Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Greg Jordan

August 16, 2012

Baptism by dirt and sweat: It’s time to learn to ride an all-terrain vehicle

To understand how the court system works, you’ve got to actually sit in a courtroom and watch a trial. If you want to understand fire fighting or police work, you have go to a fire or visit a crime scene. It’s hard to write about any of these topics unless you actually see and experience them firsthand. Just getting the facts over the telephone isn’t enough.

This means I’m going to have climb onto an all-terrain vehicle sometime and learn the language of off roading. The new branch of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail, the Pocahontas Trail, is injecting a lot of new activity into Mercer County. Big pick-up trucks hauling trailers loaded with ATVs are becoming a very common sight around here.

Last week I took an early morning drive into Bramwell so I could talk with a crew filming an episode about the Pocahontas Trail. I believe it’s the third show that’s come to Mercer County to film the trail and tell riders all over the country about it.

We sat down in the Bramwell Cafe and talked about the show, the trail, and it’s growing impact on southern West Virginia. They predicted that the area is going to boom with ATV riders thanks to the county’s access to Interstate 77 and U.S. Route 460. Having those highways so nearby means riders can reach the trail sooner and climb aboard their ATVs; they came to southern West Virginia to ride their ATVs and dirt bikes, not haul them around.

All the visiting riders I’ve spoken to have talked about the Pocahontas Trail, but I’ve got to admit that I’ve never been on the actual trail. There are always other stories on the schedule and a limited amount of time to get it all done.

Sometimes I’ve wondered about learning to ride a motorcycle, but I haven’t pursued it. I guess this comes with my upbringing. The idea of me on a motorcycle filled my Mom with horror. If I get on an ATV, the solution to Mom’s worries is simple — just don’t tell her.

Our editor, Samantha, told me about her motorcycle experiences. She said that you see and smell your surroundings; in other words, all the experiences you don’t sense from inside a car. And there’s the exhilaration of going fast. Add all those experience to a trail, and you start understanding why so many people are caught up in this hobby.

Maybe that’s why fast activities with an element of danger — horseback riding, flying fighter planes, parachuting — are so appealing. You get that speed plus sensations you just don’t get while driving to work.

The visitors were pretty impressed with Bramwell, but they had suggestions such as setting up a Laundromat and a car wash. Riders like to clean up both themselves and their machines after a day on the trails. Cleaning their machines goes a long way toward maintaining them, and being able to wash clothes reduces the amount of trail dirt that’s carried into lodgings.

Those were points of the conversation I could understand without asking a lot of questions. Like other hobbies, riding ATVs and dirt bikes has generated its own language. Bramwell Mayor Lou Stoker told me that she’s still learning the terms such as “blue trail.” I think that means a less-challenging trail.

I definitely know that I won’t just try to climb onto an ATV and teach myself to ride. I suspect that’s the quick way to get broken bones and a life on disability; however, the learning experience alone should start me on that journey to understanding the trails. With some caution, I won’t write the resulting column from a hospital bed.

One aspect I do understand is the fellowship the riders enjoy. While the “On The Trail” crew was getting ready to hit the trail again, local people and other visitors kept arriving. Each new arrival started a new conversation. One couple had driven all the way from Kansas to ride the new trail, and Lou said she’s met people from all over the country.

Out-of-state riders are getting a welcome they often don’t get in their home states. Motorcycles and ATVs are a part of the local culture, so visitors and the residents of our towns and cities automatically have something in common. In some parts of southern West Virginia, an ATV is practically a second car.

Hopefully I’ll some day come back from the Hatfield-McCoy Trail baptized by dirt and sweat.

Perhaps then I will have a better understanding of ATV culture and why people are willing to drive hundreds of miles so they can climb onto a powerful machine and get dirty in the name of fun.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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