The Women’s Freedom Rally is coming up in Topeka in June. This will set the World Record for the most women on motorcycles in one place.
Here’s the story of my past experience.
The Women’s Freedom Rally is coming up in Topeka in June. This will set the World Record for the most women on motorcycles in one place.
Here’s the story of my past experience.
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.
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.
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
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
I’m working on longer rides and Wichita, Kansas is about 550 miles round trip from my home in Lincoln, Nebraska. The road is good and it’s a nice ride.
A friend said I should try the One-Eyed Cricket Saloon. It’s a great little dive bar with good food. So, it has been decreed as the goal for this ride. We looked it up online and had trouble getting it to come up. Finally, we found its address and checked the Google street view, which shows its front door.
I put the address into my bike’s navigation system and it registered. Enjoying a nice 550 mile bike ride in a single day involves some planning and having a distinct destination isn’t necessarily one of the prime objectives. I mean, I often change directions on a whim, however, it’s no fun to get lost and have great difficulty actually locating the place you want.
I’ve already checked the weather and, while Lincoln was supposed to be cold, Wichita’s forecast was 90 degrees and sunny. I planned to leave at 6 am the next morning.
I awoke to the sounds of thunder. How far off, I sat and wondered. No need, as I could hear pouring rain right outside my window. Terrific. While I CAN ride in the rain, I wanted to enter my bike in the Women’s Bike Show at Frontier Harley Davidson the next day. My Harley has more nooks and crannies to clean after being ridden in the rain than a fine china shop has after a heavy dust storm. I can clean and detail a 35 foot bus in less time than it takes to wash my bike.
I waited until the pavement was dry, which was around 8:30am. It was 53 degrees, windy and cold. The lure of sunny skies spurred me to action. I jumped on and hit it. As I was heading out of town, I could see a very nasty black cloud directly in my path that extended to the ground. Fine, I’ll just head south and drive around it. After another mile, it seemed that the cloud had moved south and another had popped up back to the west in its place.
There’s only one way I know to prevent rain. Stop and spend 5 minutes putting on a rain suit. I’ve seen bikers riding in the rain before and they always looked cold and wet to me. After doing this, I found that with the right gear, I can ride all day at 80 mph in the rain and arrive as dry as a cheap piece of truck stop toast.
Step one is to sit on the ground and put on rain boots. They extend nearly up to your knees. Then, you slip on the rain pants over your existing clothes and draw the elastic waist band well above your natural waist. The bottom of the pants has 4 velcro fasteners to make the legs nice and snug to reduce flapping in the wind. Finally, the outer top rain jacket goes on. It has Velcro at the end of the sleeves for a snug fit. More Velcro secures the full length flap covering the zipper and it seals tight around the neck. Waterproof gauntlet cloves slip over the ends of the sleeves.
While I said 5 minutes, it’s more like 10 minutes. This particular outfit is a brilliant fluorescent pink that makes me highly visible a quarter mile away. The only problem is, now I have to pee.
I set off once again to conquer the storm, weather the elements and show mother nature that I’m not easily deterred. It was cold at 53 degrees with high humidity. A rain suit does a lot to keep you warm and I’m moving right along I-80 at 78 mph. The clouds seemed to dissipate a little. I never got a drop of rain and soon it was time to turn south on Highway 81. That goes right through Wichita and if you keep going, it will take you 1200 miles straight south to McAllen, Texas and across the border to Mexico.
The black clouds seemed to come and go, as if to tease me into dropping the suit. I’m not falling for that old gag and the bike and I were still untouched by water. The weather gradually warmed up and the stiff north wind started to die down. Halfway to Wichita is Concordia, Kansas, 147 miles from my start. I stopped for my only gas stop on the trip down. I like to get gas from 140 to 180 miles and not waste time or run out of fuel.
