Tiffany Voorheis, 15, pulls her shoulder-length brown hair into a ponytail while her friends, Robin Hargis, 15, and Megan Beckley, 16, squeeze riding helmets over their heads.
“Ah, you’re gonna put your hair up high like that?” Robin asks. “You’re supposed to put it down low, so it hangs outside the helmet.”
Tiffany pulls a rubber band out of her hair and adjusts her ponytail before putting on a shiny black helmet. Now they’re ready for their favorite after-school activity – four-wheeling.
Tiffany swings her right leg over the wide seat of the all-terrain vehicle behind Megan, who is geared up and ready. They hit some paths around Robin’s home, which is eight miles north of Harrisburg.
Robin, a Harrisburg High cheerleader, starts her engine first, wrapping her black gloves tightly around the handles before speeding off toward the bike trails. Her tires crunch the faded leaves and branches on the path.
The two bikes roar onto a forest trail and underneath a canopy of barren trees. Shallow trenches of mud, a reminder of previous four-wheeler outings, lead the way down the winding path. Chunks of mud splash out from the tires, sticking to the girls’ shoes and ankles.
With no plastic face shield on their helmets, Tiffany and Megan wince as the raw, 40-degree chill brings tears to their eyes. Robin, the leader of the pack, stops her ATV in a grassy area between two ponds where the path forks in two directions.
She turns to ask her friends, each a student at Harrisburg High School, which path they’d like to take first.
Tiffany and Megan wear huge grins and rosy cheeks. The group decides to go to the path on the left, between the ponds.
The trees, silhouetted from the setting sun, reflect on the calm water and pleasant blue.
Amid such serenity, the loud buzz of the ATV engines seems out of place. The path soon exits the woods and the four-wheelers weave in and around Robin’s backyard.
A few laps later, looping back through the forest, Megan stops and removes her helmet.
“Hey, I have to go. I have to get ready for the game,” says Megan, who is a manager for the Harrisburg High School varsity girl’s basketball team.
Tiffany switches bikes and joins Robin on the back of the four-wheeler.
The girls wave goodbye as the ATVs head in opposite directions.
“Robin, slow down. Please slow down a little,” Tiffany says after joining her faster-driving friend.
Tiffany screeches with excitement as the two speed through puddles and disappear up a muddy hill.