Bill Troutman gestured toward a red all-terrain vehicle behind him. “Do you want to ride with me?” he asked.
He turned and began making his way toward the vehicle. Its four tires were big, thick and heavily treaded. On a rearview mirror near the brake on the left side of the ride, he had attached a small American flag.
Why yes, yes I did want to ride, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous. I’d been shaken up and bounced around on all types of adventures throughout my life, but I’d never climbed aboard a beast like this ATV before, and I’d heard not-so-awesome things about their effects on the earth. There was no seat belt but a helmet; four tires but uneven ground. However, I take adventures as they come and I’m always eager to learn why people do what they do, so here I was in Eastern Kentucky, and if the president of the Harlan County Ridge Riders wanted to take me out for a ride, I was going to go.
It turns out that eastern Kentucky is known for its ATV clubs and hundreds of miles of roughed-up trails, primed for riding. We took off from the dirt parking lot and headed out with a dozen or so other drivers with riders. We immediately started heading uphill, dipping and dropping as the ATV’s tires strove to find footing on the land. As Bill drove up and over rocky bumps, through muddy puddles and along long stretches of dusty path, I found myself laughing out loud at the ride, gripping the sides of the bike in equal parts anticipation, fear and exhilaration.
Through snippets of conversation, I learned about Bill’s motivation for getting out to ride: It was a way for him to bond with his friends and escape the problems in his day-to-day life. And, when I asked him about the environmental consequences of ATVing, he explained that he rode because he liked nature and personal injuries left him with few other ways to venture as far. He didn’t want to ride roughly or tear up the earth, and using an ATV allowed him to get deep into the woods where he could never go on his own two feet. In fact, the ATV club’s investment in the trails also allowed for the woods to be protected when they could easily be clear cut for mining. To top it off, he liked sharing his joy of riding out in nature so much that he—and other members of the club—willingly take anyone who wants to ride out at no cost.
For more than 45 minutes we traversed miles of trail before having to stop for a significant amount of time when another ATV blew a tire. During this time, Bill turned to me and asked the fateful question: “Do you want to drive?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“It’s easy. Here, I’ll show you how,” he said, as he slid off the four-wheeler and gestured for me to climb off so he could sit on the back seat. I’d already embraced one adventure. What was the harm of embracing a second?
Without further ado, Bill explained how to ease the ATV forward, and within seconds I was dodging rocks and bumping down the path at speeds up to 16 miles per hour. Truthfully, though, I enjoyed riding more than driving, and I had no problem giving the driver’s seat back to Bill after a few miles as he was much more adept at navigating the sharp turns, steep drop offs and uneven surfaces.
About two hours after leaving the parking lot we pulled back in. My pants were splattered with mud and dirt was caked under my fingernails, and, yes, I was still shaking, but not from nerves. Now I was quivering from excitement … and simply from being bumped around from miles and miles through Harlan County, Kentucky.