When I pulled into the gas station, the sun was out, sky was blue and the temperature was 73 degrees. Wooooohooo. I took off my rain gear and packed it away. I took off my heavy black leather jacket and my also heavy inner liner jacket. Those and my very heavy gloves went into the rear touring pack (trunk) of the bike and out comes my lightweight, highly vented leather jacket for mild and hot weather. I filled up, used the facilities and drank a bottle of water. Water is a necessity at every fuel stop and those are about 2 hours apart. It’s important to take a break then, as well. 10 minutes is all I need, but I have to remember that 550 miles in one day is not a sprint, it’s closer to a long distance run, so pacing is important.
I get back on the road and can now just enjoy the ride. It’s lovely to see the little cowlets and horselets close to their moms. Spring is a great time to ride. Everything was very green and all the ponds were full. Life is good.
In seemingly no time at all, I’m getting low on gas again and pulling into Wichita. I follow my route and stop to get gas, so that’s out of the way. As I get off the freeway and start into the residential territory of the One-Eyed Cricket, I’m noticing a little graffiti, then fences around businesses and parking lots. Soon, bars guard the windows and doors. Oh, my. I’m a little concerned about my element. Sigh of relief, I’ve arrived at the address. However, the One-Eyed Cricket has passed on to oblivion and no longer exists. It now has a different name and even THAT isn’t open right now. I was relieved. I dodged the broken glass in the parking lot and hit the gas.
I got quickly got back on the freeway and headed for home. I began my search for lunch, as it’s now 3 pm and I haven’t eaten yet. I was saving myself for the Cricket. I rode about an hour and saw a sign for a sports bar. As I was exiting, there was another sign for a different brew pub. Oh, boy.
The first place had 2 cars in the parking lot, so I continued on past. The next place didn’t have many more. My Dad was a travel expert and sage seeker of quality diners and dives. He had several rules for food. The first one is to never stop at any diner that doesn’t have cars in the parking lot. He said if the place is empty, the food is usually the reason. Although 4 in the afternoon isn’t exactly prime dining time, it was Friday afternoon and these were sports bars.
I found one of my reliables, Applebee’s. I ordered my favorite, cedar-planked grilled salmon. From a nutrition standpoint, salmon is at the top, as evidenced by the size of the bears that catch them in the river.
It was 91 degrees and sunny, with a stiff tail wind out of the south. Flat level ground and a tail wind meant I could use 6th gear on the Harley. At 78 mph, the engine seems to be barely into operating range and the low rumble indicates it’s not working hard at all.
The route home was just the flip side of the trip down. I had to stop and put on my heavy clothes. The forecast said no rain, but there soon was heavy overcast and the sun went on break. The cold north wind checked back into weather’s tag team match against me. I’m not getting into the rainsuit again. I kept thinking I felt a drop of rain, but I never had any visual verification.
I arrived home with a clean bike and a full stomach. Final miles: 573 for the day. I felt good. This was the most I’ve ever ridden in one day on a motorcycle. I gain more confidence as a biker chick.
This was an exercise in preparedness as a biker. I started with cold weather, switched to rain gear and wet, cold weather. As the temperature went up, I switched to mild weather, then to serious hot weather. Each of these changes requires different clothing and equipment. The very reason I ended up riding a touring bike is to enable me to carry the gear I needed for each of these situations. I had 4 different jackets, 2 pair of pants, 2 options for boots and 3 different pairs of riding gloves.
I’m worn out just thinking about it. Having all this and being the ultimate prepared Girl Scout made this ride extremely enjoyable. This is today’s lesson for bikers. Be ready for weather and safe in your travels.
Many more great biker stories and tips can be found right here. Just poke around, there’s over 100 pages of great biker stories with plenty of entertaining humor.
My dream of being totally alone in the Universe was shattered by 2 State Troopers manning a “License and Registration Inspection” sign. They had 2 Trooper cars and were working over a sedan in front of me.
As we all do, I briefly considered running from the law and escaping in a hail of bullets. Not really, that would be incredibly stupid.
I pulled up a respectable distance behind the car getting the attention, put down the kickstand, turned off the engine and removed my gloves. I was approached by a Trooper, who was so big he blotted out the sun.
