Clouds and Bikers

When one thinks about women riding motorcycles, they don’t often consider her riding alone in desolate country. That is exactly one of the best places to ride.

Saturday morning found an overcast sky and rain. I pursued other interests until the sky cleared in the late morning. I put on my biker clothes. I NEVER ride without all the gear. I have a wonderful Harley mesh jacket that offers slide protection and allows access to the cooling wind. I wear jeans lined with kevlar, Harley biker boots, gloves and a modular helmet. Being dressed for a slide will hopefully prevent one from happening.

Today, I would ride about 20 miles west on 2-lane Highway 6, then slide over to Interstate 80. I-80 is a major east/west traffic corridor and is loaded with tourists this time of year. They have a destination in mind and they drive like it. There is little obstruction on this day. I set my cruise on 75 mph, the exact speed limit.

In a fairly short time, I’m exiting the road at the Grand Island exit, about 100 miles down the road. I stop for gas, clean the windshield and get on Nebraska Highway 2, the Sandhills scenic byway. I’m now a little warm and ready to stop for an iced tea. I select one of my favorite places, the aptly named Watering Hole in Cairo, Nebraska. Cairo was established in 1886 as a railroad stop for the Burlington Railroad.

I cool off and am shortly back underway. Today, I notice a wide variety of clouds. Once in the Sandhills, there is virtually no traffic and the land is as pristine as it has been for thousands of years. Riding a motorcycle excites all the senses and allows a full enjoyment of the outdoors.

On this trip, I take advantage of totally unobstructed vision to notice the clouds. Normally, there are clouds in the sky and I’ve generally regarded clouds as a 2 dimensional sight, much as a photo might present them. Since there’s no traffic, I’m able to study the clouds in detail. There are a few cirrus clouds, which are very high up and lightly streak the sky, like they might be portrayed by the gentle sweep of a painter’s brush. Below them are more puffy clouds and then I notice some that are closer to the ground. I can begin to see the full depth of this sight as I pass below them. At 65 mph, the fact that they are readily discernible really stands out. The speed of the bike highlights the different levels of clouds as I’ve not often noticed before.

These are things that never get seen from a moving car. I’m having a ball just watching clouds on this trip. Light traffic in the Sandhills means you only see oncoming vehicles over a mile apart. Overtaking and passing someone happens maybe every 15 miles or more. Riding in this environment allows all the senses to work and the scenery is soothing and relaxing.

75 miles passes too quickly and I’ve arrived in Broken Bow, Nebraska. This will be my turnaround point, so I cruise around town. This small town has been completely resurrected. Most Nebraska towns are built around a town square, which is a full city block with a government building in the center. This means there are 4 blocks of shops all around. Every shop features a business and the buildings are painted and in good repair. This is a contrast to many other small towns, who are losing population and the empty storefronts with cracked and broken glass highlight this occurrence.

There is a very nice old hotel here with a corner restaurant and grill featuring outdoor seating. I see a Harley parked in front, so I decide to stop and take a break. A very large biker man and his lady are sitting outside and invite me to join them. Bikers are a very special breed. They look scary with their leathers and head covers and you don’t know if they’ll take hostages or ask you to sit a spell.

In this case, I met John and Amy. John has been riding for decades and Amy loves riding on the back. They were both highly intrigued to see a woman ride up on a big bike. They’d watched me cruise the town square and were surprised to see a female. Amy asked me how I managed to handle such a large bike. She said she never imagined that she could do such a thing and I reassured her she could if she wanted.

We visited easily for quite some time. They go to the Black Hills Motorcycle Rally (Sturgis) every year and we talked about that and found we had a lot in common. They lived about 70 miles straight south.

When it came time for us to leave, they invited me to ride with them and I eagerly accepted. Our route would take us on a road that was even far less traveled than Highway 2. It was even more remote and primitive. John was an expert rider. He never slowed for a curve and he held a nice, even line on curves. Our ride together was well synchronized and coordinated, even though we’d never met before. We each knew how to ride with others. Just like when musicians get together and jam, we were dancing together like Fred and Ginger using bikes.

We split up and said our goodbyes at the Interstate. They are wonderful people, whom I hope to see again. Motorcycles have enabled me to enjoy the ride and meet great people. Many single women might experience some discomfort at being alone and vulnerable out in the country. I have to say that when I’m on my bike, dressed like a biker, no one has ever caused me to feel insecure at all. When I see other bikers, I have every confidence that they will have my back should the need ever arise. I see other bikers as friends and never an adversary.

I had a 180 miles to ride to get home and the time seemed to fly by. I bumped my speed up to 79 mph, as it seemed that was the general speed of traffic. That worked nicely as I was moving with everyone else. The big Harley touring bike seemed comfortable and smooth at that speed and had plenty of additional throttle should it be needed.

I watched clouds and took in all the sights and sounds of Nebraska. Before I knew it, I was back home before dark with 400 miles under my belt. Another great day on a bike.

Riding the Sandhills of Nebraska

In a few weeks, I will be one of the Ride Captains for the Women’s Freedom Rally, leading a group starting in Sioux Falls. We will spend the night in Lincoln, then ride on to Topeka, where we will set the World Record for the most women on motorcycles in one place at the same time.
This is a serious event to raise money for veterans and our company is a major sponsor.
So, I need to get in shape. Friday, I got a late start after lunch and rode I-80 to North Platte where I spent the night. I was not the only one fleeing the city for the holiday. Traffic was solid in both lanes as far as the eye could see. Normally, it thins out around York. Not today, folks.
From North Platte, I mapped out a route through the Sandhills. I took I-80 on west to Ogallala, then turned north to Hyannis. This is a very unique road. It is 75 miles long, with only ONE intersection, in the town of Arthur. Otherwise, it’s just you, the virgin prairie and blue skies.
There are many places where there are no signs that civilization has ever touched it. No power poles, no homes, no signs, no rest stops, no Taco Bells and no merging traffic. In 75 miles, I only saw about a dozen cars coming the other way. Pretty much no one was going my way. I’m certain they were, of course, but arithmetic told me that cars were roughly 6 miles apart.
Riding a motorcycle is unique, in that it involves all 4 appendages. Clutch for left hand, front brake and throttle for right hand, rear brake for right foot and shifter for left foot.
It also involves all your senses. Naturally, sight (which is supposed to be used mainly for texting and Facebook), sound, feel (for the vehicle’s interaction with the roadway), smell (which is lovely, pure clean air in the Sandhills. The air is so clean that you can smell water) and, finally taste, which is for the native bugs of the area. (biker joke).
So, I’m loving this trip. The sky was clear, the temperature perfect and the whole scene is serene. Riding a bike is an experience like no other, as you are exposed on all sides and can see many things that just can’t be seen and experienced in a car.
Like a rattle snake curled up in the middle of the road. Holy Jeminy! I’m riding right down the center of the lane. The soft sandhills often erode the right edge of the pavement, so it’s not always a good idea to ride on the extreme right edge of the road. In this case, the road is coming apart due to expansion and contraction, so there are cracks and bumps at regular intervals.
The left side of the lane is bumpy from traffic. The very center of the lane is reasonably smooth. I set the cruise control on 68 mph, the speed limit is 60. The bike loves this speed and cruises with no effort. There is no wind, I mean no wind of any kind. Every body of water which I see is just like a mirror.
So, back to the snake. Yes, YIKES!, a rattlesnake, curled up in the center of the road. By the time you perceive that there is anything that minute in the road, you’re pretty much on it. I mean, I saw something in the road about 2 seconds ahead, but it wasn’t anything of substance. A piece of rope, a rubber drive belt off a vehicle, but not a log, a dead possum or a piece of lumber. Nothing that would present a risk to a bike.
As I am now on a collision course with a snake, suddenly I can see the dark brown diamond pattern on a light brown body. It’s right in the middle of the road, right where I’m riding. My legs are open on the side of my bike. I have no opportunity to swerve or to avoid the snake.
I am only able to quickly life my feet up slightly as I run over the snake. Thump-thump and I’m right on down the road. I’ve seen photos of snakes that ended up stuck to the underside of a motorcycle. I took a quick look.
I am so *not* stopping to inspect the underside of my bike to see if I have a very unhappy rattler that has checked in as an undocumented passenger.
I am literally shaking at what has just happened. If that snake wasn’t dead before, it’s had a rough day now.
This is just one reason that I always wear protective gear. I have heavy motorcycle boots and I mean heavy boots. I wear jeans lined with kevlar, which probably won’t stop a bullet, but will resist shredding in a slide, leather coat, leather gloves and a full face helmet.

Part 2

It would appear that I am the only living being aboard the bike. I settle down and enjoy the ride. The sky is brilliant blue and there are but a few clouds scattered here and there.

The pavement is brand new on the road and the bike rolls along very smoothly. The old road can be easily seen to the side. Engineering progress is in stark contrast to days of old. The old road has zero shoulder. If one had to change a tire, it would be done right in the roadway, as the drop off the pavement is sharp. I rode this old, original road and I have vivid recollections of soil (sand) erosion in places where the water ran off the pavement.

The old road is extremely narrow, only wide enough to allow antique vehicles to pass each other. The roadway was mostly pavement laid over the ground, with not much preparation over hill and dale.

The new road has a well prepared graded roadway. Sides of the hills have been shaved away and the soil used to raise the road above dips and to prevent water flowing across the road in low places. There are shoulders now. The new roadway is nearly 4 times as wide as the original.

Soon, I encounter road construction. Then, the new pavement gives way to what was before, a patched, pock marked old country road. I’m glad I’ve got good suspension on this bike, as it’s being challenged by road surface. I slow down and now have to pay attention to obstacles. I’m on a slalom course now. It’s kind of fun to swerve back and forth, seeking flat ground.

This is a road that doesn’t see much traffic. I’m still enjoying seeing undisturbed grass land and occasional herds of cattle near the fence. They are curious as I pass and their gaze is fixed upon me as I ride by.

The little cowlets are sticking close to their moms. They are only a few months old and are the hardy ones who survived the recent blizzards that took the lives of many of the herd. It all seems like a dream now, as the grass is lush and green.

The Sandhills are really sand and are left over from the sea that covered this area long ago. When the water left, the wind blew the sand into ever shifting dunes. This is one of the largest areas of wind blown sand in the world.

The grass took hold and the buffalo thrived. The bison ate the grass and their droppings fertilized the soil. There were millions of them at one time.

I’ve been told that there is something highly unique and nutritious about the grass that grows here. It is apparently unlike any other place on earth. There are no native trees, as fires started by lightning kept them from thriving. The cattle that grow here are of amazing quality. It’s easy to see, as they appear to be well fed, with nice, thick coats that look like they are groomed daily. There is lots of room for each cow and they are free to roam all over. In fact, the grass shows no sign of ever having been grazed. There are no bare spots. It appears the ranchers have done a great job of determining how many cattle the land will support and are careful to preserve the land that is their resource.

Mile after lovely mile I ride, enjoying the majesty of this natural land. The rough road smooths out some as I see a 45 mph speed limit sign. I always observe the exact speed limits in small towns. I downshift and slow to 45. As I round a corner, I see a group of people standing. It’s a cemetery and they’re holding a service. Out of respect for the group, I slow way down and keep my bike as quiet as I can while I do my best to pass unnoticed.

I ride by and soon I’m in the little town of Arthur, Nebraska. Main street is 3 blocks long and I’m stretching that. I pass the Bunkhouse saloon, which is closed at this time. There is also a log cabin from the 1800s.

I ride out of town and open up the throttle back to my cruising speed. The road is not straight at all. It twists and winds through the hills. It meanders between the hills most of the time. There are places where the hills open up to a wide valley and you can see for miles. As I round a curve, I can see something in the road in the distance. As I get closer, there are 2 pronghorn antelope just standing smack dab in the middle of the road. I get on the brakes and slow down quickly. They turn and see me almost close enough to ride them and that sets them into flight mode. I chuckle as I see the first one duck under a fence, followed by the second. They were just being lazy, as I believe they can clear a 6 foot fence if they want to. Then, they’re off and running. They are very fleet footed and cover ground effortlessly in a hurry.

