Gathering of friends

Off-road event highlights the camaraderie of motocross

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By Stephanie P. Hanover
For Blount Today

What would you do with unlimited access to 5,000 acres of wooded property?

Mike Shirley prefers to take his two-wheeled passion to a new level and "ride all over it."

Shirley is a co-leasee of undeveloped tract of land on Chilhowee Mountain that he uses exclusively for laying out trails and discovering new ground. He has created nearly 30 miles of new trails that he and his friends enjoy on a regular basis.

On June 23, Shirley was one of 120 recreational riders who gathered together to take in two days of two-wheeled bliss. The 2007 Great Smoky Mountain Dual Sport Tour was organized at the Coal Creek OHV (off-highway vehicle) area, more
commonly known by locals as "Windrock."

For Shirley, the appeal of the event is best described as "challenging and ever changing with new routes each year."
Most of the attendees are repeat participants and say the event is a "reunion" of the off-road community.

Shirley said he began his dirt-bike riding habit at the age of 5.

"My father and all of his friends always rode," he said, "so I naturally got hooked on the sport."

At 14, Shirley was participating in off-road and Enduro races as frequently as every other weekend. Although he still participates in some race events throughout the Southeast, Shirley said he spends the majority of his ride time riding for fun while hanging out with friends.

Steve Litz of Litz Racing and John Strange coordinate the Dual Sport Tour annually in tandem with the Honda Riders Club of America and Mountain Adventures Honda. Litz is renowned for his custom suspension work on motocross bikes, drag bikes and, recently, SuperMotard bikes. His Blountville Motoplanet shop provides extensive engine modifications.

Strange, with nearly 27 years of riding experience, is known for his longevity in the sport and his ability to organize and promote events.

"John has been in the sport long after others have come and gone," volunteer Eddie Lunsford said.

Phillip Reese of Indiana described the prizes and benefits of this year’s event as "well worth it."

"Each rider will win or benefit more than they will pay in admission," he said.

Prizes at events like the Chris Haines Baja Tour are "a class act that he will never forget," Florida’s Shatzqi Rimek said. "They ride hard all day, feed you steak and lobster at night, and take care of your bike and all of your gear."

The camaraderie of the Dual Sport Tour is just as big a draw, though, he said. Rimek even brought his son Cody, 12, along for this year’s ride as part of a family vacation.

Shatzqi was one of 12 participants from Florida. He and Travis Brown described the riding conditions in Florida as "straight and flat." Both are also street bike regulars to the famous stretch of 318 curves on Highway 129 commonly known as Deal’s Gap or "the Dragon."

The Coal Creek OHV area is 72,000 acres of property owned by Coal Creek Mining & Manufacturing Company and is complete with a wind mill farm as well as a history of industrial labor violence.

From 1866 to 1896, the Coal Creek Mines were the site of convict lease wars. The attempt to use convicts as the mining workforce brought on siege and scatter attempts by Grundy County miners and eventually resulted in the death of several miners and convicts and the burning of the stockade.

The Green Power Switch program, created by the Tennessee Valley Authority, is powered by a series of 16 spectacular turbine windmills. The whirl of blades can be heard and felt from some of the nearby trails and is a landmark of Oliver Springs and the Coal Creek Area.

Today, the site sports hundreds of miles of off-road trails that are managed by the Windrock ATV club. The club coordinates volunteer efforts for trail maintenance and ensures that the trails meet environmental standards.

Because so many trucks, buggies, ATV’s, and bikes use the trails, the club marks the ATV trails with directional signs and maintains current maps for the self-guided user. Single track trails, for dirt bikes only, are not part of the overall mapping and are mapped by event organizers.

Additionally, the club now has a portion of the park devoted to downhill mountain biking, complete with ramps and obstacles.

With all that Windrock has to offer, it was a prime option for hosting the 2007 Dual Sport Event. The event included two, 90-mile days of rocks, hill climbs, dirt roads, back roads, gnarly tree roots, a little bit of mud and a whole lot of dust. A dual sport event, by definition, is an event for motorcycles that includes both road and dirt routes in a non-competitive environment.

Such a weekend adventure wouldn’t be complete without a successful rescue operation. When a group of Florida riders came upon Jackie Coates of Cookeville he appeared to be "fishing something out of a ravine." He was. Koby Bryant, 6, had taken a tumble, four-wheeler and all, down a steep embankment. Brown said the wreck looked so bad he "couldn’t believe that he (Koby) was still alive."

"We don’t know what we would’ve done without their help," Coates said.

Bryant was taken to a nearby hospital for medical treatment and escaped with only a sprained arm.

With access to 5,000 acres, Shirley said he still prefers to participate in the annual Dual Sport event.

This year’s event was "a great course and just an incredible time," he said. "These events are planned, (the trails are) marked and the riders are supported."

Dirt bike riding is a sport of skill, a finely tuned machine, and a little bit of luck. As for other two wheel sports, Shirley prefers to go off road.

"Trees and rocks don’t move," he said. "You can trust them not to hurt you as long as you don’t make any mistakes."

© 2007 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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