I should mention this at the very beginning. This edition of the Penguin Chronicles has little to do with running – in an absolute sense. It has to do with looking for, and finding, a means of expressing one’s self, one’s joy, one’s desire for some unique experience that defines a moment in one’s life. Come to think of it, maybe it does have something to do with running.
For the past week, Jenny and I have been exploring the Great Smokey Mountains on dual-purpose motorcycles. When my son, Terry, was young he and I did a lot of this kind of riding. The bikes are smallish, the challenges different than those that you find on the roads, and the satisfaction is immense. While Jenny is an accomplished road motorcyclist, this was her first real exposure to dual purpose riding
The plan was simple. Jenny contacted Dan and Debbie of GSM Motorent , arranged to rent a cabin and get some advice on places to ride in the area. What we got was much more than we could have expected. Dan was an old-school motorcyclist that I felt like I had known my entire life, and Debbie made us feel like friends who had stopped by for a visit. It was perfect.
The first afternoon we did a combination of on and off road riding to get a feel for the bikes and the area. The next morning, armed with one of Dan’s route lists we took off to find the checkpoints on the 185 mile route. Our first mistake was forgetting the very detailed maps that Dan had suggested we get. Undaunted, we took on the challenge with nothing but the checkpoints, dead reckoning, a GPS, and our own skills.
Everything went well until we missed a checkpoint and followed a trail that led deeper and deeper into to woods. After about an hour of searching out every Jeep trail and deer path in the area we did what every experienced navigator does; we went back to the last place where we knew were were right.
We found ourselves back on the course and after a quick lunch we headed back into to mountain. Our navigation was dead on and we were having a great time finding the marked and unmarked trails. And then we came to the creek. Or at least it was supposed to be a creek. It was a raging river. Too deep to cross on foot let alone with motorcycles.
By then is was late afternoon and we knew that we’d be losing the light soon. Under the heavy canopy it was already getting dark. We couldn’t go on. We didn’t have a map to figure out another way around the obstacle. And we were running out of daylight. We had no choice but to backtrack for nearly two hours.
Jenny went in to full “adventure racer” mode and flogged her Yamaha. She rode fast and well. She led with complete confidence. I was hanging on for dear life. After a couple of serious “seat puckering moments” we made it back to the gravel roads and eventually to the pavement, and ultimately to the cabin 12 hours and 225 miles after we had started.
We spent the next two days riding around and through the park, on and off road, experiencing great roads, beautiful scenery, and wonderful people.
In the end I learned a very important lesson. At 64 years-old, I’m too young to not be adventurous. But, at 64, I’m too old to be foolish. That’s not always an easy line to find and too often an easy line to cross. Kind of like a mountain trail in the middle of the Smokies.
Waddle on, friends.
An Accidental Athlete is available in print and ebooks versions now. BUY THE BOOK
What others are saying: Looking for some motivation to start running and improve your fitness? You’re sure to find some inspiration from John Bingham’s new memoir, “An Accidental Athlete.” As an overweight, uninspired pack-and-a-half-a-day smoker, Bingham realized that he had to make some changes in his life and began running at the age of 43. With wit and humor, Bingham recounts his journey from couch potato to self-proclaimed “adult on-set athlete.”– ESPN Gear Guide