I stop and take their place on the road. There is no traffic and I mean *no* traffic. I watch them run. I’ve visited with many antelope hunters and those critters can run for miles without even slowing down. As I’ve traveled, it’s not uncommon to see them grazing quietly among the cattle.

I crank the throttle on the Electra Glide and accelerate quickly. The giant Harley is a monster machine, capable of going from zero to sixty in under 4 seconds. My backrest pushes hard against my hips to keep the bike from jumping out from under me. I love this. It’s a serious rush of adrenaline as I can feel the front wheel nearly lift off the ground at every shift. OK, so four seconds is up, fun is over. Back to cruising. This is one place I’m not likely to get a citation for exhibition of speed, especially since I do observe the speed limit.

As I top the next hill, my heart sinks as I see the sign warning of a stop sign ahead. Phooey. That means this part of the ride is over. Time to head into Hyannis for gas.

As I ease up to the stop sign, I’m looking straight at a lake. I mentioned before that there was no wind. It’s extremely rare to see a body of water as smooth as glass, but this was it. The reflection of the opposite shoreline was a perfect picture in the water.

As I made the turn, I saw a closely bunched flock of white swans swimming tightly together. Wait a minute. There aren’t any swans around here. The perfect “S” curve of the neck was distinctive. As I looked closer, I could see long yellow beaks sticking down in front. They were pelicans. It was a beautiful sight.

The gas station in Hyannis is sort of a combination fast food place, with a little bit of grocery store built in. We are a long way from much civilization here. We are so far away, (how far are we?) that the last time I stopped here, they didn’t have credit card machines on the gas pumps. You just pulled up, pumped the gas and walked inside. They sometimes used binoculars to read the amount of the pumps.

This time, they’ve gone full modern. They not only have credit card processors on the pumps, they have real live TV. Golllly!


I’ll stop here and pick up this story later.
This story and much more can be found on my website:
www.beckysbikerblog.com

Preparing to Ride in the 2019 Women’s Freedom Rally

We are about 7 weeks out and are getting a LOT of questions about the exact route and precise details of the ride schedule. For many, there may be comfort in knowing the exact time we will arrive and depart any given place.

I’m one of the Ride Captains and here is my answer:
This all sounds great, but it doesn’t matter. 🙂 First, we have security issues. We need to be absolutely certain that every woman on this ride is part of the group and has signed a waiver. Every rider has already been carefully screened to reduce the chances of trouble. Believe me, there are some people we don’t want near this ride. Posting a schedule invites anyone to tag along and blend in. Second, every stop, every cafe, every route needs to be ridden ahead of time. In case you haven’t read the papers lately, we’ve had massive flooding in Nebraska and Iowa. There are roads and bridges gone. Other Ride Captains and I have met and gone over potential routes. She and I are both experienced Road Captains. Between us, we’ve already ridden much of the route. Some of the places that I think would make for great stops have been affected by the flood, others only open for the summer. You will just have to believe in your Ride Captains and let them work. In past years, ride routes have been routinely changed and adjusted overnight. 🙂 It’s only a short distance each day. We are working hard to put together a ride that is far more than just getting from one place to another. We are working to help you experience memories that will live with you for a long time and we want those memories to be great ones. So, please be patient and work to get yourself ready. In the meantime, Dream and Believe. <3 Our fabulous experience will be on us in no time and just like that, it will be over.

Next, get your bike ready.

There are less than 5 weeks to go. It is time to take your bike to a very good shop or mechanic and have it completely serviced and inspected. Tires are critical. We may have to ride in the rain. Yes, we ride if it’s raining.

🙂 Be certain your tire tread has been measured and the sidewalls checked for cracks. The drive belt should be inspected and drivebelt tension checked. We do not have the liberty of a friendly chase vehicle with a warm trailer to pick you up in the event of bike trouble. In addition, please ask them to check your spoke tension on the wheels for loose spokes and the wheels for being straight and true. Also, please get the battery checked. Any battery that is 5 years or older should be replaced. Every ride I’ve been on has involved some sort of bike trouble, so let’s all do what we can to be prepared. Thank you and, like all of you, I’m looking forward to a great ride.

5 Weeks to go: This is getting to be fun, now. We are getting wound up. People are now getting worried about different things. Our greatest fears are the unknown. Perhaps some of you have been dropped from a group or left behind, belittled because you have a small bike or lack experience. Terrified because you were made to ride with bullies.

Here’s what you need to understand. First off, you have Ride Captains who are the bomb. We have been there, done that and ridden in every situation there ever was. Second, we love you and care about you. Our job is to see you there safely and we know exactly how to do it. We will protect you and teach you.

You will leave this ride a far better rider than you came in. Depending on conditions, you may be challenged as a rider, but we will help you.

What you need to do is read every word we post and take it to heart. If we ask for information, it’s because we need to know. We will tell you when to get up and when to ride, where to stop for gas and where to eat. You will have the time of your lives, because we have planned it all out.

We will be giving you instruction on how to prepare, how to pack, how to ride and what to bring. Please humor us and play along. It’s imperative that everyone follow directions without question and trust your leadership.

This is not a huge deal, as we only have 2 mornings and 2 full days of riding. We also have 2 nights of parties on the way. There are thousands of people following our adventure and you are part of a very special group, with an admirable mission.

Don’t bring any gas cans. We’re not crossing the Mojave desert. 🙂

We’ll be posting photos showing how to pack your bike and giving you exercises to do with your bike so you are prepared when we hit the road.

That said, it will be a good idea to practice some highway riding. We will have a short stretch of Interstate, but it will be near the end of the ride. Mostly, it will be rural 2 lane scenic highways.

While we need to be very clear that there is no drinking while we are riding and this includes our parties at the Harley Dealers, once we park the bikes, fun is on your own. All we ask is that your fun doesn’t affect your ability to ride the next morning. Please don’t break the chandeliers. 🙂

There are a LOT of Ride Captains involved. We love you and can’t wait to ride with you. Thank you for being part of this great adventure. Oh, I forgot. Woot! 😁

Time to talk about packing for the trip. This is how I started on my first Women’s Freedom Ride in 2017. I had a Fat Boy, which is a soft tail. I bought the large Harley luggage bag and the medium size bag.

I had to carry 2 weeks of clothing, a coffee pot and a spare helmet for a potential passenger.

As you can see, this puts a lot of weight up high on the bike. Riding solo for the first time on an overnight trip, I tipped over at a gas stop. Fortunately, people came to help me.

Although I had learned to lift my bike upright from a tipover, I was not prepared for the additional weight, which was also leveraged to be far heavier when tipped.

First lessons: Put the heavy stuff down low. Whatever is up high will make it far too easy to tip. Next, load up and ride all over in the next few weeks to become accustomed to how your bike will feel and handle, because it will be a lot different.

Next, be certain that your stuff is very secure. Try to pull it off after it’s strapped on, because gravity, vibration and bumps will be doing that for you. Find your luggage weaknesses now and learn to secure your stuff.

Finally, don’t bring stuff you won’t need. We’re only on the road less than a week. Allow LOTS of extra room in your luggage, because you’ll be buying tee shirts, hats, clothing and antique bird cages. You’ll need room for them.

So, pack up, load your stuff with rocks and start practicing.

Rain Gear–great discussion. First, don’t go too cheap if you don’t have to. We will be riding, even if it rains. This may mean that we end up in heavy rain, as it’s not always possible or safe to pull over in the event the rain comes up while we’re on the road.

Pretty much anything will keep you dry for a short sprinkle while sitting still, even a blue tarp from the closeout store. But think about a downpour at 65 mph. The wind will rattle the fabric and the seams will be tested.

Be sure to select a coat size that will fit over your leather jacket, as the weather often cools during rain. I recently discovered that my summer rain jacket doesn’t fit over my heavy winter coat. Oops.

Next, the pants, oh, yes, the pants from Hell. They all look good on a hanger, but check the ease of getting into them. My first pair were a 10 minute project to put on. Now, I have a pair with zippers all the way up to the waist. This mean they don’t get caught on my boots slipping into them and I can put them on quickly.

Pants that take a long time to put on my mean that you’re soaked to the skin by the time you’re wearing them, which only serves to keep you wet, even when the rain stops.

Last thing, possibly most important–visibility. Get BRIGHT colors and lots of reflective area.

Here’s how you do it. Take a photo of the gear without the flash. Then, turn the flash on and take a second photo. When you compare the two pictures, your choices can be clearer.





The Color Purple

Our official color for all WFR events is purple. Jazz dyes her hair purple, we get our nails done purple, we wear purple bandanas and also tie them to our bikes. This enables us to show that we are a unified group and helps us find our bikes. 🙂 Walmart sells purple bandanas for a buck apiece, but in my wide travels across the country, purple bandanas are not in vogue at every store.

At any rate, please stock up on purple.

3 weeks to go and we’ll be asked, “Will we ride in the rain?”. Our answer, “We have a schedule and we ride”.

This is a more detailed analysis of riding in the rain.


So how do you learn how to ride in the rain? Great question. First off, no one looks out the window, sees a downpour and says, “What a great day! Let’s go ride motorcycles”.
A “cruiser” class bike is built so you can leave home, cruise around and go home that night. Luggage has to be strapped to the bike, exposed to the elements. A “touring” bike has lots of hard, waterproof, locking compartments and is designed for long travels involving overnight stays.
Generally, you’ll learn to ride in rain when you get caught in it. 🙂 I know, it sounds dumb, but it’s true.
First thing, everything in your luggage should be in plastic bags. That way, the luggage gets wet, but the contents don’t.
Next, you need to have rain gear. Well, duh. OK, you not only need to have it, you need to be able to get it on and off easily and quickly. You’ll find that your boots will not slide easily into the pant legs. They’ll snag and stick and you’ll cuss.
It’s critically important that you learn to put your rain gear on in the comfort of your living room, so you know how it works, how to secure it and fit it to your little body.
Here’s the real secret to riding in the rain and rain gear. You have to put rain gear on BEFORE you ride. There is no such thing as pulling over to put it on. First off, you’ll be killed when you get run over on the shoulder of the road and, if not, you’ll be soaked to the skin before you get your gear on, anyway.
What you’ll discover is that putting on rain gear dissipates rain clouds. Just as sure as you put it on, it won’t rain. But failure to put it on often angers the Rain Goddess, who will show you why you should have. 🙂
My first experience riding in the rain was in my second week of riding. I had an appointment to get some work done to my newly-acquired bike at a dealer 50 miles away. It was a simple job and could be done while I waited. The forecast called for rain. I almost called to change the date and then said to myself that I would have to learn to ride in rain and the only way I would do that was to ride in it.
Off I went. There was no rain, but as soon as I arrived, it started to sprinkle ever so lightly. I wandered over to the clothing section and said, “So, you got anything for rain outfits?” I got all fixed up.
Bike got done, no rain yet, but the clouds looked threatening. I put on the Harley brand rain gear and headed home. As soon as I turned on to the highway home, the sky unzipped and torrential rain ensued. Not just rain, but strong, gusting winds, blowing me sideways. I barely knew how to ride, much less handle this.
I’d been sold a cute little “salad bowl” helmet. It was a real helmet, but offered no protection for my face or ears. It felt like metal darts were hitting my face. My glasses got splattered with rain drops, as did the windshield. Basically, I was now blind, except for finding the outside lines on the road. I was riding about 45 mph and doing my best to stay upright and in the lane.
I was surprised that the bike held the road well. There was no skidding or slipping. Of course, I was easy on the gas and the brakes, especially the front brake. I gained confidence as I rode. The bike was performing wonderfully and I was doing a great job handling the side wind. My face was another issue, entirely, as it continued to get pummeled with darts.
I tensed up as I entered a highway curve. I was barely competent to take those on clear sunny days, but here I was in driving rain. Once again, I couldn’t believe it, but the bike went right around that curve, completely ignoring rain and wind.
So, now about 30 miles into this, I was strutting my stuff. I was riding in the rain. Me. I wasn’t just riding in it, I was owning it. I had just realized that the biggest part of riding in the rain was the fear of riding in the rain. I no longer feared it.
I was actually enjoying the smell of fresh rain. I was watching the rain come down, much like the joy of sitting on an outdoor porch, watching the rain. Only I was moving and seeing the sights. Trees were flexing in the wind, the ditches in the road were carrying water, as were the streams and creeks.
The bike didn’t care. The engine purred confidently, as the fuel and ignition systems were unaffected by moisture. The tires held the road well, even through puddles. The water splashed up around the bike, but never seemed to hit me directly.
Soon, just as quickly as it had come up, the rain stopped. I was almost home now. The one thing that ticked me off was that as I was pulling into home, the streets had become dry.
My sacred Angel, the Goddess of Safe Biking, had just put me through a valuable riding lesson. I had just passed one of her first tests and earned my first of many quality rider tests–beginning rain riding.
As I took off my rain suit, I realized that it had worked wonders and I was as dry as a cheap piece of truck stop toast.
And THAT is how I learned to ride in the rain.