Staying seated, I held up open palms and said “If you don’t shoot, I won’t either” with a smile. He laughed loudly and said it’s a deal. I always treat law enforcement with complete respect and never question their actions or motives. I would never do what they do. Their job is to protect me and I want them to know that I appreciate them.
He looked over my bike and said, “I’m pretty sure you’ve got this thing insured, so all we need to see is your driver’s license”. My fear of a complete search involving disassembly of the bike dissipated. I got my license out of my pocket. It’s in a little case with a few credit cards and some spare cash. I held it out for him to see. I’ve never had this happen, but he simply looked at it from a slight distance, he never reached out for it.
He said I was good to go and told me to ride safely. I replied that I would and told him again of my respect for him and the job they do.
Well, that was fun. I motored on, trying to figure out what it was that they really were doing in the middle of nowhere unless they felt the need to just goof off for a little while and take a break from trying to bust drug runners on nearby Interstate 80. Maybe that was their true mission, to check for those running the backroads.
If you’re going to run drugs on I-80, watch the speed limit, signal your lane changes, don’t follow too closely and consider getting a job with far less risk, like selling shoes or something.
So, back on the Interstate, I’m right in the middle of Sandhill Crane country during rush season. Every spring and fall, thousands of cranes stop over at the Platte river between Grand Island and Kearney to rest up for a few weeks. The river has wide and flat and has many sand bars. The cranes can get the protection from predators (think Wile E. Coyote) by gathering overnight on the sand bars. They make a super loud racket each morning and night as they leave and return to the safety of the river.
Each day, they graze on the fugitive seeds that escaped the fall harvest, mostly corn, millet and soybeans. The cranes come from Mexico, Central America and Florida. After resting up here, they fly on to the far north, near the Arctic Circle. The journey has been going on for thousands of years, maybe longer.
Being on an open road motorcycle enables one to ride under flying cranes and see things that are invisible to those in cars and trucks. Positively awe inspiring.
Much of my younger life involved deadlines and rush trips and a focus on minimizing stops to shorten travel time or lengthen the distance traveled in a given time. I pulled into drive-thrus that were close to gas stops and ate while driving.
Traveling by open rode bike for me now involves no particular time lines and often no particular destinations. I can just cruise along and see things that I’d never noticed before. How something as noisy as a big Harley Davidson can be considered peaceful and tranquil requires tossing a leg over one and heading out on the highway.
All too soon I arrive at my destination for this evening, North Platte, Nebraska. I’d ridden 240 miles and was here to visit some dear friends from long ago in my life.
The visit was heartwarming and over too soon. I returned to the hotel and prepared for tomorrow’s adventure.
I filled up with gas and headed out. North Platte, Nebraska is pretty remote, but not nearly as remote as my next destination, Imperial, Nebraska. Its 91 miles south and a little west. I rode west on I-80 for 30 miles, then turned south. The weather was clear and sunny with very light winds. Perfect for riding.
This was true country, with not a sign of city life anywhere. The steady drone of the Harley engine told me the bike was enjoying this trip as much as I. I thanked engineering for adding a cruise control unit that worked instantly and flawlessly. There was no lag time when engaged and it seldom deviated one mile per hour, even up or down steep hills. The raw torque of this monster engine was quite capable of holding any speed you wished, under any conditions.
There were some wide, sweeping curves that make motorcyclists smile. It’s fun to lean a bike in curves and have it lift itself back up on completion, like some kind of magic. Highway curves cause beginner bikers to get apprehensive on approach to the curve. It’s normal to tense up and see the curve thinking you’re going too fast to make it. This is further complicated by a phenomenon known as “target fixation”, where you stare at a fixed object. The bike will go where you look, so if you fix your gaze on something, such as a place in the ditch, guard rail or a tree, you’ll drive right off the road into that spot. It takes experience to learn exactly where to look. Speed makes it vary, but once you figure it out, riding curves is easier. However, like learning to ride a unicycle, it’s simpler to talk about it than to do it. It seems like the ideal distance on which to focus your vision is about 2 seconds ahead of you. This is the same distance that’s considered to be safe following distance.
