Wanderlust in My Own Backyard
(Originally published in BMW Owners News Magazine – July 2016.)
I am a traveler, I am an adventurer…both to the truest extreme. I often close my eyes and ponder the sights, scenery, and people in distant places that are on my horizon of travel plans. The search for unfamiliar roads leading to new adventures is ongoing. Yes, I’ve pretty much had a bad case of “wanderlust” all my life. The curious part about that to those who have known me for over ten years is that now my wanderlust is only extremely gratifying when I’m on two wheels. Go figure, but I know I’m not alone here in that sentiment.
One day as I was trekking around the place I call “home” and immersing myself in the historical aura that permeates the air here in Conway, South Carolina, I realized the hidden gem that I was unintentionally hiding from my fellow BMW riders. And with that thought, two other noteworthy areas near Conway came to mind – Georgetown and Charleston. Isn’t it funny how we look so far into the distance to find interesting places to visit, yet take for granted the treasures right in our own backyard? So, allow me to share my little piece of paradise…
Known to the locals as “Rivertown,” and the seat of Horry County (pronounced O-ree – it’s the largest county east of the Mississippi), Conway was founded in 1732 as the village of Kingston. The downtown historical area is located along the banks of the winding, picturesque Waccamaw River, which is lined with large and very old native oak and cypress trees, draped heavily in long strands of antique Spanish Moss. This city feels ancient and sweet, still intact with all its Southern splendor. The people are friendly and the offerings for visitors are plentiful.
Conway is approximately 55 miles from Interstate 95 (Exit 170), and the main thoroughfare to “Rivertown” is a four-lane highway (Hwy. 501) that is fairly scenic and flows well for the most part. Accommodations once you arrive in Conway are not abundant, but I must recommend one choice that will surely add to your experience of old Rivertown. The Cypress Inn is located directly in the heart of the splendor of this town (16 Elm Street, www.acypressinn.com – a discount will be extended by mentioning this article). Overlooking the Waccamaw River, this B&B has charm and location as its strengths. Motorcycle parking is easy, and once you’re settled, put on your walking shoes and enjoy the plentiful offerings all very near.
The Riverwalk is a MUST. It is approximately one mile total in length, and I promise you will find yourself snapping photos every few steps. As you make your way to historic downtown Conway, you will find many quaint shops and dining options, most of which are located in charming historic buildings. I must mention my Conway “office” where I write many of my articles for this column – Rivertown Roasters on Main (337 Main Street). If you enjoy really good coffee like me, be sure to stop in and have a cup, enjoy some local baked goods, and see where the magic happens!
Whatever your appetite and style, I have some great recommendations sampled many times by yours truly. Located riverside, Bonfire – touted as a “Smokin’ Taqueria” (110 Main Street), is quite a gem! It’s actually my favorite casual spot to dine and features delicious “fusion” food (BBQ + tacos), with an unpretentious and lively atmosphere and gorgeous views of the Waccamaw River. When I’m in the mood for something a little more upscale, with a classy-casual atmosphere, The Rivertown Bistro (1111 3rd Avenue) is my choice. The menu is filled with seafood entrees prepared “Lowcountry” style, but with a truly clever approach, as well as delicious cuts of beef, pork and poultry. Looking for a nice lunch/Sunday brunch spot? Crady’s Eclectic Cuisine on Main boasts an “eclectic menu and atmosphere that has earned accolades in national publications such as, Southern Living Magazine.” Thirsty for a nice craft beer? The Crafty Rooster, just doors down from the Rivertown Bistro (1125 3rd Avenue), has been one of my favorite spots from the day I moved here. It has a classic sports bar/college vibe, with a large blackboard menu full of craft brew drafts from all over the country. How about a wine tasting? Bodega (301 Main Street), a lovely two-story shop full of gourmet kitchen and food items, hosts wine tastings on Fridays and Saturdays and has a great selection of bottles for purchase. The historic district is full of many quaint offerings.
The best part about a visit to my roost here in Conway is that it’s a park-and-walk destination. A stop by the Conway Chamber of Commerce will provide you with loads of information, and when you visit, be sure to let me know…I’d love to meet you for a meal or coffee and hear all about your wanderlust!
Located 45 miles south of Conway via a quiet, scenic two-lane highway (US 701S to Front Street), is the city of Georgetown. It was founded in 1729, although some historians believe it was the first European settlement in North America (c.1526). Situated along the waterfront where Winyah Bay, the Waccamaw River and the Great Pee Dee River meet and then connect to the Atlantic Ocean, Georgetown remains the second largest seaport in South Carolina. There are several little shops, museums and restaurants dotting Front Street and along the waterfront, and old southern homes and mansions can be found throughout the neighboring streets.
I suggest riding the 45 miles from Conway and then enjoying a couple of hours in Georgetown. My go-to for a great lunch along the waterfront is the Big Tuna Raw Bar (807 Front Street). The seafood is fresh, local and delicious, and the atmosphere is super laid-back. Also a visit to the Georgetown Rice Museum (633 Front Street) is highly recommended.