This is a more detailed analysis of riding in the rain.

Cross Country Ride

I’ve just returned from a motorcycle trip to North Carolina. It was the Women’s Freedom Ride Fall Getaway at the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge.

I started out riding to Kansas City on a Friday and would visit my son in St. Louis over the weekend. Overnighting in KC means I can arrive earlier on Saturday and be fresh for a nice. day.

Riding an open road motorcycle is a Zen experience for me. First, since there is no metal around me, I have to have heightened senses to protect me. This makes me a far safer driver than when I’m in a car.

The lack of metal also enables me to see things that just aren’t possible to see in a car. I see road hazards like cracks and splits in the pavement, small rocks and bits of tires with steel belts sticking out. I also notice chairs, mattresses, car parts and coolers who have made good their escape.

My bike has electronic cruise control so I can focus on relaxed riding. This time of year the crops are partially harvested and it’s interesting to watch the progression of the plants as they prepare their goods over time. The combines are working almost around the clock and the huge semi grain trucks are right out in the field to transport the goods to the grain elevators.

I was interested to see that the area surrounding U.S. Highway 2 entering Iowa from Nebraska was almost totally surrounded by water. Prior to the flood of 2011, this area was largely dry. The standing water was covering the shoulder of the road and was right at the edge of the highway. Good time to be a duck.

As I rode through the many miles affected by that flood, I could still see high water marks on a number of buildings near Hamburg, Iowa. For the most part, it appeared nature and man had healed the damage from the intrusion of the water.

I rolled smoothly along with light traffic, listening to tunes I’d stored on my i-phone. Another great benefit of traveling by bike is that both hands and both feet are involved in the operation of the bike. This means that the signal of an incoming text message is easily ignored. There’s no way to even look at it. I check when I stop for fuel, which is about every 2 to 2.5 hours.

Distracted driving when on a motorcycle makes you a candidate to be an organ donor. Safe driving is peaceful driving. I wish more people paid more attention to this.

I had only one stop scheduled for fuel on this leg of the trip. It was uneventful and I arrived at my pre-arranged lodging right on time. I had dodged rush hour traffic and was in time for a nice dinner.

Tomorrow, I ride across Missouri to St. Louis.

Part 2

The next morning was 41 degrees, which is getting a little cold to be on a bike at 75 mph. I was not as concerned about that as I was with all the deer running every which way. Fall is the rutting season and the males are chasing the females all over the place. The males are fighting each other and the females are putting on black fishnet stockings and switching their little white tails to attract a male. They’re not thinking about crossing a road safely.

I’d seen a lot of road kill deer on the way down. The best way to avoid hitting a deer is to not be on the road during dawn or dusk. This is when the deer are moving from their feeding areas in the fields to the cover of the woods. This is great advice for anyone driving anything except a reinforced truck out of Mad Max searching the road for dinner.

I waited until full daylight at 9 am before departing. I have a heated jacket liner, heated gloves and heated grips. The gloves and jacket liner plug into the bike. Harley designed this bike for open road travel very well. The charging system is greatly enhanced to handle increased electrical loads just like this. I adopted the attitudes of the Norwegians, who have a saying that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”.

There’s a huge difference between taking a cruise around home when it’s cold and serious cross country travel. Around home, you can always beat it back to the casa and warm up. Out on the open road, there may be a serious risk of exposure if you’re not prepared. When you’re a half day’s travel from shelter is not the time to realize you shouldn’t be there. Last year, I traveled 4 days in below freezing temperatures on a 3,000 mile trip. I remember telling myself that “this is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done”.  I remember meaning it, too.

But, I digress. Back on the bike, headed into the sun at 9am. My heated gear worked like magic and I was very comfortable. I warmed up the bike for a while and then took off. This Harley has an incredible amount of power. It doesn’t really matter how fast or slow you may be traveling, a slight twist of the throttle and the bike seems to lunge to get out from under you. I mean this girl loves to run and she is extremely quick.

I get up onto the freeway and merge effortlessly into traffic. Being out in the open on a motorcycle gives the rider an incredible view of everything. Riding safely in traffic is a whole new experience. You have no right to be any place on the road. Cars and trucks do not consider you to even be there. The best chance for survival in any situation is to focus on your strengths and minimize weakness.

I use vision and quickness to my advantage. My driver education instructor went to great lengths to train us to look as far down the road as we could. He explained that we should be studying traffic a half mile or more down the road. At Interstate speeds, spotting a truck with an oversize load far ahead means there will be a traffic slowdown and a bit of jockeying to be in the fast lane to get around it. This means moving to the passing lane well in advance. Since the traffic in that lane is moving faster, it means you have to watch for an opening and then be able to gain a little speed to merge. Oh, did someone say, “more speed, please?”  A very slight roll of the throttle and I’m there. Gaining 5 mph only takes about a second.

This is simple and safe. Watch for an opening, signal your intentions well in advance and gun it. Boom. A safe lane change is accomplished with aplomb. On the other hand, I drive a little like a big rig trucker. I always let those guys in when I can see that they’ll need to change lanes. This isn’t rocket surgery. Watching all the traffic is important and it’s easy to see a truck that’s slowly overtaking another. I always roll off the throttle and flash my lights to let them know it’s clear. In some cases, they don’t know I’m flashing to let them in, so I pull slightly behind the truck at the same time.

I’ve driven many miles in large vehicles and it seems no driver wants to let a slow vehicle in front of them. This can be very frustrating, so I try my best to accommodate their needs. As I pass, I always exchange waves. Look, these guys all have CB radios and they talk. I want them to know that the little red Dragonfly is a trucker’s friend. People on open road bikes need all the friends out on the road that they can get.

Finally, the segment ends with safe travel speeds. Forget how fast you think you should drive unless traffic is light. As traffic becomes denser, it’s better to find an opening in the right lane and fall in with the speed of that group. The most dangerous situation on Interstate highways is the “freight train” of fast cars in the left lane. They get bunched up passing slower vehicles and travel at highly unsafe intervals, like a single car length between them. This is exactly how accidents happen. There is no reaction time at 80 mph with 15 feet between cars. Leave that stuff to NASCAR racers. They can’t do it safely, either, which results in torn up race cars.

When you encounter this situation, back off the throttle a little yourself and study the lead cars. Be prepared to take evasive action and know the lay of the shoulders of the road.

Part 3

The trip to St Louis was a nice ride across Missouri, about 275 miles.

I was very happily married for 41 years and lost my spouse to cancer 3 years ago. I spent 9 months lost in serious grief. As I reflected on my emotions, I realized that it was all about “poor me, look at what I don’t have any more.” All my thoughts were in the past. I really needed something to help me look forward. I needed new thoughts.

I had friends who were bikers and were always doing fun things on motorcycles. I decided to give it a try, so I bought a used Harley and started riding. I loved it. It has helped me create new memories and look forward.

I mention this at this time because the trip across Missouri would take me past one of the places we went on our Honeymoon. It’s no longer in business, but the sign still stands and the rust and peeling paint reveal its age. Weeds and volunteer trees show that nature is slowly reclaiming the site, as it always does. I always cried when I passed this spot, as the memories would come flooding back and it made me sad to see it in disrepair.

I am slowly converting those painful memories into new memories to remind me how much I love riding now. Seeing that site tells me that I’m on my way to another joyous reunion with my son. I am a happy widow with a son I love and an activity that makes me feel wonderful. I have direction that helps me look forward.

I share this experience to help remind everyone that we all have things with which we have to deal in our lives. It may be possible to re-program our brains to change the impact of stimulus on our moods. While none of us can change what happens to us, we CAN change how we react to those events. If you don’t step forward, you’ll always stay in the same place. I am determined to not be sad, but to be happy.

Enjoyed 2 fabulous days with my son and relaxed. Although I knew the exact address of my ultimate destination, I had no idea what route I would take. Cold weather and rain are 2 important factors to motorcycle travel in October. I decided to head south.

I would ride Interstate 55 south and follow the Mississippi river. Following the river means very few hills and some scenic river vistas.  The route would go through Memphis, where Elvis lived and died. I would overnight in Batesville, Mississippi. I would NOT stay in the Bates Motel, due to poor online ratings.  🙂

Once again, I waited until the deer were off the clock and morning rush had subsided before I got on the road. It proved to be a great strategy, as traffic was light and moving fast. The bright, sunny day with light wind was a perfect day to be on two wheels.

One little issue with motorcycle travel is securing your luggage to the bike. I’ve been using bungee cords to hold it in place, but the stretch of the cords occasionally allowed the luggage to shift. This required frequent attention to be sure I still had my stuff.

I love solving problems and this one is great. I use nylon zip ties to fasten the baggage to the luggage rack. Easy to install, easy to remove and assists in theft prevention, since the ties have to be cut to remove the bag.

Next is the trip along the Natches Trace Trail

Part 4

I had to drive around Memphis on my way. Traffic was extremely congested and I was forced to “duck walk” my Harley due to heavy traffic. Truckers call this a parking lot, because traffic slows to a stop. I’m not saying it was all that bad, but when a motorcycle cop came by chalking everyone’s tires, I felt doomed. A duck walk means you literally walk your bike while still astride it. Traffic is too slow to let the clutch all the way out and actually ride the bike. But, it’s too fast to stop and put the bike in neutral and rest your clutch hand. So, you have to hold the clutch handle in for extended periods of time. I thought my hand was going to fall off.

I finally was able to get back up to speed and arrive in Batesville. The next morning, I loaded up and headed straight east on a little 2 lane highway that would take me to Tupelo, Mississippi, the birth place of Elvis. It was a warm, sunny morning and I knew I was in the Deep South when I stopped for gas and found Moon Pies for sale. Not just regular Moon Pies, but chocolate. A Moon Pies are a uniquely southern delicacy, consisting of 2 sugar cookies that make a sandwich out of a marshmallow center. But that’s not good enough, no, it has to be all dipped in chocolate. It is the ultimate junk food. Further evidence of being in the Deep South lies in the heated display counter of virtually anything remotely considered edible to have been fried and offered up to go. I’m pretty sure fried Twinkies had their origin in the south, but I have no evidence to support this.

I remember reading on the history of frying in the south. The legend goes that any baking or cooking heated the house to unlivable hot temperatures. Hence, frying things in hot oil was faster and could be done outside. There you have it.

But first, we must stop for lunch, seeking out yet another of Becky’s Best Biker Bars and Cafes. I rode up and down the main street and settled on a very cool looking Mexican Restaurant called D’Casa.