The next problem is road surface. You can’t always see the pavement around a curve and often it contains surprises. Cracks in the road that have been sealed by hot tar can be slicker than the pavement. If the cracks are at right angles, no problem. However, cracks that run parallel to traffic can put a bike down quickly. Those are referred to as “tar snakes”. It’s important to steer around those for obvious reasons.
An even worse situation is what I call the “Oregon Trail effect”, in which traffic has worn two ruts in the pavement and the center and far edges of the lane are raised. If you enter the curve in the center of the lane, you might find yourself just to the left of center, where it’s downhill. Tires don’t grip there. It’s important to use the positive banking of the Oregon Trail effect to your advantage. This is not often easy, as the pavement is not uniformly shaped.
For riders to develop these skills, it’s important to learn to ride a line. There is the left line in a lane, the right line and the center line. Riding a line means you can keep your cycle within a few inches of the road curve as you travel. If you’re alone, it’s always best to take the far right side of a curve in order to protect yourself from unseen oncoming traffic. They just might drift over to your side of the road. Taking the far right means you don’t need the space they want to hog from you should they drift across the center line.
Riding good lines lets you use the banking in your lane on Oregon Trail roads like a race track. The banked corners become your friends, rather than a treacherous condition. As you ride with other bikers, start paying attention to how they ride their lines. I first noticed this on the curves in the Black Hills at the Sturgis motorcycle rally. I’d learned how to do it on the Women’s Freedom Ride. This gives you a clue as to the abilities of others, which is crucial to your own safety.
But, I digress. Back to the back roads in far southwest Nebraska. The road wound back and forth, over dams and around reservoirs, uphill and down. The wind was light, the sun warm and it was a glorious day to be on a bike. Traffic was very light and the drivers watchful and courteous. Folks out here are good people and if you have trouble, most will stop to help if they can. Feeling safe and secure is easy here.
I had to make several road changes in order to get to Imperial and it was somewhat of a challenge to remember exactly where to turn. It was interesting to ride through small towns along the way. I always followed Dad’s advice on small towns—don’t you DARE speed in a small town. First off, it’s a safety hazard, but there’s always the chance you’ll encounter a speed trap. When Sheriff Taylor’s brother-in-law is the Judge is a worst nightmare and one which I seek to avoid.
So, I’m enjoying the ride, hugging the curves, smelling the smells and seeing all the sights. Oh, was that my turn back there? Ah, yes, I believe it was. Phooey! I just passed it and now I have to turn around. One thing I just refuse to do is to come to a complete stop on a highway in order to execute a turn on a motorcycle that involves stopping and backing up. So, I have to look for a wide spot in the road. After a few miles, I find one and get turned back to find my route once again. That done, I’m now on a new road.
The land now is flat as a pancake for as far as the eye can see. This is the high plains and it’s lovely. It’s amazing to see how straight the farmers can plow a field. They now use satellite navigation for GPS to keep the tractor pulling exactly straight. When looking down the furrows as you travel, the fields are plowed with military precision. Far too many people will say that this flat land is boring and deprived of any beauty. I’ll reply that they just aren’t looking. I pass a male ringneck pheasant, one of the most beautiful birds in North America. Wow, just wow is all I can say. My Dad used to hunt them and I remember eating pheasant as a little girl. I recall that there was no white meat on them, as white meat was muscle seldom used on a chicken. Pheasants can fly for real, so all their muscles are well toned.
Now, back to the bike. I rode through some small towns and made my final turn to reach Imperial. The land was beautiful, flat and the soil very rich, as it was all in use producing crops. I made the turn off the highway into the town. I rode along a few blocks and turned off onto the road where my friends live. Life in a small town is all about peace and quiet. There are times when it is dead still and no sounds can be heard. Yeah, well too bad when a biker chick rides into town. The deep throaty roar of the Harley shattered the silence. I didn’t need to ring the doorbell, they heard me coming. I missed the house on the first pass, I had to make a U-turn and come by again. I love this.