After departing from Front Street, head south on Highway 17. Once you travel over the bridge near the steel mill, you will want to watch for a left turn onto South Island Road. As you glide down this two-lane, sweeping road, you will be transported to an area that is highly concentrated with Lowcountry rice plantations. Approximately 7.5 miles down the road, watch for Estherville Drive on your right. The scenery on this road oozes the old South from its pores. You will come to a stop sign (right turn only) and find the area chock-full of old rice plantations (N. Santee River Road). As you gently cruise down this road (it can be a little rough in some areas), be sure to take note of the many plantations, mansions and old structures still standing. The last time I traveled this road and was crossing one of the canals used for irrigating the rice fields back in the day, I happened to look up and saw a majestic Bald Eagle fly right overhead. Honestly at that moment, the experience couldn’t have been any more meaningful.
As you exit N. Santee River Road back onto US 17 South, Hopsewee Plantation will be on your immediate right (www.Hopsewee.com). This is a MUST SEE! I visited Hopsewee recently on my R1100 RS to be sure it was accessible. The road is dirt, as is the parking lot, but I had no problems navigating, whatsoever. This plantation was the birthplace of Thomas Lynch, Jr., one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and has only been owned by five families since 1740. Exploration of the grounds and then the mansion (worth the small fee) was breathtaking, and I highly recommend a visit to The River Oak Cottage Tea Room on premise for a lovely lunch or an authentic “Full Southern Tea.” I enjoyed the Full Southern Tea while visiting, as it truly compliments the experience of touring through the Lowcountry South. The owner and gourmet chef, Raejean Beattie, was an impeccable hostess, and spent time answering my questions and making me feel right at home.
Exiting out of Hopsewee, take a right turn back onto US 17 South towards Charleston. The ride to your next suggested destination will be approximately 45 miles on a four-lane highway, pecked with plenty of saltwater marshes to admire in passing. My favorite thing to do while crossing the marshes and tributaries on the way to the Charleston area is to breathe deeply…that thick, salt water air is absolutely intoxicating!
While the city of Charleston is brimming with lovely, historic Bed & Breakfasts and other accommodation choices (prices are steep!), the thoroughfares in the “Holy City” are full of vehicles, pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages and Pedi-cabs making their way through the narrow streets that wind though this charming, and extremely busy, peninsula. I strongly suggest a detour to Old Village in Mount Pleasant, just across the Charleston Harbor, where there is an extremely, over-the-top, lovely accommodation available – Old Village Post House Inn (oldvillageposthouseinn.com – mention this article for a discount). The rooms are extraordinary, but maintain a very historical and quaint feel, with the surrounding neighborhood of Old Village holding the same special character. The staff is very friendly and gracious, and parking is simple around the perimeter of the building. During my stay at this wonderful property, my two-wheeled steed stayed safe, and even enjoyed being the subject of several photographs from passers-by.
Once you’re parked, unloaded and you’ve enjoyed a little downtime in your well-appointed room, a sightseeing trip to Charleston is as easy as a very short Uber ride to the super-convenient Water Taxi (charlestonwatertaxi.com – $10/all day) at the Charleston Harbor Marina that will deliver you one block from the City Market, where you can begin your day in this distinguished city steeped strong in Southern history. The water taxi ride across the harbor is very relaxing, and a great way to get some really nice photographs of the many sights in the area. You may even get an escort by a dolphin or two!
Upon arrival at the City Market, I recommend a horse-drawn carriage tour to start your experience. The tour will provide a worthwhile glimpse of the city and history before setting out on foot to explore this grand dame of the South. You could literally spend several days exploring Charleston and not see, taste and experience it all. I would suggest at least two full days here.
Fashionista recommendations? My favorite “go-to” restaurants on the peninsula include: Poogan’s Porch (72 Queen Street); Hank’s Seafood Restaurant (10 Hayne Street); Coast Bar and Grill (39-D John Street); Stars Restaurant – Rooftop & Grill Room (495 King Street); Magnolias (185 E. Bay Street); Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit (476 King Street); and Jestine’s Kitchen (251 Meeting Street). My favorite adult beverage stop is The Rarebit for a refreshing, Moscow Mule. It’s the best I’ve ever had, and during Happy Hour, they are only $5! (474 King Street). Also be sure to stroll along The Battery where the grand Southern mansions are plentiful and where you will spy Fort Sumter across the harbor. This was where the first shot was fired beginning The Civil War.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of Charleston for the day and head back to Old Village of Mount Pleasant, be sure to have dinner at least once at the restaurant in Old Village Post House Inn. It was one of my top dining experiences, to date. You won’t be disappointed! The chef is top-notch, and very clever with his dishes. After a fantastic meal and following an amazing day touring around Charleston, you can simply walk out the door and give your mighty two-wheeled steed one last check and then saunter up the stairs to your immaculate room for the best night’s sleep you’ve had in a while. You’ll be sure to dream of the stately antebellum mansions, the gas-lit lanterns burning endlessly, church steeples dotting the skyline, ancient cobblestone streets, and a bygone era that remains preserved within the perimeter of the picturesque peninsula of Charleston.