I ordered the Seafood Carnitas. I try to eat whole foods and don’t eat wheat. This eliminates a lot of Mexican dishes. Carnitas is often beef or chicken grilled in cast iron with onion and peppers. This seafood dish was amazing. It exceeded my expectations by a whole bunch and was accompanied by a second huge plate with beans and rice. I could have fed Seal Team 6 with all that.

The service was prompt, the atmosphere unique and the price very reasonable. Elvis picked up the tip and off I went. Next road was the Natchez Trace Parkway, which I would follow for about 200 miles from Tupelo to Nashville.

Reportedly used by humans and animals as a travel route for many hundreds of years, the Natchez Trace trail has been turned into a 400-mile long state park, covering 3 states. While there is no fee to use it, it’s a real park. Prohibited are commercial trucks and trailers. Only recreational trailers are allowed. There are no commercial signs, businesses or homes along the road. It’s 2 lane blacktop, speed limit 50 mph and it is patrolled.

This is a perfect place to ride an open road motorcycle.

Next up, finding I’m not the only Cougar on the road. 🙂

Part 5

The turn off for the Trace Parkway was well marked and I slipped easily onto the road. The first thing I noticed is that there are no intersections for crossing traffic. Bridges take traffic above or below the Parkway. I had just gone from the city to a park in an instant. The absence of trucks was noticeable right away, as was the very light traffic. Suddenly, it’s just me on my bike motoring peacefully along with nature. The speed limit was 50 mph and I’d been advised not to speed, as it was heavily patrolled.  Since I’d be riding 200 miles with no gas stations, I filled with fuel before entering the park.

There were reasonably well developed woods on both sides of the road and I was concerned about hitting a deer and equally fearful of being hit by a deer. I’d been advised by one of my biker friends to put loud music on my bike speakers to scare wildlife and reduce the odds of hitting same. The reasoning was that most music has human voices on it which will alert them to seek shelter while I was still some distance away. Normally, I like to ride with music on headphones inside my helmet. This is a great compromise that allows me to have my music, while still being able to hear traffic around me.

I wear a modular full face helmet. Modular means the front can lift up exposing my face so I can talk or drink water without removing the helmet.  I switched the music over to the rather substantial 4 speaker stereo system on my bike and cranked up “Born to be wild”. I rolled the throttle to 55 mph and set the cruise. Oh yeah, I was moving right along through nature. The air was fresh and clean with a very light breeze. The trees gently filtered the sunlight along my route. I was in my own little world for the moment.

The road had a lot of gentle curves that enhanced being in a natural setting. Some of the bridges overhead appeared to be old and quite picturesque. No vehicles had overtaken or passed me yet. After an hour of riding, I passed a rest area with indoor toilets. Although I did see a number of vehicles stopped there, I still hadn’t seen much traffic on the road. I didn’t need to stop so I motored on.

In the Basic Rider Skills class I’d taken, the instructor drilled into us that we must always be scanning everywhere as we rode. We must be looking for hazards, either on the road surface, traffic coming toward us, or things off the road that might jump in front of us. In addition, we must always be looking for escape routes in the event there was on obstacle in the road. He said over and over that there was no replacement for “seat time” in our development as riders. I’d had all sorts of adventures learning these skills and my training had paid off many times. Today, I’m really studying the foliage on either side of the road, looking for critters of all sorts, particularly deer and turkeys. Yes, a 20 pound turkey to the head can be a wake-up call or the opposite. 🙂

Finally, I saw a deer to my left in the woods. This reassured me that my vision was decent and I could see them. Later, I saw a few more and had to hit the brakes so some could cross the road in front of me. No big deal, I saw this coming a long way off. Next, I saw a flock of about 10 wild turkeys next to the road. They looked exactly like the black and red turkeys we drew in grade school, not the white ones we buy for holidays.

I continued to say the 4 words that I’ve said more than any other while riding a motorcycle, “This is so beautiful!”  I rounded a corner and realized I’d startled a very large dog just to the left of the road. As I approached, I noticed the body was too long for this to be a dog and it was too big. I looked at the head. OMG!  This was a cougar. I had come face to face with an actual, real, wild mountain lion in the wild!  You will have to excuse me for not stopping to take a selfie with her. I was traveling 55 mph and would continue to do so. She was apparently well fed and in no hurry to initiate an intimate relationship, so we parted ways.

Wow. I was slightly shaken at the thought but I was really having fun. Soon, I was wishing I’d stopped at that last rest stop. I didn’t see any more after that. I was almost ready to be a brave biker girl and head into the woods when I saw a sign for a welcome center. I pulled off and into a small town. I was able to get more gas and seek relief.  Now, I was good until Nashville.

I got back onto the Trace Parkway. There still wasn’t much traffic and there were signs of a few animals in the way of road kill. Then I spotted a huge feral hog that had been hit. Holy moly, that had to have made a mess of the car that hit him. So, after seeing the deer, small animals and now this hog, I understand why a cougar would have a fine habitat here, much as they probably all have had for thousands of years.

There were places where signs designated the original foot path of the trail. I love history and I always seem to be able to project myself in my mind back to being one of the people from ancient times. This had been one of the best days I’ve had on a motorcycle. I’d recommend riding the Natchez Trace Parkway to anyone. It’s a nice, slow easy ride and it’s very safe.

I got off the Parkway and made my way to my motel in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the night.

Part 6

I had a little trouble finding the motel, but I did find a gas station first, which was a plus. I’ll be free to launch without delay in the morning. I got checked in and searched for a place to eat. I found a nice restaurant, but it had some poor reviews. I knew this franchise and it generally had good food.

I gave it a try. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a group of women outside. They were having a fund raiser for a charity and a portion of each diner’s sales went to the charity. I visited with them and gave them an additional little donation to help them.

The restaurant was very nice, the waitress was great and the food delicious. I left a nice tip and headed back to the room. I made sure to give a great review on the place. I own a business and understand the importance of good and bad reviews. I did address the other reviews and said that I found no reason for any unfavorable rating.

I would ride to Knoxville on Interstate 40, then head south. The ride was nice, the sun was out and the winds light. It was an easy ride. I filled with fuel as I left the Interstate and only had 90 miles or so to go.

The ride from Murfreesboro to the Iron Horse Lodge looked like a milk run.  228 miles and 4 hours, taking me right through the Tail of the Dragon, which is nothing more than an 11-mile stretch of Highway 129. How hard could this be?

The weather was a little cool overnight, so I waited until 10am or so to load up. This would also allow the morning rush traffic to clear out. I’d fueled the bike the night before, so I motored away.

I would ride to Knoxville on Interstate 40, then head south. The ride was nice, the sun was out and the winds light. It was an easy ride. I filled with fuel as I left the Interstate and only had 90 miles or so to go.

Next morning, I ate breakfast, loaded the bike and took off. I was extremely excited, as this day would find me arriving at my destination, but, more importantly, I would challenge the Tail of the Dragon. Yes, the Dragon is the stuff of legends and has been rated as one of the most challenging motorcycle rides in the country. I was full of confidence.

I had to take several freeways to get around the city and soon was on the Interstate, flying along with traffic, listening to my tunes. I rode with no issues for several hours. Before long, I had to stop for gas. I pulled into a small town in Tennessee and found a little store that sold gas. I filled up and went inside to pick up some beer for the end of my trip.

I didn’t find any beer. This is unusual, so I asked the guy at the cash register. He smiled and said they didn’t carry it, but if I asked around a little, I’d have an easy time finding a little moonshine.  This totally cracked me up. I’m officially in the backwoods mountains of Tennessee and apparently, the moonshine business is all well and good, thank you.

I laughed and got back on my bike. In short order, I found my turn and was off the freeway. Now, I’m on a winding two lane road through wooded hills. Oh, boy, I leaned forward on the seat and got into this. The scenery was superb. I rode through dinky little towns, past streams, reservoirs and all sorts of lovely scenery.

The road started to get more curved and a little more challenging. In addition, there were more intersections and more things with which to be concerned. I rode past a little wooden Harley Dealership. I’m getting close, now.

As soon as I left the Interstate, the route became quite curvy and dense with trees. I enjoy riding curves, as it offers a challenge and also a reasonable adrenalin rush as the bike leans over. I enjoy looking down at my side pegs as they reach for the pavement in a tight curve. One of the great joys of riding an open road motorcycle is the ability to see nearly everything around you. I can see the pavement below me, right directly in front of me and all the flora right up next to the road around me.

Just 2 years ago, I started riding. I’ve ridden bicycles all my life and also rode motorcycles very early on. But those were little Honda 90s around town and through campgrounds. That’s nothing like straddling a huge Harley Davidson and trying to keep it between the ditches at highway speeds.

I had a terrible time learning to negotiate through curves in the early Harley days. Turning a little Honda at 20 mph involved turning the handlebars just like a bicycle. Easy. Negotiating a 900 pound Harley around a highway curve at 60 mph was much different. First, I had to learn to counter-steer. That’s the craziest thing you can ever imagine.

To negotiate a curve to the left, you push the left handle grip forward. Wait!  That turns the handlebars to the right. That should make the bike go to the right!  Stop!  This is crazy. Well, pushing that left handle grip forward instantly causes the bike to lean left and the bike curves to the left. Dang. Whoda thought?

Similar to backing a trailer, the rider has to learn to do things that seem to be quite unnatural, but are very effective. So, practice makes perfect. The next thing that happens is fear of running off the road in case this doesn’t work. Fear seems to paralyze a rider as this technique takes time to master.

I remember riding my first Harley home 50 miles from Omaha to Lincoln, tensing up and slowing down for every little curve in the road. I hadn’t learned how to counter steer yet and all I could think about was running off the road during the curve. Straight, I was good, curves, not so much. What was happening at that time was seeing the things I’d hit when I did go off the road. The ends of steel guard rails were particularly terrifying. I’d look at those and didn’t seem to be able to avert my gaze back to the road.

This is called “target fixation”.  I remember Driver’s Ed class. Our instructor told us to center the car on the road by looking down the road. He said to never use the leading edges of the fender for a reference point relative to the center stripe or edge of the road. Look down the road and center the car that way. He said that the car will go where you are looking. He also said that if we looked at something off the road as we were driving past it, that the car would start going that direction. Look to the right and the car would follow and go to the right. It works.

Back to steering the beast. This is a whole new experience in learning to look ahead, as the bike will surely go exactly where you are looking. This sounds easy, but exactly how far ahead do you look?  For some reason, this is far more difficult on 2 wheels than 4. It’s critically important to NOT look at that rusty, mangled, threatening piece of guard rail and look back at the road. How far down the road do I look?  That was never made very clear. I’ve figured out that about 2 seconds ahead seems to be about right.

I’ve read stories about the guy who realized his life’s dream of owning a shiny new Harley Davidson. He bought his first Harley and then, by some cruel twist of fate, he crashed on his way home from the dealership. He ran right off the road. I remember reading that “at least he died doing what he’d rather do than anything else”. That’s not true. He died screaming in horror as he crashed into an object upon which he couldn’t stop staring. That is what took his life. Target fixation.

I rode my first 6,000 miles and 9 months trying to learn how to take curves with confidence. I found myself tensing up as I approached a fairly tight curve on old highways at 60 mph. I rode with highly experienced riders on the Women’s Freedom Ride in June of 2017. I was coached on riding skills. I rode in formation for days on end.

I started on that ride as a timid rider. 3,500 miles later, I emerged from as a very confident rider. That experience reinforced what my instructor in the motorcycle skills class said. “There’s no replacement for seat time”. He was so right.

Now, 2 years and 40,000 miles later, I’m ready for this challenge. I’ve ridden some of the most challenging roads in the country. Bring it on, Dragon.

