(Originally published in BMW Owners News Magazine – August 2015)
Here’s a question to ponder…what was your life like a decade ago? Well, mine was pretty ordinary – I was a hard-working communications director and single mom who also had a serious passion for fashion. I had zero knowledge of motorcycles, except for the Harleys that would roar into town every spring for a week making loud, awful noises and bringing traffic to a molasses-slow pace. As judge and jury in my court of opinion, I handed down the verdict that all motorcyclists must certainly live a rogue lifestyle complete with leather-studded clothing, a plethora of flaming skull tattoos, and super bad attitudes. To me, they were a nuisance and had no place in my world of couture outfits, fabulous stilettos, and a grand collection of sassy pocketbooks. And then, I began dating my future husband, a lifelong avid motorcyclist…talk about a game-changer. This “Fashionista” was not only going to sit on a motorcycle for the first time in her life, but her whole world was getting ready to take on adventure in epic proportions.
I’ll never forget my very first ride – we pulled out of the driveway with me perched wide-eyed and anxious on the backseat, waiting for something terrible to happen. After a few minutes into the ride though, I not only relaxed, but as a huge surprise to myself felt actually euphoric in the experience. It was awesome! I loved this new vantage point of the world – it was like I was “feeling” life for the first time and not just viewing it from a car window.
That first ride transformed into me riding pillion for thousands of miles over several states and several dips into Canada, enjoying and embracing the distinct thrill of long-distance motorcycling. I also found great pleasure in the rallies with our “BMW friends,” I called them. We were (and still are) a very tight-knit group that knows the meaning of close friends and fun. At some point, I noticed that I was the only female in our group that didn’t ride her own motorcycle, but most importantly was intrigued by these lady pioneers and their abilities to maintain their girly personalities but still muscle a bike down the road. So cool. They also had double and triple the space to pack their girly things, instead of sharing minimal luggage space with boring man stuff and tools. So there began the next chapter of my motorcycling life – I wanted to pilot my own ride.
The next two years were full of my husband’s astute teaching methods, on the dirt first so I could understand the basics with a softer landing pad when things didn’t go so well. When he thought I was ready for the streets, he showed up at home one day with a Honda Rebel…I was pissed. Everyone else in our world was riding a BMW, and here I was stuck with a “baby bike.” But after coaxing me to go out for a spin around the neighborhood, I understood his reasoning. It was a bike that I could easily handle in order to gain finesse and skill with important riding techniques. So after a weekend at an MSF Basic Rider Course, and then many miles of training on my “baby bike,” my graduation day finally came. My hard work paid off in the form of a gently used ’05 BMW F650 GS. I had, at last, earned my way into “the club!” And what an exciting time that was for this “Fashionista.” I’ll never forget my first ride to a BMW MOA International Rally on my own two wheels – Bloomsburg, PA, to be exact. As we pulled into rally central and parked near the registration tent, I literally burst into happy tears. I hopped off and kissed the ground, and then sent up several mighty fist pumps. It was one of the most thrilling moments of my life! And, I had my girly things packed neatly with me in all that extra space, including my beloved curling iron, makeup bag, cute dresses and sassy shoes. What more could a fashionista on two wheels ask for?
Several more rallies and thousands of miles of two-wheeled adventures ensued, and then early last year, my husband persuaded me to sit on another gently used BMW – this was much bigger, way more powerful, and scared me senseless to think I could handle this machine – a ’94 R1100 RS. Pearl with a turquoise seat…and did I say it was BIG? I finally built the courage to hop on and surprised myself with smooth clutching as I pulled out of the dealership for a seven-mile test ride. I returned with the hugest smile ever. That was, and is, ONE SWEET RIDE. It didn’t take us long to become one and log several thousand miles together over the spring and summer.
So, last Fall, I found myself reflecting on my motorcycling history. And I realized that every ride, every memory made on the road was as my husband’s caboose. He was in charge of the route, mechanics, traffic negotiations and weather forecasts. He always led the way, and I liked it like that. It was relaxed for me, and I always felt safe. But some strange feeling started welling up inside of me, and like the leaves turning brilliant hues that September, I knew it was time for a change. I felt a strong desire to challenge myself to be a more courageous me. It was time to take a ride that I could completely call my own. This “Fashionista” was going solo! It was scary and extremely thrilling all at the same time.
During the weeks of preparation for my solitary ride, I repeatedly came face-to-face with a brick wall of fear. The same questions would pop into my head and fill me with doubt…What if I have mechanical trouble in the middle of nowhere? What if I get lost? What if it pours down rain? Will I be able to get my motorcycle up on the center stand by myself? At times, these questions just paralyzed me, and I wanted to back out of the whole plan. But some force deep within took over, possibly just my terribly hard head and severely competitive spirit, and so I continued with my plan and prep work.
In the weeks leading up to the big ride, I sat through hours of “husband-led” light mechanic training. Of course, there were frustrations and a few spats. In fact, the “how to put your bike on the center stand by yourself” session was passed off to his older brother to instruct, as the hubby knew I would listen more attentively and reserve the curse words for another time so as not to offend my favorite brother-in-law. But I mastered it like a champ. And the first time I plugged a tire all on my own, I was ecstatic, and I did it without defiling the pretty red paint on my fingernails. I felt victorious and ready to take on the world!
My departure day finally arrived. Everything was packed, including some sassy outfits and accessories, and I was ready. Upon rising that morning, it hit me…I realized that this was real, and I was heading out BY MYSELF. A blood pressure reading at that moment wouldn’t have had a good result. BY MYSELF. So many doubts and so much fear pecked at my soul that morning. Thank God, my strong will and hardcore determination to push myself to the unknown and tear down that brick wall of fear kicked in. I took a couple of deep breaths and continued about my business of getting saddled up for my lone ride.
My departure that Thursday morning was smooth, and as a huge surprise to myself, the layers of fear peeled off very quickly. I began cruising down the road and quickly found a nice groove, sans the ugly wall of fear. And then it happened….I felt FREE! Free to wander about with the reigns in my hands, steering where I wanted to go and stopping when I was ready to stop. The world was my oyster, and the thrill of adventure pumped strong through my veins! And I smiled BIG through my entire journey, even fist-pumping at times to a good song and to my great ride.
The route was very loosely planned, and I only paid attention to the general direction in which I needed to ride. I scribbled all over the map and toured some of the most gorgeous backroads of central Georgia. My mid-point destination was to visit my best friend in LaGrange, Georgia for the weekend…and together, we celebrated my new-found courage.
That Sunday morning, I saddled up again and found more new roads to explore, taking a more southern route home. I saw and experienced so many cool things that were off the beaten path. If I found a sign pointing a direction that interested me, I followed it, even right to the security entrance of Fort Benning when I missed a turn. A quick flip-up of the helmet and a batting of the baby blues, teamed with a sincere apology, got me a couple of smiles from the attending military police officers who politely turned me around and got me back on course. It was one of the best times of my life. Me, myself and I became acquainted again, and in the end, have aligned to become a whole being…quite possibly for the first time in my life. Riding solo has truly changed me, and I now strive to live with a spirit of adventure and limitless possibilities, free of fear and full of courage. My new mantra, self-penned following my solo: “The prospect of exploration is put into a new light when the reigns are solely in your hands and your direction has no limit, except time.” So I say “giddyup,” and bring on the adventures. Be sure to wave at me as I gallop by! 💋