While gathering my thoughts to begin this article, I looked up the word “wanderlust,” and the definition states that it is “a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about.” Pretty much sums me up. But it also occurred to me that by keeping the treasure in my backyard to myself, I have, in essence, blocked someone else’s wanderlust opportunity. How rude of me! So, I leave you with this proverb: “A joy that’s shared is a joy made double.” Enjoy, and travel on! 💋
(Note: Upon departure out of Charleston, I-26 is the fastest way out, and eventually crosses I-95, I-20, I-85 and I-40, although there are many scenic backroads to depart from as well. And a trip to my trio of treasures would be best enjoyed in Spring and Fall. For additional information, feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Voyage to the Sea of Loud Pipes
(Originally published in BMW Owners News Magazine – May 2016.)
I awoke early that morning in March, and after a few blinks to get my eyes open and focused, I spent a few moments easing my brain into consciousness via a quick peek at my social media accounts. I didn’t sleep much the night before out of pure excitement for my first ride of the 2016 season, a ride that had a very mystical quest involved. With my brain sputtering, I proceeded straight for the coffee pot, and after savoring several cups of my favorite dark brew, continued with the preparations of getting my two-wheeled steed road-ready.
Pulling out of the driveway that morning, with a fresh sun peeking above the horizon, my playlist shuffled up a song that gave me chills and made me smile – Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” It was the essence of this trip, and I sang out the line “let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic.” You see, I was heading for the 75th Annual Daytona Bike Week.
You may ask, “why?” Well, because I am a true adventurer. I decided to take this trip to experience the unknown, to submerge myself into this pool of diverse culture that was 75 years old, and from what I have heard and read is loud, rogue and scraggly around the edges. I ask you – “why not?” Just once, I wanted to wade through this vast sea of loud pipes and come away with an understanding of how another motorcycle culture enjoys their two-wheeled gatherings. So, I twisted that throttle and set sail on my voyage.
It was a “slab” kind of day with the mission of arriving early into my homebase for the long weekend. I was staying with friends who reside in Ormond Beach, just up the coast from Daytona…close enough to the action, but far enough away to sleep peacefully at night. (These particular friends also ride a Harley Davidson Tri Glide and were going to be my guides through the weekend expedition.) As I coasted down Interstate 95, I passed trailer after trailer after trailer full of bikes. I also received several “thumbs-up” from the drivers pulling those trailers. It made me giggle wondering if they knew there was a Fashionista under all of that gear…one with an Iron Butt, no less. At one stop, I was little perplexed when I overhead a couple discussing the fact that they didn’t know BMW made motorcycles. Yikes…
Following a safe arrival to my friends’ home, a fun happy hour and a delicious meal, it was off for some rest for the big weekend ahead. The next morning, after a casual start with good coffee and even better conversation, we departed from the harbor for our sightseeing cruise with a plan of starting the day with a ride on the Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail (Old Dixie Highway). It was spectacular! We rode down a gorgeous two-lane road covered in an ancient canopy of live oak trees and native Florida palms and greenery with not much traffic at all. We stopped midway through to view the Dummett Sugar Mill Ruins, a sugar and rum distillery, which dates back to the early 1800s. Following that stop, we rode through more canopied roads and peaceful saltwater marshes full of statuesque birds fishing for their meals. So far, this Bike Week wasn’t feeling too rogue and scraggly at all.
As we made our way south that afternoon towards a much-needed lunch stop and closer to the mighty mothership of Bike Week, a low hum could be heard in the distance which grew to a loud rumble as we drew near. We made it…we were finally entering the sea of loud pipes. Of course, large schools of Harleys were bountiful, but there were many other fish in that sea as well – Indian, Victory, Buell, Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Triumph, and the list went on. I squealed with delight when I saw a rare sight – a fellow BMW rider or two. Much like sea urchins, we were just “there” clinging to the walls while the dizzying masses swam by.
Our lunch destination was the Brickyard Lounge and Grill. Clearly it was a locals’ biker bar, but I must say they serve THE best cheeseburger I have ever come across, by far. (It was so good, I stopped in the next day for another!) With my body full of hearty protein, I was ready to experience the true biker scene – Main Street, Daytona. It was an intentional plan to visit Bike Week during the first weekend of this 10-day event, as the crowds were fairly light, and traffic wasn’t too terribly clogged. Otherwise, a trip down Main Street would have certainly meant an hour or more of fender to fender traffic and a definite overheat of my ’94 R1100 RS. I quickly learned that a ride down Main Street automatically enters you into the “parade,” like it or not.