Part 7. Becky meets the Dragon

About 30 miles later, there is was. A large sign proclaiming “The Tail of the Dragon”, 318 turns in 11 miles.   Oh, my. I rode on. Around the next curve was another sign that got my attention:  Extreme Hazardous Conditions for Motorcycles Ahead! Warning! Serious risk of death or injury!

I rode on, in high alert mode. I could see skid marks that came across the center line, into my lane. This wasn’t just a challenging road, it looked like a race track, with evidence of wrecks and damage everywhere. I was right behind another biker and watched them take a 5 mph hairpin turn ahead of me. Suddenly, the still air was pierced by screaming tires behind me. The biker glanced briefly to their right in response to the noise and that was all it took. The bike veered slightly to the right and the tires left the pavement right above a steep embankment. There was about a foot drop off the pavement onto the dirt. The biker gave some throttle to try to get back on the road.

The front tire climbed the edge of the pavement and made it back, but the rear tire broke loose from the acceleration. The rear fish tailed briefly and, as the rear tire also got back on the road, the bike went down on its left side. As that happened, suddenly the rear got traction and this flipped the bike violently back down on its right side. Bam! The rider flipped off and rolled down the road.

I stopped, some guys behind me stopped and a few oncoming cars stopped. The rider was OK. We all lifted the bike back up and the rider got the bike straightened on the road and took off. There didn’t appear to be any serious damage.

Needless to say, this got me a little out of sorts. I’d just watched a bike leave the road, almost go down the side of a mountain and crash.  That biker seemed unaffected, as they rode off ahead of me and disappeared from sight.

All I could do after that was to see all the evidence of previous accidents. Skid marks straight off the road into a tree were followed by more skid marks over a cliff.  There were more sounds, more screaming tires and then bikes overtaking me. Serious bikers, road racers on fast race bikes. I moved over and let them go by. After a few miles, I settled back down and began to “ride my ride”.  I had conquered the Dragon.

Part 7

I enjoyed the rest of the ride and began to be concerned about finding my night’s lodging. I wanted no part of riding this road in the dark. There were all sorts of turns and different roads to find. The scenery was divine. This was the stuff of Davey Crockett. Dense woods, steep mountains and rugged terrain. Directions like North and South don’t mean much, as the roads have to go where the mountains allow them to go. This is the reason for a crazy road like the Tail of the Dragon.

It seemed like forever, but it really wasn’t. Soon, I found the turn for “The Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge”. This was the gathering place for the Women’s Freedom Ride Fall Getaway. I had to ride about 5 miles off the road to get there. The entrance was well designated and I entered with ease.

I checked in at the office. There were little cabins all over the place. The main lodge was great, everything you would expect a mountain lodge to be. They gave me a map to find my own cabin, far up the mountain. Great, just what I need. Riding up a steep rock road to try to find a cabin. I did find it and got my bike parked. My little cabin was a rustic mountain retreat. There was no Internet, but there was a small TV set. The heat had no thermostat, just a dial with numbers. I had a sliding door onto a nice long porch shared with other residents of the building. We looked down a long way to the lodge.

Very soon, I was greeted by Martha, one of my Wind Sisters from previous rides. She is an inspiration to me, as She’s over 80 years old and is a fearless rider. She’s not careless, but she rides a Honda trike with complete confidence. She reminded me that I was her “windshield fairy” on previous rides. I had noticed that many of my wind sisters had very dirty windshields. I was well equipped with “Bug Slide” cleaner and nice soft micro fiber towels. This would transform a filthy plastic windshield to one that was sparkling clean in an instant.

I had secretly cleaned her windshield for many days on previous rides. She said she couldn’t figure out who was doing this. She said she thought there was some magic fairy or something.  She wasn’t the only one. I wanted to do what I could to help, so every stop I made the rounds. I wanted us to be safe and it was well appreciated.

I got settled in and soon walked down the stairs to the main lodge. Yes, there were wooden stairs all the way down a very steep hill. There were several cabins on the way down. At the bottom of the hill was a lovely little mountain stream that flowed over river rock and gurgled around the main lodge. An inviting wooden bridge carried you over the stream and onto a long porch of the lodge.

If ever a person wanted a place to get away from it all and relax, this was it. The inside of the lodge was two stories high, with a huge fireplace.  Large windows looked out over the porch, to an outdoor fire pit and on to the stream. They had a kitchen that served 2 meals a day. When you made your reservations. you selected the meals you wanted. There were several choices for each meal. The servings were generous and the food was good.

I had made my goal and that was to arrive in time for dinner. There was no other food for miles, so this was a big deal for me.  I dined well and sat with a few friends. I had arrived a day early. I enjoyed a nice evening and climbed the stairs back up to my cabin. This was no small undertaking, as I’m no spring chicken and there were a lot of stairs. I had to stop on several occasions to rest. I’ve got to count these stairs. This is an ordeal. I ran out of gas near the top. Well too bad, there’s no escalator and no taxi. Suck it up, cupcake.  I finally made the top steps and was so very happy to be back in my little room.  I slept very well.

The next morning, I was right on time for breakfast. It was great. Eggs and bacon or sausage. Americana at its finest. Did I mention that there was no Internet?  Pretty much no phone signal from my cabin and next to nothing at the lodge. So, it’s a mountain lodge. You’re alone in the woods. You came to hang with friends. Get over it. Shut up about it. There’s no internet.  I’m relieved.

One by one, my beloved Wind Sisters appeared. It was a joyful reunion for us all. It was late October and the weather was cold. Soon, it began to rain. It was so nice to see them again. There seemed to be a nucleus of wind sisters on these rides and I had become one of them.

Mama Bear had taken me aside and asked me to be a Ride Captain for the next ride. I could imagine no greater honor or distinction than to be formally recognized as a Ride Captain for the Women’s Freedom Ride. Yes, those women.  We had become widely recognized as something out of the ordinary. People talked.

She had brought a whole bunch of things for a silent auction. This was a fund raiser for our veterans. We spent much of the day spreading things out and printing a sheet for each item. We had to list what each thing was and put a starting bid on each sheet. I became quite interested in a really nice motorcycle jacket. It even had body armor in it and was abrasion resistant fabric.

Also in attendance was a tee shirt vendor who would make custom riding shirts for each of us with the special logo for this event and our road name on the front.

The day was cold, rainy and overcast. There would be no motorcycle riding today. This was a two day event. Perhaps tomorrow, but the weather forecast said probably not. That was fine, we were together and having a great time. We started bidding on the many items and I mean many.

As the day waned, a large fire was built outside. We gathered around the fire and relished each other’s company. There’s something special about being around a roaring campfire next to a gurgling mountain stream in the company of close friends.

I was so possessive of this motorcycle jacket that I decided to wear it back to my cabin. Purely to evaluate it for warmth and to check the water resistance. Strictly research, of course.

Part 8

It would pass with flying colors. The next morning, Mama Bear was concerned about a missing coat. Oh oh. That was me. Fine, sigh of relief.

Breakfast was wonderful and I was able to sit with different wind sisters. It was so nice to be able to be with different people. There were no cliques in this group. In fact, we were all different ages, backgrounds, married, single, widowed, divorced, colors and any other way that a person might differ from another.  Nothing was ever made of any of those differences. We had a few things in common. We were passionate about riding motorcycles and working to benefit our veterans. I love this group. It is the most unusual and cohesive group of women I’ve ever known.

Today would be the auction. There were things on which no one had bid. So, I bid on those. But my focus was on that coat. I had bid on it, so had someone else. So, I put a bid on it, I mean a serious bid.

We got our shirts made and there was an announcement of a meeting, to be held in a private room upstairs.  It would be held in two parts, with Ride Captains only first. I was in awe.

We went into our Ride Captain meeting. Mama Bear explained the plan for next year’s ride and what part each of us would play.

Riding Motorcycles Ain’t All Sunshine and Roses

Part 1–

     Cruising on a bike isn’t necessarily rolling through the Sonic Drive-In on a warm Saturday night.  But it is nice to roll your bike out on a decent day, take a spin and return home that night.  That’s what the class of “Cruiser” bikes were best designed to do. They are great for fair weather riding close to home.

Touring , on the other hand, generally involves overnight travel, sometimes long distances and many nights.  This means riding in weather.  Rain, wind,  cold, whatever gets dished out, you have to learn to equip yourself and deal with it.

I started riding Cruisers and then switched to Touring after my initial training with the Women’s Freedom Ride. I learned to not fear weather. That doesn’t mean I like it, I just don’t fear it. It doesn’t prevent me from riding.

So, I’m in Deadwood, SD on vacation. The weather is heavy rain, with more forecast. I’m in the covered parking garage, getting ready to ride. A couple was loading luggage in their car nearby.

The guy turned to me and asked, “Are you one of those one-day riders?”  I didn’t know what that meant, so I asked what that was.

He replied, “You know, someone who brings their bike to the Sturgis Rally, rides it once, then puts it away”.   I laughed and told him that I was nothing of the sort. I’m an all-weather, year round rider.

He said that was good, but was I aware that it was raining outside?   I laughed even more and motioned to my coat and said, “This is called a rain suit. It’s what you wear in the rain”.  🙂

He told me the weather was going to get bad. By now, I’m becoming a little impatient, like some guy is telling this little girl she shouldn’t be doing this.

I finally, said, “Listen, I’m not posing as a biker. I’m a very serious real biker. I ride in the rain, I ride in the cold, I ride in the wind. I rode 3,000 miles from Lincoln, Nebraska to Las Vegas and back in the cold of November.  The temp when I left home was 24 degrees, with winds out of the north at 25 to 40 mph. I’ve ridden all day in driving rain at 80 mph, in formation with 30 other women bikers”.  (Women’s Freedom Ride 2017, thank you)

He realized he’d been put in his place. He was in a car. He shouldn’t be giving advice to a woman who was actually riding a motorcycle.

He became very supportive, expressed admiration and told me to ride safe.

Part 2–

So, let’s talk about riding in the rain. You first need good rain gear for touring travel. For cruising, tarp from Bob’s Closeouts might do, but this is serious stuff. 🙂

If you can find a bright color, that’s a real plus. I was told I could be easily seen from a quarter mile away in this jacket. It’s real Harley Davidson gear.  Some will bash Harley stuff for being expensive, which it is, but I’ve found it to be extremely well designed and built. It’s great value for the money. If you’re 500 miles from home and you get cold and wet, saving a few bucks doesn’t seem like such a great deal.

 Before buying any riding gear, take a photo like this, without the flash.  Then, take another photo WITH the flash.

The difference is striking. This is how you’ll look at night in the glare of headlights, or even street lights. I learned this trick in the Basic Riding Skills class. I always do this now. This should also be done with all children’s gear. If you’re a runner or bicyclist, listen up. I struggle to see people out at night, in the street, dressed in all black with no reflectors. Might be high fashion, but not very practical. I learned from my mother that function beats fashion every time the weather is bad.  She looked like a frog in her green rain suit, but she was as dry as the Mojave inside it.

So, you’re all cinched up. Be sure your windshield, face shield and goggles are nice and clean. That will allow the water to blow off so you can see.

Don’t ask me why, but the windshields on my soft tail Fat Boys would allow water beads to simply sit there at 60 mph, right in my line of sight. I would increase speed to 70. It’s like they were sticking out their tongue at me, while putting their thumbs in their ears and fanning their fingers. “You can’t touch me!  Na na na na na Nah!   Jeeze, even up to 80 mph, they kept it up.

So, I reached over the top of the windshield and wiped my glove across the water and it was finally gone. Great, now I do have a windshield wiper, it’s called my left hand. (Right hand has to work the throttle, but you know that. )

I started with a salad bowl helmet. It’s not really from the kitchen, but it’s just a top, with no sides or front. My first rain storm found my face feeling like hundreds of sharp darts were hitting it. It hurt. Then my glasses got so spotted I could hardly see. I was on a road with no shoulders and no place to pull over. The stiff side winds were buffeting me.  I rode 50 miles that way. The thing that ticked me off was that the rain stopped a few miles from home and when I arrived, the sun was out and the streets drying off.

