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”. J 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.