I met my friends, Leonard and Julie. We had a great visit and I got to eat some cookies Julie had baked that went well with her specially brewed coffee. They admired my heavy leather coat. I’ll say one thing for Harley Davidson. Everything they make is first class and engineered for riding and doing it safely. My jacket weighs a ton when lifted. The two photos show the jacket as it appears normally and then what it looks like when lights shine on it. I learned this in motorcycle class as a means to select clothing for being seen easily at night. Take a normal photo, then turn on the flash and take another photo. You can easily see the difference. Very good information. The jacket will make me visible and protect me well in the event of a slide on pavement. I have severe allergies to asphalt and concrete, so I always wear protective leather jackets when riding.
We say our goodbyes and I don all my safety gear and fire up the bike. Love that sound.
This is the fun part of any trip that I love the most. I have no idea where I’m going next. I know I need to be heading home, but the route that I travel is not planned, nor has it been studied. I thought that perhaps I could head south into Kansas and visit Atwood, where my mother grew up and claimed as her hometown. Since this is really the middle of nowhere, I think it might be wise to first get some gasoline. My range is about 160 miles and I’ve already ridden 90 miles. I find a nice station on the edge of town, but they have regular 86 octane and my high compression hot rod only wants premium 91 octane.
I swallow and head out of town. This is the meaning of adventure and confidence. The map tells me there’s another town down the road. The bike can use regular if necessary, but so far, it’s not absolutely necessary. I enjoy music when I travel and in this part of the country, even the hog report sounds good on the radio. You might find a station that invites you to attend the middle school recital this Friday, then gives a shout out to Hilda, who’s celebrating a birthday today. Fortunately, I’ve planned for this situation. I’ve got 465 of my favorite songs for riding programmed into my phone and my bike has blue tooth capability, so I switch over to “Becky’s Phone” for entertainment while I ride.
For many of us, music becomes part of our lives. As we hear old songs, we are taken back to experiences in our lives that correspond with certain tunes. I’ve been a widow now for 2 years, so my mission in life is to not only look forward to new experiences, but also to re-program my brain for new pleasures in life. I’ve succeeded in programming a few songs now to motorcycle memories when I hear those tunes. Gradually, over time, I’ll relate music to pleasures experienced on my bike. I like that and it’s been a tremendous help to me. I crank up the tunes, twist the throttle and it’s one down and five up (that’s the shift pattern for the bike). From neutral, you first push the shift lever down with your foot for first gear. The rest of the gears involve lifting the lever with your foot. We’re cruising now.
The road is straight, the sun is out and the temperature is nearly ideal for biking. I’m in gently rolling hills and the vegetation is becoming more sparse on the high plains. The speed limit is 60 and I’m riding the maximum safe speed of 68. My experience is that law enforcement will generally leave you alone if you’re less than 10 mph over the speed limit, unless you’re on I80 in Nebraska, then it’s 5 mph and you WILL get stopped if you’re over that. At any rate, at 68 mph and very little traffic, the bike does fairly well on gas. This is a good thing. I’m starting to run short of time and realizing that a trip to Atwood just isn’t in the cards for today. Next town is coming up, maybe I can get gas.
Here it is, Benkelman, Nebraska, the last town before the state line. There’s a gas station right here, so I pull in. Darn, nothing but regular grade here, too. I’d just crossed over U.S. Highway 34. The sign said McCook, Nebraska was within my fuel range if I was careful. My bike tells me how many miles of fuel I’ve got left, based on how much I’ve been using. The bike says I can make McCook. I’m hoping the bike is right, because I thought Imperial was remote, at least they have streets. Benkelman is a third the size. So, I get on Hwy 34 heading east toward McCook, which will also take me home.