Main Street, Daytona, is the true center of the sea of loud pipes. It’s lined with smoky, mischievous biker bars; big chrome-covered bikes parked curiously close to each other; and tight crowds dressed in denim, black accoutrements, leather, big boots, tattoos, piercings, bandannas and really badass expressions on their faces. Above all, I found myself wondering why the angry faces. I can certainly handle personal choices of fashion, but I truly pondered the rough demeanors on seemingly very nice people.
After taking a couple of parade loops myself and then parking the bike, I stood in the crowd to watch the other two-wheeled machines making their way down the line. The sights were incredible…there were so many motorcycles that were astonishing, very impeccable rides. But then there were the sights that really got your attention: giant Boss Hogs that seemed incredulous to me; stretched out “Big Wheels,” as I called them; a large pack of young, super silly guys riding mopeds; a biker chick in a neck-to-boot neon pink netted bodysuit, with not much underneath; some strange rolling cheeseburger on three wheels; and an old dude wearing a crusty, ancient helmet riding an antique BMW who made three passes in my short time there…I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. At some point while watching the tide of riders on display, I found two of my fellow campadres in the crowd – Iron Butt Association members. I approached them with a huge smile and a hug. They were a little taken aback by my approach, but smiled big when they realized we were teammates in the long-distance world. Very cool. We were kindred souls in the waves of that vast sea.
I enjoyed a great dose of the biker culture that evening and decided to head for safe harbor, with my captains leading the way on their pretty little 3-wheeled Harley. I was quickly beginning to realize that although all of us motorcyclists share the love of riding, our particular pools where we gather and bob around together are quite different. And that’s okay!
The next day was the most exciting to me, personally. I drove my sweet “Henrietta” on the beaches of Daytona. There I was, riding seaside with nothing but sand and tidal pools between me and the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Very surreal, indeed, and a highlight in my motorcycling history. Later that day was an exciting visit to a Supercross race with my buddies where I enjoyed a long evening watching dirt bike races at the famous Daytona International Speedway. As I made my way home that evening, feeling like a jellyfish bobbing amongst the vast sea of loud pipes who continue cruising late into the night, I realized that although I had ultimate respect for this culture of bikers, it just wasn’t for me. The lifestyle of cruising, stopping, cruising, stopping, cruising, stopping – not my deal. I’m definitely a long-distance style girl!
The following morning, I pointed my bow towards home and set sail…swimming quietly and gracefully upstream on my trusty Beemer as the mass of loud pipes were fin to fin streaming downstream. I spent much of the ride homeward reflecting on my voyage and the experiences. And suddenly, there it was again…a random shuffle of my iTunes playlist, and Van Morrison’s voice was again piping out the line “let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic…” Chills and my smile immediately followed, and somehow I knew it was a sign. I, indeed, had traveled to the mystical sea of loud pipes with soul and spirit flying…and my soul and spirit drifted away with much more than I had ever imagined…an amazing experience that taught me that I am just fine being a Fashionista with an Iron Butt riding her BMW. 💋
Carpe Diem…in Your Garage!
(Originally published in BMW Owners News Magazine – March 2016. Please visit the online copy of this issue for full spread/pictures: BMW Owners News – March 2016)
Most of us have heard the inspirational saying at one time or another – “Carpe Diem” (seize the day). As Eleanor Roosevelt thoroughly explained it: “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
One frigid day this past January, while trying to keep the winter “blahs” at bay, I sat through my morning coffee yearning for a “newer and richer experience.” I wanted to learn something remarkable and functional. I wanted to color outside of the lines. I desperately wanted my being to be placed way outside of the box. As I racked my brain trying to figure out what I could do to excite and enhance the stalemate of a day that was ahead of me, I had an epiphany. I suddenly recalled all the ribbing I had gotten over last year’s riding season from a few close friends about the lack of my ability to do my own motorcycle maintenance. My favorite comment – “You may be the Fashionista and can drive thousands of miles across the country in a few days, but can you change your own oil?” That was it! There was my answer! That January day, I was determined to join the small world of women who wrench.
So off I marched to the wondrous “man cave,” where my husband was in deep hibernation, and shouted “Carpe Diem!” He jumped, sighed and with a pensive look on his face asked, “what are you up to now?” He knew my winter antics were in play again…scheming and dreaming. Following the big reveal of how I wanted to learn simple motorcycle maintenance, he smiled and was actually very proud of my decision. After a brief consultation, it was decided that an oil change and tire pressure check would be a great starting point. I bundled up and took my two-wheeled steed out for a quick, brisk ride to warm and circulate the engine oil. Upon returning, and after the engine case was cool enough to touch so as not to burn my hands, we began the lesson. I am sharing my instructions and photos in order to empower others out there who also may want to learn some light maintenance. (Note: I put on some rubber gloves so as not to end up with oil-stained hands and fingernails – that would not be Fashionista-worthy!)
1. Unscrew the oil cap. This allows air in to allow the oil to drain out freely.
2. Place a container under the engine case to catch the used oil. Make sure it’s large enough to hold all of the old oil that will drain out (my ’94 R1100 RS holds approximately 3.5 liters).
