Riding With the Pack

Spike likes his alone time with me, when we can go where we want, be back whenever. He also likes hanging with his buds, the excitement of getting ready to be somewhere, meeting up with friends.

It's altogether two different experiences. Most times Spike and I go out alone, sometimes for a short evening ride just to see the sunset, sometimes on an unexpected day off with nothing on the agenda that can't be successfully put off.

We recently took a day trip that was actually planned... well, sort of. I had a destination, which gave me a direction, and a choice of two routes, one of which became my leisurely trip over and the other a race to get home before dark and exhaustion overtook the day. I wasn't totally alone. Family members were going to the same event, but we weren't traveling the same routes at the same time.

We took our time, going through Townsend and down Little River Road to get to the road to Cherokee. I wanted to see if I could spot the wild orchids I had seen a couple of years ago on a side road. So we moseyed up towards Cades Cove and spent nearly an hour checking out the wildflowers, looking at the pretty water, the waterfalls, the beautiful trees on the sides of the beautiful mountains.

We stopped at Sugarlands and I had a piece of leftover spinach and feta cheese pizza and a small can of V8 juice for breakfast in the back parking lot by a little bridge where I could sit and watch the people coming and going, and stare at the water in the miniature stream below my sock feet.


What a beautiful day. I could have taken a five minute nap and gone on back home and been happy as a clam, but I had an agenda and a long way to go to meet it. Over the mountain we went to the Blue Ridge Parkway. What a road. Whoever thought of it should be sainted.

The rest of that trip was hurry up and get there and hurry up and get back, which is almost a sin when you are traveling through God's Country. Every few miles I wanted to stop and just look. I was taking mental notes on the places I wanted to come back to.

Maybe you and I can go back to some of those places with our new friends, Spike. I found a meetup group that is just for women and their bikes, who meet once a month at Alcoa Good Times. We can go anywhere we want with your new little buddies.

Riding in a group is naturally about destinations. You can all stop—as a group—but there's no moseying going on. Sit up straight and act like you know what you're doing.

I would say that two or three bikes, or even four or five if they're good friends, could successfully wing it on a trip anywhere, but any more than that and you've got an entity that needs to be planned for. You're like an individual vertebra in an elastic spine. You can move, but only in the direction the others are going. You can lag behind at a stoplight, but you need to snap back in place as soon as it's safely possible.

There needs to be a leader and someone in the back, both of whom know the route, the destination, and their individual responsibilities. The leader sets the pace and needs to maintain a safe, consistent speed. The sergeant-at-arms plays mother hen to any lost or hurt chickies. The riders in between, that would be me and Spike, have responsibilities, too: We need to maintain just enough of a space cushion to keep traffic from breaking us up. Because there's such a lot going on in a limited space, you have to pay close attention to what's going on all around you. Really good riders, in small groups, sometimes ride side-by-side, but staggered single file is safer—it gives you more room in between yourself and the riders directly in front and behind. Remember the mantra: The Clutch Is Your Friend.

I can't get lost, unless the leader gets everybody lost. If I have mechanical trouble, surely someone has some tools and some troubleshooting abilities. I don't have to think about where to turn, and don't have to look at my watch. I know when I'll be back, unless no one thought to call ahead and warn the diner to start frying up a bunch of burgers 'cause there's 26 hungry women bikers headed their way.

I don't even care where we go, because I know where I am in the grand scheme of the universe: There's a beginning, a middle, and an end to every aspect of the experience—the group, the ride, and the day.

There's something about pulling up in a parking lot in a long, staggered string of engine noise that makes me feel a little wicked, 'cause some people are impressed; a little (just a little) embarrassed, 'cause some people are intimidated; a little rebellious, 'cause some people think I ain't got no right; and more than a little invisible because it's not about me at all. Spike is just taking his human out for a ride, that's all.

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. If you want to know anything else about her, read it in her column or take her out to dinner. She can be reached at cew(dot)andspike(at)yahoo(dot)com.