Highway 34 is a former major east west highway that travels along the southern part of Nebraska. It connects Lincoln with Denver. This road has truck traffic and more. Even though I’m in pretty remote country, I don’t feel so remote. I was on a State Highway, this is Federal. The hilly terrain lends itself to reservoirs used for flood control, irrigation and recreation. It’s starting to look less desolate. I travel through some very interesting small towns. The business districts are off the highway. This was probably the first major change in transportation, routing major highways around towns. The very early days of cross country travel didn’t have much for roads. The roads meandered all over to avoid geographic obstacles, such as tall hills or stream crossings. They also might have passed the County Commissioner’s house.
Construction of major paved highways straightened the roads and took them out of the little towns proper and moved them around for safety. I’m totally enjoying this part of the trip. The scenery is interesting, the little towns take me back to days gone by and the miles seem to fly along. Oh, Holy Mother, there is a God and she just helped me find a gas station that has 91 octane, the real deal, fresh gasoline. Wow, and the pumps even take credit cards. I am saved. I filled her up and exhaled a sigh of relief. By coincidence, maybe not, the sign at this intersection told me that Atwood was within an hour down another road. I smiled.
Part 5 Conclusion
Back on Hwy 34, I continued east. Soon, I was taken back 50 years. When highway 34 was a real artery of transportation, before Eisenhower decreed the construction of the Interstate Highway system, you could tell you were nearing a town because you started seeing all manner of small signs. First, the sign for the Catholic Church, then the sign for a funeral home, then Louie’s Hardware and Red’s Barbeque. Like a string of beacons, the signs alerted motorists to an upcoming town and pointed the way. The only thing missing were the “Burma Shave” signs. They were a fun string of rhyming signs.
It’s best for
One who hits
To let another
Use the throttle
The Burma Shave signs were all over the place and were both entertaining and provided a nice lesson. Everybody knew Burma Shave.
Oh, boy. The bike was full, but I was hungry. I was looking for a good place to eat. This was another adventure that I relished, looking for a biker bar or café. I never eat fast food. It’s not good for you, it’s not flavorful and it’s just no fun. Half the adventure is finding great local places to eat. I cruised down Main Street, but didn’t see anything. I did spot some interesting places off on side roads. The terrain here is extremely hilly. Parking a car on a hill is no big deal, but parking a big bike can be a serious challenge. First off, every road is crowned, so rain water can run off. This means every parking place is downhill into the curb. Pull straight into one of those and you’ll never push a large bike back uphill out of it. The bike has to be carefully backed in. Fire that mother up and head out when you’re done. The problem is due to angle parking being at the wrong way for backing into it. It requires several forward and rearward movements. On the side of a steep hill, not so easy for a chick to maneuver a 1,000 pound Electra Glide.
I turned off a block and back tracked along that road. No restaurants with parking for my bike, so I moved a block the other side of Main St. Eureka! I found a little bar on a corner with a parking place right in front. It was 1:00, so I’d just missed the main lunch rush. As I entered, I saw that the place was huge, with a back room that had several pool tables. The place was also empty, with only one table of 6 people. They were all staring at their palms, ignoring each other. This is a sad commentary on our current society. When I see this, I always wonder if they’re texting each other. J
I sat at the bar and was greeted cheerfully by the lady bartender. She asked what I wanted and I said the first thing was a restroom. She said they had two, one in front and another in back. She went on to say that I’d probably want the one in front. I asked why and she said that one had a urinal…. I grinned and said I don’t know what I’d do with a urinal if I had one. OMG! She turned beet red and realized that I’d been mis-gendered. She started gushing apologies. I told her she wasn’t the first and it was simply my own misfortune that, with my black helmet and leathers, I not only looked like the bride of Darth Vader, I sounded the part, as well. LOL
That out of the way, I used the one in back. I asked what they had on tap and she said the taps were out of CO2, but they had bottled beer. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, although I’ve never been into any bar that was “out of draft beer”.
I ordered a burger and we had a nice conversation. Life in a small town can be challenging, particularly for women. She was very nice and we related well. In fact, we seemed to talk at length. Like a lot of young people, she was trying to establish a positive life direction and I worked to help her with some words of encouragement.