3. Locate the oil drain plug under the engine case (right side on my motorcycle).
4. Using a wrench that fits your particular oil plug, carefully unscrew the plug (check your M.O.M. – Motorcycle Owner’s Manual – for specifics on tools and oil capacity). As the oil begins to gush out into the holding container, try to keep ahold of the plug so you won’t have to fish it out of that black, gooey mess.
5. Allow the old oil to drain completely out. It will take several minutes.
6. Clean your oil plug with a rag or paper towel and then wrench it back into place when the oil has stopped flowing. (Make sure you also have the small washer that fits on the oil plug.)
7. Check your M.O.M. to find out where your oil filter is located (left front bottom on my motorcycle), and with your oil waste container in place, use your oil filter wrench to remove the filter and allow this area to drain. Try to catch the old oil filter with your hand as it’s exiting so as not to make an oily mess all over your workspace.
8. Once it has completely drained, use a few paper towels to thoroughly wipe out old oil and black sediment in the recessed area where the filter sits. Here are two types of filters that can be used for my bike. (I will use the one on the left.)
9. Pour a bit of oil into the filter (about 3/4 full) and using your finger, lube the rubber seal on the filter with a bit of oil, as well.
10. Screw in the new oil filter with your hands until it feels tight, then tighten it about another 1/4-1/2 rotation with your wrench (you want it snug with a proper fit).
11. Add fresh oil with a funnel (again, check your M.O.M. for type and amount).
12. Be sure to pour in small increments and allow a few moments. Then check your oil level so as not to overfill! The level of oil should be level with the red dot in the center of the sight glass located just in front of the engine case on the left side of your motorcycle.
13. Replace the oil cap!
14. Start your engine and let the bike run for a minute or two in order to circulate the oil. Shut the engine off, wait about 5 minutes, and then check the level again. Add additional oil until it is again level with the red dot in the sight glass. Replace your oil cap, and you’re all set!
15. Now, tires! Get your tire gauge and air source ready. (Your most accurate reading will be when your tires are cool.)
16. Unscrew your valve cap and check the pressure in your tires using the gauge. The correct amount of pressure will again be determined by checking your M.O.M. Also note that a change in the outside temperature will affect your tire pressure, as well as any added weight on the bike (passenger, camping gear, etc.), so be sure to check them right before you’re ready for departure.
17. Using your air source, put in the needed amount of air, and then recheck the pressure one more time to be sure the amount is correct.
18. Recap the valve stem, and you’re ready to go!
The ice is melting, the air is warming and we are all busy mapping out our adventures for the new riding season to come. I challenge you to take a time-out, step into your garage and shout “Carpe Diem!” Then get those gloves on and “experience to the utmost”…“without fear,” some simple wrenching on your two-wheeled steed. Hey, if The Fashionista can handle it, so can you! 💋
Arriving the Worse for Wear
(Originally published in BMW Owners News Magazine – February 2016.)
It finally happened, and boy, was it a doozy. Last September as I was riding out of Richmond, Virginia, I was caught in a deluge of rain…for hours. I had been warned before by other seasoned motorcyclists – “Just wait until the day you have to ride in some REAL rain…” I scoffed at the thought. I had ridden in rain before. In fact, I once rode through a huge thunderstorm coming out of Jacksonville, Florida, complete with lightning bolts hitting so close that the hair on my arms stood up. I had ridden in drizzles at night, on the Interstate, on country roads, and even on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado. So what? Big deal. Well, that September day, I was completely humbled. When I pulled into the hotel for the night after hours of riding in heavy rain, I called “uncle.” It was miserable. All of my waterproof and water-resistant gear had been breached. I was officially a “drowned rat” and feeling the worse for wear. For that fleeting moment, it truly made me question the reason I had detoured to Richmond to begin with. But isn’t it true that often times in life, the detours bring us to new discoveries?
Back in July while at the MOA International Rally, I met a super nice guy and fellow BMW ON contributor, Damun Gracenin, who put me in touch with his friend, Laura Smith (MOA #190823). Laura had begun the process of starting a women’s riding apparel company, which of course immediately got my attention. It’s no secret that we lady motorcyclists suffer greatly from the limited selection and sizes of women’s riding gear, and with my passion for fashion, I’m constantly on the prowl for something safe AND swanky. I was immediately curious and needed to know more about Laura Smith and her partner/husband, Scott Saunders and what they were up to. After a couple of chats via email and phone, I decided I needed to plan a visit to Richmond.
So that September after departing the BMW Finger Lakes Rally in Watkins Glen, NY, I figured why not drop down to Richmond and visit Laura and Scott at their newly-purchased building where their company, Worse for Wear, was beginning to take shape. I wanted to see for myself what they were planning and how they were going to move forward. As I rolled through an industrial area in Richmond, I spotted their bright yellow, three-story building from blocks away. Laura met me in the parking lot with a huge smile, and I immediately felt a sense of kindred sisterhood. It doesn’t hurt that we ride the same ’94 R 1100 RS – hers red, mine pearl white. Laura has been riding since 1997, and like me, prefers vintage motorcycles that are full of character. After I shed my gear, threw my hair up into a pony tail, and grabbed my iPhone off of the bike, we entered into their factory which was definitely in its embryonic stage.
