago a guy rode by with his arms sticking straight up, probably handlebars custom fitted to the length of his arms so he can go around looking like Xtreme Peter Fonda. It's an all day parade of every kind of motorcycle there is. Big ones with saddle suitcases in candy apple red with lights and chrome everywhere. Some look like the rider is simply sitting in a chair. Some require the rider's legs to point straight ahead. Some, the rider leans back to make me wonder how uncomfortable that must be on the long haul. It's like it's not a motorcycle unless it has chrome everywhere. Chrome looks better than oil-coated rust.
Motorcycle clubs with 10-50 or so riders from the cities go in long caravans. A couple weeks ago I saw a string of over a hundred of them. Some have the sound quality of an F-16 that continues rumbling long out of sight down the highway. Two different bunches just now went by together, obviously not connected. The first bunch was five newish, colorful, baritone Harleys, a guy driving and a babe hanging onto his letissibles, a word I got from 50s comedian Dave Gardner meaning love handles. The second bunch right behind them was half a dozen buzzing rice rockets. They were right behind the Harleys like yellow jackets buzzing the tails of the slower bumble bees. One of them carried on the back, side-saddle, a scantily clad babe in black with long black hair, Goth. Surrealism on highway 18.
In 06 when I drove out to Kansas to meet relatives I'd never known in Perry KS, talking with third cousin Gary Ellis from my grandmother's side, I told him how driving for several hours in a straight line I had a hard time staying awake. He said, "Do the curves in the mountains keep you awake?" I said, I reckon. I'd never thought of it like that, but maybe they do. They certainly hold your attention, like when you get into one that keeps on truning and keeps on turning and you realize you went into the curve a little too fast for the circle it seems to be making, hit the brakes, keep it in the road. One of those kinds of curves will definitely wake you up the first time around it.
In the summer it's about every other week we have a motorcycle wreck, sometimes fatal, sometimes a helicopter to Winston, sometimes Sparta emergency room, seldom no problem for the rider. In almost every description I've read of what happened and knowing the location, I can see it. Like a particular curve on Jane Taylor Mountain that everybody living in this county knows, but it creeps up on somebody from the flatland and says, BOO. It's the same thing over and over. Motorcycle takes the curve riding the yellow line, leaning over into the other lane. A truck or a big SUV comes the other way around the curve straddling the yellow line. That's it. Cat shit.
Several months ago, maybe almost a year, I was driving into town on Saturday morning to the radio station around 20 after 9. In the curve at the town end of Thompson Flat, a row of 15-20 bikers, all of them affecting the traditional biker Vietnam vet look, cool bikes, cool helmets, came at me around that curve as I was going into it, every one of them on the yellow line, every one leaning way over into my lane. I rode the white line to stay out of their way, obvious beginners. I thought one or more of these fellers is going home in a body bag.
The following Wednesday in the paper, two bikers on a motorcycle club ride from some city hit a car in a curve on Jane Taylor Mountain, half way between Sparta and Laurel Springs about ten minutes after I saw them leaving town. The car wasn't straddling the yellow line either. It was up to the line, but the bikers, believing they were in the boonies, as do so many of them, believed they had the road all to themselves. Mostly they do. Then they don't.
You never hear of a mountain boy riding the yellow line around a blind curve. Riding that yellow line implies trust that nobody straddles the yellow line in cars or trucks. Live here long enough and you see a lot of them do. In fact, it's predictable that after a certain amount of time living here, like a few years, you'll start complaining about all the cars and trucks you see straddling the yellow line in blind curves. The only answer I know to give is, you'll get used to it. It's never received as a satisfactory answer, but as far as I can see, it's the only answer there is.
Station's Inn in Laurel Springs, close to the Parkway, has become a good hangout place for people with motorcycles. I've never been there, but know several who have and one who has worked there. All tell me it's a great place. They have regional metal bands play once a week. It put Laurel Springs back on the map. The place seems to have hit the ground running. It's like a little spot of Key West in the mountains. When I first heard about it, it was going good with too many motorcycles to count parked everywhere. Motorcycle people are different now from what they were in the 50s and 60s where they got the bad name.
The Station's Inn website is easy: http://www.stationsinn.com I borrowed the picture above from their slideshow of 2008 snapshots.
A friend in Atlanta has a big Honda Gold Wing, almost a new one every year. He likes to ride country roads on weekends. He wears black leather because he doesn't want road rash. Of course, he has a black helmet with black visor so nobody can see in. He looks like Darth Vader's bodyguard. He said when he stops at a country store for a snack, the people in the store look like they're afraid of him. He means nobody any harm. He's an advertising photographer when he's not killing assassins making attempts on Darth Vader's life.
I can see by the people I know who ride motorcycles and people I see here on Hwy18 riding by all day long on weekends, it's just regular folks these days. Of all the thousands of bikers I've seen go by it doesn't seem fitting to call them bikers anymore because of the meanings that word has carried for so many years. There are still biker bars you wouldn't want to go into unless you were with Steven Seagal. The Station's Inn at Laurel Springs is the people who are just folks, meaning no harm. They just love to ride.