Women’s Freedom Ride 2017
The purpose of the Women’s Freedom ride is to raise $21,000 to buy a service dog for a female veteran who served 3 tours in Iraq and now needs a special dog to live her life. More information here: www.womensfreedomride.org
Part 1—the beginning
About a year and a half ago, I suffered a devastating personal loss in my family and was left dazed and overcome with grief. As I struggled to get out of the house and make some friends, nothing seemed to be working, but that’s common.
8 months in, I’m noticing a good friend, who’d grown up as a biker, was always having fun on bikes and going to neat things like poker runs. Might be worth a try.
So, I start looking at Harleys. I’m a life-long Honda person. If I was going to buy a motorcycle, it should be a Honda. But they don’t have clubs and activities like Harley does. I was looking for more than a bike, I needed a social experience to go with it.
In September I found a nice bike, the model was called a Fat Boy. It’s a stripped down basic motorcycle called a cruiser. I liked it because the seat is close to the ground and I could hold it up flat footed. I took it for a road test and made it back. Amazing.
I started riding a lot and decided that I wanted to go on some long trips next summer. I practiced riding distances to be certain I’d be up to the challenge physically.
In January, I learned about the Women’s Freedom Ride.org. Their mission was to promote women riding motorcycles and to help Veterans. In this case, they were raising money to buy a service dog for a women who had done 3 tours in Iraq and now needed a very specially trained dog.
The requirements were stringent. No men allowed, only women. Background checks, lengthy waiver forms and money to pay for the support vehicle who would follow us in the event of trouble. The ride was incredible, 19 days and 18 states, starting and ending in South Carolina.
I plotted out 14 days for myself, having never taken an overnight ride on a motorcycle or even ridden in a group before. I was driven by the passion to make a difference and I saw this as something I believed would do just that.
I sent in the forms and was accepted. Next comes the preparation. More later.
Women’s Freedom Ride 2017, Part 2—Life changes and dealing with grief.
After 41 years in a wonderful marriage, I lost the love of my life and my true soul mate to cancer. For 15 months, I’d been the primary care giver and had nothing left. As expected, I spent several months crying my eyes out and wondering where my life would go next.
I went to my doctor and had a complete physical. She suggested that I give up wheat and change my diet. My health was good, she said this would be better for me. I made significant changes in my diet and it was better for me.
My visions and daydreams (the movies in my head) all concerned my loss. Places we’d been, things we’d done brought up more negatives and amplified my loss. My life seemed focused on past events. I knew that if I was going to ever have a new life direction, I had to look FORWARD to new things. I had to set new goals. I kept being reminded of the past seemingly by everything.
As I said in Part 1, I bought a Harley Fat Boy. Suddenly, I discovered that riding that bike started a new line of thinking. I found that the wind seemed to stimulate new thoughts, new adventures. I rode to nearby towns. I joined the local HOG group and went on rides that introduced me to new places.
I found the Women’s Freedom Ride, signed up and was accepted. I was in awe of riding hundreds of miles each day with a large group of other women. I worried about being physically able to do it. I was even more worried about being accepted in the group, as I was no spring chicken.
I went into training. I rode in severe cold, some days as low as 19 degrees. I found that, with the right gear, 40 degrees was quite doable for me. I rode in serious winds, often in excess of 30 mph, with gusts to 40. My thoughts were becoming more focused on the future ride and less on past events. I was evolving. I became more determined each ride. I literally made up places to go. I took roads far into the country, I explored fun places like the Wahoo meat locker. David Letterman fans may remember when he selected a phone booth in Wahoo, Nebraska, as the National Headquarters for his show. I looked for it.
I thought about how I’d pack for the trip. I bought a luggage rack for my bike and the factory luggage to fit it. I bought one large bag and one medium sized bag. Traveling by motorcycle on this trip meant we had to have clothing for extreme heat, near 100 degrees, driving rain and also serious cold. We’d be crossing mountains and plains, encountering everything Mother Nature could dish out.
Asked if we rode in the rain, our ride leader Karen said, “we’ve got a schedule and we ride, no matter what”. Will we ride on the Interstate highways? “You can’t ride 19 states in 18 days on back roads,” came the reply.
My thoughts now were increasingly on this new challenge. I got the list of motels where we would stay. I plotted out the 14 days in which I would best participate and made motel reservations for my part of the trip. I was now committed.
Women’s Freedom Ride, Part 3—More preparation and the beginning
I studied what I’d need to bring on the trip. The medium sized bag would carry 3 jackets, a heavy leather jacket, an insulated liner to wear under the heavy jacket and a light jacket. That gave me 3 different temperature ranges, from freezing cold to super hot for protective clothing.
The large suitcase would carry undies and a few pairs of jeans to allow for changes. Only a few tops, as I’d probably buy some on the way. Hair care products, facial lotions and, of course, my trusty coffee pot.
COFFEE POT!? Yes, I know many places have coffee pots, but I love my Starbucks and I start it brewing the minute my eyes open. No going to the lobby, no messing with substandard stuff. If drinking coffee were an Olympic event, I’d at least make the quarter finals.
I loaded them on my bike and I rode to be certain I understood how wind and vision are affected by the added baggage. I rode 400 miles west to Broken Bow, Nebraska. I rode 450 miles south to Emporia, Kansas. I rode in driving rain, I rode in freezing temperatures and serious heat. By January, I’d ridden nearly 4,000 miles. In.Nebraska.winter.weather.
I studied different helmets, I evaluated rain gear, I acquired a number of pairs of gloves for different conditions.
I went on a group ride with our local Harley group that was 1150 miles in 3 days over Memorial Day weekend. That was the week before I left. I was as ready as I would ever get. I’d ridden a Harley nearly 9,000 miles to prepare for this moment.
I had my bike in for service. They put on a new rear tire. Mechanically, this bike was ready.
Our private forum only for riders had tips for packing. I mentioned the coffee pot and you’d have thought I’d tipped off a North Korean missile attack. I was advised in no uncertain terms that we should not pack non-essentials and there were coffee pots on every corner of every town everywhere.
A story was told of a woman who’d packed too much stuff last year and they’d gone through her things and sent back a lot of stuff she didn’t need, to lighten her load. Several other riders chided me on the coffee pot.
I was devastated. I felt that all my planning and preparation had been disregarded and overlooked. I resented being treated like an adolescent.
At this point, my fears got the best of me. I feared not being able to physically keep up. I’m well past the mandatory retirement age and women my age have no business trying to ride a big bike, much less taking off across country throwing care to the wind.
I feared not being accepted by the group of women with whom I’d ride. It’s common knowledge what women can do to each other when packed into small spaces at once.
I began listening to the movies in my head telling me how bad it was going to be and my negative self-talk got away from me. I’d overcome (for the most part) thinking about the past, but now the thoughts of my future weren’t very good. I kept playing the wrong movies.
I finally decided that this ride wasn’t for me. I’d meet up with them, ride a ways, then part company and go my own way, with my own coffee pot, for my own ride. The week before I left, I called all those motels and cancelled my reservations. I advised a wind sister from Hays, Kansas, who’d planned to meet me there when the Freedom Ride came through, that I wouldn’t be on the ride. My future was set and it wasn’t with this Freedom Ride.
I left on Friday afternoon, rode 200 miles to Kansas City and got a room for the night. The next morning I rode another 250 miles to St. Louis, arriving around noon, to spend some time with my son, who lives there. We had a great weekend and I prepared to meet up with the Women’s Freedom Ride on Monday at noon. I’d ride back to Kansas City with them, then part company and ride into the sunset on my own.
I told my son that my plan was to get up each morning, check the weather and ride toward the sunshine, wherever that may be. Sounded great.
Women’s Freedom Ride 2017, Part 4—The beginning and the end
The riders were scheduled to arrive at the Harley dealer in St. Charles, MO (just outside of St. Louis) at 11:30. Wanting to present a good image, I arrived at 11 and parked my bike right in front of the front door, loaded with luggage and a spare helmet (my son wanted to take a ride). A man outside complimented me on the amount of chrome I had on my Fat Boy. I love chrome.
The riders were late, so I visited with many people at the dealer. One woman stood out to me. She was an unemployed nurse who’d gotten sick of working as a nurse. It was no longer fun and she dreaded getting up each day.
She was at the dealer to see the WFR women. She wasn’t far from retirement age and said that what she really wanted to do was become a Veterinary assistant. She would need several years of study on top of her nursing background to qualify for that job. Financially, it didn’t really make sense. I asked her if that job would light a passion within her and her answer was an enthusiastic yes.
So, I said, you really have a choice of dying a slow death one day at a time, whether struggling being unemployed, or working at a job that sucks the life out of you, or chasing your dream? Her eyes widened. What difference does it make if you don’t come out far ahead financially? What really matters is you’ll work toward the real thing in life that you want to do every day. That alone is the meaning of life.
I’d just finished reading Steve Harvey’s book, “Jump!” Steve hosts Family Feud, among other things and is a very successful entertainer. I think he was selling insurance or some other mundane thing (no offense to those who do) and he wanted to become a professional comedian. He was homeless for 3 years and lived out of his car chasing his dream. He left his job and jumped to pursue his passion.
He says that each of us should pursue the thing in life that incites us, whether it’s cooking burgers, cleaning and detailing cars, astronomy or whatever trips our trigger. He said that we must make a move and jump to realize that life goal. I would encourage everyone to read that book. It influenced me dramatically, for I have jumped many times in pursuit of dreams.
But, I digress. As we talked, this woman went from beaten down to high alert. She cried and thanked me for being there. She said a higher power must have drawn her to that place at that time to see me. We hugged and shed tears together. I hope I made a difference in her life, she said I did.
The group arrived in dramatic fashion. 31 big bikes, including a half dozen trikes, rode in in a thunder. It was very impressive and was followed by a pickup truck pulling a large trailer emblazoned with the “Women’s Freedom Ride” logo on the side.
The group was late, it was explained, because one of the girls on a trike had lost a rear wheel. Sheer riding skill helped her avoid flipping the trike by pulling over and riding a curb to support the trike. The various parts had been collected and placed in the trailer. Already, there was mechanical troubles with which to deal and the support vehicle had proved its purpose. A rider was killed in Omaha the week before in the same situation. She was very lucky.
The dealer had a very nice arrangement of tables for us, replete with balloons and decorations. Boxed lunches were ready and a cooler full of water and other beverages for us was full.
I sat down with the girls and felt welcome at once. They were all new on the ride, as this was the third day. “I’m terrible with names, who are you?” was heard many times. We started the process of putting names with faces. I’m terrible with names, too, so I felt right at home. I bonded with several girls right away as we ate and talked.
I met Karen, the leader (Momma Bear, she was called). I informed her that I’d be riding across Missouri to Kansas City and then I was going a different direction. She really pressed me for a reason, but I wouldn’t say. I felt the issue of a coffee pot and luggage would be counter-productive to discuss at this point.
Soon, we loaded up our bikes and headed out. We rode with no issues and I felt right at home riding with them. Several commented on my riding skills. I’m doing great.
We arrived at the motel in KC and went to our rooms. Momma Bear insisted that we each text her with our room number after check in, so she knew where everyone was. She was very protective and thorough.
At this point, I felt stupid for cancelling my reservations. No one had said a word about a coffee pot. No one had said a thing about my luggage. Several women had more baggage than I did. It simply was never a topic of conversation. Each person handled their own stuff and no one complained. No one seemed stand-offish and each woman seemed to want welcome me to be part of the group.
Well, the decision had been made, it was too late to change. Now, my rationalization and pride had me planning what to do the next day, after watching the group leave without me. I’d originally wanted to go south to Arkansas, but the weather wasn’t good. I said to myself, I’ve always wanted to ride the Rocky Mountains. I’ll take off on the same road as the group, I’ll just leave a little later.
Next morning, we were all eating the free breakfast at the motel, which was quite good, by the way. I talked more with Momma Bear and she was really leaning on me. I insisted I had to go a different direction. I’d ridden with the group and fulfilled my commitment in my own mind.
The group loaded up and rode off. Their mission that day was to visit the Vet’s hospital in Topeka, KS and then stop at the Harley dealer there. I waved goodbye and felt a pit in my stomach.
I soon had my own bike loaded up and checked out. I filled with gas and took off. It was nice riding alone, I could set the cruise control and watch the scenery. I enjoyed the ride.
As I left Kansas City, I encountered a toll booth and realized I’d be traveling on the Kansas Turnpike. Great. I got my ticket, then pulled off to the road side to read the ticket and figure how much money I’d need at the end. Nothing worse than putting your kickstand down, opening your saddle bag and fishing through your purse for cash, while those behind you wonder what sort of dolt would do such a thing.
I got the requisite bills and coins set aside and got on it. I love the power and acceleration of a big bike. Yessir, zero to 60 in less than 4 seconds. Hang on, girl, that’s why I have a back rest on my seat. This bike loves to run. She never complains, just asks if you want to go faster, she’s game. Stops in a dime, too. Very impressive and fun. Real fun.
So, I’m having the time of my life, blowing down the turnpike without a care in the world. The bike feels a little loose. It’s wobbling a bit. Must be the side wind. I look at trees and tall grass for confirmation, but I don’t get it. I wiggle the handlebars and the bike reacts strangely. Something isn’t quite right, but I can’t put my finger on it. I look at the front tire, which I can see while moving and it looks fine.
Then, I smell burning rubber. Oh my, a flat tire at 75 miles per hour. My training kicks in. I pull in the clutch and DON’T TOUCH THE BRAKES. I worked my way carefully over to the right shoulder and let the bike coast on its own to a stop. I get off and look at the back tire. It’s smoking and blistered. This is serious.
This is the same tire that was just installed brand new a week ago. Well, I’m not going anywhere now.
I took my helmet off and placed it on the ground, behind my bike. This is the universal biker sign of distress. Right on cue, a Kansas Turnpike Authority truck pulled up behind me. There were 3 people in it. I said I had Harley Davidson Roadside Assistance with my HOG membership. They stayed put while I stuck my head partly in the cab so I could hear people on the phone while traffic whizzed noisily by at 75 mph.
I got my card out and called the 1-800-I-BE-A-STUCK-HOG number. It took some time, but they said they would send a truck to pick up myself and my limping Harley. It would be an hour and a half. I was really in the boonies.
I sent the truck off and stood well back from the road, just me in the tall grass with the chiggers and ticks. It was important that I give them lots of time. I realized I no longer needed a watch. Time had just become meaningless. I was there until someone came to get me.
Next in part 5—my bike gets a ride and the story gets interesting.
I stood well back from the side of the Turnpike, in case an errant drunk plowed into my disabled bike and then aimed for me. As soon as the first Kansas Turnpike Truck left, another stopped. I told him I was waiting for a tow, so he left. You have a lot of time to think when you’re just standing there.
I was never once concerned about being totally alone and vulnerable on the side of the road. My primary worry was that I wouldn’t be alone, if you know what I mean.
Trooper friendly stopped and soon after, his backup. After all, you don’t want to confront an old lady by yourself. They were very nice and soon on their way.
Nearly 2 hours later, I get a phone call. It’s the tow driver. He’s headed the wrong way on the Turnpike, so he has to find an exit and turn around. It’s a good thing I ate a big breakfast. I drank my last bottle of water.
Hooray, it’s the tow truck. The guy was very nice, very knowledgeable and very reassuring that he didn’t want to scratch or damage my bike. I helped him load it by guiding it up the ramp to keep it centered. Slowest ride of my life.
Now, we take off. I asked him about paying my toll charge. He said I didn’t have to, I only had to pay for the tow truck. Eureka! I feel like I’m getting away with something without paying for it.