It was apparent after just a few minutes that Laura and Scott had not only done extensive research and were highly educated on all aspects of garment manufacturing, but they also had enormous passion for the task they were getting ready to undertake. When I asked Laura why they decided to design and manufacture women’s motorcycle apparel, she answered, “It’s a chronic frustration among many women who ride. Where are our options for fit, function, and fashion? In 2013, Scott and I decided to investigate the possibility of solving that problem by starting our own line of apparel. Worse for Wear would certainly not be the first company to make motorcycle apparel for women, but having more options means more women can find gear to fit their bodies and lifestyles. We knew we wanted to manufacture in the U.S., and we knew we would be digging into an industry with a steep learning curve. I’d been sewing since I was 13, and Scott was no stranger to it either, but building a U.S. based apparel manufacturing facility from scratch was a bit intimidating, to say the least.”
When I inquired as to what kind of preparations they had to undergo to get to where they were, she explained, “We spent months learning about types of fabrics and styles best suited for high-speed, high-risk activities like motorcycling. We pored over dozens of different types of sewing machines, learning which ones worked best to create seam types that were least likely to burst on impact if you’re in an accident. We measured impact and abrasion resistance of different fabrics and threads by building our own version of the testing machine specified in the European Standard for testing protective clothing for professional motorcycle riders (SRPS EN 13595-1:2008). After more than a year of testing and research, we decided to move forward with our dream of making motorcycle apparel for women in a U.S. based manufacturing facility of our own design. We sold our home in Austin, Texas and moved east to Richmond, Virginia, buying a mixed-use commercial building to double as our factory and our home. We’re currently working through the final stages of the development process on a few different products that we plan to have available for sale on our website and our brick and mortar retail space in Spring 2016.”
Upon hearing that information I just had to ask for a tour of their building that was full of historic character. The factory portion of the building held all sorts of high-tech looking equipment that I had never seen before, but upon inquiry, Laura and Scott were quick to give me a demo with pieces of sample fabric. I was fascinated by the process, and immediately had faith that the dynamic duo will create great riding apparel for us lady riders. After the factory tour, we padded our way up a cool circular staircase to the second floor. Their plans for this floor include office space for Worse for Wear, as well as leasing out office space to help supplement their bottom line. It was currently being used as their temporary living quarters and storage space. While touring this area, I really started to get a sense of Laura and Scott’s personalities and could feel that they were overflowing with character.
Upon completion, the third level of the building will be a posh yet cozy apartment flat where the couple and their furry four-legged children will reside. It’s a stunning historical space which they will make their home through the labor of their own hands. They have hired an architect to draft the design of the interior of the building, but Scott and Laura are doing all of the remodeling themselves. We are talking about a seriously grassroots company here. I was highly impressed and so thrilled that I made the detour on my motorcycle journey to view the bare beginnings of this sure-to-be masterpiece which will be the home of Worse for Wear and its founders.
So, what should we expect out of Worse for Wear in the spring? Laura explained, “Our initial product offering this spring includes well-fitting, abrasion resistant apparel that looks good both on and off the bike. We’re concentrating our efforts on abrasion resistant jeans that fit both when you’re standing up and sitting down. The cut is slightly higher in the waist to eliminate gapping at the back when you’re crouched over your bike. They include removable CE Approved armor in the knees and hips. We’re targeting sizes from Petite to Tall in length, along with a wide range of sizes through the waist and hips. Sizing will be realistic – based on your actual measurements – so you won’t have to guess which ‘vanity’ size is supposed to fit you. We’re doing all of the things we wish the rest of the women’s apparel companies had been doing for years – being truthful and transparent about fit and sizing. Right now, it’s just Scott and me doing all of the design, sourcing, cutting, sewing, quality control, order fulfillment, customer service, and machine maintenance, which means we can control every aspect of production. Soon we’ll be hiring additional staff to help make the products so that the business can grow. We’ve been studying lean manufacturing methods to increase efficiency and happiness of our employees and cut down on operating costs. You can never be prepared for every possible contingency, but with the love and support of our fellow riders in the motorcycling community, I feel like we’ll be able to handle it.” I, for one, am ecstatic about the launch of Worse for Wear and plan to try out a pair of their sassy, stylish riding jeans in the near future. You can be sure I’ll tell you all about it, too.
