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The roar of engines, mud, boulders and grit — these are the ingredients for lasting bonds, members of the Windrock ATV Club say.
The club, chartered in 1994, has around 150 members throughout the Southeast and is one of the largest ATV groups in the state.
“We’ve got club members from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky. There’ll be people here today from as far away as maybe Florida,” said club president Doug “Rhino Rider” Murphy. He hails from Blount County, where he lives with his wife, Tammy, also an active club member.
“We get together for the ride, but it’s about the friendship,” Murphy said. “You make some lifelong friendships here.”
“We have little riding groups, friends that go out and ride together. And that’s kind of the way (the club) got started,” he said. “Once it kind of got started and started maintaining the trails and everything, then the membership started to grow, because we were doing stuff.”
The friendships were evident on a chilly, overcast Saturday morning in Oliver Springs recently, when the group celebrated its annual member appreciation day.
More than a dozen members gathered at Windrock Park for off-roading fun at the Coal Creek Off-Highway Vehicle Area.
Kinship was mixed with good-natured ribbing.
“You ride with us, you have to have a big sense of humor,” said Ron “Rooster” Durant, the day’s trail guide and Coal Creek maintenance supervisor.
Mark Sullivan of Harriman has been with the group for about two years now.
“It’s a good group of people,” he said. “We have fun.”
Sullivan also appreciates safety.
“I try to drive conservatively,” he said. “I like my body the way — well, not the way it is, but in the one piece it is.”
Members cut a lot of the trails on the 72,000-acre Coal Creek OHV trail system. When the group headed out to the trail head, they took a connector trail that comes out at Hoskins Gap Road near Union Valley Missionary Baptist Church. Because of the noise they create near the church, the club held a charity fundraiser for it later that day.
“They put up with us each year, so we thought we’d have an auction,” Murphy said.
The ATV enthusiasts aim to ride together every other month, whether it be at different OHV areas, private areas or wildlife management areas. The last time they got together was for a night ride with about 25 machines present.
Regardless of where they go and when they get together, they accommodate each one’s riding skill.
When the group gets together, the trail guide for the day takes into consideration the lowest skill level of the riders present and that’s the level they all ride at. While some members like speed and navigating tough sections of trails, others enjoy a more moderate pace.
“Some people come for the technical part. Some people come for the trail ride and the scenery,” Murphy said. “That’s part of the ride — getting to see the wildlife.”