His instructions are to take me to the nearest Harley Dealer, which is a half hour drive. We drive and talk and I like the guy. We get into town, make a few turns and there’s the dealer. We pull around to the back, where the service department is located and what I see stops my heart.
All parked together were the bikes of the Women’s Freedom Ride! This is too strange. Apparently, some higher power has determined that I *really* belong with this group. They were finishing lunch. I told them I was back, at least until Ft. Collins, Colorado, next day’s stop. From here at Topeka, they would ride another 200 miles to Hays, Kansas to stop for the night.
I checked in with Momma. She smiled and said she knew I’d be back. They pushed my bike directly into service for a new tire. I expected to be back on the road quickly. The group left and we all looked forward to me joining them in Hays for dinner at another Harley dealer. Momma said the weather would be good most of the afternoon. Warm and sunny. See you there.
The dealer had a BBQ restaurant upstairs and I got a free lunch since I was part of the group. I ate a wonderful lunch and was very thankful to finally be back, at least for now.
I checked on my bike, no news. It had been an hour. Then another hour. Geeze, how long does it take to mount one tire? Finally, I’m informed that they don’t have the size my bike needs. You see, my Fat Boy has a very large rear tire and it’s not found on many other bikes. They don’t carry it.
Finally, they tell me they have one that was special ordered for a customer, but it’s been held for 100 days without being picked up. I can have that tire. Woohoo.
Another hour later, I finally get my bike and a bill for a tire. Nothing is cheap on a Harley. Lexus doesn’t have tires that cost this much. At least I’m back on the road.
I jumped joyfully on my little bike and she rumbled to life. I took off across town to get back on the freeway. There were no more tolls, just an asphalt ribbon headed west. I set the cruise on 75. I had to do some advanced calculations so I could make the trip on one stop for gas. No need to waste time and I didn’t need gas in Topeka.
I watched the mile markers go by and had one in mind for my stop. As the miles ticked off, the sunny sky became overcast, then dark. No, it wasn’t dark due to sunset, it was dark due to impending inclement Kansas weather and I was missing my ruby slippers. It was not looking nice.
I made my mile marker and stopped for gas. I debated putting on my rain suit, but it was hot and I didn’t really think it would rain before I got to Hays. I pulled back on the highway and set the cruise on 78. I didn’t want to get a ticket, but I wasn’t going to stop and photograph any historical markers, if you know what I mean.
I had less than 60 miles to go and there was a very dark black wall cloud to the south. It stretched nicely down to the ground. Whoever was under that is getting wet, really wet. I hope I can drive around it. Soon, another wall cloud forms to the north. It also is pouring rain. There appears to be an opening right in the middle, where I’m headed. I motor on, playing “Radar Love” by Moonbeam in my head. “One more shift, I’m almost there, gotta be careful, gotta take care”.
30 miles to go, it suddenly gets very cold. Great, that’s the cold front and that means rain. I accelerated to 85. I gotta beat this thing. I prayed for my Holy Goddess to hold back the water and allow me to arrive just in time.
At 10 miles from my exit, all nature broke loose. I was in the act of passing a big truck at the time and the sky just unzipped, while the wind suddenly blew at 45 mph from the side. I had to get around the truck and I saw his turn signals come on on my side. Great. I cranked the throttle and goaded my girl to go faster. She was leaning at what seemed to be a 45 degree angle into the wind and I nearly couldn’t see. I was finally in front of the truck, who had now slowed to about 45 mph due to the storm. I had no rain suit, I was just getting wet. Very wet. Between the water on my helmet visor and the water on the windshield of the bike, I couldn’t see. For some reason, the water on the windshield just sits there.
Thankfully, the truck stayed behind me. What I’d first thought were turn signals actually were hazard flashers. I turned mine on, as well. I watched for the stripes marking the right side of the road for guidance to stay on the road. I saw the sign stating the marker for the exit I needed. It was still nearly 10 miles away. I hung on and finally saw the exit. I signaled and the truck followed me off the freeway. I pulled into the first motel I could find with an overhang.
I pulled in out of the rain, but this wasn’t the right motel. I get my phone out, which was still set to take me to Hays. I believed it was set to find the motel, so I put it in my pocket and used Bluetooth to connect it with the speakers in my helmet. It directed me down the road, so I went. It’s still pouring and I can’t see. Down this street, turn here, turn there, this makes no sense. I’m riding through streets full of water up to the curbs. Thank heavens for sound Harley engineering.
I finally “arrive”. I was at an intersection in the middle of a residential area. Really? This was the spot at the center of Hays, Kansas. I was here. Oh man. I put the motel name into navigation and hit go. Off we went, then the speakers in the helmet start to lose volume. Battery is going dead. Terrific.
I get back on the main road and head back toward the freeway. Finally, I see the motel, right near where I got off. They had a dinky little sign. I pulled into the motel and parked the bike. I walked into the motel and my ride sisters were having dinner. I’d made it just in time. They’d saved me a burger and gave me a warm welcome. I was so happy to see them.
I was a drowned rat, soaked to the skin. But, I was back with the group, inside and safe. Apparently, my Holy Goddess decided I needed a little lesson in following her direction. The group had arrived nice and dry and had watched in horror as the storm rolled in, knowing I was out there somewhere.
I checked in, parked my bike and took my baggage upstairs to my room. I was relieved to finally be safe. The rain continued.
Women’s Freedom Ride, Part 6—400 miles to Ft Collins
I was up at 4 am and promptly made coffee. Starbucks coffee. Fresh, strong and black. I looked down in contempt at the weak attempt at coffee provided by the motel and smiled. I quickly got myself ready and began packing my things back into the luggage. There was no time to dawdle. Safety meeting at 7am, KSU (Kick Stands Up) at 7:30. Get bikes filled with gas, eat breakfast and have your bike loaded, secured and ready to roll by 7.
If any of us were looking for a nice, relaxing tour of the country, this wasn’t it. I wondered how all 31 women would get all this done and be on time. I wasn’t going to be the slacker, I knew that. I got my bags packed and zipped up. I got on my bike and fired it up. I rode back down the fabled street in search of some good premium gas. Harleys won’t run on regular. I found a gas station a mile away and filled up. Check that off the list. Pulled into a nearby McDonalds to find that only the drive-thru was open. Wow, fun stuffing eggs and sausage into saddle bags to eat in my room. Got it done. I was surprised that the breakfast survived the trip pretty well and was still hot when I ate.
As I loaded up my own bike, the parking lot was alive with women bikers checking their rides and securing luggage. As 7 am neared, the parking area near the front door of the motel began to build a crowd. Each bike created its own roar as it was moved from parking to staging in front. If the other guests at the motel wanted a peaceful opportunity to sleep in, too bad.
Promptly at 7am, the meeting commenced. Momma addressed us and said that, as the next few days of riding occurred, we would learn more about each other. We’d learn who would do what and how the other bikers would react in traffic. We’d find out how to ride as a group, which is not an easy thing to do. We reviewed the hand signals of a ride. Left turn, right turn, slow down, speed up, police or emergency vehicle ahead (pat your head), ride single file (1 finger high in the air above your head), back to double file (2 fingers). We were supposed to ride in staggered formation, with 2 seconds gap between you and the bike in front of you, and a single second between you and the bike ahead of you to the side.
She said goodbye to one woman who was leaving the ride and introduced a new rider to the group who was joining us that day. We clapped and welcomed her.
Then, the Ride Captains took over. There were a number of Ride Captains, each with specific tasks and they did a wonderful job. The first gave us an overview of the day. The first fuel stop would be at mile marker XX and we’d have a 30 minute break. Lunch was to be at XX restaurant at mile marker XX. The afternoon fuel stop would be at marker XX. This was important for all of us to know in the event we somehow got separated from the group. Then turns would be covered. Which highway and when. There was a lot to remember. Than we got a weather report. Clear and sunny was the report. Woohoo.
Jeffrey was our support driver, the only man allowed on the trip. He drove a pickup truck pulling a large enclosed trailer with the “Women’s Freedom Ride” logo on the side and “Pass with care, biker group ahead” on the back. We were admonished to not ask him to check our tire pressure, but learn to do that ourselves if we didn’t know how. His only obligation would be to stop and load up or offer assistance to any disabled bike. He would transport you to the nearest dealer and drop you and your bike off there. After that, you were on your own, in theory. His mission was to support the entire group. The man was a saint.
The next Ride Captain explained more about group dynamics. We were a group of women and were not to do the normal things that a group of women are capable of doing to each other. In other words, “No chick shit” would be allowed. If you have in issue with the behavior or riding of another woman, report it privately to a Ride Captain. Don’t address it yourself or make it public. I was very impressed with the overall organization and capabilities of the group. I was liking this.
We were reminded that our primary reason for riding was to promote women riding motorcycles and to raise money to buy a service dog for a female veteran who had done 3 tours in Iraq and now required a very special dog in order to help her live as normally as possible. We needed $21,000. We had no other stops today and we had about 400 miles to travel. Holy jeepers, 400 miles.
We finished our morning orientation by holding hands in a circle and listening to a morning prayer and saying “Amen” to finish. We were told that if we didn’t believe in a supreme being, that was OK, just be respectful and quiet during the offering. The thoughts were positive and asked that we ride safe and to keep our loved ones and all military all around the world safe from harm. Hard to argue that.
Ready for the day, right on cue at 7:30, we mounted our bikes and began to sing the song of our people, loud big bike exhaust. It thundered all about the area and the fumes got thick. If you didn’t get an adrenaline rush from this, you’re not a biker.
The group is always led out by the ride captains. Two of them are designated to block traffic in each direction so we can get out together. 31 bikes really stretch out. We get onto the Interstate and head west. We start out in the right lane and when everybody is in place and we have room to do so, we all move to the left lane together. After a mile or two, we slowly accelerate from about 50 mph up to the speed limit, in this case 70 mph.
If you want a thrill, try riding all cramped together with other bikers going 70 mph. You have to pay constant attention to the bike in front of you to maintain your distance. As we ride, it’s human nature for some riders to begin to fall back and create a wide gap. Then, they accelerate to catch up again, which creates a gap behind them. This is called the slinky effect, because no one can ride a steady speed. It’s 60, then 80, then 70 and so on. This further adds to the stress of the ride.
Some riders seem totally incapable of keeping up, so wide gaps develop in places. This creates some frustration for those behind them. Some staggered bikers seem to be right on top of the bike staggered to the side in front of them. We clearly lack discipline as a riding group.
I’ve seen far too many big truck tires blow out and I know how heavy a truck tire is. Those large strips of tread carcass you see on the edges of the roadway can weigh close to 100 lbs. This can blow out the side windows of a car. Heaven knows how much damage this can do to a biker. I refuse to ride next to a truck in a car, much less a bike. As I was riding on the right side of the formation, when we’d overtake a truck, I’d signal a lane change and move over to the opposite side, away from the truck for my own safety.
The day turned hot pretty quickly and we soon had our first fuel stop. Visualize if you will, 25 bikes and 6 trikes all arriving at the same time to fuel up from 8 gas pumps. To say we swarmed and overwhelmed them would be an understatement. Since I felt the worst line would be the bathroom, of which there was generally only one for the women, I first parked my bike out of the way and headed for the bathroom and got gas after.
My panic was premature, as we were allowed plenty of time for the bathroom and fuel, as well as time to grab a bag of chips and a drink. Most of the women seemed to really put away the carbs at these stops. I don’t eat that stuff, so I’d just have water. But, when people crave carbs, it’s usually because they’ve been burning them. Apparently, riding an open road bike must burn them up. I lost 4 pounds on this trip. I kept pulling my belt tighter and now I know why.
The sun was hot. I pulled my bike into the shade and began to visit with some of the other riders. I bonded quickly with a few with whom I felt I had a lot in common. I was a recent widow and now on my own. Another rider had just gotten a divorce and was now on her own. We were each dealing with solitary lives. We seemed to easily share information about ourselves as part of getting to know each other. This was an enjoyable process to me.
I’d started out the rather cool morning in my heavy leather jacket. My light leather jacket was what I had on when I encountered the “Wizard of Oz” storm in western Kansas the night before and it was totally soaked. I had no raincoat, so the leather jacket took the brunt of it and even a little light hail. It hadn’t dried one bit in the room overnight. Well, it was hot, so I pulled it out and put it on. I figured a hot 70 mph breeze would just do the trick. I cannot emphasize enough the words dripping and wet.
My panic was premature, as we were allowed plenty of time for the bathroom and fuel, as well as time to grab a bag of chips and a drink. Most of the women seemed to really put away the carbs at these stops. I don’t eat that stuff, so I’d just have water. But, when people crave carbs, it’s usually because they’ve been burning them. Apparently, riding an open road bike must burn them up. I lost 4 pounds on this trip. I kept pulling my belt tighter and now I know why.
The sun was hot. I pulled my bike into the shade and began to visit with some of the other riders. I bonded quickly with a few with whom I felt I had a lot in common. I was a recent widow and now on my own. Another rider had just gotten a divorce and was now on her own. We were each dealing with solitary lives. We seemed to easily share information about ourselves as part of getting to know each other. This was an enjoyable process to me.
I’d started out the rather cool morning in my heavy leather jacket. My light leather jacket was what I had on when I encountered the “Wizard of Oz” storm in western Kansas the night before and it was totally soaked. I had no raincoat, so the leather jacket took the brunt of it and even a little light hail. It hadn’t dried one bit in the room overnight. Well, it was hot, so I pulled it out and put it on. I figured a hot 70 mph breeze would just do the trick. I cannot emphasize enough the words dripping and wet.
Break over, back on the bikes. We rode another 100 miles to lunch and that stretch seemed to go much faster. We just leaned on the throttle and rode. While everyone else was sweating, I seemed to have central air. That wet jacket had become an evaporative cooler. As the water evaporated, it caused the temperature inside it to drop significantly. Now, one of my tips for extreme hot weather riding is to put your leather jacket in the tub overnight. By morning, you’ll have air conditioning for a bike.
After lunch, I got a private talking-to by one of the Ride Captains for switching lanes passing trucks. One of the major rules in riding in a group is you never switch sides. She said she wanted me to always be in the left side of the formation. We almost always rode in the left lane and that would put me away from the trucks without changing lanes. I appreciated the direction, thanked her and then always got into the left side of the ride.
We rode on after lunch and it was hot and we started to get tired. Being in the hot sun causes you to sweat to remain cool and the 70 mph winds really dry you out. You get dehydrated in a hurry. We were again directed to drink a lot of water. Our support trailer had a large cooler in it loaded with bottles of cool water. We stopped for fuel mid-afternoon and had a nice break. It was getting easier to be with the other girls, but sometimes the lack of privacy could drive you nuts. Wherever we went, we caused problems due to numbers. We overwhelmed every restaurant at which we stopped. My son is in the restaurant business and having an 8-topper (that’s a group of 8 at a table) drop in can be problematic. Try 31 people all at once, all ordering something different.
Another quick meeting to cover the route and deal with being exhausted and hot. We weren’t riding well and it showed. Back on hot bikes and off we went. As the afternoon wore on, our little behinds really got cooked. Until you’ve done this, you don’t realize that you’re sitting on top of a very hot engine. Engine temperatures were often in the range of 250 degrees and that made the wind blowing off those engines and onto your legs and bottom pretty warm.
We squirmed and wiggled to get relief, but our buns just wouldn’t relent. They were toasted and wanted a nice bag of ice on which to sit. So sorry. This part of the trip just sucked and that was part of the deal, so suck it up, buttercup.
We finally arrive in Ft. Collins, got off the Interstate and headed for the motel. It seemed like we rode forever to get to the motel, as it was near the campus of Colorado State University, not right off the Interstate. I had no idea Ft. Collins was so big. It wasn’t, but when your buns are cooked, 3 feet seems too far to ride.