My Goddess of biking was giving me valuable lessons from the start.

My next investment was a helmet with a face shield. Very helpful in a rain storm. Consider that for touring. I currently have a modular Harley helmet. I can lift up the front to drink water without removing the entire helmet. It has a great visor that can also be lifted up.  I can ride visor up or visor down.

So, water gets on the windshield of a cruiser. It blows right off a touring bike in most cases. But, my visor gets covered with water drops. So, I just stick my head out to one side and let the wind blow the water off the visor. Works like a charm and now I don’t need my left hand wiper any more. I still bring it along, just in case. 🙂

 

“You need to get rid of that thing” Avoid biker discouragement.

As women riding motorcycles, we are often subject to many discouraging statements from well meaning friends and family. Don’t let this soak in.  It wasn’t that long ago that I was told this very thing, because I was always tipping over my bike.

In 2 years, I’ve gone from a timid little rider to a confident rider. In fact, a woman who recently rode with me called me a “floorboard scraping, ride-it-like-you-mean-it-woman”.  Here’s the evolution of that transition.

Part 1–I’ve had a motorcycle endorsement on my license since they were first invented. However, riding a 90 cc Honda around campgrounds and occasionally on city streets is nothing like putting a 700 pound rumbling thunder Harley between your legs.

I wanted an open road bike, found a cheap used one at a Harley Dealership and made it back from the test drive.  I took that as a sign. I know, right?

Tipped it over the first day in my driveway. It took me 30 minutes of pulling, tugging, pleading and determination to get it back upright again. I learned rule #1 in “How to tip over a bike”. Turn the handlebars. As soon as I did that, I was down. Scared me to death.  So, I had to learn to be very careful in tight quarters and not treat this thing like I was back on my trusty Trek bicycle.

That 2004 Fat Boy broke down on me out in the country after dark when I was alone. It was just me and my favorite coyotes (in the distance, of course). I was never so scared in my life.  I didn’t tip it over, on the plus side.

When that bike did that to me, the love affair was over. Just like when your guy cheats on you, if they do it once, they’ll do it again.

So, I get one that’s a little newer and nicer, a 2009 Fat Boy. I truly loved this bike and promptly tipped it over the first day I got it. Apparently, a rite of passage.

I continued my tipping adventures, but by this time, I was in the advanced stages of both conditioning and technique for restoring a fallen bike to upright position. I must say that all my tipping experiences have been done when either stopped or nearly stopped. Once the bike is moving, I’ve been fortunate to stay up.

Rule #2. “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”. Don’t get discouraged when you tip a bike. It’s a normal part of learning how to bike. Don’t let others affect your determination. This is simply measuring how badly you want to ride, as well as learning your risk level.

When I took snow skiing lessons, the first thing we did was lay down on the snow. The instructor told us that falling was normal, so the first thing we needed to learn was how to get back up.

There’s an old proverb that applies here. “Fall down 7 times, get up 8”.  This is probably another reason to always wear protective gear.

Part 2-

Rule #3. “Learn how to use the friction zone”.  Yeah, yeah, yeah. Big deal, friction zone.  Think about how a bike leans over when making a tight turn. What keeps it from falling over then? Why does it not crash into the ground when leaning at a steep angle?

The answer is centrifugal force.  That’s the momentum of the bike trying to push it straight. That force is pushing up on the top of the bike and counteracts the weight of the bike trying to fall to the ground.

When turning very slowly, there’s very little momentum. Applying the throttle, using the torque of the engine, can also provide force to push the bike upright. The problem is that at slow speeds, the engine has very little power and tends to stall. Then, you fall down, go boom.

The “friction zone” is where the engine is revving higher than normal for the speed of the bike and you’re slipping the clutch.  Under ideal conditions, you can use the rear brake to change the speed of the bike, instead of the gas or the clutch.  Mastering this technique is easier said than done, but is THE key to tight, slow speed maneuvering.  Want to pass the rider course? Get this one figured out and you’re a pro on a bike.

So, I’m practicing this on a bike that’s new to me. I had the zone down pat on my previous bike, but this one had the sweet spot in a different place. But, hey, I’ve got this all figured out. I’m alone on a deserted parking lot. The perfect place to practice. I lean in hard, hit the friction zone, and it’s not where it’s supposed to be. Holy jeepers, my brand new bike is going down on my first day with it. I try to hold it up and finally just ride it into the pavement.

I find that I’m now pinned to the pavement by my bike. She’s explaining to me the need to bond and understand each other. She’s not having any of this, “I am the master, you are the bike” stuff just yet. Like a new horse, we have to learn to trust each other. She knew I had no solid understanding of just where her friction zone was. So, she would hold me down until I screamed “Aunt”. (That’s the girl version of Uncle).

 

I’m pinned tight to the ground by a 650 pound bike. It’s weight is resting on my left heel. Fortunately, I’m wearing Genuine Harley Davidson motorcycle riding boots. They have a huge solid hard rubber heel and are now preventing my foot from being crushed. Had I been wearing flip flops, I might have lost my foot. Tennis shoes wouldn’t have been much better. Regular fashion boots might have got me out with some surgery.

 

So, here I am and there’s no one to help. Had there been coyotes in the neighborhood, I could have been picked clean. I try to lift the bike. She won’t move a lick. I twist and squirm. Nothing. I try to slip out of the boot. Won’t give and won’t release my foot.

Rule #4. Always, and I do mean ALWAYS wear proper gear. Even when messing around at super slow speeds in a parking lot. Also wouldn’t hurt to have a Snickers in your pocket for when you find you’re going to be there for a while. More rules to follow.  🙂

 

Part 3-

So, I’m still pinned to the ground and all alone. A car drives by and I wave frantically. A cloud of dust. Another and another cloud of dust.

Finally, a woman sees me and stops. Wouldn’t you figure it would be another woman who’d save me?  She runs over and between the two of us we get the steel beast to relent and let go.  I’m free and thank her profusely.

Rule #5. If, or should I say when, your bike is going down, don’t think you can save it. Don’t put your arm out to break your fall and, above all, don’t ride it into the pavement. Jump clear. Save yourself. I repeat–jump clear.  You risk serious injury or worse.

I’m learning the friction zone on my new bike and have dropped it on the first day, per regulations. I’ve only been riding a few months at this point, but the learning curve continues.  I drop my new bike several times coming to a stop for cross traffic. The angle intersections seem to be quite troublesome, as I still have the handlebars not straight when I’m trying to assess traffic while stopping. I have to twist around to see what’s coming or not coming from one side or the other. My distraction is my undoing.

Furthermore, I also seem to have difficulties getting it into neutral while pulling up to gas pumps or out of driveways. This leads to Rule 6.

Rule #6. When coming to a stop, you need to first stop safely. It’s of no use to be in neutral if you’re falling over. It doesn’t matter if traffic is clear or not if you’re on the ground. So, just stop. Focus on keeping the bars straight and the bike upright and then stop, supporting the bike as you do. This technique has been extremely helpful to me. I have to master one thing at a time. First stop, then look. First stop, then shift. I don’t know why I had to make this all seem so difficult.

Mastering the first 6 rules made a huge difference. I became pretty good with the friction zone and began to ride more like a pro. I had about 6,000 miles on my bike(s) over the winter when I was able to take the first Basic Rider Safety course in the spring.

The instructor asked each of us our riding background. When I told him of my experience, he looked at me and said, “what on earth are you doing here?” I replied that I hoped to learn something. I never want to stop learning. He smiled.

I learned a lot. One important thing I learned was to never be in neutral at a stop. He taught us to stop way short of the car in front of us and to watch our mirrors while stopped. Being in gear makes it possible to take fast evasive action in case traffic behind doesn’t see us. Always be thinking of evasive action.  I’m feeling better about this biking thing by now.  I arrive at a stop with the clutch in and stop safely almost every time.

I prepare for my next big biking adventure, The Women’s Freedom Ride. I’ve only been on one overnight bike ride. This will take me across 10 states in 10 days and I’m freaking out over it.

 

Fun ride 4 hours for Waffle House breakfast

My dear biker friend, Marcy Boyle Galas asked me if I’d like to ride to a Waffle House with her and some friends for breakfast on Sunday. Marcy and I met through Open Road Girls. Love this site, thanks Malinda Johnson.

www.openroadgirls.com

Sure, I’ll ride about anywhere and what better destination for a person like me on a gluten free diet than a Waffle House?

We ended up assembling 7 bikers for the trip and it was a fabulous group, mostly postal workers. There was a young woman veteran on a hot rod Honda 600 racer, a mature lady on a Sportser and 3 guys who looked like serious bikers, plus Marcy and I. Interesting that we had 4 women riding motorcycles and 3 men.

I’d looked up the locations of the nearest Waffle Houses in advance. St. Jo, MO (140 miles away) and KCMO (170 miles) were the closest. You see, when you take a bike ride, making sense isn’t always part of the trip.

I always like to ride in the back, to maintain safe spacing. Well, after a little quizzing, it turned out that no one had any idea how to get to the Waffle House in St. Jo. This is typical, as the precise details of a bike ride are relatively unimportant. It’s only riding bikes that matter.

I said I could get us there, using the address and navigation. So, now I’m the leader of the pack. Oh, boy.

We took the super scenic route on remote roadways and traveled through a number of small towns. It was absolutely lovely and everyone really enjoyed it. Rural eastern Nebraska is quite unique, as there is no such thing as a patch of bare dirt. This fertile land always grows something, whether you want it or not.

The Sportser only carries enough fuel to go 100 miles before refueling. We stopped every 50 miles just to be sure. It was hot as blazes, so the stops were needed to get into some AC and drink water.

During our second stop, it became obvious that several of the riders had never ridden this far at one time. It also was revealed that some had never ridden in a group, either.

They said I did a great job of leading, as I generously used signals to point out hazards in the road, turns, slowing down and so forth. I give great credit to the Women’s Freedom Ride and our leader Mama Bear, for teaching me these riding skills.

The riders were great. Everyone maintained proper spacing and held their lines in the lane. A disciplined group ride has two lines of bikes on the outside of the lane and you should be able to see right down the middle easily. That was exactly how these bikers rode.

We arrived 4 hours later, having stretched a 140 mile trip into 165 miles of scenery. Sunburned, dry and tired, the Waffle House was a welcome sight.

We had a great meal and enjoyed the experience. I think everyone on the trip learned new skills and improved their riding abilities.

I hope to ride with them again. It was great fun.

Women’s Freedom Ride 2018

Women’s Freedom Ride, 2018, Part 1

I was only able to participate for a few days in this year’s Women’s Freedom Ride (WFR), but it was a wonderful experience. Last year’s ride transformed me from a timid beginner rider to an experienced, confident rider.

I was able to ride to Garden City, Kansas on Tuesday to meet up with the WFR coming in from Colorado. I was so excited to get started that I got up at 2am, took care of my kittens, packed my stuff and put my bike in gear at 5:30 am. It was a cool morning at 60 degrees, so I had to wear a heavy leather jacket and gloves.

I headed west on Interstate 80 and set my cruise control at 78 mph, so as not to meet Nebraska Trooper Friendly. I’d filled the tank the day before and can generally ride 150 miles before stopping for gas. The time went quickly, as it was a beautiful morning to travel. There were a LOT of deer carcasses on the road and I counted on the Goddess of Safe Biking to protect me and she did a great job. I never saw any live animals on the roadway and was able to safely dodge those on the road who weren’t. Hitting a possum in the road can put a bike down, it’s not the same as in a car.

I was only underway about an hour when I saw “Nebraska Mountains” on the horizon. We don’t have anything close to mountains, but we have serious threatening weather fronts with dark clouds that certainly look like mountains. As this front approached like the giant alien space craft from a sci-fi movie, I could see that the impending darkness went all the way to the ground. Oh, boy, a serious frog strangler rain storm approaches. After all my past experiences, rain doesn’t intimidate me. Hail does, but not rain.

