Archive for January, 2012

A ‘Bike’ with Four Wheels

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

There’s a road I know – a gnarly, dangerous, technical, twisted route that rises up from Virginia’s Piedmont to cross over the Blue Ridge Mountains.  My father grew up on a farm a handful of miles from there and some of my earliest memories were riding that mountain road with him and my grandparents the several times a year when we would go down to visit.  That was back when families did that sort of thing – going out for a Sunday drive, just for fun.  We’d end up getting an ice cream cone somewhere.  Or else we’d hit the cold storage plant where even today, all these years later, I can still in my mind’s eye smell the sharp, intensely pungent scent of those apples.   Or – my favorite – we’d stop by the fish hatchery, where I’d hurriedly walk along the series of concrete pools where the trout grew.  Starting as couple-inch fingerlings, each pool in turn held increasingly larger fish.  I’d stop at the pools at the end, the one’s that held foot-long trout, and gaze down into them with unabashed blood lust.

Years later, as a grown man, I’d periodically come back to that road that fell from the heavens.  To ride it too fast on a motorcycle.  Or, fly rod in hand, to numb my legs in the trout stream that tumbled along beside it.  Or sometimes, just because.

In 1969, hurricane Camille – one of only three Cat 5 storms to hit the U.S. mainland during the 20th century – hit the gulf coast with sustained winds of 190 mph (and wind shears well over 200 mph).  After savaging the coast, it quickly diminished as it moved inland.  By the time the remnants of the storm had turned eastward and crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, it was hardly more than a tropical depression.  And yet… there was a perfect storm of meteorological conditions in the witch’s brew that came together there.  A roll-the-dice confluence of factors that took a thousand years to finally come up snake eyes.  The long and the short was that that long, narrow defile cut through the mountains, turned epic.  Nelson County received over 30 inches of rain that night.  A year’s worth, in six hours.  And that trout stream I had long loved turned killer.

Over a hundred people died from the rains, the flash flooding and mud slides killing many people while they slept.  A few hours later, Woodstock, that iconic rock and roll epic up in the Catskills that was a lodestone to my generation, turned all wet and muddy.  The remnants of the remnants.

There is a little crossroads village right there on that road.  It actually marks, for me, when I’m on a motorcycle, where the road starts to get serious.  It pretty much washed away during Camille.

About two miles outside that crossroad, my cousin Kent has a small farm that he inherited from his dad, my uncle.  It’s a place called Level Green and it may be the closest thing to paradise I know of.  The house, which my uncle spent half a lifetime – traveling four hours each way every weekend from his home in suburban Maryland – renovating from an old tobacco barn, has about the prettiest view I have ever seen.  The Blue Ridge Mountains rise in the near distance, with a subtle grandeur that just compels you to keep looking at them.  There’s a large pond my uncle put in.  It makes for lovely fly fishing only a few hundred yards from the front door of the house.

For many years my uncle, and then Kent, hosted my father’s-side summer family reunions down there.  Those were, for all that long span, one of the best days of the year for me.

Ten years ago, on one of those afternoon family get-togethers, while the kids were down at the pond swimming and most everyone else was congregated around the house talking and catching up, Kent wheeled from the barn a couple of ATV’s.  His cousin, who lived not far away, rode his over.  Kent broke out three cold Coronas, which we took long draughts from and then placed in the pouches hanging from the luggage racks.  I could see no other good purpose for the sacks than to carry cold bottles of beer.

Of course, I’d been riding motorcycles for a couple of decades and was very familiar with those.  But I’d never been on an ATV before.  Kent showed me the basic controls and the three of us did a quick ten-minute lap around the farm.  It was fun.  Very different from a motorcycle.  But very cool.  I did admit to a mild feeling of discomfiture when turning the ATV at anything above a walking pace.  Since it couldn’t lean – and thus gather its traction that way – the ATV felt loose and on the verge of falling over.

Back at the house, we ditched the empty Corona bottles and refilled the pouches with fresh ones.  Kent looked at me.  “Ready to go over the mountain?” he asked.  I had no idea what he was talking about, but what the hell.  Tossing back another swallow of Corona, I grinned back at him.

“Sure, why not.”

My task wasn’t particularly hard.  All I had to do was follow behind Kent and his cousin and try and emulate exactly what they did.

The only problem was, there was this incredible sense of cognitive dissonance.  The things I was watching them do, a matter of feet in front of me, were clearly impossible.  To say the terrain was severe would be a vast understatement.  It was crazy.  In my mind, it was utterly unnavigatable except perhaps very slowly, on foot.  And yet, there they were, fording creeks and climbing boulders and going down this nearly vertical, rutted excuse for a trail.  With me following right behind them, shocked time after time that this machine I was riding was doing what it was doing.  I kept expecting to die.  And I kept on being surprised that it didn’t happen.

It was no wonder, then, that I breathed a sigh of relief after the 30-minute loop brought us back down to relatively horizontal ground.  When we got back to the house I downed another beer very quickly.

A bit of shock and feelings of mortality aside, I never forgot that experience.  I vowed that afternoon I would one day have one of those miraculous machines.

And now I do….

Honda Foreman ATV


It’s a 2012 Honda Foreman 4×4 with Electric Shift and Power Steering.  500cc four-stroke single.  Liquid cooled.

ATV with Plow


Here it is after I dropped the plow.  That’s a 2500-pound electric winch on the front.  To help with wood cutting, of course.  Since – far be it that fun would be my rationale for getting this machine – I decided I needed something to help get the wood I cut out of the woods and back to my log splitter.  Of course.  It seems that the Blaze King just keeps on giving.  And giving.

Honda Foreman ATV2

And who knows?  That snow plow might just do some business after all on that quarter-mile-long driveway of mine.  We’ll see.

I got it in Camo because I might even hunt with it!


You get some sense here for how long my driveway is…

ATV in the Driveway


Within five minutes I already had my first “oh sh*t” moment.  Blasting around the yard a little too fast, over a little bump and there’s a three-foot-long, 18-inch in diameter roll of chicken wire Ginny had left lying in the grass by the garden.  No time time to turn.  No time to brake.  Oh well.  Give it gas!  Karoomph.  Bzzzt.  So much for that roll of chicken wire!  I do begin to see why they recommend helmets with these things.

And, yes, they apparently do call them ‘bikes.’  Dunno why.  But they do.  So there you go – it can go in the bike shed with my other fun stuff.  (although it’s starting to get crowded in there.  I think I may need to kick some of the bicycles out)