We finally arrived and overwhelmed the check-in counter.
Part 7–Dinner, drinks and shopping
I’ve not mentioned this yet, but each woman had to pay 100% of her own expenses, even our leader Momma and our support driver Jeffery. Figure 18 nights in a motel, plus 2 meals a day, giving up 2 week’s pay, then buying gas for 5,000 miles and pretty soon, you’re talking about a lot of money paid to get punished by long hot rides. In addition, we each had to pay $10 a day for fuel for the support vehicle. Not all of that was needed, so the excess has been donated back to the fund raising mission of the ride. Truly, 100% of the money donated goes directly to buy the service dog.
The motel had an inner area for parking and another area behind that. I got put in the back area, since I’d cancelled my original reservation. That meant I was separated from the group. I should mention at this point that we were all very strict about no drinking and no drugs while we were riding. Once we parked the bikes for the night, if we wanted to have a drink with dinner, we did it someplace within walking distance. If we rode to dinner, no drinks. This was strictly observed by everyone, all the time.
That said, however, after the bikes were turned off party time was fair game and there was an ample inventory being transported. All we generally needed was ice and, occasionally, some mixers. Nothing ever got loud and I never heard of anyone wearing a lampshade, but we had fun when it was time. There were a number of nights where we were too tired to do much of anything.
I’d heard that the group was headed one direction a few blocks for a nice dinner. I relaxed a bit and missed the exodus. The motel was empty of biker chicks, so I set off walking in that general direction. As I walked past an outdoor dining area, I recognized several of our group through the cracks in the fencing. They saw me and called me to join them. I soon ordered a beer and joined the party.
A few drinks later, they were winding down and said they were going shopping. Would I care to join them? Visions of shopping at Dillards or slapping racks at Macy’s went through my head. Oh, no, we’re not going there. We’re going shopping. It’s legal here in Colorado now. I’d just been slapped across the face with a trout. Oh, my, it *is* legal here, isn’t it? We were staying right across the street from a college campus, how hard would it be to find an, ahem, dispensary?
Listen, the last thing any of us wanted to do was something illegal that would bring dishonor to ourselves or our employment record. Several of them stated that they would leave it here. Whatever happens here, stays right here. Nothing goes out. No laws will be broken.
I have no further knowledge of any of the goings on that night. I never saw anyone use anything, handle anything, light anything, eat anything or, heaven forbid, inhale anything. I’m pretty sure everyone went straight to their own rooms alone for the night on return to the motel. In fact, no one else must have any recollection of that night, either. I never heard any of it discussed the rest of the trip.
I do remember sleeping well that night. Nice quiet motel with quality beds.
Up at 4am, coffee goes on immediately. Starbucks, Columbian. Ahhh, I can live again. Love my coffee. Pack my stuff and set off in search of some premium gasoline. Fill up the bike and get ready to load it. Our motel had a fabulous breakfast. I don’t eat wheat or sugar, so my best breakfast is eggs and sausage or bacon. They had great bacon, I ate with good friends. I was happy.
The girl talk turned to reveal intensely personal things about themselves. The bonding was on, this was not casual talk, these were things only shared among dear friends. We had each other’s backs and were in this together. We were becoming quite fond of each other and the respect was there.
Our bikes packed the inner courtyard for parking and when we all stood with them, we filled the place. A few cars came through and we had to help them navigate. We had 4 new riders join us that morning. 2 were from Texas and 2 from Oregon. Holy smoke, that’s a long way to ride to join us.
Later that morning, I went through the parking lot and saw license plates from South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Washington, Alabama and Wyoming. The participation was nationwide and amazing.
At today’s meeting I was publically recognized as doing a great job of riding and held up as an example. I’d worked hard at it and this made me feel great. I was back on the ride. Today, we would ride north on I-25 up to Cheyenne, Wyoming. The Harley dealer there had brunch planned for us mid-morning. Our stop for the night would be Rock Springs, Wyoming.
One of the Ride Captains was a veteran who told us that she was unable to carry on a conversation with a stranger. She advised us that if we saw a stranger try to engage her, to please jump in and take over the conversation so she could get away. She said it’s just how she is and she needed our help to avoid anxiety. I made it a point to try to watch over her the rest of the trip. I learn more about my sisters.
Today, we would cross the continental divide. Several times. We were advised to gear down going up hills when necessary. We were warned about the possibility of high winds in parts of the state and the unpredictability of the weather in this area. We were also warned about watching for rocks on the roadway and the dangers of falling rock. We would be in the mountains. The Rocky Mountains. The forecast was clear. Today, we would ride 359 miles.
KSU (Kick Stands Up) was right on cue at 7:30. The cool mountain air was a welcome change to yesterday’s heat. My leather jacket had dried out very nicely and didn’t seem to have many ill effects, other than being a little wrinkled. I started out with my heavy one as it was a bit cool.
We took off in formation and our Ride Captains blocked many intersections to keep the group together going through traffic lights. This wasn’t legal, but we seemed to get some respect from motorists. Even on the highway, 31 bikes traveling 2 seconds apart would take a minute to pass a fixed point. That’s a convoy nearly a mile long. We stayed in the left lane for safety to avoid the dangers of merging traffic.
We got onto the Interstate and got up to 75 mph. Things were going great until one bike suddenly pulled to the right and an explosion of shiny parts hit the pavement right in front of me. This could not be good. Bikes scattered in all directions. Our instructions were if a bike pulls over, we were NOT to stop, but just keep going. The dangers of having so many bikes on the shoulder were enormous. There were bikes in the rear who had the assignment to check on these bikes. We were also told if we had to stop for some unknown reason, such as to adjust our socks or take a picture, to give a thumbs up sign to the other bikes to let them know we were OK and not in need of assistance.
No one knew what happened, but I felt that dropping a bunch of shiny parts could not possibly be a good thing. A half hour later, she rejoined the group. Apparently, it wasn’t that bad.
One of the Ride Captains wanted to strangle one rider. She kept stopping suddenly and not giving any sign at all. The Ride Captain would stop to render aid and all the rider wanted was to take their picture in front of the “Welcome to …..” sign when we entered a new state.
The Ride Captains were doing a great job of monitoring the performance of each rider and coaching them privately. The wide gaps between bikes I’d complained about earlier had closed up nicely. There were still gaps, to be sure, but they were nothing like before. We were coming together as a riding group and it was rewarding to see the improvement.
We arrived at High Country Harley Davidson in Cheyenne, Wyoming. They had a real spread set out for us. There were high quality mini-cinnamon rolls and other little muffins, fresh pineapple, cantaloupe and other luscious fresh fruit. The coffee was fresh and many different cold drinks were on ice, waiting for us.
It turns out that the biker that lost a bunch of parts lost her rearview mirror. Not a big deal, but her little GoPro camera was attached to it. She was riding a Kawasaki Vulcan, not a Harley. However, the Harley service dept. was determined to fix that bike and keep her on the ride. The found a replacement mirror at the local Kawasaki dealer. They didn’t get it fixed by the time we left, but she wasn’t far behind when it did get done. I can’t say enough good things about the great receptions we got and the wonderful service provided by the dealerships. The service and parts network that Harley Davidson has built is truly impressive.
From here, it was long uphill climb to the pass over the mountains, then a long, winding downhill canyon leading into Laramie. The drive was beautiful, but it was difficult to see the scenery when you had to pay so much attention to the bike in front of you, the bikes around you and maintaining a proper gap. This wore me out and was a little frustrating.
We stretched out nearly a mile and this created issues with other traffic on the road. Faster cars would overtake us in the right lane, but when there was a truck that we were overtaking, for example, the odds of danger ramped up dramatically. If one of the bikes didn’t slow down to let the faster cars into our line, the car would eventually just pull over into us, trying to fill the gap between motorcycles. In some cases, they nearly clipped the back of the bike in front of them.
I could see this and I made it my mission to try to get cars into our line in front of me. I’d slow down to create a space for them, then motion them in. Most waved in appreciation. Some didn’t move over. Several times, after creating a space that became ignored, I gunned it and closed it back up. Due to the previously mentioned slinky effect, sometimes the bikes next to the truck simply rode next to the truck and no one could get past. This drove me nuts.
We passed the 7,000 foot mark in altitude. The thinner air affected the performance of the bikes, as we’d been warned, and it also caused the sunlight to be more intense. There was less protective atmosphere to filter out the UV rays, which means we could sun burn easier and it also seemed hotter in the sun. Great, more physical effects with which to deal. Just what we needed.
We stopped on schedule for lunch and overwhelmed the restaurant, just like always. It was a Denny’s and they seemed to handle it pretty well. We found out that Denny’s is a favorite stop for tour buses, so they’re more prepared for it than other places. They had a great grilled salmon on their menu, which fit my low carb diet perfectly. I tried to pick up Momma’s check for lunch, but someone else already had done this. I was told that this was a common event. Our love for Momma was obvious and she earned our trust and admiration.
A few of the new girls stretched out in the shade. This must have been more of a physical ordeal than they expected. I’m not sure any of us expected this, but what we were enduring was nothing compared to what our veterans experienced. When I thought of that, I became embarrassed that anyone would complain. Surprisingly, or maybe not, there was very little complaining at all among our group. They were steadfast, determined and resolute. I’m proud to be part of this.
Quick post lunch meeting. Afternoon gas stop at XX. Weather report was fairly clear, slight chance of isolated showers and the possibility of high winds. Terrific. Wyoming is known for fierce winds in places, probably worse than our Congress.
We saddle up, play the song of our people (loud big bike exhaust) and put on our big grins. We always love the song of our people. It enchants us and drives us onward. We line up, sort of, and ride out of the parking lot and work our way into formation. I moved to the left lane. We seemed to find other bikers who we’d come to know and trust what they would do and ride together. This doesn’t always work out, as you can’t always be where you want. There were times when I was next to an extremely loud bike and it hurt my little ears. My bike still has the standard exhaust, which is quite quiet for a Harley Fat Boy. It ain’t no Honda, if you know what I mean, but I can ride a long way and still have decent hearing when I get home. But, I digress.
We get on the Interstate and let ‘em rip. We always drove the speed limit and we always rode Interstate Highways. In Wyoming, the speed limit was 80 miles an hour. 80. That’s eight zero. If you thought riding crowded at 70 mph on motorcycles was an adventure, you have not ridden yet. Seeing that pavement whiz by inches from your little feet was quite the experience, but watching telephone poles go by like a picket fence, this ain’t no Girl Scout mission. No offense to the Scouts. This could be a medical cure for low pulse rate.
As we ride through the mountains, we see a tunnel coming up. This is fun in a car, but nothing compares to the thrill of traversing a tunnel in a big bike and that pales in comparison to a group of bikes. Yes, a group of bikes nearly a mile long, playing the song of our people in a tunnel. This is where the term rolling thunder must certainly have originated, or at least named as a national hymn. Yes, we derive joy from the simple things in life, like feeling your chest resonate from the thunder. We are renewed.
Please visit www.womensfreedomride.org and hit the “Donate” button. We’re still over $3,000 short of our goal. I hope this story will show how much courage and determination were displayed by the women of this ride (and Jeffery) to raise money to buy a service dog for a veteran. Our veterans fought for our freedom. Without them, we would not be free to ride across our lovely country. Please give a little or a lot, but please do what you can. Thank you from myself and the entire group responsible for this ride.
Next, Part 8—Some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever see and how do you negotiate tight downhill curves at 80 mph on a motorcycle?
I should mention something here about riding skills and what you need to ride in formation over long distances. There are 3 lanes to a lane for a motorcycle. There’s the left side of the lane, the right side of the lane and the center of the lane. Riding staggered means the first motorcycle is in one side of the lane, we’ll say left, the next motorcycle is about one second behind them in the right lane and the third motorcycle is in the left lane, 2 seconds behind the first bike.
According to our expert in the field, Momma Bear, our ride leader, she should be able to look down the center of the column and be able to see all the way to the back. This means each bike has about 6 inches width to move side to side. In other words, the bike in the right bike lane is only about 10 inches in from the right side of the road and must maintain this distance at all times. Even in curves, you need to ride your bike into the curve at the exact same curvature as the road. None of this sliding over a half a lane to manipulate the curve. This takes great skill to do, and even greater skill to do all day long.
An inside curve is much easier than an outside curve. What I mean by an inside curve is that you’re riding the inside edge of the curve. When you’re riding in the right side of the lane on a right curve, that’s an inside curve. If you waver a little and take it too wide, you still have the entire lane in which to maneuver while staying in the lane and on the roadway. From that same position, taking a left turn means you have only 10 inches of extra room before you’re off the road.
Riding in tight formation requires that each rider hold “their line” in order to not crowd those opposite them in the formation, while at the same time maintaining the proper distance to those in front of them. I watched some riders struggle in the beginning and improve slightly day by day. I improved myself over time.
Riding in the Rocky Mountains is where this gets more demanding. Mastering your lane while watching for upcoming tight turns, falling rocks, rocks in the road and scattered sand and gravel gets your attention and causes serious fatigue.
But, I digress. When we left our heroines, they were screaming down the mountain after lunch, headed for Rock Springs, Wyoming, deep in the heart of the true Rocky Mountains.
This was one of the most rewarding parts of the trip. We could see snow-capped peaks in the distance and real rocky mountains in front of them, while we were accompanied by a roaring mountain stream to guide our path. This was the original Oregon and Mormon Trail. Looking at this, I wondered how on earth those pioneers ever got 2 oxen and a covered wagon down this trail. These people were amazing, as they walked most of the way, themselves. Those wagons didn’t even have a charging port for a smart phone. This was true grit.
We regretted not having time to stop and take photos of this breathtaking scenery while riding. We all snuck as many looks as we could and we were in a great mood at the afternoon rest stop. One of the girls had a great sound system and one of her favorite songs came on, so we all had to dance. That’s the video for this segment. So call me, baby.
At the meeting, Momma said that the song “America, the beautiful” was inspired by the majesty of these purple mountains and it’s easy to see why. Wow, this isn’t Kansas, Toto. Then, the weather report. Possible scattered showers, getting more likely later in the day. We only had a few hours left to ride in order to make the day’s destination. Give it your best shot.
We are wound up from the joy of the beautiful scenery and the fact that we only have a few hours before we’re done for the day. We take off onto the Interstate.
Never trust the Rockies. Just when you think you’ve got this, Mother Nature shows you who’s boss. She whipped up the winds we were warned about, only these weren’t just simple winds. No, they had to be the most vicious and devious things I’d seen. You’re getting pushed over from the left, then suddenly, it reverses and you get blasted from the right. I thought for sure the Wicked Witch had released the flying monkeys or something. Twisting, twirling, pushing you, then pulling you, this was a serious challenge to our riding skills.
I’d trained for this. I’d ridden in 30, 40 and even some gusts to 50 mph at times. This dished out everything I could handle. I was glad to be on a big, heavy bike.
We arrived safely without further incident. We found and overwhelmed another motel. We got in early, in time to relax a bit. I helped some of the sisters carry luggage and unload. My forte had become being the good windshield fairy. I brought along “Bug Slide” a product that my local Harley Dealer swears is the best way to clean a bike. Spray it on, it melts bugs, wipes clean with no streaks and makes the bugs come off easier next time. I’d been cleaning a lot of windshields over the last few days. I always asked first, some women were finicky about their bikes. I was about mine, so I get it. I cleaned some windshields.
