What an exciting first experience on a bike! I was ready to finally call myself a motorcyclist. There was a future of possibilities that laid before me, but first I had to learn to shift gears.
The following week after work, Mike got my bike out of the shop and brought it down to the resort. Keep in mind for those familiar with the Deals Gap Motorcycle resort, the paved parking lot did not exist at this time in 2003, the only pavement was around the gas pumps and in front of the hotel, there was a maintenance shed and double wide trailer that a couple of the employees lived in where the restaurant now sits.
Positioned in front of the maintenance shed Mike walked me through how to shift from 1st to 2nd gear, pull in the clutch and come to a stop at the last hotel room. After a few rounds of going back and forth in front of the hotel, stalling the bike more times than I could count, I was finally getting the hang of it. By the end of that learning session I was shifting from first to second and back into first gear. We practiced this drill for a couple days till I flooded the bike, it was carbureted so it wasn’t that hard to do. Once Mike, who was also a bike mechanic, had my bike back up and running it was time to take it home.
At the time I was still living with my parents and our driveway was gravel and uphill. If you read the first post, you might recall that my first experience with gravel didn’t go so well. I quickly learned to go slow and not go for a handful of front brake. I would creep up and down my parents driveway, with my heart pounding out of my chest. Once I felt comfortable in the driveway, I wanted to get back out on the road. It’s a good thing we lived on a fairly unpopulated road, so there wasn’t much traffic. With my mom in tow in her car, she would follow behind me as I rode the bike a couple miles up the road, turned around rode back to our driveway, turned around and repeated that process several times. I have an amazingly patient mother that was watching over me. Had my dad not been out of town for work, he would have been right there, every step of the way with me also. Both of my parents have always been my biggest cheerleaders, while encouraging me to be safe.
After a couple days of making my rounds up and down the road, I felt like I was ready to venture out on my own. So one morning, instead of getting in my car to go to work at the resort, I put on my motorcycle gear and off I went. I was on the open road, on my own, no safety net, no one there to rescue me. It was the most exhilarating experience of my young life. Of course my mom was nervous and wanted to follow me, but I insisted that I wanted to do it on my own, and had to promise to call as soon as I made it there. While I did have a cell phone at the time, there wasn’t and still isn’t much service along the route from their house to the resort. Talk about a relieved parent when I called to let her know I had made it safely to work. After that day, I practically parked my car and only drove it when I absolutely had to. This would be the trend for a few years, everything I did and everywhere I went, I wanted to be on a motorcycle.
I knew the Dragon would be a challenge, I knew it could be dangerous, but I was eager to ride it on the motorcycle, not as a passenger. On July 12, 2003 I had set out on my first ride across. I had become friends with a Canadian fella, Deepak, that was living and working in Knoxville, TN at the time. He knew that I was new to riding and offered to go on a ride with me, we had become friends as he was a Dragon regular that summer. We settled on going across the Cherohala Skyway, another road that I was already very familiar with, having grown up just a few miles from it. I have fond memories of going up there as a kid, for off-roading and picnics with my family.
We made it to the Tellico side of the skyway and stopped at the Hardee’s for lunch, when Deepak posed the question, ” Do you want to ride The Dragon today?” My heart fluttered as I contemplated my answer. After sitting there for what seemed like hours, asking myself, “Am I really ready for this?” I was still new to riding, but it seemed to come very naturally to me. I think I was less than a month into owning the bike, and about a week, into riding at this point. As we finished up our meal, I had made my decision, I was going to go for it. We put our gear on, filled our gas tanks at the filling station next to the Hardee’s and off we went. As we neared the Dragon, my heart was pounding harder and harder, it felt like it was going to burst out of my chest, was I really ready for this? There was no turning back now, I had come too far and it would be a long trip back home if I turned back now.
With my buddy in front of me, leading the way, across the bridge and up the mountain we went. I was focused on him in front of me, following his lines, making sure to stay on my side of the road and stay on the pavement. A few minutes later we were at the familiar Deals Gap Resort, I had made my first Dragon run on a motorcycle.
That first ride across was exhilarating and I wanted more, so after a short break we set off again to make another trip across and back to the store. I was gaining confidence with every successful turn I made it through. Talk about being on cloud 9, I was on cloud 11!
A few days later, Deepak sends me a link to some photos. Little did I know that on my first ride across the Dragon, I would also have my first ever Killboy photo, taken by the man himself. I had heard of a guy taking photos, but had no clue who he was at that point. I could see the photos in the online store, but I didn’t have a debit card, let alone a credit card at the time, I had no clue how to go about purchasing the images.
About a week later while at work one day, there was a fella, Tyler B., that was hanging around the store waiting on his friend, whom he was supposed to be staying with. Well, hours go by and the friend never shows. Fortunately for him, we had one hotel room left and not wanting to rough it for the night, he booked our last room. At some point in conversation, it is mentioned that there is a new Mexican restaurant in Robbinsville, that I was going to checkout after work if he’d like to drive into town and join me, to which he agreed.
A bit later in the day, Tyler came in with an odd request, he asked for a piece of paper, a sharpie, and tape. We gathered the items and handed them over the counter to him, with an arm full of craft items he bounced out the front door. Upon returning the unused items, us gals behind the counter were curious what he was up to. He then proceeds to tell us how it is a note for his photographer friend. He was going to write “D**Khead” on the paper, tape it to his bike, then ride by his friend and have his photo taken. Apparently it was an inside joke (maybe we can talk Darryl in to telling the story on one of his live chats).
Later that evening we made our way from Deals Gap to Robbinsville and were seated at a booth in the back of the restaurant. This was my first time eating at El Pacifico, so the extent of my Mexican food knowledge at the time was Taco Bell. Once we were seated and the drink order taken, Tyler proceeds to introduce his friend Darryl to me. So this was the guy I had been hearing about that took photos on the side of the road, I could finally put a face to the name. As the conversations drew on, the line that reeled me in was, “If you ever want photos, let me know and I’ll hook you up”, apparently it worked, it’s been 17 years and I haven’t paid for a single photo yet. BAM! Free photos for life Yo!
For real though, from that day on we have practically been inseparable. I learned that he was staying just a few miles from where I lived and instantly I had a new riding buddy. One evening, after the store had closed and most of the tourist had left for the day, Darryl hands me his DSLR camera. Up to this point I had mostly taken photos with a film camera and some with my point and shoot digital camera, I had never held a camera like the one he had just entrusted me with. Armed with a beast of a camera, I was told to hold the button down, and follow with the lens as Darryl rode by on his motorcycle, not to be concerned about the number of photos I was taking. I must have taken close to 1,000 photos in the following minutes and maybe had 5 decent one’s in the bunch.
Over the course of that summer, I was fortune enough to have some of the Dragon locals take me under their wing, to watch over me and teach me about being a motorcyclist. I will forever be grateful for those guys and gals. And I attribute their teachings for me picking up on things so quickly. These were folks with years of race and street riding experience, heck they even taught me to do a burnout! 🙂
Everyday I would watch the clock, waiting for closing time when I could go ride my bike. Darryl and I would spend hours on the hill at night, riding back a forth, from the overlook to the store and back again. We would watch for shooting stars on clear nights. That summer was filled with new experiences, I made life long friends that are like family to me now, people that I am still in contact with till this day. It was more than motorcycling, it was more than a road, it wasn’t just a place I would go to for income, it was home. That road and the people I met because of it won my heart.
Next I’ll talk about my first trackday and getting my knee down just 4 months after learning to ride…