Soon, another woman came out of the back with a handful of bills and told her she needed to go to the bank right now. She excused herself and told me she’d be back soon. I’ve owned a small business for many years and suddenly, the lights came on in my head. There wasn’t that much money. It was meal time, the place was empty and they were out of CO2. A bottle of CO2 can’t cost all that much and for a bar to be out was a serious deal. She had to go to the bank right now. I wished her the best as she left.
Funny thing, I’d been carrying a gold colored coin, good for a dollar, for quite some time. It’s a regular U.S. coin that was intended to replace the paper dollar. These didn’t catch on because there’s no place for them in a cash register. As I left, I called over another woman and gave her that coin. I said it was for the first girl. Tell her it’s a good luck piece that I brought for her. I hope it gets to her and I hope it provides some inspiration and good luck. I laid a good sized tip on the bar.
I got on my bike, thanked my own incredible luck and my wonderful life and headed for home. I’m very sympathetic to working people. I have vivid memories of those times in my own life long ago, where I couldn’t afford to go to the laundromat (that’s a washateria for those in Texas) to do laundry. I had to wash my clothes in the sink and I was all too familiar with ramen noodles.
The rest of the ride home was enjoyable and the songs seemed to click by in about 3 seconds each, just like the miles. My two day total was 700 miles, 260 the first day and 440 the second. I’m slowly getting over my severe case of PMS (Parked Motorcycle Syndrome). WARNING: Prolonged exposure to a parked motorcycle may have severe and persistent symptoms. For best results: Ride often and share your joy with others. Bugs are an excellent source of protein.
There are 4 aspects to storing a bike. They are fuel, oil, battery and tires. First will be presented the short version of each (what time is it?). Following that will be the highly technical explanations of each, for those who want to know why (how to build a watch).
Fuel. There are 2 different methods. First is to fill the tank with non-ethanol fuel and add a fuel preservative, such as “Stabil” or “Sea Foam”. Add the chemical at the gas pump, then ride the bike home to be certain the fuel in the rest of the system has the preservatives in it. Ride it to be sure it’s warmed up and then give it some hard acceleration to clean the spark plugs before parking it for the winter.
The second method is to drain the gas tank when the engine is hot, (see above on cleaning the spark plugs) then start and run the bike until it quits. This removes all fuel from the system, preventing damage from deteriorated fuel over the storage period.
Oil. Park the bike and leave it. Whatever bad that will happen to the oil over the winter won’t matter, because you’ll change the oil in the spring and start the riding season with new oil. If you’re going to ride it periodically, then stick with your normal oil change schedule.
Note: Whatever you do, DON’T START THE BIKE AND LET IT SIT AND IDLE PERIODICALLY OVER THE WINTER. Park it or ride it, but don’t start it as a means of storage.
Battery. The best thing for a motorcycle battery is to be connected to a device designed to maintain the battery. The brand “Battery Tender” is generally recognized as the standard of the industry and the one sold by most motorcycle dealers. It’s designed to charge the battery periodically. Don’t use a battery charger, as that will simply slow cook the battery until its dead.
Even if you remove the battery from the bike and bring it in the house, it’s still advisable to use a battery tender on it occasionally to keep it fully charged.
Do NOT start the bike and run it to “recharge” the battery. This won’t help the battery and can be very hard on the engine.
Tires. Be sure the tires are properly inflated before storage. Re-check inflation before riding it in the spring.
Attention—Since our motorcycles are members of the family, it’s encouraged to pay attention to the bike from time to time. Cleaning, waxing and admiring will help keep the bike’s spirit up until the spring thaw. Remember, it’s OK to just sit and stare at your bike. That bitch is sexy.