Then, I set off to fill my bike and get some beer. I found the first convenience store in recent memory that didn’t sell beer. Really? So, I rode around and spotted some wind sisters who pointed me in the right direction. Hey, we stick together. I’d had breakfast and lunch and I only eat 2 meals a day, so I was good. The crowd favorite that night was pizza delivered. That allowed for some good times and besides, I think we were all done with biking for the day.
Boom, I hit the bed early and slept like a rock.
Next morning, I was planning on fine dining at Mickey D’s for breakfast, as this motel’s breakfast didn’t fit me. Turns out, it didn’t fit a lot of us and we were told by the ride captains to head to the local breakfast franchise, whose name escapes me at this time. Fine.
I go inside and we had really overwhelmed this establishment. There was only one waitress for the whole place and there were already other people there. I’m going to do my part and leave for McD’s, that way I’ve reduced the number of people looking for food.
One of the other bikers and I went together. It was the nicest breakfast of the trip. We visited and got to know each other more in depth. I was really having fun and so was she.
On our return to the restaurant, it turns out that our group was extremely innovative. One of the women had turned into a waitress and taken the orders for everyone, turned them in, gotten the drinks and silverware. She even fetched the catsup and tabasco sauce. We will not be detained, detoured or re-directed. We had a schedule and we would keep it.
Our bikes were packed and parked in front of the restaurant and our meeting began, amazingly, right on cue at 7 am. Today, we had a stop scheduled at Golden Spike Harley Davidson in Salt Lake City, Utah. There would be press there and a party for us, in addition to free lunch. This was a big deal. We had to look smart on arrival and present a great formation coming in. We were advised to take a minute after parking our bikes to get our lipstick on and look good before we entered the dealership.
We had 400 miles to ride to get to the next destination of Idaho Falls, Idaho, near the entrance to Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. We also got an extra free day off there.
The Ride Captains again did a wonderful job—gas stops, route changes, turns, junctions and they made us repeat it all several times, as it was somewhat complicated this trip. This was just to get to the dealer in Salt Lake.
Today was cold to start. I put on my warm stuff. I must say that I never suffered from the weather, I was prepared for it and it paid off.
The Ride Captains lead the way and we again play the song of our people (loud big bike exhaust) and off we go. This was one of the truly most wonderful parts of our trip. We followed this lovely mountain stream down this deep granite faced gorge. There were 2 sets of railroad tracks on the opposite side of the stream. It was a continual downhill ride, for the most part. We did have the 3 sisters to ride, which are very wide and very deep valleys separated by 3 steep hills (hence the name) that we rode down into and then right up the other side. The grandeur of this country is wonderful.
We stop for gas. I’m in line behind another bike, who is just starting to use the gas pump. Suddenly, she runs away and I hear “biker down”. I follow her. One of our team has tipped over their bike. It lays flat on the ground and she is struggling to get up herself. A dozen bikers swarm in and they lift the bike up like a feather, while others get our sister to her feet. I’ve never seen such fast reactions. Everybody was fine, no damage done. This is just stuff that happens, especially when you get fatigued. We were fatigued.
The gas stop continued without incident and we got back on the road. The ride into Salt Lake was as pretty as could be. Salt Lake was founded by Mormons who were seeking a place to escape religious persecution. They had not fared well in Missouri. I can see why they chose this area. Getting through the mountains to get here would stop anybody and the only water in the valley was the Great Salt Lake, which is so salty that there’s virtually no life in the lake. The lake is the remnant of an inland sea that evaporated, hence the high salt content. In fact, it’s impossible to drown in the salt lake. The water is so dense that a person can simply float straight up and down and your entire head sticks out of the water. I’ve done it, but not on this trip. The Mormons were very industrious and innovative. They used irrigation to bring those refreshing mountain streams and rivers right into the valley to create lush crops.
Once again, I drift off. Stay tuned for Part 9, a diesel truck takes aim at us and I become famous somewhere in Japan.
As we finish roaring down a beautiful granite canyon in perfect formation, we enter a lush green valley approaching the north side of Salt Lake City. The stream is full of crystal clear mountain water, bounding over the rounded rocks of the stream bed. It meanders back and forth and nurtures the trees and bushes that populate the bottom of the valley.
We are fresh in the morning and welcome the warming of the temperature as we leave the high mountains. The sun warms us and the clear air invites us to breathe deep. We can see far in most directions and there is still ample snow yet to melt on distant peaks. This is the stuff of postcards, although I never saw a single post card for sale on this trip. Must have gone the way of dial phones and Vue Master vistas.
We traverse several streets after we exit the freeway and ride along like the royal princess biker parade that we have become. Our Ride Captains block traffic for us as we ignore the turn light turning red. Our procession continues through the red signal light, like we often do. A large, loud, black, smoke-belching diesel pickup truck is speeding down the hill and gives all indications that he will not stop to honor our royalty. In fact, it now appears that the loud rev of his engine signals that his targeting sensors are now locked on our pretty bikes. We scatter as he narrowly misses us and careens down the hill. Thank heavens he drove straight and gave us a sporting chance.
Well, back to reality as we gather ourselves back up and establish the perfect riding gaps that we are instructed to do as we make a grand and regal entrance. We were all of that. 24 bikes and 6 trikes, thundering together in unison and perfect order. This is a show. We roll in and park in neat little rows, our front wheels lined up as perfectly as if we’d been out all night with measuring string. We dismount, remove our helmets and put on our landing strips, at least I do. Landing strips are what flight attendants call it when women freshen their lipstick on landing.
There was a nice reception waiting for us and the press were in attendance. Momma Bear spent a fair amount of time in front of the cameras and microphones, explaining the purpose of our ride. She does a great job and is a wonderful spokesperson for our mission.
Everyone at the dealer was very nice and we immediately went shopping for necessary riding or fashion gear. We also had to buy a poker chip. Every Harley dealer has a jar of poker chips in different colors by the cash register. At 2 bucks apiece, they offer proof you were there and many people buy these as they go. More collectibles. We were advised ahead of time to have more room in our luggage than we needed, in order to accommodate purchases such as this. Some women mailed new purchases home, some mailed dirty clothes home, others actually discarded old clothing as they went in a planned purging of things used for the last time and no longer needed. I just kept stuffing it in there, like the little chipmunk trying to get the last peanut into her cheek.
We were provided a very ample and varied boxed lunch, with a choice of turkey, ham or beef sandwich, chips, an apple and a cookie. I was impressed, as this was high quality fare.
After lunch, Momma Bear designated me as the chief salesperson for the WFR tee shirts we’d brought for this purpose and we had a line of people to purchase them. We hauled the plastic containers out of the truck and proceeded to hawk our wares. This involved a little flipping through stacks of shirts to find the right sizes and designs. Actually, a lot of flipping. Over the days, the stacks of shirts had become somewhat disorganized and disheveled as we sold out of certain sizes, like XL and refused to accept that there weren’t any more, so we had to flip through them again to be certain.
The sun was very bright and the wind light. We quickly shed our coats and began to get ready to disembark again. Our time at Golden Spike Harley Davidson was closing.
We had our normal pre-ride meeting. Our ride captains informed us that we were in a race against a rain front and would have to keep it moving in order to beat the storm and arrive dry. Great, just what we need, more pressure to ride. Last night, we were in Rock City, Wyoming and tonight’s destination was 400 miles away in Idaho Falls, Idaho. We would get an extra day there, as a break, which we desperately needed.
Every group has the complainers, whose attitude can make it difficult for the rest of the group. We were told in advance to stuff a sock in it publicly and go directly to the Ride Captains if we had issues with any part of the ride or any members of the ride. To the group’s credit, I never heard a word of complaint about how difficult this ordeal was, how hard it was to continue or how maybe we didn’t want to ride any more that day. The two riders who joined us in Ft. Collins had disappeared by now. It was common for some newcomers to drop out after a very short time, or to not even join at all after arriving and finding out that we really did ride in the rain or ride 80 mph all day, because we rode the speed limit.
This was one tough, determined, resolute group. Every one of us was dedicated to raising money for this veteran. I said it myself and I heard it often that what we were going through was absolutely nothing compared to what our veterans endure. We had hot food and warm beds. We had not one thing about which to complain. I never even heard a complaint about getting up a 4 am to be ready. I never said everyone was chipper, however. Except me. I’m the person everyone hates in a group of morning people. I fall asleep at 8pm and get up every day at 4am. I’m hopping up and down after my pot of coffee.
We were advised that there was some substantial construction ahead. Our hosts were gracious enough to provide some ride leaders to guide us around it and get us safely through it. This time, we observed the traffic signals and rode on. We were soon past the construction and again rolling down the road.
Soon, one of the bikes went to the shoulder, another mechanical casualty. I thought about the herd who occasionally loses one to the predator. While the rest of us are safe, we’re concerned about the one who may not be. Fortunately, we have Jeffery following us with a trailer to pick up the affected bike and biker. These mounting mechanical issues remind us of the toll this ride takes on riders and machines. This is no adventure to be done on a lark.
The speed limit in Utah has just been raised to 80 miles per hour. Riding 75 seems too fast on two wheels, but increasing speed to 80 seems like it’s twice as fast. That means it only takes 2.5 seconds to travel the length of a football field. Look down at your instruments and you’ve gone 400 feet. Holy jeepers! At this speed, having good tires is mandatory and one little mistake could prove serious. Now, pack a group nearly a mile long together and run it up to 80 and you’ve got some real concentration to do. Think you’ve got it? Fine, now let’s do this for hours on end and see how smart you are then.
I was becoming concerned about my own riding, as fatigue was affecting my riding. I wasn’t holding a tight line at all times and my focus was difficult to maintain for long periods. It was time for a gas stop. We rolled into the fuel stop and, naturally, overwhelmed the gas pumps.
I was at the front of the procession and spotted an empty pump at the front. I was excited and came in a little hot. I turned the bike slightly as I hit the brakes and, as soon as the bike stopped moving, I knew something was bad wrong. Just like the coyote when he goes after the road runner and steps off the ledge, there was that moment in time when you realized this was not going to have a good outcome. The bike was tipped too far over to the left and I knew I couldn’t hold it, she was going down. I’ve been through this enough that I knew there was nothing I could do. A friend of mine broke his collarbone trying to catch himself in just such a fall. I would have no part of that.
In seeming slow motion, the bike started to fall as if someone had yelled tiiimmmmbbbberrrrr! I jumped clear and left the bike to fend for herself. I rolled as I hit, which I’ve trained myself to do to avoid injury. As I completed my roll, the back of my head smacked against the pavement. Crack!
I’ve got a long history as a downhill snow skier and you fall plenty doing that. My training told me to always lie still after a fall and just give everything time to settle. It’s possible to injure yourself jumping right back up if you’re not careful. I took a second to assess things and I was just fine. My helmet had done its job and all my gear had protected me just fine.
I was immediately surrounded by my sisters, who helped me to my feet and had my Fat Girl bike back on two wheels in an instant. There was no damage. I think every woman on the ride asked me if I was OK. This was great support. This also reinforces the idea that there is tremendous safety traveling in a group like this.
I put gas in my bike and drove it to the front of the store. I found a parking place right in front. I went in to use the restroom and there was a long line to get in. I guess I didn’t need to go that bad. This is a woman thing that sometimes happens. For some reason, designers think that having the same square footage for both the men’s and women’s restrooms is adequate. The reality is that there should be about 5 times the space for women as there is for men. Well, it was not to be.
As I walked back to the front, I noticed the signage was in English and also in Japanese, or at least I thought I was. Interesting, I thought. I don’t generally notice much about people regarding ethnicity. People are just people and we’re all alike to me. However, after seeing the signage, I looked closer and it appeared there were quite a few people with Asian features. No biggie to me.
I go outside and return to my bike. I then saw the tour bus parked on the side of the building. Soon, a few people had noticed my bike. This is one massive, impressive, gleaming black and chrome machine. The fenders, frame and gas tank were deep gloss black. The kind of finish that’s advertised as “a foot deep”. Pretty much everything else of metal is chrome plated. Brilliantly chrome plated, even the solid wheels. This ain’t no little Honda. This is a Harley Davidson, made in America. This is one sexy machine.
Soon, one young Asian girl asked politely if she could take a picture of my bike. I smiled and said, of course. Please. Then, another wanted to photo and another. A crowd formed. I noticed my ride sisters had a vaporized into the ether of the universe and I faced this crowd alone. A very tall man wanted to know if I’d permit him to sit on the bike and get his photo taken. I instructed him how to get on the bike without his feet touching it. He was agile as a gazelle and his leg cleared the bike easily. His grin made the Cheshire Cat seem to be in deep contemplation by comparison. I encouraged him to take a number of photos and get into different poses.
This really encouraged the crowd. As he got off, the bravest off all the young girls wanted to know if she could get her picture taken with me, next to the bike. Soon, I was the star, along with the bike. One after another, lined up like kids to see Santa at Christmas time, came the girls to get their picture taken with me and the bike.
Finally, I think everyone on the bus except the driver had their picture taken with me and the bike and there were numerous photos of the bike as well. I’m pretty sure that I’m now a famous person somewhere in Japan.
As I got on the bike and rode across the parking lot, my team was laughing their socks off at me and my adventure. They were all glad to be safely away from all the excitement. I still had time to drink some water and relax a bit. A lot had just happened.
Next, part 10 of my experiences on the Women’s Freedom Ride. If you think riding in a tight group at 80 mph is stressful, just add traffic.
When you take 31 bikers on the road at one time, there is a lot to learn and a lot to supervise. 31 bikes, with an average of a 2-second interval, takes a full minute to pass a fixed point. Imagine pulling up to a stop sign on a road and seeing a procession of bikes. As you stop, the first one enters the intersection. Now, look at a watch and see how long it takes in your mind for a full minute to elapse. That seems like an eternity. Brrap, brrap, brrap, they go by, filling the air with loud bass sounds. Good heavens, this sounds like thunder.
Each time we enter the freeway, we all signal our entry into the roadway, both with our turn signal lights and using hand signals. This is an invasion. We first ride about 50 mph, to allow our engines to warm up and to enable the entire group to assemble. At a mile long or more, it takes some doing to get everyone through all the intersections leading to the freeway. Considering there’s traffic already on the freeway, there’s the issue of getting the caravan together.
Soon, the Ride Captains in front extend their left arm outward with the palm up and raise and lower it repeatedly as the signal, speed up. Each rider is obligated to mimic every signal given by the rider in front of them, all the way to the back. This is the method of communication used in riding formations. Ideally, everyone from the front to the back is now on the same page.
So, now you’ve got 31 bikes rolling along at 50 mph and the gap between each one increases and decreases as each rider changes the distance between themselves and the bike in front of them. A simple change of a few seconds by each bike can lengthen or shorten this mile-long string by as much as a mile in distance. So, the group gets a mile longer. It’s now 2 miles! It’s now probably visible from the space station. This longer and shorter stuff is called the Slinky effect, after the kid’s toy.
The “Back of the Pack” gang has radio contact with the Ride Captains in front. Momma Bear, while the real Queen Bee of the whole thing, is not the ride leader. There are 2 designated Ride Captains for that. One in front and the other to her right. There are also designated Ride Captains for the middle of the pack and, also, to the rear. The rearmost rider is called “the sweep”. Their job is to be sure no one is left behind. The sweep makes sure no bikes drop out and stop, unassisted.
As we all settle in and get familiar with who is around us, we begin to get into proper gap formation and there is less Slinky stuff. Again, the left hands go out and the speed up signal is given. For some reason, the speed up signal doesn’t always speed the group up. Many times, I rolled my throttle and simply ran up the backside of the bike in front of me. I quickly decelerated and moved back.