Not long after saying my “goodbyes” to Laura and Scott and saddling up on my pearly white steed, I was out of Richmond and right into the torrential downpour that lasted for hours. Upon arrival in my hotel room for the night (after I left a noticeable trail of water right to the bathroom where I exited my soggy gear and entered a hot shower), I felt pleased and fortunate that I detoured to Richmond. Taking that alternate route not only brought me to another level of respect for the elements while motorcycling, but it also allowed me to experience two people’s vision and dream coming to life…a dream that will surely be celebrated by many of my female compadres on the hunt for really great women’s riding gear. Welcome, Worse for Wear! 💋
(Contact info for Worse for Wear: http://worsewear.com; Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: @worsewear; Phone: 804-433-3855; Email: email@example.com)
Southern Comfort on Two Wheels
(Originally published in BMW Owners News Magazine – December 2015. This is the full story, without edits from the magazine.)
Reflecting on my life and the way I move about this world, my mind wanders to my favorite poem, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” The most meaningful line to me which truly speaks volumes about my heart is – “…I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I’m not sure I’ve done much the “normal” way. I tend to choose odd and unique ways to flit and float through this life. Case in point – “The Fashionista Has an Iron Butt.” Not everyday that a glamour queen who adores high fashion also loves, and I mean LOVES, to ride extreme long-distances on a motorcycle.
With that in mind, it should be no surprise that following a BMW rally in the Ozarks this past October, I planned to take the long way home in a fairly unique kind of way. First let me say that I respect and appreciate the ways of the typical BMW rider: riding hundreds of miles throughout the day, stopping for quaint roadside meals and maybe a snapshot or two of the breathtaking scenery, and then either camping or looking for a motel to grab a good night’s sleep – the cheaper the better, which also affords great bragging rights at the next BMW gathering. One of my favorite guy friends recently asked me, “What’s the cheapest thing on a BMW motorcycle?” Before I could figure it out, he blurted out, “The person sitting on it!” Funny stuff, and probably close to the truth in most cases.
I guess I wasn’t too surprised that I saw a lot of wrinkled brows and squinty eyes when I shared my travel plans with friends about my trip home. First of all, I planned to ride solo, as my husband was due back at his office, and I felt the burning need to continue the adventure “for journalistic purposes.” Secondly, I had reserved Bed & Breakfasts for my accommodations at every stopping point. Oh, the looks I got about that detail. One comment: “Wow! I’ll bet that’s going to break the bank!” Imagine the shock when I revealed that I got every place for the same price or lower than the standard “chain” accommodation in that particular town. Did I mention I never do anything the “normal” way? Besides being a glamour queen, I’m also a budget travel queen who is able to scout out ridiculously inexpensive prices for some pretty suave places to lay my head down at night. I’ve been doing it for years, and it’s really working out well in my new world of long-distance motorcycling.
As it turned out, my solo status was not to meant to be. While we were rallying in the Ozarks and I was having a fabulous time in the twistys thinning out my “chicken strips,” my hometown in South Carolina was flooding due to recording-breaking rains. All roads leading into our county were closed, so my trusty sidekick (the husband) tagged along with me. Although our motorcycle travel styles differ, sometimes greatly, he agreed to be a team player and let me lead the way, literally and figuratively.
First stop, historic Natchez, Mississippi which sits right along the mighty Mississippi. As we crossed the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge over “Ol’ Man River,” I felt very satisfied that I had picked a great place to explore on the first stop of my Southern tour. Starling’s Rest is the B&B I had chosen for my stay there, and it was situated in a charming neighborhood full of stately Antebellum homes decorated with flowering bushes and colossal oak trees draped in Spanish Moss. Consequently, this inn was the least expensive of the four B&Bs I had booked for my journey, yet ended up being the winner for me. Motorcycle parking was the only challenge I faced at the Starling’s Rest. The parking area behind the house was accessible after negotiating two narrow, sharp turns and then up a steep driveway to a flat spot. I had to really concentrate on my slow-speed maneuvering so as not to send my beloved ’94 R1100 RS rolling down the concrete hill with me in tow. Once safely parked for the night and the saddlebags were unloaded, we entered into this fantastic historic home which was very tastefully decorated with gorgeous antiques and lovely artwork adorning the walls. The Starling’s Rest had a distinct “welcome home” feeling. It didn’t hurt that the kitchen, which was open to guests, had a beer cooler stocked full of an amazing assortment of craft brews. After a long day’s ride, that sight was an oasis, for sure. Our room was also stocked with a large, plentiful snack basket that had an empty Mason jar in the center. The Starling’s Rest owner operated on an “honor system,” and asked guests to put a fair price on items consumed and leave money in the jar accordingly. Great psychology there. My favorite part about this convenience – once the motorcycles were parked, there was no need to take them back out for a snack or beverage run.
The evening in Natchez consisted of a hot shower followed by a sassy outfit, a gorgeous sunset over the river while strolling along the historic Spanish Promenade which skirts the edge of the Natchez Bluff, a tasty meal at The Camp on the riverfront, and then a surly good-time at Under-the-Hill Saloon. It is rumored that Mark Twain once lived above the saloon for a short time. We parked our iron butts, paradoxically on a church pew, against the wall in the saloon and enjoyed a beverage while watching the bevy of characters, mostly locals, socialize and dance to the fairly descent bar band that was playing that night. The highlight of my evening was when a man entered into the saloon with a small, wire-haired mutt named “Jack.” Clearly a true professional, Jack jumped up into a barstool and proceeded to drink his favorite libation – a cool glass of water put there by the thorough bartender who knew what this thirsty, four-legged local desired. It didn’t take long before Jack and I were taking selfies together. It was a fantastic evening, and all within walking distance of our B&B where our motorcycles were safely parked.