Technical explanations (How to build a watch)
Fuel. Fuel degrades rapidly. It’s actually only “fresh” for days after you buy it. Storing the bike with a full tank will reduce the contact it has with air, which can aid in fuel preservation. Adding products like Stabil or Sea Foam will help prevent degradation of the fuel and subsequent damage to the motorcycle fuel system. Likewise, draining the entire system will also do the trick. If there’s no fuel, there’s less chance of damage.
Auto repair shops have reported substantial damage to fuel pumps from vehicles stored long term with ethanol fuel in the system. Ethanol can be corrosive and result in damage.
Oil. Oil gets worn out from 4 things. The first is acid that develops when super-heated combustion gases from “blow-by” contact cold air in the crankcase. Blow-by is pressure that “blows by” the seal of the piston rings. The metals in the engine change dimensions with temperature. Cold engine parts don’t work properly until full operating temperature is reached. The entire engine was designed to run at a specified temperature range. Cold parts are smaller.
Motor oils have to have additives to neutralize these acids. The more cold starts, the more additives that get used up. At some point, this causes the oil to become acidic and attack the seals and gaskets. This is where oil leaks come from.
The second thing is unburned gasoline that also gets past the piston rings and into the oil, diluting it with liquid fuel. An engine that’s had repeated short run times can actually be seen to have oil level that’s too high. I’ve seen a 4 quart system that was 2 quarts over full from this condition. This meant that the oil was too thin to lubricate and it turned on the oil light as a result.
The third thing is water from condensation on a cold start. Much water is formed when an engine is cold started. This can cause rust and corrosion, in addition to diluting the oil.
The fourth thing is running the engine for extended periods with oil temperatures below normal operating specifications. Getting the oil “up to temperature” means that the moisture and unburned fuel get evaporated away. Water boils at 212 degrees F. at sea level. The normal operating temperature of motorcycle oil is 180 to 220 degrees. It’s important to understand the most motorcycle engines are air cooled. They don’t have a thermostat to regulate temperature like a car. I used a dipstick that doubled as a thermometer to monitor oil temperature on my Harley Fat Boy over thousands of miles to better understand this. It took 10 to 20 miles of riding in cold weather just to begin to get the oil temperature close to specifications in winter temperatures. Idling never got it even close if the outside temp was cold.
For all these reasons, it’s just unwise to think that you can start the engine and run it from time to time and expect good things to happen. Let it sit, it’s far better for the oil and the engine.
Battery—It takes a long time (maybe several hours or more) of slow charging to bring a battery to a full state of charge. When a battery sits in less than a full charge, it sulfates and ages prematurely. Vehicle charging systems were not designed to perform this job in short operational periods.
This is the reason to use a solid state device designed to preserve a battery on your bike. Modern bikes have many drains on the battery. Security systems, the computers that run the ignition and fuel injection, the memory on the radio and more all use electricity to retain memory. This little draw is called “parasitic draw”. Think of driving across the desert with a very small leak in the radiator of a car. It doesn’t matter how small the leak, sooner or later the system runs out of water and you’re done.
Even sitting on a shelf in a nice warm place in your home results in some current loss. This is why the battery needs to be connected to a tender from time to time even if you take it out and bring it inside.
This is the second reason you don’t start the bike from time to time to “recharge the battery”. It doesn’t really recharge the battery properly, anyway. This will only shorten the life of the battery and cause you to think that the brand of battery you have just isn’t a very good brand. The reality is, it was mistreated.
Tires. Inflate the tires when the bike goes into storage, then check the tire pressure again in the spring. Tire pressure is critical, whether stored or riding. Bikes aren’t heavy enough to really flat spot tires, so that’s no concern.
Fast Summary: Fill the gas tank, add some chemicals, air the tires. Hook up a battery tender, then cry your eyes out. Wine has been reported to be helpful to deal with PMS (Parked Motorcycle Syndrome).
—Becky Witt is an ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician (ASE CMAT). She is a nationally recognized expert on motor oils and has presented classes on motor oils for shop owners and professional technicians at several International Events. She produced a DVD on motor oils and sold 200 copies to a major oil company. She owns an auto repair shop and has also taught many classes on repair shop management.