Rolling the throttle is how you apply power to a bike. For those who aren’t familiar with this, twisting the right hand grip downward makes you go faster and twisting it back upward reduces speed. If you simply let go, a spring sends it back to idle. So, rolling on goes faster, rolling off goes slower.
Finally, we get the go signal again and this time it takes. The sudden roar of 31 thundering metal beasts rips through your chest and there’s a serious smell of hot exhaust permeating the country air. We’re on it, as they say in racing. These big road bikes are not all Harleys, but large road bikes have enormous engines and just enough bike to support that engine. Sort of like putting a Hemi on a skate board, these things can flat out get it on the highway. It only takes about 2 seconds to gain 10 mph. This burst of increased speed is over in a hurry.
When the Back of the Pack gang sees that the left lane is clear for the group to move over to it, they first move to the left to block traffic for the group and radio the Ride Captains leading the way. The front Ride Captains then give the left turn signal by hand and using their signals. The entire group then mimics the signals and the race is on. There seem to be bikes going everywhere, all at once. What at first appears to be a random movement is over in seconds, as the entire column is now returned to order and traveling at a high rate of speed in the left lane.
Ah, yes, we’re now in high speed pursuit mode and rolling along. We can begin to relax and enjoy the ride once again. There’s something magical about riding a big bike on the open road. There is no steel around you for protection, just you astride your metal missile, hurdling down the road at 117 feet per second. The pavement below your feet is a complete blur. With nothing around you, you find you can see a lot more than you ever could in an enclosed vehicle. Motorcyclists refer to those as “cages”. They will refer to drivers of cars and trucks as “caged drivers”.
The shoulders and ditches are clearly visible and it’s interesting to see how different states treat them. Some are neatly planted and mowed, others allow more wild flowers to grow. With modern crops planted all the way to the fences, the ditches are often the only remaining shelters for pheasants and other wildlife. I never really thought much about ditches until I started riding a bike.
Momma Bear would often get into the right lane and ride slower than the group. As we passed her, she would give us the “thumbs up” if our bikes were in order. She was constantly checking our equipment, both bikes and baggage, to be certain we didn’t have issues that should be addressed. As she gave us a thumb, we were likewise to respond to her ourselves by giving a thumbs up in return. This would convey to her that we were fine and nothing concerned us at that moment.
Momma was highly respected and rightly so. She would be up at 4 am, walking the parking lot to inspect the bikes. She checked for low tires, bulges in tires and anything that appeared out of the ordinary. At 117 feet per second, nothing should be overlooked in the name of safety.
Sometimes, she would find luggage that was slipping out of place and signal the biker to pull over to secure it. She was ever watchful. She was also a very good rider. It was not unusual to see her streaking by at some unseemly speed to return to the front. She could make us feel like we were parked as she passed.
Objects in the road were a much bigger issue on a bike than for those traveling in cages. As riders encountered possums, pot holes or stalled Fiats, they would quickly extend a leg to point it out. Using a hand would be nice, but often they are in use piloting the bike. A foot was always free. You soon learned that if a foot went out, yours should as well, even if you didn’t see anything yet. You’d see it soon enough and always appreciated the advance warning.
The stage is set. We’re now rolling along, singing our song, side by side at 80 miles per hour. In the left lane. Yes, the lane that’s only supposed to be used for passing. But we’re not passing all the time. We’re just hogging a mile of concrete and creating a traffic jam when we overtake vehicles in the right lane going 78 mph. As cars overtake us, traveling in the right lane, they then also overtake the vehicle traveling 78 in the right lane.
Something has to give. If none of our sisters yield to the car and let them into our procession, the car just tries to crowd into the 2 second gap between bikes and push us over off the road. I am the consummate safe driver and this scenario plays itself out again and again. I see nothing good coming out of this and wonder, why on earth are we not moving back to the right lane after we pass vehicles? This makes no sense.
I can feel the tension building inside of me. Soon, I’m slowing down myself, creating a gap in front of me and signaling cars to blend in right there. Remember, I’m in the left side of the column, so as to avoid close contact with truck tires as we overtake and pass big trucks. I’m totally fixed on getting the cars to blend in with us and maintaining a gap in front of me. Some of the car drivers never even look over at me.
Are you nuts? Can you not see there’s a very nice, inviting gap in the motorcycles with a neon sign saying, “please enter here for free?” I honk my horn, I wave my arm. In some cases, I have no choice but to roll on the throttle and close up the gap. In other cases, I finally get their attention and the car moves over.
No one told me to do this and I risk the wrath of the ride captains, as I have no idea what proper protocol is. But above all, I’m a “safety first” rider. I’m riding my bike home with no damage to me or it. I don’t take risks easily.
I can easily manage the gap in front of me and also to the side of me. I can increase it anytime I wish by simply rolling off the throttle a bit. I can do nothing about the gap behind me. I can’t always be sure my ride sisters are paying attention. I was concerned many times about being followed too closely. The image of my flat tire at 75 mph was vivid in my brain. No time to signal, no brake lights, just a very sudden slowing of my bike and an intense need to seek out the right shoulder.
Finally, it happens. I roll off the throttle to create a much needed gap. At that precise instant, a suicidal bug screams out of the sun to directly impact my ride sister to the rear. Hits right in her line of vision. Boom! So what’s she supposed to do? What any of us would do—notice the bug. Well, I’m not the bug, thank you very much.
Suddenly my rearview is really full of a big Harley. Whoa! The gap is now in tenths of a second. Where’d this come from? Roll on the gas quick, forget the car and get all stressed out. We dodged a bullet this time, but I’m getting too old for this kind of excitement. (Even 21 can be too old for this).
Next, Part 11 of my experiences on the Women’s Freedom Ride—dancing with women riding motorcycles.
At the next riders meeting it was explained why we ride in the left lane most of the time. It’s due to merging traffic and also uneven speeds in that lane due to exiting traffic. In addition, every time we would have to pass a car, we’d be changing lanes.
Well, slap my head. That makes perfect sense, given the length of our procession. We’d literally be all over the place, all the time.
The Ride Captains also talked a lot about managing traffic trying to pass. Another rider and I were cited as the ones doing the best job of allowing cars to merge into our group. We were called the “kind-hearted ones”. Personally, it had more to do with not wanting to die than being kind, but I’ll take it.
We were all complimented on our coming together as a riding group. Momma Bear said this is when a riding group is seen to be “dancing”. In this case, our lines were straight, she could see down the middle and the gaps were uniform. We were shaping up to be a disciplined group.
That’s the good news. The bad news was it was getting late, we still had a ways to go and, wait for it, we were headed for rain. So, one of the prime rules for riding a motorcycle is, put your rain gear on before you need it. You never want to pull off onto the shoulder of the freeway if it’s not an emergency. In addition, it takes several minutes to get your rain gear on over your heavy riding boots and by that time you’ll be so soaked you won’t need rain gear.
So, we all wrestle with our respective rain gear while we’re very tired.
Back onto the freeway, get into our lines and do the raising of the left hand together to get up to speed. We get to sing the song of our people once again. It’s quite fun, even if we are dead dog tired.
Several times we had to move to the right lane in reasonably heavy traffic. This created all sorts of confusion, as it wasn’t clear if one should get in front of the truck or behind it. This was further complicated when the truck or car also changed speed. This was a challenging exercise. On two different occasions, I rode into the path of riders behind me, scaring me to death. I’m pretty sure it was not a relaxing event for them, either.
Our ride was fast and loose. I don’t mean loose like a slot machine, which is a good thing. I mean loose like we were fatigued and sort of all over the place, at least I was. I didn’t feel very safe, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. We pressed on.
Just to be sure we had a little more challenge, it began to rain. It was light rain, nothing like I endured in Hays, Kansas. But still, the rain obscures the vision and also makes it hard to see. I have no idea why the rain droplets just sit on my windshield. They also sit on my helmet visor, but that’s because I’m behind the windshield. I found if I could stick my head out to the side far enough, the wind would blow my visor clean. In extreme cases, I’d just ride with my head out to one side or the other.
It wasn’t much longer that we arrived in Idaho Falls. Wow, we all thought we’d never get here. In reality, it was a fairly early arrival time of 4:30. We’ve arrived as late as 6 pm or later, so this is a real gift.
Once again, we swarm the counter. It seems to take a half hour of waiting to get my room key before I can deal with unpacking soggy luggage in the rain. But our mood is very good. We’re all so happy because this is a TWO DAY stop. We don’t have to get up and pack a bike tomorrow. It’s a free day. Woohoo.
We all got unloaded, secured our bikes in the rain and were told we were all going across the street for dinner. None of us really knew, but this place was nice. For once, we all were able to put on nice (biker) clothes that were dry and saunter across the street for a nice dinner.
Rather than overwhelm this place, we got our own room, except for one unlucky table of people who were already there. I’m certain that our laughter and mirth were as irritating to them as the song of our people would be to those wanting to sleep in at 7:30 for KSU. (Kick stands up). Just like them, if you want a quiet meal, too bad.
This was roughly the 10th day of the ride and we’d all come to know each other well enough that seating wasn’t a big issue. You could pretty much sit anywhere and be with friends. Our spirits were high, as we had finished a very difficult stretch of riding and the bikes were parked. Bring out the booze, we only have to walk across the street and we got the day off tomorrow. We were sisters now and you can’t buy sisterhood. We’ve earned it, we knew it and we were enjoying it.
Did I say this was a nice place? Oh, yes. This was fine dining. The large room was nicely divided with sculptured oak up to about 5 feet high, then large panes of glass on top of that to the ceiling. This let you see you were in a large room, but at the same time it broke the noise up nicely, so you didn’t have to shout. The name of the place is Jakers and its got great ratings if you’re ever in Idaho Falls.
My choice was fresh salmon, grilled to perfection. Idaho isn’t that far from where the salmon roam, so this might be compared to getting sweet corn in season in Nebraska, or fresh pineapple in Maui. This was good eating. And, there was beer. Yes, beer. There were also mixed drinks for others and the waitresses were prompt.
We did not overwhelm them, none of us had to volunteer to be “Flo” and take orders for the house.
The salad was lovely and the salmon was worth the ride. Everyone had a great time and we ate a leisurely meal and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.
At this point, I’ll make an admission that perhaps should remain private, but hey, we’re at a party and the talk is a little loose, so here goes. I’ve been trying to pick up the tab for Momma Bear’s meals for nearly a week and someone else has done it before me. I have no idea if it’s one person or a rotation, but I know this time, I got the waitress and made the deal. Momma Bear is the most generous, kind and giving person you’d ever want to meet and I know she gives a lot. She not only does all the work for this ride, but she pays all her own way. I genuinely pleased that I can buy her meal for her tonight.
So, we have a great time, split some desserts and do our best imitation of a Roman feast. I paid the bill in cash, which makes it so much easier when there’s 31 people in the group and its all separate checks.
Naturally, Momma Bear wants to know who did this, much as my own Mom wanted to know who ate all her home-made cookies. With crumbs on my face, all I could do was say, “Not me”. I told her there must be some computer malfunction that messed up the paperwork and, like Sgt. Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes, I knew nothing. Nothing!
We all sauntered back to the hotel and fell into bed.
Part 12 A free day that was 45 degrees, overcast with black clouds obscuring the mountain tops.
I’d gone to bed early the night of arrival. I am a total morning person and we were on Mountain Time and I live in Standard Time. This means when it’s 4am to everyone else, it’s really 5am to me. I woke up early at about 4am on my free day. I immediately fixed my Starbucks coffee using my own coffeemaker. Ahhh. I can function now.
This was my 9th day on the road. The first 8 were riding and I was really tired. I was tired and had had about enough of this riding in a group stuff. It had taken a toll on me and I needed a break from it. Don’t misunderstand, I love all my wind sisters dearly. But, I’m about a 9 on the scale of introverts. I really prefer to be alone a lot. I’m OK with a crowd, but given my druthers, I like my solitude time.
My first delight for the day was I didn’t have to frantically pack things up. We were staying 2 nights and this was a free day. FREE! I sat and drank my coffee. I relaxed. This was grand.
Since I’d been up at 4am, I decided to crash the breakfast room at 6 when they opened. I found several wind sisters already there. They invited me to join them, so I did. I got my low-carb breakfast of rubber eggs and sausage. Also grabbed a yogurt (with live yogurt cultures). I don’t eat wheat, gluten or sugar, so that rules out about everything else in the breakfast area. We had a nice breakfast and, slowly, they crept up on us and began to fill the room.
Who is “they”? I believe it was them. I can’t be certain, but it might have been the busload of young Japanese tourists. They didn’t recognize me, because I didn’t have my bike with me or my bright yellow, full face Shoei helmet. They filled the room and it seemed like each one had to pack up 3 or 4 bananas each, plus apples. Lots of apples, like each one needed enough to make a pie. I’m not kidding. As soon as a caravan of 3 of the motel staff brought in armloads of bananas each, they were picked clean, leaving only a few Chiquita stickers as remnants of the carnage.
Naturally, with a room full of people, there was a lot of noise. As they finished eating what they could eat and packing away as much as each of them could carry, they drifted away. After a while, total calm returned. Since we had no deadlines that morning, we were still there. We just sat there, stunned and looking at a disheveled dining area. It seems that clearing a table or disposing of litter was not a strong suit, either. This was our second encounter with the busload of tourists. It could have been a lot worse. We’ve all been tourists ourselves, somewhere, sometime.
A number of the women were going to ride into Yellowstone Park. I didn’t realize this, because I thought Yellowstone was a part of the ride and we’d have escorts to guide us through, but we were on our own that day. Totally on our own. I also had no idea that our motel was 120 miles from the entrance to the park. That meant 240 miles round trip. Just to get to see Ranger Smith. That doesn’t count seeing anything in the park, which is larger than the state Rhode Island.
Oh, yeah, I also failed to mention that the temperature that morning was 45 degrees. 45. Degrees. That’s just above freezing. So, just to be clear. I was worn out from riding, I was dangerous on a bike from fatigue and wanted some alone time. Yellowstone? Get run over by a Bison? How about a Buffalo? Want to get rammed by one of those? Or a bear? Yes, eaten by a bear in near freezing temperatures.
I think I’ll just ride over the Harley Dealer and get a poker chip. Maybe find a nice tee shirt. I checked the maps and the Teton Village wasn’t that far away. I could see the mountains. I mean I could see the base of the mountains. The peaks were covered by black clouds and the sky was overcast. Overcast and the temperature was 45 degrees. At base camp. Do you know what happens on mountain peaks when they’re covered by black clouds? As a snow skier, I know when you can’t see the top of the mountain, it generally means it’s snowing up there. While skiers rejoice at the thought of fresh powder, I can’t say the joy is gratefully shared by biker chicks on big road bikes. Not so much, no.
Yes, a nice bike trip to the Harley Dealer, get a tee shirt and a photo of the bike in front of the dealer for a souvenir and call it a day. I did find a really nice tee shirt and had a nice visit at the Harley Dealer. On the return to my room, I had a lovely view of some pine trees out my window and the squirrels were playing and the most lovely black and white birds were giving me a show.
Had the weather been warmer, like shirt sleeve type weather, I have no doubt I’d have been on my bike at some point in the day. The weather was nature’s way of telling me I needed some rest.
So, I relaxed in my room. By myself. Recharged my batteries. Enjoyed the birds and squirrels. It was a delight. Walked over to the Denny’s nearby and had a nice lunch.
Later that day, the women returned with great stories of seeing Old Faithful and one of them walked into a field to get an upclose with a bison. Those things have a brain the size of a walnut and are extremely unpredictable. They do 3 things well—stand there, run and run over things. #2 and 3 are often simultaneous. I’ll watch from a distance, thank you.