The best way to deal with rain is to make it go away and remain dry. That’s done by stopping at a rest stop and putting on your rain suit. You never stop on the side of the road, that’s a good way to get killed and you never wait until it’s raining to do so, either. It takes a good 5 minutes, possibly 10, to put on all your rain gear. By then, you’d be soaked to the skin and the rain suit would keep you wet. I have pants, jacket (brilliant florescent pink for visibility), boots and waterproof gloves. So, I lay on the ground and wrestle the pants up over my huge motorcycle boots and get ready to rumble, as Michael Buffer would say. I look up at the clouds and say, “You want a piece of me?”. Bring it on, Barbie.

It worked like a charm. The huge front enveloped me like the blob. There was no rain, just darkness. I rode on. It circled around me, trying to intimidate me, but never actually produced any water. As I rode, it seemed to lose it’s interest in me and finally just left me alone.

I stopped for gas, used the rest room, drank a bottle of water and changed to lighter clothing. Once again, I wrestled around on the ground to remove the rain suit, then rolled it up and put it back in the saddle bag.

The clouds blew away and the sun kissed my bike, which was still sparkling clean. Good thing, as I always tell people it won’t start if it’s dirty. She loves to run, so now we leave the Interstate and take off to the south on 2-lane asphalt. I’d put the address of that night’s motel into my bike’s navigation system and she did a great job of guiding my travels.

I was moving into Western Kansas, wheat country. It’s amazing how flat these high plains are. Through the “miracle” of genetic engineering, wheat today is nothing like our parent and grand parents grew. The song describes “amber waves of grain” and I remember seeing those waves in the wind just like waves moving on the ocean. Not any more. Genetics changed the wheat to increase the yield by adding more grains to the stalk. The problem was that the stalk couldn’t hold the added weight and it fell over easily, ruining the crop. No problem, we’ll just shorten the stalk. Boy, did they ever.

The wheat was so short that I had trouble telling if it was really wheat or just brown grass. This is harvest time for wheat. The stalks were only about a foot tall. I wondered if they needed to build new combines to harvest this short stuff. Even in the fairly windy conditions, there were no waves, just solid, unmoving brown crops. We may have to change the song. At least we still have purple mountain majesties.

Next in Part 2. Finding gas can be a real challenge in the vast prairie of Western Kansas.

Part 2, The search for gas

In my hasty exuberance, I had just charged off from my first gas stop without so much as cleaning my windshield. I know all the experts say that a bike windshield should be just below your line of sight. The wind traveling over the top of it should just carry right on past the top of your head. Really? I want a windshield that I actually look through. I want some lexan between me and the occasional flying rock that doesn’t understand the laws of aerodynamics.

My bike came with just such a short windshield. I could look right over it with ease. So, I take off on the highway on my maiden voyage on my new bike. At speeds of 65 and higher, which is most of my riding these days, my head got buffeted by the wind. Not just rocked back and forth a little, mind you, but really buffeted. I could easily imagine 2 large WWE wrestlers, one on either side of me, playing handball back and forth with my helmet. This isn’t going to last long if I’m going to ride all day for days on end.

Fortunately, the crew at Frontier Harley Davidson, where I buy all my bikes and gear, was more than accommodating. They had all sorts of different windshields for me to try. So, they took the short one off and installed one a few inches taller that enabled me to see through it. I took off and it was like magic. No more buffeting and the bike seemed much faster and more agile without those two enormous blobs of steroids beside me. I bought the windshield and today I have several little rock pits in it to prove that my logic is sound. Also to show that some bugs don’t get aerodynamics either, I get bug splatters on the upper parts of my helmet, too. I always wear a helmet. Bugs hurt like crazy at highway speeds.

But, I digress. Here I am, flying low across the amber waves, no wait, the brown fields of grain. I plan to stop for gas every 150 miles or about 2 hours or so. Planning is a wonderful thing, but Western Kansas doesn’t know much about my plans. I haven’t seen a gas station for a long time. Fortunately, my bike has a feature where I can check to see how many miles of fuel I have left. Over 80 miles right now.

I ride on. I go through a number of tiny towns. I still don’t see any place to buy gas. I’m alone, not that it matters. I also have a very magical computer on my bike that lets me check for different things for navigation. I punch up “gas stations”. A number of selections are available, but none are in my line of travel. They’re all 9 miles left, or behind me (?) or somewhere way off track.

I ride past the turn off for Colby, Kansas, made famous by a John Denver song. Its 10 miles away. That’s a 20 mile detour for me. My map says the intersection with Interstate 70 is coming up and that there’s a gas station there. My low fuel light comes on. This is not funny, Vern. My navigation system shows a message that “Sensors indicate you’re low on gas. Should we find a gas station for you?”  Yes, thanks Einstein, that would be great. It reassures me there’s one ahead.

Like an oasis in the Sahara that’s not a mirage, here is the gas station. I exhale a sigh of relief and pull in. They even have premium 91 octane. Hooray. I fill up, drink a bottle of water and hit the road again. Well, slap my helmet, I still forgot to clean the windshield. I find a place to pull over and clean it off sparkling clean. I use a product called “Bugslide” that I get at the Harley dealer. This stuff is amazing. It completely dissolves any bugs and wipes clean the first time with a microfiber towel. Flip the towel over and a quick dry wipe and the windshield is spotless with no streaks. Better yet, there’s no scratches on the plastic.

So, I’ve knocked out about 325 miles of my trip and have 100 to go to get to Garden City, Kansas. Its only 10:30 in the morning and I’m making time. The miles seem to melt away and before you know it, I’m in town heading for my motel. I arrive shortly after noon, check in and unload the bike. There’s an Applebee’s nearby and they have become my favorite stop to eat when there are no biker bars in sight. I seem to be addicted to their cedar plank grilled salmon and steamed broccoli. This is great quality food that I love.

I go back to my room and it’s barely after 1pm. I’ve ridden 433 miles. Say, I’ll bet I can ride west and meet the women of the Freedom Ride.

Part 3– 105 miles west into Colorado

It’s hard for me to accept that I’ve ridden 433 miles today and still feel so good. I fill with gas and hit the road, headed west. This is the high plains of Kansas, where water is at a real premium and patches of bare dirt are common. Traffic is reasonably light and the roads are good. I set the cruise control to about 3 mph above the posted limit and relax.  The women are scheduled for a stop in Lamar, Colorado at 2:30. I think I can make that and meet them there.

Riding a motorcycle all day long is far different than riding around a few hours, then going home or making frequent stops, like a poker run. A good road bike has lots of room for luggage. I know it’s best to travel light, but temperatures and weather require several changes of clothes and the cold weather stuff is heavy and bulky. The last thing you want is to have to wear a light jacket when it’s in the low 40’s or wear a heavy jacket in the 90’s. Need room to pack all that stuff. Last year, I rode a Harley Fat Boy and strapped my luggage to the bike. I was concerned that all my stuff would still be there after I was away for lunch or a break.

A Fat Boy is the class of bike considered a “cruiser”.  I never really understood that term until recently. I think it means that the bike is designed to cruise around during the day, then go home at night. Hence, a plain bike with very little storage is quite adequate for the purpose. Frankly, it’s a real pain to have to strap all that stuff to the bike every morning and unstrap it every night.

I traded the Fat Boy in for a true “touring” class of bike, an Ultra Limited. It’s longer for a smoother ride and added cargo space, has plenty of room for a suitcase and rides like a barcalounger. Fairings shield my upper body and hands from wind, rain and weather, as well as separate ones for legs and feet. It’s very important to have the means to place your feet in several different positions, as fatigue sets in readily when you’re frozen in the same position.

I cross into Colorado and enter the Mountain Time Zone, so I’ve just gained an hour. I feel like I’m right on track, if our group is on track. I get a message that they’ve been slightly delayed due to heavy smoke from forest fires. I love the magic of communication with smart phones. We can text each other, email, call or post to our private Facebook page for the Riders Only. No need to carry a dime for a pay phone. J

So, I’m flying down the road, changing positions and still enjoying my ride. There aren’t many bugs up here, but the front of my bike is covered with little tiny bug bodies from the wheat and cattle country. Oh, I think I see the group now, their headlights in a string on the highway give them away. No, it’s just a half dozen bikes riding in a group. I give them the “two fingers down” greeting and they return the gesture.

If you’ve even seen bikers do this, it’s a symbol of unity and brother (or sister) hood. It means, “keep the two wheels down on the road”. It also represents the freedom of riding on 2 wheels in the open air. Bikers refer to cars as “cages”, as the occupants are fully enclosed in a metal cage.

Although I’m now seeing my sisters around every curve, I have to be concerned that I might miss them if there’s a town with more than one way to go through it. So far, so good. Every little town through which I traverse is small enough that there’s only one road.

I reach the town of Lamar and there’s road construction and detours. Several ways to get through town. Great. I take one route, then decide it’s not the right one, so I whip a U-turn and retrace my steps for another. Finally, I see the truck stop/gas station, but there are two of them across from each other. No sign of the girls.

I fill my bike. I’ve traveled 103 miles west from Garden City. I wait a few minutes and, right on cue, I see my Wind Sisters arrive in formation across the street. I get on my bike and ride over and no one recognizes me, because I wear a full face helmet.

It’s a joyful reunion, one rider at a time. I’m so happy and so are they. I drink another bottle of water and we spend a few minutes hugging and talking. Time to take off.

I have no idea where to fit into the group, so I pick a spot in the lineup to leave. The others have been riding together for many days now and have probably chosen partners with whom to ride. This is critical, as riding in a staggered formation requires understanding how each other rides, who does what and when.

We take off down the street and promptly miss our turn on the detour. I know exactly where we should go, but I’m in line and it’s my job to follow wherever we are led without question. From here on, it’s just “shut up and ride”.   We find the right route, as I knew we would.

We get out of town and the hand gestures (palm up, arm outstretched, gesturing up and down) indicate “raise your speed”. I love hearing the “song of our people”, as I call the loud deep roar of the exhaust on large, open road bikes. We open it up and start cruising. I’m just in heaven and finally on the Women’s Freedom Ride.

Part 4—Our encounter with the Police

I didn’t know where to line up when we left, so I just slipped into an open space. These women have been riding together for many days and they’ve learned how each other rides and reacts. They’ve chosen riding partners with whom they are comfortable. They’ve become expert group riders. I don’t fit. Even though I rode with the group last year, this is this year. I have to start over.

I have no idea if the leaders in the front have cruise control or not. I’m near the back. Our directions are to maintain a 2 second interval between ourselves and the bike in front of us. We are to ride in a staggered formation, which means we have a bike opposite us that’s a one second interval. This requires a lot of attention and discipline. Over the miles, it’s normal to either get a little lax or a little more aggressive with position. This means that the 2 second gap varies in distance. It might be 2.5 seconds or even stretch out to 3 seconds.

In a perfect world, we’d all set our cruise controls on the same speed and travel merrily down the road in exact precision formation. Ha!  This isn’t a perfect world and I doubt all the cruise controls would be the same, anyway. So, what really happens in our world is that the speed differences of all the bikes cause all the other bikes to have to speed up or slow down slightly, perhaps even a whole bunch at times. This is called “the slinky effect”, as the group becomes longer and shorter as it slinks down the highway. My actual speed varied from 52 mph to 72mph and the speed limit was 65.

When I first started riding 2 years ago, I learned that my right hand had a tendency to stiffen and get weak due to constantly holding the throttle. I had to trade that bike on one that had cruise control to solve the problem. Now, the problem is that it’s virtually impossible to use the cruise riding in these formations. Thank you, Mr Slinky.

