Camping Out

Fifteen hundred miles in 12 days, and never more than a day's ride back home. I have never had so many people be so nice to me. Ever. And they were all people I had just met—motorcycle riders, mostly. Some former motorcycle riders, some wannabe motorcycle riders. Some that would never ride themselves (so they say) but still think it's cool to live on the road with everything you need to survive bungeed to your passenger seat. Good People. They're still out there. I literally found gold.

I met a prince... several, in fact, and a whole group of road queens—I mean, sisters. I found Spike's family and they adopted me on sight. I've got a truckload of good advice, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. I know now that I can go anywhere in the country—no, the world—and find friends I've met the last few days, and some I won't meet 'til I get there.

My friends thought I was nuts. They worried. They thought I was going to get hurt, attacked, eaten by a bear, run off the road, murdered. "I could never do that," they said. Well, maybe I am nuts. You have to be to live your own life. The more nuts you are, the more your own life opens up. Am I right, nutty people?

I was treated like a queen, like one of the girls, and even like one of the guys. Complete strangers were not so strange. They were nice people after all. Some of them even let me take their picture. They were all so proud to be asked to be immortalized next to their favorite machines.

And Spike, you were just awesome. You took me places in the mountains I never knew were there. We rode up to the top of the highest point in Georgia, Brasstown Bald. We rode up to the top of the biggest mountain in this half of the U.S., Mount Mitchell, an easy day's ride from here and back. There were some overlooks I passed that were so high up it made the backs of my knees tingle.

And the twisty roads? Oh, em, gee. I think I've just about got the hang of riding the twisties. There's a lot going on there. Shifting, braking, watching for gravel, staying in your lane, not going off the edge of the world (that's a big one), hoping the oncoming vehicle stays in his lane (another biggie). And those big truck mirrors... that's another reason to not cut the inside lane too tight.

The locals always want to ride a little faster than I do on unfamiliar roads. I guess I'll just have to go back and get familiar, just so I won't be annoying. Would that be okay with you, Spike?

Let's get some fork seals on you first, and tweak my list of stuff a little bit. The one-person tent was a good idea, but if I don't take as many clothes, and stop at thrift shops and yard sales for clean clothes instead, I can take my freestanding tent and set it up anywhere with no stakes in the ground.

It all started with a simple question: Anybody want to go motorcycle camping? I'm still going next weekend, but I had an opportunity to go earlier... there was a fork in the road, and I took it. This is the truly nutty part. I had never been motorcycle camping before in my life. I would have been happy riding down a block to a friend's house and camping out in the back yard.

And in reality, that's just what I did, only I went just a little farther down the block and stayed with new old friends—friends with big back yards who had some extra buildings, some with flush toilets and hot showers, and some with kitchens and hot coffee. Even laundry facilities! Ten to twelve dollars to rent a six by six patch of grass, and I get a string of pearls around my favorite place in the world, the mountains of East Tennessee and North Carolina: little bits of paradise strung together by awesome views, big-ass mountains, and some of the very best riding anywhere in the world.

Stay tuned for next month's column on details of the campgrounds we visited.

Carol Watkins lives in Knoxville's Cedar Bluff area in a condo with a one-car garage—make that one-motorcycle garage. Been married and divorced three times, one son. Had a cat once. He died. She can be reached at