After we get home from the ride and were trading stories, I learned that the busload of Japanese tourists seemed to stop everywhere our wind sisters stopped and they waved like crazy at every contact. The mass of paparazzi were eagerly seeking just one more glimpse of their supermodel goddess of chrome (that would be me) at every scenic overlook. Funny coincidence.
And so, the free day closes. I’m rested and relaxed. This was exactly what I needed—a whole bunch of nothing.
Next, Part 13–45 degree temperatures, 80 mph wind chills and I’ve had it.
So, I was exhausted from riding and I had no desire to ride into Yellowstone Park, although I’d looked forward to doing this for months. In fact, I’ve never been to Yellowstone and really, really wanted to go. I really, really, regretted not going to Yellowstone. That’s 4 reallys. Sure, I blamed it on cold weather at 45 degrees. I’ve got heated gloves and riding at 45 degrees is no big deal to me. I’ve ridden at 19 degrees and am perfectly comfortable at 45. I’ve also ridden more than 8 days in a row, so it wasn’t just the seat time that had an effect.
I had no idea why at the time, but I’ve had time to digest and reflect on past events. What follows are just some random thoughts. I hope they’ll be of value to others who aspire to ride in groups or take long trips that involve overnight stays.
For comparison sake, let’s say that you’re a person that’s afraid of heights, and, just for fun, lets toss in another that might resonate, like spiders. Yes, that’s it, a tall place, way above the ground, that’s covered in spiders.
So, the first day, you’re forced to walk across planks high in the air, with very flimsy ropes to stabilize you and the place is covered with spiders. You’ve had a fear overload. Now, you get up and the next day, you have to do it again. The next day you do it again. And again. And again. This goes on for 8 days.
When you get a free day, how likely are you to go out across that plank to get something you really want? Fugeddaboudit. No way, not today, not even for chocolate.
Looking back, I think it was being placed in a position that I felt was dangerous and should be avoided. This is not a criticism, but rather a difference of opinion in how I viewed a situation as opposed to how others saw it.
First, it’s helpful to understand my point of view. I’m a business management expert by trade and I’ve been trained for decades to analyze procedures, look for ways to be more efficient and to practice risk management and look for ways to prevent negative outcomes. One way to improve efficiency is to reduce mistakes.
Figuring out the easy way to do things, which result in the most safe and efficient outcome is what I do. Preventing costly accidents and perfecting processes that ensure a quality product, free from defects is my field. This is my mindset. It doesn’t mean I’m always right. It doesn’t entitle me to re-write the rules of riding in motorcycle groups. I present this background only to assist others in understanding why I might have the opinions and beliefs that I do.
One example that I often present is running a stop sign. Can you run a stop sign and not get into an accident? Of course. Happens every day. Can you do it every day, every time, 10,000 times in a row and not have an accident? Probably not. That’s my way of seeing things.
I am *extremely* sensitive to proper safe following distance when driving. I believe that 2 seconds following distance is fine at 35 mph. At 60, this needs to increase to about 3 seconds and at 75, probably 4 seconds is closer. My belief is that the following (or overtaking) vehicle is totally responsible for avoiding the vehicle in front. No matter what. No matter how. If enough distance is allowed, the following vehicle should have plenty of time to react to avoid whatever develops.
In Colorado, when downhill skiing, the overtaking skier has complete responsibility to avoid hitting the skier in front. In the event of a collision, the skier behind is always liable. Legally liable, this could mean big money.
Every attorney will tell you that the easiest case to win is representing the driver who was rear-ended in a collision. Put your client on the stand. Ask them these questions. “Was your car parked on the freeway?” Answer, “No”. Question: “Were you backing up?” Answer, “No”. Was your car, ever, at any time, in reverse?” Answer, “No”.
We rest our case, Your Honor. There is no way, ever, that a vehicle hit from behind, has any liability in a collision.
Please remember, that just a few days prior to this, I had a flat rear tire at 75 miles per hour. The bike began to experience a very pronounced wobble. I smelled burning rubber. Quickly, I disengaged the clutch with my left hand, I let off the throttle completely with my right hand, hung on to the handlebars and headed for the shoulder. The bike slowed suddenly and without warning. My entire focus of concentration was controlling the bike. Remember, I’m doing 75 with no side protection and I’m on two wheels. The LAST thing I’m going to do is let go of the handlebars to give a hand signal. I’m not touching the brakes, so there are no brake lights. Turn signal? Yer kidding, right?
Had someone been right behind me, they’d have run into me and claimed I didn’t give a proper signal. Right, I’m in a struggle for my life. To me, it’s completely inappropriate to expect the driver in front, who has no control over following distance of the driver behind, to bear the responsibility to warn the driver behind to pay attention.
So, now, remember that I’ve been riding in a formation that I felt was threatening to me for 8 days and I think the stress of the risk had a great deal to do with my fatigue and desire to ride no more for a while.
In Minnesota, on July 8th, there was a report of a very serious motorcycle accident. Here is the news report:
From a girl that was there;
I was there. They were riding staggered and the bike in front put on his signal to turn. That driveway comes up so fast. Well his friend didn’t see he was turning and t boned him. It was just horrible. I don’t think the guy is going to make it either. One of the friends I was with is an EMT and said it didn’t look good.
This is exactly what I’m talking about. The lead driver DID signal. The following driver didn’t see it. I wasn’t there, so I have no idea, but it’s difficult to believe that proper following distances were in practice. I nearly killed 3 of my ride sisters due to someone behind me coming into close contact with me. Perhaps I swerved into their path, perhaps they were too close, but I know this—it was 3 close calls.
Being a business management expert and understanding risk management, this can’t continue to happen and expect good outcomes every time. You can’t afford to mess around at 75 and 80 miles an hour.
I was highly stressed and it was getting worse by the day. Here’s my lesson for all of you. If other riders get on you because you’re too slow. Ignore them and ride your own ride. If they run off and leave you, ignore them and ride your own ride. If they belittle you for being a timid rider, ignore them and ride your own ride. There’s an old saying in aviation that applies here—“There are old pilots and there are bold pilots. But there are no old, bold pilots”.
On this day, leaving Idaho Falls, I decided to take action and to ride my own ride. I would like to emphasize one more time. I have no issue with my ride sisters. I have no issue with the Ride Captains. In fact, I found the WFR Ride Captains did a fabulous job of listening to my concerns and gave me a number of suggestions that I found helpful. In addition, they allowed me to augment my own changes and never once asked me to do something that I felt compromised my safety.
I have no issue with conventional riding practices for ride formations. In fact, looking back at a number of other group rides on which I’ve ridden, I’ve had the same experiences. I want to be safe and I will ride my own ride. What others do is up to them.
I hope to ride with my Wind Sisters again, I want to ride with the Women’s Freedom Ride again, if they’ll have me. I love this group.
I hope that the stories that follow will prove helpful to those Wind Sisters who might feel the same emotions that I’ve felt and assist them in dealing with those feelings.
Part 14. The day dawned overcast and cold. It was 45 degrees, but there wasn’t much wind. This sounds great until you figure we’re about to whip up our own 70+ mph wind chill.
Today’s destination was Billings, Montana, where we were to meet up with a young girl who’d read about us on the Internet and really wanted to meet us. She said our story was an inspiration to her life and she wished she was old enough to join us. Today would be easy traveling, at around 300 miles. We’d get a treat with a short cut through a corner of Yellowstone Park on the way.
The bad news was, there was a chance of rain, so we had to put on our rain gear. No one complained about that, as it was an additional layer of warm clothing and did I mention it was 45 degrees? I was completely prepared for this, as I’d ridden quite a few miles in these temperatures. All my warm weather gear would keep me toasty. Today, I’d haul out the heated gloves. Ah, yes, the heated gloves, handed to me by the goddess of motorcycling, with 3 speeds to keep my little fingers toasty.
I was concerned about all of my wind sisters and wondered if there might be some who would suffer in these conditions. As we assembled for KSU (Kickstands Up), I saw a lot of wires going into gloves. I wasn’t the only one ready for polar exploration, it appeared.
Once again, I’m in complete awe of the women on this ride. There was not one peep of a complaint about “we gotta do this again” or “I’m cold”. Nothing, nada, zip. Just buckle up, hunker down and get on the throttle. (Frozen) knees in the breeze. Not in preparation, not after riding, not at the breaks. This was one of the most amazing displays of courage and fortitude that I’d witnessed. I was very proud to be part of this. I never whimpered, either. We had one goal—complete this ride and raise that money to buy that Service Woman her dog. She’d done 3 tours in Iraq. All we’d done was ride motorcycles. Nothing to complain about here.
Our Ride Captains went over the route, the stops and where we’d eat lunch. Today, we’d split into 2 groups, so it would be easier to stay together and to reduce the danger of a large group. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with concerns. We formed a circle and joined hands for the prayer. This had become a comfort to me. All of us holding each other at the same time strengthened our bond of sisterhood that we’d developed. I looked forward to that invocation to protect all of us and all the service people all over the world and their families.
My strategy today was to try to be close to the front, to reduce congestion around me and minimize the Slinky effect. I crowded into the first group. We took off and everyone rode very sensibly. We’d had a day off and it showed. We were crisp, disciplined and we rode with purpose.
The ride was nice. I adjusted the heat on my gloves as I felt colder or warmer. My many years of enduring severe cold as a downhill skier had left a toll on my fingers. They get cold very easily and the cold turns to pain to remind me to get them to someplace warm and to do it quickly. I have to run a snowblower at my home. When I do, I have to take frequent breaks to warm up, even using high quality Gortex gloves. Heated grips didn’t even make a dent in the cold. I needed heated gloves. These little babies are just the cat’s meow. I’d have never gone on this ride without them.
So, we knock out the first 100 miles with ease. I think everyone was surprised at how easy it was. A quick gas stop and now we actually will enter Yellowstone National Park. The scenery turned more natural and there was less evidence of man’s intrusion on nature. Our route found a nice road next to a mountain stream. The stream was fairly flat. Well, duh, water is flat, nimrod. In many areas, water erodes the soft soil and streams are sunk well into the landscape. This mountain stream had very little embankment to it, like it was just installed and turned on yesterday. There was little trace it had probably existed for millions of years, other than the lovely rounded rocks that caused the stream to gurgle and bound over and around them. That water was probably just a few degrees above freezing and was clear and clean.
I was in the 3rd row and we were leaving wide gaps for safety. Suddenly, a huge wolf jumped out into the road right in front of the leaders. It wasn’t close enough that we had to brake, but it was certainly close enough to see that this was no wienie dog. That wolf cleared the road in one or two bounds and went flying off the to the right, through some underbrush and tall grass. We could see it appear and disappear as it bounded away with grace and ease. It was a beautiful animal that was seemingly putting on a show just for us. (Cue the wolf…)
This was a true biker’s paradise road. We were riding about 45 mph, with many sweeping curves. There were hardly any hairpins, just the kind of curves that let you lean your steel horse into them, while pressing your knee into the gas tank to help steer. This relatively slow speed left us with plenty of reaction time. This was fun and we all loved it.
The Goddess of Biking had her way with us. She’d knock us around and threaten us with severe gusting winds, like she did in Wyoming. She’d pound us with straight line side winds and blinding rain, like she did in Western Kansas. She’d put us through absolute Hell in congested freeway traffic like she did going into Salt Lake City. Then, she’d lovingly make it up to us with a day of motorcycling like this was. She had gently punched our “fun buttons” and turned on the enjoyment for each one of us. There were no broken bikes, no shattered cameras and no drama of any kind. Just wonderful biking, the kind that addicts you to this sport. She took all the hardness out and was melting our hearts.
These are the conditions that can allow you to practice “counter-steering” if you’re new to riding. At speeds somewhere about 25 and above or so, counter-steering takes effect. This sounds weird, but it really works. If you want the bike to curve to the right, you push the right hand grip forward. But, you say, pushing the right grip forward turns the handlebars to the left. The bike should make a left turn. Yes, it should, but it doesn’t come close. Pushing the right grip forward instantly leans that bike toward the right and it just leans over and goes right in a hurry. This is one of the key maneuvers that all bikers must learn for riding open roads.
When you first see these curves coming up, it’s natural to feel apprehensive. In many cases, the cyclist might fixate on something on the far side of the road outside the curve. Called “target fixation” the bike goes where the pilot is looking. In this case, it’s off the road. This is the cause of many single bike accidents on curves.
But, I digress. We were counter-steering and leaning those girls over like a boss. This stretch of road was worth the whole trip. We descended into a tighter valley and then into a canyon. Momma Bear was in front of our group and it appeared her eyes glazed over and she went into attack mode on that road. She’s a very skilled rider and she proceeded to show off just a little bit for us. Wow, she’s something on two wheels.
The stream became more aggressive as the angle of descent increased. Soon, we were seeing all sorts of signs for white water rafting, kayaking and varieties of water sports involving clear mountain streams. We rode past scores of little mountain cabins, lots with RVs parked on them and lots of cabins for rent and other tourist spots. It was fun to watch the kayakers and rafters enjoy the stream.
The still, calm waters had become a churning, bubbling challenge to those people. This didn’t look like an exercise to those with a fear of water, that’s for sure.
This all came to a head as the canyon walls got steeper and tighter until there was just one little spot to exit that was just wide enough for the stream and the road. We rode through and were thankful we’d had perfect conditions for not only enjoying our ride, but being able to look around and enjoy the fabulous scenery that nature had laid out for us.
As it turned out, I do get to say that I’ve been to Yellowstone.
We rode out of the mountains, into the foothills and continued our ride. Soon, we found ourselves in Bozeman, Montana, headed for a very packed Denny’s Restaurant. We tended to stop at Denny’s, as they were always well prepared for a crowd. We were the first half of our group. There was a line waiting to get in, so we put in our group name for “table for 31, please”.
We became known as “that biker group”. As people came in after us, the staff was heard to inform them the wait might be a little longer, because “that biker group” just showed up in front of you.
Soon, we heard those words we’d longed to hear, “biker group, we can take 6 of you now”. One of the fun parts of lunch was sitting with different people each time. The group didn’t seem to have exclusionary cliques, as often happens with a large group of women. Sure, there were friendships that often gathered, but I frequently found myself sitting with a lot of different people. We were spending a lot of time earning that “You Can’t Buy Sisterhood” Patch. This was female bonding at it’s finest.
As we cycled through lunch, we had to take our bikes down the street for fuel. Doing this on our own reduced the stress of a full frontal assault on 3 gas pumps
Next, Part 15—Riding into Billings. Not this motel, no that one, no, this other one. (?)
The lunch in Bozeman seemed to stand out in my mind. I think we took longer to eat than normal. We had no other stops this day and only needed to travel 300 miles, which is a light day for this crew. I remember more interaction with the local people during lunch than normal, as well. I recall one man coming over to give us a hard time and melting down and opening his wallet when we told him our story and our objective.
We were a fairly tight knit group by this time and there was a lot of comradery today. Yes, today was a wonderful day and we all seemed to enjoy it a lot. We laughed, we talked and we enjoyed each other’s company.
The morning ride was made better partly because we’d split into two groups, so each group was far smaller. After lunch, we returned to the “swarm of bikers” mode. We took over the parking lot, totally created a massive traffic jam and had people hiding their children from us. The best part is when all the talking is done and we fire up those gleaming iron mounts and play the song of our people (loud open road bike exhaust times 31 bikes). Oh, yeah, we bad. As each biker is ready, they extend an arm in the air giving the thumbs up signal. When all the arms are up, the Ride Captains know it’s GO time. You’ve got to use signals, because the song of our people makes normal conversation totally impossible. Yes, this is the moment when adrenaline levels rise and decisions have to be made—will we burn the village or ride out peacefully?