But, I digress. I’m having fun and holding my own. As we get nearer to Garden City, I start looking for our “police escort” that’s supposed to meet us and guide us into town like some super important visiting dignitaries. There seems to be a fair amount of bike traffic and we see several big bikes pass us. Not the police, false alarm.

We finally pull into a truck stop and overwhelm the place, as we often do. There are the police. 3 extremely large, good looking motorcycle cops. Wow. This is so cool. We are introduced and want our picture taken with these guys. We gather around for a group photo. Next, the 3 officers gather for an extensive meeting to plan their strategy. I’m wondering how hard it can be to simply ride with a group of biker chicks?  I’m about to find out.

Everybody gets the signal to sing the song of our people and the roar builds as one after another bike fires up. As each biker is ready, an arm with a thumbs up is shown as a signal to the leaders. The cops fire up and turn on the flashing lights. This was one time we were all happy to see those.  The cops start the procession out onto the road. It was awe inspiring to see the string of motorcycles behind those flashing lights. We are led back up onto the highway and ride in regal fashion.

Soon, one of the police bikes pulls off to block an intersection for us to pass. Then another bike pulls off to block off an entrance ramp to prevent oncoming traffic from trying to get into the act with us. Suddenly, a police bike, lights flashing and engine roaring, flies past us like we’re painted on the fence. We’re going 60, he must have been doing 120. Wow!  The unexpectedness of it all shocks us for a moment. Then, a second bike roars by as fast as the first. In rotation, they again drop off and block for us. I’ve never experienced anything like this is my life.

The motorcycle cops are having the time of their lives. These guys are mounted on machines that are pretty much all engine, with lights and radios. Those bikes are capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 in under 4 seconds. If you never had the thrill of twisting the throttle of a big bike and trying to just hang on, it’s a trip like none other.  The men are clearly enjoying this activity, which allows them to crank it over and over, without the danger involved in a traffic stop.

Finally, we arrive at the motel. There’s a large parking area right up front all taped off to reserve it for us. We parade around the lot and park in nice straight rows, like we’ve practiced so many times before. It’s an impressive act of precision. We are greeted personally by a long string of people welcoming us to their city. Inside, we’re each given a ticket for a free Italian buffet dinner. We walk into the grand ballroom, right past a bar, and seat ourselves at a few tables. We are exhausted and glad to be anywhere that’s out of the extreme heat.

This whole experience had been planned down to the smallest detail by one of our members who lived here. She really outdid herself. There was a silent raffle that was well stocked with some very nice things. Soon, we got to go through the buffet, which featured spaghetti, meatballs and garlic bread. It was divine and a welcome break from hot dogs and burgers.

The ballroom was full and even the mayor was in attendance. There were speeches, musical entertainment and recognition for us and our mission. It was quite the evening.

We were all beat and eager to get into bed. Morning would come soon enough. It would be KSU (that’s Kickstands Up) at 7am, safety meeting at 6:30. Most of us would be up between 4 and 5am to get ourselves ready, room packed, bikes loaded and packed, full of fuel and breakfast eaten in order to be ready on time. I must stress the “on time” part. Great grief and woe would be bestowed upon anyone who was late. We all respected that. After all, all the veterans whom we rode to support, had it far worse that we would. We never forgot that and there was very little complaining, in spite of the weather and fatigue.

Part 5, riding scenic Western Kansas.

Morning came earlier than expected for most of us. There didn’t seem to be enough punch to the coffee. We loaded our bikes, helped each other and did what we could to get stirring and ready for another day on the road.

I decided that my place in the formation was the place where I left off last year—the back of the pack. That would enable me to use my cruise control and not endanger the other riders. As I told the Ride Captains, that’s the place I’ll be least likely to cause injury.

We headed off into the sunrise with fair weather. It was a bit cool, so I started with a heavy leather jacket. Warm weather and chances of heavy rain were expected later in the day. We were literally racing rain today. This year’s ride seemed to have a lot of rain. It was a common question of prospective riders. “Do you ride in the rain?”   Hahahaha. We have a schedule to keep. Yes, we ride in the rain.

Last year’s Freedom Ride made a confident, experienced rider out of me by taking me far out of my comfort zone as a motorcyclist. The Ride bonds you with other women and provides you with coaching and riding experience that you just won’t get riding on your own.

After last year’s ride, I rode my bike to the Black Hills Motorcycle rally in Sturgis. This area is known for little popcorn showers that just appear randomly during the day. As I was riding around when these showers would pop up, I watched lots of riders freak out, pull over, try to don rain gear or seek shelter under overpasses. I laughed as I sped by, realizing it was only water and would dry quickly. I had so much experience with rain, it was just another day in the saddle to me.

The Freedom Riders made good time through Kansas and travel was mostly uneventful. We did have some riders who had to pull over due to heat or other situations. Our instructions were to keep riding if one of us encountered difficulty or had to pull over. A Ride Captain would stop with them and our beloved Jeffery, who drove our support truck with a trailer, would take care of things for that rider. That man was a saint and he seemed to survive estrogen poisoning surprisingly well, being the only man with a flock of women for 18 straight days.

That truck and trailer carried lots of chilled bottled water for us all. The preparation and planning for this ride was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The trailer was capable of loading up a broken bike and dropping it off at the nearest dealer for repairs if necessary. Last year, we had quite a few breakdowns. This year seemed to be better in that regard.  This trip pushed riders and machines to their physical limits.

Soon after an exhausted rider would pull off, they’d come roaring back, followed by the Ride Captain and quickly return to their place in the line.  This was always a great event, as it meant that all of our sisters were together and in good health.

We did our morning stop for gas, water and restrooms. I changed out of my heavy leathers into my light jacket for hot weather and it was none too soon. It was hot and humid. I drank a bottle of water. One of the women cranked up her bike stereo and we all danced together. This was a great time and attracted a fair amount of attention. It was common for people to ask about us and, when we explained our mission, people opened their hearts and wallets to us. We got a lot of donations at our stops.

I pulled out my microfiber towels and spray bottle of Bugslide and started cleaning windshields. Many of the women were extremely grateful for my efforts. It seems a number of them seldom cleaned their windshields. One of the women told a story of last year’s ride where she kept finding her windshield clean every morning, but had no idea who was doing it. She hugged me and said she found out that I was the perpetrator.  I always asked first and there were a few who didn’t want anyone touching their bikes and I understood and respected that. I learned who wanted it and who didn’t. This year, pretty much everyone did.  I’d packed quite a few towels, so I could always use clean ones.

Back on the bikes. The rest stops were very helpful and we needed to drink a lot of water. 70 mph winds constantly blowing over your body really suck the moisture out of you.  Riding was fairly easy now and we made good time. Lunch was planned at a truck stop near Salina, Kansas. We could eat and fill the bikes in one stop.

This night would find us in my home town of Lincoln, Nebraska. I was in charge of planning this part of the trip, as well as the lunch stop for tomorrow. One of my biggest complaints last year was the long wait to get checked into the hotel. Often, it was 30 minutes or more and one place made us wait over an hour. Nothing worse than being hot, sweaty, tired and impatient to get the bike unloaded and relax.

I’d made arrangements for us to stay at the Airport Fairfield Marriott. I had the women pay me for the rooms in advance, then I paid the hotel all at once. On my arrival, I would get all the room keys in one group. The riders simply walked in the door, got their keys from me and they were checked in with NO WAITING.

But, I digress. We arrived at the truck stop to find their restaurant had closed. Our lunch might well be chips and soft drinks. Ick. In addition, there was a substantial storm to our north, directly in our line of travel. I needed to leave early, in order to be at the hotel ahead of the group. One other rider asked me if she could ride with me, as she wanted to arrive early, as well. I wanted to ask the Ride Captains if that was OK. You never wanted to do anything out of the norm without notifying the Ride Captains. They provided the organization and discipline for the group. They bore the responsibility very well and we all felt safe as a result. They said it was fine for the two of us to travel ahead.

I’d been over this route 100 times. This was my home turf and we only needed to stop once for fuel on the way. We had plenty of gas to get to the next fuel stop, so we took off.

We rode fast, as there were only two of us.

    Part 6, the Wicked Witch of the West threatens us with hail and tornadoes.

 

Biker adventure in OK City 2018

ADAS is “Advanced Driver Assistance Systems”, the new technology to keep drivers safe. This is the collision avoidance system, lane departure warning and so on. You get it. It pays attention so you don’t have to.

It doesn’t have a nose. (?)   Yes, a nose. This is a serious safety system when riding a motorcycle.

 

I’m in the center lane of 3 lanes of dense traffic moving through Oklahoma City. Traffic is heavy and I’m on my motorcycle, feeling a little vulnerable. I smelled something hot. It’s a hot day and we’re in the city, so what?

 

It’s a stronger smell now, burning rubber. I shook the handlebars of my bike. I’ve had a flat tire at 75 mph before, so I knew how a bike reacts when that happens. My bike is apparently fine so far.

 

I’ve also witnessed a number of high speed blowouts, which scatter hazardous rubber and steel chunks like a grenade. Each chunk of rubber can be fist sized or larger and have razor sharp wires protruding in all directions. These will puncture a tire with ease and I don’t care to know what they’d do to skin.

 

It’s a hot day and I’ve seen evidence of blowouts dozens of times just in today’s travel. One of the drills learned in the Motorcycle Safety Course is steering around debris in the road. I’ve been doing a lot of that to avoid these little roadway land mines.

 

The burning rubber smell is pronounced now and my senses are at their peak. I know someone is about to blow a tire, I just don’t know who or where. I scan rapidly back and forth. I see smoke from the right rear of a Mercedes, in the left lane about 2 car lengths ahead of me.

 

I ease up on the throttle, to put a little distance between me and the Mercedes. The car doesn’t slow down and shows no reaction. A part of me wants to get beside them and signal them. Another part of me says they won’t understand or, worse yet, will think I mean to harm them. So I wait.  I can’t get too far back, traffic is dense and I don’t want to introduce other vehicles in front of me who might get tangled up and involve me. I also don’t want to get rear ended by a texting driver behind me.

 

Smoke is now pouring off the right rear, just like a NASCAR racer heading for the pits to change a tire. Amazingly, still no reaction. They’ve got to smell it. Does no one ever check their mirrors?  I see the rubber part of the wheel wobbling now. It won’t be long. Little rubber bits are now flaking off. I move over to the far right lane, the smoking car stays where it is in the far left lane. It hasn’t slowed down or anything. Geeze.

 

Now, the rubber is flailing and finally, the tire lets go. The entire tread, completely round and intact, slips off the wheel and heads directly to the right, straight for a semi tanker truck. Rolling like a hula hoop, it rolls right into the truck. I figure the truck will take it out. I was wrong. The tire slipped unharmed right under the truck, directly into my line of travel. It quickly crossed the right lane, bounced off the outside barrier and headed straight for me.

 

I’ve learned to stay cool under fire and my brain immediately went into all sorts of mathematical calculations regarding speed and direction to help me decide what to do. I hit the brakes and steered to the right edge of the road, right where the tire was. It was heading left, I was heading right. It had just exited my lane as we passed. Holy jeepers. I exhaled a sigh of relief.

 

This is another very important skill to learn, called “target fixation”. Most drivers will fix their gaze on the sudden obstacle in the road. The bike will go where you look, so if you look at an obstacle, you’ll run right into it. It’s important to look where you want to go. I wanted to go to the right side of the moving tire, so I fixated on the area behind the moving tire.

 

My sense of smell told me this was coming. That enabled me to see the whole thing unfold like it was in slow motion. Had I not been paying attention, I’d have impacted the tire. There is no current technology that would have advised me this was coming like my nose. A substantial amount of rider training gave me the rider skills to deal with the situation. Nose, training, experience, practice. Riding a motorcycle has made me a much better driver.

 

The Mercedes continued on like nothing had happened, riding on the metal wheel, like some chase scene out of COPS. I hit the gas and rode on.