We weren’t just 31 chicks on bikes, we were true bikers. Yes, we had leathers, chaps, boots and bandanas. Yeah, purple bandanas were everywhere. Purple was the color of our ride and it united us in appearance. Even off the bikes, it was evident that this was no gathering of a sewing club.
It’s not often that people see 31 women on big bikes together. This is when onlookers get the cameras out and tape our exit procession for their own personal posterity. These are true moments to be handed down to the grandchildren, for sure.
This time, we rode out peacefully. After watching my wind sisters ride out and leave me behind earlier in Kansas City, I can relate to you how dramatically the noise level changes. One moment, you can’t hear yourself think and in the seeming blink of an eye, it’s over. The bikers are gone. The bird’s songs are the only sound, like nothing has ever happened.
As the procession was being assembled, I was jockeying for a position in the front. I also looked for the bikers around whom I was most comfortable riding and sought a spot next to or behind them as we rode out. I felt this would be my best opportunity to avoid the Slinky effect and have a safe ride.
We got back on the Interstate and throttled up. This was always exhilaration times 31. Your little bottom wasn’t sore, your arms weren’t going to sleep and your legs weren’t stiff. Get it on, knees in the breeze.
Dang, I’d gotten next to someone with super loud pipes. Worse yet, they were right in front of me, so the megaphone effect made it louder. Look, I know that “loud pipes save lives” is a common saying, but I’m not going to take a life, so I don’t need the volume. My previous Fat Boy had a “Thunder Header” on it and it lived up to the billing. Exciting as it was to fire up, riding with it all day affected my hearing. I couldn’t hear a thing when I got home and I couldn’t even hear my music when riding.
My new Fat Boy has a relatively quiet factory exhaust. Not quiet like a Prius, but fairly quiet for a Harley. I could hear when I got home and I could enjoy music while riding. I had come to really like this and have no plans to alter this exhaust.
After all the stress I’d endured earlier in the ride, I decided this time to act. I signaled out of formation, as was expected of us, and I dropped back a few positions. After a short time riding, I felt the biker behind me was too close. So, I repeated the process and dropped back again. Each time you get out of formation, you must always give the thumbs up signal if you’re OK. It’s important to let others know you don’t have any issues that need attention.
I was working my way towards the back in the group. I finally found a place where I was comfortable, so I had a happy trip. I felt good.
We arrived relatively early to our destination motel. We waited in line, like we always did and I got my room assignment. It was clear in the back, down the longest hallway I’d seen since the night I’d spent on the Queen Mary in Long Beach. The room was old, the motel was old and the place was well worn. I’ve stayed in worse, no big deal to me.
For the second load of luggage, I rode my bike to the rear and unloaded everything. I had just finished, when I was contacted by a leader of the group complaining about the condition of the place. We were going to move. Dang. I hate unloading my stuff only to have to load it back up again so I can unload it somewhere else.
A few of the girls were staying right next door, but the word I got was a totally different place 6 blocks away. I was told that the current motel would refund our money no problem. Well, there was a problem, because I had to wait in another line to check out. I stuffed a sock in it (my complaining mouth) before anything could come out. I patiently waited to process my checkout and apologized to the nice lady at the counter. She was doing the best she could. She smiled and was nice, processed my refund and gave me a get out of jail free card for the bill.
I rode to the new place, which was FAR nicer and they’d agreed to match our lowball price of the low rent original place. This was now a great deal, which I was happy to enjoy.
Finding a motel that wasn’t a nice place to stay was rare. This was the only event of its kind that occurred on the trip, as far as I know. The advance planning that went into this event was superb, from hotels, to event appearances, to lunch stops. Everything was well laid out in advance.
We had time to ourselves before our big dinner with the young girl who wanted to meet us. I rode around looking for gas and got lost. This was not unusual, which is why I never got a successful career at UPS. I had a great time riding around and taking in the sights. To do this sounds weird for a person who’d just spent the day on a bike, but I truly love riding.
I continue to talk about the 31 riders. I use that as a generic term, as over 100 women participated in this ride and there was some turnover from time to time, as women came and others left. I didn’t complete the entire ride, myself. The one constant was the burning desire all had to finish this ride and raise the money we needed to buy the service dog for the female vet who had done 3 tours in Iraq. It seemed that every one of us had that vision in our heads.
Part 16—We take in a new member and nature takes another swing at us.
Our dinner plans where we’d meet the young girl who admired us was a restaurant called Old Chicago. It was a nice place, but whoever laid out the streets around that section of Billings should be sent in for drug testing. The streets curved around without seeming purpose, stopped abruptly or turned to gravel. It was a nightmare of navigation.
We made it. As I got off my bike, another woman came right over to me and got in my face. I mean she was livid. She told me I’d cut her off and she had nearly dropped her bike. She said this was the second time I’d done this and she won’t drop her bike for anybody. I immediately thanked her for telling me and told her I was very sorry. She said it’s over now and done. Let it go. This apparently happened when the Go signal was given and there wasn’t a good system of assembling the lines. I must have become a little over eager to get to the front. She got her message across. I respected that and nothing was ever said about it again.
My solution now became simple. I would wait until the group had gone out and be in the back. Earlier that day, I found riding in the back to be more comforting to me. So, now I’d nearly killed 3 riders and cut another off twice. My place is clearly with the “Back of the Pack Gang”. I was fine with that. I do not wish to be involved in any property damage or injuries.
Several long tables to accommodate 40 people had been set up at Old Chicago and our young girl was there. She was a very sweet person and fascinated with our ride. We had a nice dinner and we presented her with an official WFR (Women’s Freedom Ride) tee shirt. We were all wearing ours in a show of solidarity. We also gave her a purple bandana, our official badge of belonging to the group. We then took her picture with 3 of our members to show that she was now, officially, part of us.
We were all excited and proud to be able to do this. Part of our mission is to promote motorcycle riding by women. There’s no better way than to reach out to young girls. We reached out every chance we got, even when the girls were barely able to walk. We always waved and let them sit on our bikes for photo ops if they wanted. I think we just helped create another woman biker.
This is a big deal in the world of biking. There is a strong bond among bikers in general and biker groups in particular. The code of the biker is we’re all together as brothers and sisters. A biker is never to pass another biker who’s having trouble on the road. You always stop to render aid if possible. The biker who is stopped is to flash the “thumbs up” sign if they’re not having issues and they’re stopped for another reason. For any non-bikers who may be reading this, never mess with a biker. You’ll rile up more trouble than you ever thought possible. On the other hand, bikers are generally the nicest and most generous people you’ll ever meet.
One more thing. You NEVER touch a bike without permission. Ever. People have died for this in extreme cases. That’s the ultimate disrespect. For this reason, most bikes aren’t always locked up tight, as the understanding of this rule extends a long way.
Something to note in these photos: There are no drinks on the tables. When we are on our bikes, there’s no drinking, no drugs. Everybody has a clean head and that was a very strict rule that I never saw broken. We were really good about that. I will say, however, that several of the women took Uber to get to the dinner, so they could enjoy drinks. Very creative.
Oh, yeah, once the bikes were parked, it’s party away. However, we were normally so tired that it only took a few swings on the chandeliers until it was lights out. 4 am came soon enough. The other rule about partying was not to do so much that it affected your riding the next day. Our group was outstanding in this regard. I never saw a single instance of a wind sister who showed outward signs of a hangover come ride time. I continue to admire the character of this group.
Speaking of 4 am, the photos of the women getting ready to ride the next morning show a very angry bank of dark clouds. We had to put on our rain gear again. We were pretty good at it by now and mornings could be chilly, so the extra layer was a comfort.
Enthusiasm was high this day, as we had a short ride of only 289 miles to get to our next destination—wait for it—Sturgis, South Dakota. This was the Holy Grail of the biking world, home to the Black Hills Motorcycle Rally, the first week of August. It’s estimated that over 250,000 people might invade the area for a week of biking, partying, tattoos and leather. Even better, we get an extra day. Woof. Two days in Sturgis. Oh my.
We had our meeting and our lunch stop would be Devils Tower, Wyoming. We could hardly wait. Nature, however, had other plans, starting with a nice rain shower. Or, possibly a not so nice rain shower. Either way, something’s going to get wet.
We mounted our bikes, played the song of our people and headed for the highway. This time, I waited until nearly everyone had left before I headed out. I never came close to cutting anyone off and it felt good. We quickly got onto the Interstate and rolled the throttles. No sooner were we up to speed, which was 80 mph, than it started to rain heavily. What’s more stressful that riding in packed formation at 80? Doing it in pouring rain on a motorcycle. These things don’t have wipers, you know. Mr. Wizard, the guy who presented the science shows on Sat. mornings, has died, so it’s not likely that I’ll ever learn the science behind why the rain droplets just sit on my windshield at highway speeds. Unbelievable! I’m doing 80 and it’s not blowing the water off.
Sure, I can stick my head out to the side of the windshield and the wind blows my helmet visor nice and clean. Geeze. Lucky I’ve got a full face helmet with a tight seal for the clear visor. My head was dry, I wish my windshield was. I started to get a crick in my neck from riding with my head stuck out to the side of my windshield.
I really and truly felt like there was some witch with striped leggings somewhere, watching this entire scene play out in her crystal ball. Rain! I can hear her shriek, as she strokes her hands around the ball. Rain! I’ll get you and your little dog, too.
The rain didn’t last long and it didn’t slow us down, either. My nerves were about shot after this. There’s not a good place in a group when you can’t see and you’re still riding 80 miles per hour. So, the bad witch sees that the rain has no effect on our progress and tries to decide what she should do next, flying monkeys or poppies?
We had now passed out of Montana and into Wyoming. Why hadn’t the witch thought of this before? Of course, the #2 export of Wyoming, right after coal, wind. Yes, lovely, glorious, blast the paint off your fenders wind.
Part 17–The witch turns on the wind, then breaks bikes. Will we ever reach the Emerald City?
This is the story of my experience with the Women’s Freedom Ride. The ride was a fund raiser to buy a service dog for a female veteran who had done 3 tours in Iraq. It’s my hope that it may inspire some women to participate in similar activities and also educate you as to the realities of such rides.
Our previous experience with the wind in Wyoming, on the way to Rock Springs, was a variable, gusting wind that came from all directions. It seemed that it was intent on grabbing our handlebars and forcing us into a deep, rocky ditch or an oncoming truck doing 80. It was our choice.
The rain had cleared and been replaced by a reasonably steady wind that seemed like it was about 40 mph, possibly 50 mph. We were riding heavy, open road bikes, not some little Honda Cub Cadet 50 that weighed 100 pounds full of fuel. No, these goliaths tipped the scales at well over 700 pounds each, with some closer to 900 pounds and the wind was pushing these things around.
My own Harley Fat Boy has an engine that’s the same size as a Honda Civic Sedan, while weighing about a fourth as much. My point is, the bike is loaded with power and it was struggling a little when headed into the wind. It was holding speed, but I was holding throttle. The Mobil Economy Run, this wasn’t. The Fat Boy was eating gas.
The road curved a lot, due to mountain terrain, which meant the forces of the wind moved around. Sometimes from the side, which put us leaning at quite an angle to stay up and then it would move to a head wind. Just like when you’re playing golf, it seems the wind is never at your back. It’s always an adversary, never a friend. That’s one mean witch, she is.
She wasn’t done, either. As we encountered and overtook trucks, it literally felt like she had hold of the top of the luggage at the back of the bike and was shaking it vigorously. The bikes shook noticeably in the turbulence of the air surrounding the trucks. I studied how the other bikes were reacting and it seemed we were all affected, none seemed to be any worse than the others. We were all equally locked in a struggle for control.
Suddenly, a wind sister’s bike slows quickly and pulls over to the side. We never knew if a rider needed to pull up their socks or if they really had a problem. We were not to stop, no matter what, when this happened. This was the job of the sweeps at the back of the pack, as well as the support truck and trailer. Thank heavens for the support provided by Jeffrey, who piloted the truck. He was a saint and none of us could believe that he could survive the duration of the ride with no outside male contact. He was immersed in estrogen from 31 females for weeks. He’s the true hero of the ride.
It seemed as though we’d been on the road forever before we finally reached our designated exit for morning fuel stop, bathroom break and dance recital. As we counted down the mile markers, we could see the most beautiful valley open up below us on the right. Cue the angel chorus, for this must surely be the Emerald City.
This nice, wide lush green valley appeared to be miles wide, with a fairly flat bottom. There were delicate little clouds floating right in the middle of it. The clouds were about even with us and the valley was far below. It almost seemed like a magical giant terrarium set up by the Goddess. Just for a perfect finishing touch to this lovely vista, there was a range of snow-capped mountains in the distance behind the valley, much as you’d expect a little cherry on top of the whipped cream in a fancy dessert.
For now, at least, it looked like we’d overcome the wicked witch. Her power was useless against us, for the sky had cleared, the rain had stopped and now we could see the Emerald City. We took the exit and promptly overtook yet another hapless gas station.
And, boy, did we ever take that place. The guy was so enthralled with us, that he took photos of our group and put it on his business facebook page. So very cool. We sang, we danced, we ate bags of chips and drank water and soda. We also stood in a very long line for the one stall women’s bathroom. That’s one downside to traveling with 31 women.
Fortunately, we’d always planned plenty of time for gas stops. In my travels since, I’ve adopted this model. About 2 hours of riding puts you around 120 to 130 miles. Stop for a nice break, drink a bottle of water and then saddle up and do it again.
I’ve shared my photos with you in this story and there are very few of the lovely scenery that we’ve seen. That’s because we’re always riding and we’re pretty much one to a bike, so there’s no designated passenger/photographer.
I approached the Ride Captains and explained that I was officially moving to the back of the pack, and would be stopping to take photos from time to time. I really wanted a picture of this lovely valley that had emerged from the shadow of death.
They thought it was a great idea. Wow.
Off we go, this time I was really one of the last. There were 6 trikes at the back of the group, so I was the lead non-trike as we took off. As soon as we were up on the freeway, I signaled to the side and pulled over. I took several photos of this lovely scene. I jumped back on the bike and goaded my steed on faster to catch up with the 31 bikers roaring down the road at 80 mph in stiff winds. Oh, yes, the wicked witch just didn’t pack up and turn off the wind. That would be too much to ask. But the skies were clear and it was a nice temperature in which to ride.
I was really loving this, for I’m finally in my element. I’ve got the tunes rocking, bike is cooking and I’ve got the cruise control set. On what speed, I’m not telling, for, as Sammy Hagar once sang in a song, “I can’t drive 55” and I had to catch bikers traveling 80. But I didn’t have anyone too close behind me and there was no slinky effect. I didn’t have to watch for bikes on either side that were too close, either. I could finally just ride and enjoy the scenery. Wait, here’s another scenic outlook. I stopped there, too. More lovely photos. I’m literally in heaven now.
I could see the group far ahead, for in Wyoming, it seems you can see forever off in the distance. I believe this is why enemy armies have never invaded Wyoming, as there’s no place to hide advancing troops. Besides, I think the Canadians are too busy playing hockey and drinking beer.
I soon caught up with the group and was able to take my established place as the last bike ahead of the trike that was the official sweep. She rode a good ways back. Riding between vehicles like this is what the truckers call “the rocking chair” and I loved it. I used my cruise control, enjoyed the lovely scenery and rode happy. The witch was running out of gas and looking for easier targets as we went along, too.
Part 18—Close encounters and Devils Tower. It’s all fun now.
The wind was subsiding as we rode. This was a good thing, as we’d been literally pushed to the brink of our physical limits. If you’ve ever played a sport, you know that your coaches can get more out of you physically than you ever thought you could do yourself. In this case, none of us wanted to admit we’d hit our limit. None of us would be the first to say “I can’t go any more”.
There had been days and days and days of physical and mental trials. As I look back on this part of our trip, I become more and more convinced that many of our team were faking it. We were like people who’d been on sleep deprivation, where you just get punchy and are really short on fuel. We had a goal, to raise money for this dog. We had made a promise, a commitment to a service person who’d endured far more than we ever had.
Our trials and tribulations would probably be considered shore leave for the military. No, we had to persevere. Somehow, we had to find it in ourselves to keep going. This is one of the great parts of an experience like this. We were gaining confidence in ourselves, our skills and our ability to ride a motorcycle. The heat, the cold, the extreme winds, rain, thunderstorms, famine, pestilence, bring it on. We’d taken it and more and dealt with it successfully.
So, back to the wind subsiding, the sun shining and the promise made to us by our leaders that we would get a great lunch at Devil’s Tower. Yes, the very first national monument and one of the most universally recognizable natural geographic formations on our planet. It was further engraved in our memories in the movie “Close Encounters.”
We’d had our gas stop, snacked on chips, danced to music and even picked up some donations at the Emerald City. All we had to do was hang on a little longer to arrive at Devil’s Tower. Lunch there, that meant at noon, right? Right?
Not exactly. It seemed like we rode forever to get to the exit for Devil’s Tower. I was convinced that the Interstate went right past it. You could see it and wave to it, as your SUV full of kids passed by.
I was giddy with joy when the exit finally came up. We took it, turned to the right and circled under the Interstate to see it. But, it wasn’t there. Just more road. So, we rode on the road, searching for the elusive landmark.
Then, the sign, “fun thing to see, a bunch more miles”. Ah geeze. So, we rode, but at least the wind was bearable. The ride was actually nice. We were just impatient, waiting for another opportunity to remove our helmets and be served a lovely lunch with Devil’s Tower visible through a large glass window.
Finally, I can see it on the distant horizon, the white image suddenly revealing itself. It never seems to change as we approach, riding the little 2 lane asphalt ribbon across miles of grass prairie. As I study the spot, I try to imagine how something that I thought was gray could show up as white in the distance. It was not for me to explain the physics of it, only to see it, enjoy it and look forward to being close enough to buy a postcard.
The white image gets larger, we get closer. I can finally discern that it’s a water tower. Great, that not only means I’ve not seen it yet, we get no lunch there, either. And it’s well past noon, according to my stomach. We make turns and get on to a road with a lot of up and downs and curves. We (at least me) forgot all about lunch and monuments, we had curves. My eyes lit up like a cat who has just spotted a rustle in the grass. Wow, we can ride. And, ride we did. We leaned into those babies and put our knees into the gas tanks.
Then, as if by magic, appears the tower in the distance. Not a water tower, the real (accept no imitations) Devil’s Tower, Wyoming. We rode closer and all sorts of tourists were pulling off the road to take pictures. We arrived in the parking lot and parked our bikes together. We dismount, remove our helmets and stare at the formation rising behind the little trinket store. I’ve wanted to see this site in person my whole life and now I’m really here.
We wait for the group to assemble before we go inside. Soon, the word comes that we’re eating in the snack bar, not in the restaurant. Personally, I was ready for anything that was food and so were the rest of the team. We feasted on hot dogs, chopped beef or chicken salad. We were so hungry, we didn’t care. Later, we found out that “table for 31” had freaked them out and they told us to get lost. We could have strolled in 3 or 4 at a time and filled the place. As it was, we were happy to overwhelm the snack bar. I was so happy, I got ice cream, too.
Later, we assembled out back to see the sight and relax together. It felt good to be off the bikes and together outside where the temperature was mild and the wind wasn’t blowing away heavy wooden picnic tables.
For me, this was a moment of conflict, for our stop for the night would be Deadwood, South Dakota, my last stop on the tour. I would leave the group and head back to Lincoln from there. My ride was nearly over. I would be happy to be out of the stress of the group ride, but would really miss the close bonds of my Wind Sisters.
We clowned around, had fun and then we got ready to leave. We played the song of our people and left the parking lot. This part of the ride was 2 lane, nice weather and fun. We made some turns and I realized just how remote this landmark really is. If you want to see it, you really have to go find it. I might suggest a compass, a map and a Sherpa guide.
Riding Life was good until the road construction. Yes, every open road bikers nightmare—gravel roads. Actually, a dirt clod road, all nice and loose. Well, your riding training says to stick out both legs as outriggers to stabilize the bike. Oh, sure, my pencil legs to hold up 750 pounds of steel. Oh, and don’t use the brakes, but give it enough throttle to keep forward momentum going. The last part was a little hill climb. Just what every Harley loaded with luggage wants to see. Not.
How we did it, I’ll never know. Every one of us made it out alive. Woohoo, on to Deadwood. Thank heavens for great ride leaders. We made it to the exit without further incident.
However, the arrival at the hotel was a totally different matter. There was only one clerk on duty and a very long line to register. Some of us waited an hour to get room assignments. That’s just crazy.
We did have the evening free and ended up in the lounge for dinner, on our own, together.
The next morning, we caught a break. No meeting at 7am. This day it would be 8am, with KSU (Kickstands Up) at 8:30. We were riding to the Harley dealer in Rapid City, who had a brunch layout for us. Oh, boy, sleeping in, late starts, open road bikes, Harley dealers and free food. This is reason enough to join the ride. We had a nice trip and arrived at a huge parking lot that made our group look puny. We were warmly welcomed and went inside to eat and shop.
We were then offered guides for rides to see the local sites, such as Mt. Rushmore and Needles Highway. I begged off, as I had plans to return to this area for the Black Hills (Sturgis) Motorcycle rally in August. I didn’t want to spoil that experience, so I rode off with several other women to the Mecca of motorcycling itself, Sturgis, South Dakota. More specifically, the Harley dealer there.
I would soon figure out that not every Harley dealership was a place where you could buy a motorcycle. Some of these dealers only sold clothes. If you have a broken bike, it would be good to check ahead, to find out the focus of any given dealer, before towing it.
We arrived at the Sturgis Harley dealer and slapped racks for a while. I found some great tees and tops and made purchases with complete and utter disregard for how I would ever get this stuff home. My bike and its luggage were packed to the breaking point. I decided that I wanted to also visit the Harley dealer in Deadwood, who was also on the map. I cruised up and down the street, according to the address. Never saw anything that resembled a motorcycle dealership. Finally, it dawns on me, it’s just a clothing shop. Then, I find it. Come to think of it, there were no bikes for sale in Sturgis, either.
I ran across a number of our Wind Sisters in this area, as well. As I’m visiting with one on the street, I finally get slapped across the face with a trout. Not every one of the group is riding a Harley. Some are on other makes of bikes. Those who rode a Yamaha, for example, would find very little appealing merchandise in a Harley store. In fact, most competing brand stores have very little fashion clothing for their brand. Try to find a sexy, lace top with Honda emblazoned upon it, for example.
I’ve been told that Harley Davidson makes more money selling clothing and stuff than they make selling motorcycles. I believe it.
So, finally here is the first division I’ve seen. The Harley owners are shopping themselves silly, while the Honda and Yamaha owners stand outside and wait impatiently. I don’t know a good fix, so I’ll be inside looking for a good bargain or sparkly top I can’t live without.
Part 20, Epilogue
Prior to participating in the Women’s Freedom Ride (WFR), I’d only spent 2 nights on overnight motorcycle trips. My 6,000 miles of training for this were day trips, which averaged 160 miles. I’d just completed the Motorcycle Safety Course, Beginner level, a few months prior to the event. Now, I’m looking back at having ridden 3,500 miles through 10 states over 14 nights on the road.
Here are just a few things I’ve learned about being a woman riding a motorcycle.
I don’t have to be afraid. I have confidence in my ability to ride safely, I know how to get on the road and off the road early to avoid putting myself in uncomfortable situations. I can handle a flat tire at 75 mph.
I can ride the speed limit—even if it’s 80 mph. I have learned to ride in Interstate traffic and I don’t fear high speed traffic. It’s just traffic. I go out of my way to let others in and avoid cutting off other vehicles.
A good day of riding for distance is to get on the road, kickstands up at 7:30. Ride 125 miles (about 2 hours) and stop for gas. Take a 30 minute break and drink a bottle of water, even if you’re not thirsty. Back on the road at 10, ride 2 more hours and stop for a sit down lunch at noon. You’ve now covered 250 miles. Relax, have a nice lunch and don’t be afraid to stop for food at a biker place. Get back on the road at 1pm, ride 2 more hours, stop for gas and another bottle of water. Water is key, as you get seriously dehydrated while riding. Its 3:30, you’ve covered 375 miles and time to finish the day with a short ride to your motel. Check in at 4pm and relax. You’ve ridden 400 miles. Get ready to do it again tomorrow.
Check your bike. It’s your safety vehicle. Every morning go through the basics, oil level, lights, brakes, tires. Look underneath for fluid leaks or things hanging down. I once ran over some wire that stuck to the underside of my bike. Double check your baggage to be certain it’s not slipping to one side or coming loose. At every stop, I feel my tires for temperature. They should both be the same. If one is hotter, it probably means its low on air. You can also look at the dust pattern on the tread. Both tires should have the same imprint of dust or dirt. A wider imprint means low air pressure. Always look for the obvious.
ALWAYS yield to other vehicles. Drive friendly and you won’t make enemies on the road. You have no metal around you and you can’t roll up the windows and lock the doors. I love to let truckers in front of me for lane changes. They have trouble getting in when traffic is heavy. I want them to remember me. They have communication with other trucks and can be your best friends. I want to be theirs. Let other cars in when traffic is heavy. You don’t want to be the target of aggressive drivers. Let them go ahead of you and pick on someone else.
Your head needs to be on a swivel at all times. Watch your mirrors constantly. Fast cars can appear quickly out of nowhere. Get out of the way. I’ve nearly run over a snake, been charged by a bull, narrowly missed countless road hazards, avoided a herd of deer many times and stopped to avoid vehicles pulling out in front of me. All because I was constantly scanning everywhere. I watch far down the road for upcoming developments and expect cars to charge down the on ramp and crowd me out.
As they say in Boston, Use Yah Blinkah. Use hand signals and blinkahs. Watch your mirrors to be sure the driver behind you, who is texting, sees that you are slowing to turn while they are multi-tasking watching cat videos.
Don’t ride in someone’s blind spot—speed up to get next to them or drop back and get behind them. Always assume you can’t be seen.
Rain is no big deal, if your tires are good. If your tires aren’t good, don’t ride on the highway. OK, back to the rain. If you think conditions might produce rain, put your rain gear on ahead of time. Once it’s raining, it’s dangerous to stop on the side of the road and try to get into rain gear.
If it starts raining, ride on. It’s just water. Unlike the wicked witch, you won’t melt. Close the air vents in your helmet if you have them. Watch the speed limits on corners and curves. On good tires, you’ll be fine at those posted speeds.
Avoid the center of the lane, that’s where oil gets dropped, which makes it super slick. If you’re in the left side or right side of the lane, you’re good. You might have to stick your head outside of the windshield to blow the rain off your visor or goggles. Use brakes gently and don’t accelerate quickly.
If you have to slow down, use your emergency flashers to warn other drivers. It’s best to keep up with traffic when possible.
Wind is not a big deal—Lean into it. Don’t let adverse weather conditions beat you down. Every driver has to deal with it. Use caution, but don’t think you have to quit. The WFR helped all of us overcome situations that we never thought we could, simply because we believed we had to continue. We knew we couldn’t quit. Now, we all know we can handle those situations, even flying monkeys.
Plan your gas stops. Buy gas well before you need it. You need to stop and stretch every 130 miles or so, anyway. The last thing you ever want to do on a bike is run out of gas.
Always ride on the right side of the lane on curves—expect that oncoming traffic will veer over the center line into your lane. If you’re on the right side, you’ve still got room.
Be aware of the 3 P’s—Potholes, pipes and possums in the road. Any of them can toss you off your bike and onto the asphalt. I’ve used good vision to dodge butterflies in the road.
Check for low tires or loose cargo on passing vehicles—I’ve seen those tires on a number of vehicles that are in front of me and watched tires blow out, spraying chunks of steel encrusted rubber bits all over the road. This is why you learn to dodge obstacles in the road in the basic skills class. Study everything and be ready to anticipate developments.
I learned that I CAN do things I never thought I could by first making a firm and resolute commitment and putting them on the calendar. Then I took the little steps each day that I needed to do to make the dream a reality. Like many people, I read about this ride, but I didn’t really think I could do it. In my entire life, I’ve only taken 2 weeks off at one time on one prior occasion. I’d made up excuses all my life as to why “I couldn’t, didn’t deserve to, or there’s no way” when it came to doing some really fun thing. This time, I signed up and enrolled. Many things transpired that might have allowed me to not follow through. This includes my voluntary quit on the first day (Part 4). Fortunately, my guiding Goddess gave me a flat tire and plopped my little body right back with the group. So there. I had to do her bidding.
Be ready to be inspired. Riding an open road bike frees your mind and opens your senses. I’ve said the 4 words, “This is so pretty” thousands of times while riding, as I enjoy lovely vistas and to smell the blossoms and newly mown hay. There’s just something magical about riding a bike in the country. Seeing the pavement flash by below your feet and observing the sides of the road in a way that’s just not possible in a car is an experience unique to bikers.
Improving riding skills is empowering and rewarding. The confidence that comes from handling an open road bike in different situations makes you feel like Wonder Woman. It’s fun to be a Badass Biker Chick.
I left home to join the WFR as a scared little girl. I’d never been on an overnight road trip without a group. I’d never been on my own on a bike. I’d never taken a real trip by myself. I came home feeling like a highly skilled biker, who could handle anything. Although that wasn’t really true, I felt that way. I was no longer scared. I was confident and comfortable.
Finally, I’ve learned that I’ll make new friends on the road. My purpose in buying a Harley in the first place was to discover activities that would cause me to look forward. Grief was keeping me looking backward at events I could never change, which only made me feel worse.
Now, I look forward to different events that involve bikes, whether it’s as simple as a rib cooking contest or poker run with our local Harley Owners Group, or as complex as the Women’s Freedom Ride.
I’ve had the fulfilling experience of accepting and welcoming wind sisters into my life and enjoying that emotion. You truly can’t buy Sisterhood. It’s the most wonderful experience of all. I never expected to be able to deal with grieving so effectively. Replacing negative feelings with love has worked wonders.
There’s something so very special about women who ride motorcycles. I can’t put my finger on it. We’re tough, resilient, caring and considerate. We don’t take no stuff off anybody, either.
I’ve gained friends for life, dear friends, lovely people that I’ll see again. To Momma Bear and all my Wind Sisters from the Women’s Freedom Ride and even the Sisters with whom I did not get to ride, we now share a common bond. I’m confident that we’ll meet and ride again. I have a new family.
My life is changed. I’m a true biker chick now.
This is best read a part at a time. Breakfast and lunch have been reported to be popular reading opportunities.
Our days often began at 4am to 5am. We had to get ourselves ready, pack our stuff, ride our bikes to the nearest fuel stop, fill them up and give the bike a daily pre-ride inspection. Then, back to the motel, load the bike and eat our breakfast.
Pre-ride meeting was always at 7am and no one was ever late. The meeting ended holding hands and listening to a prayer to keep us, our loved ones and all the military and their families all over the world safe today. Then, it was the song of our people (very loud open road bikes exhaust and warmup) and KSU (Kick Stands Up) at exactly 7:30. This drill was produced with military precision every single day, except the 2 days we were off.
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