After a late morning padding around the streets of Natchez and taking in more history, we departed and rode through the back roads of Cajun country and into Lafayette, Louisiana where I had another B&B reserved for the night. After riding through picturesque bayous loaded with Cypress trees draped full of Spanish Moss and then past a vast number of ancient, towering plantation homes, we arrived at T’Frere’s Bed & Breakfast. I must admit, as we pulled into the parking lot of the B&B, I was fairly disappointed at the location. The only thing around was residential neighborhoods – no historic town, no restaurants, no taverns close by. I had planned in all destinations to park the bikes for the night and stay on foot. Okay, Plan B. After checking in to our cozy cottage room, the “Fais Do Do,” and enjoying a glass of complimentary wine, followed by a hot shower and the necessary fashion accoutrements, I got the trusty iPhone out and had an Uber pulling up in five minutes.
With my hopes a little dashed from the absence of a lovely historic walk to dinner, I remained hopeful that the evening’s meal and entertainment were going to be a hit…and I wasn’t at all disappointed. This night was the best cultural part of my Southern tour. Lafayette, Louisiana, was founded in 1821 by Jean Mouton, a French-speaking man of Acadian descent, and is the heart of Cajun country. I was determined to submerge myself deep into the bayou in order to get a true sense of all things Acadiana. First, the food – I previously scouted out a highly rated Cajun restaurant, Bon Temps Grill, which specializes in “Swamp Edge” cuisine. It was amazing. I sampled Andouille sausage and the famous “Boudin.” Very tasty. Although the panneed frog legs looked interesting, as well as the crawfish pot pie, I opted for the grilled chili butter shrimp over a bed of sage sweet potato mash, with a side of super spicy red potatoes. I’ll say it again – amazing.
With a belly full of “swamp” fare, we Uber-ed over to Randol’s for some live Cajun music. Wow, what a treat! I experienced the true “joie de vivre” of the Cajun lifestyle there. Wooden benches lined the perimeter of the dancehall, and even on a Tuesday night, the band was in full swing, complete with steel guitar, drums, fiddle and accordion. We watched the dancers do Cajun jigs, two-steps, waltzes and jitterbugs. At one point while I was sipping on my locally brewed longneck, an older gentleman waltzed over and asked me to dance. I froze, but then accepted knowing that in order to truly “get” the culture, you have to immerse yourself into it. My husband opted to stay on the bench and be my photographer. The dance steps were super easy, and I smiled BIG through two long songs with a dance floor full of Acadians – and one thrilled BMW rider. We Uber-ed back to the B&B, and I knew I had just “Laissez les Bon Temps Roulez” (let the good times roll) in true Cajun style.
The next morning over breakfast with a table full of European vacationers, we reminisced about our individual experiences in Lafayette the previous evening. I was also able to chat with the three young Acadian ladies who oversaw the duties around T’Frere’s Bed & Breakfast. They were great in answering my plethora of cultural questions I had following our wonderful night. We said our “au revoirs” and pulled out on the motorcycles heading for a visit to Lake Pontchartrain before landing in our next Southern destination.
Following a stop in the small, but lavish town of Madisonville, Louisiana on the north bank of Lake Pontchartrain for a superb lunch of soft-shelled crab at the Waterstreet Bistro, we blazed through backroads across two borders into Mobile, Alabama.
We put our kickstands down for the night at our next accommodation, the Fort Conde Inn, and I was delighted by the historical setting and the four-diamond rating at this property and all the little extras that came with the price of a night. A bottle of wine, glasses and opener, as well as fluffy robes awaited our arrival in our posh little room. I must say it was amazing to exit out of my bulky riding suit, peel off the sweaty under layers and take a refreshing bubble bath while sipping on chilled wine. On this leg of the journey, the accommodation far outweighed the location.
After donning the evening’s attire and realizing the walk to Dauphin Street (where the majority of restaurants and taverns were located) meant traveling through a few shady areas of the city, I had an Uber whisk us to dinner. We enjoyed small plates and beverages at a couple of locations along Dauphin Street…nothing special, but an enjoyable evening. Once we covered the entire length of the street, we Uber-ed back to Fort Conde Inn to relax in the finery that surrounded us. I went back for another long bubble bath before turning in for a great night’s sleep. Upon arising, we were served a superb 3-course gourmet breakfast in a majestic dining room with crystal chandeliers and antiques galore. I realized that in this case, the city was mostly uninspiring to me, but the B&B experience truly made up for it. Knowing this day was going to be the biggest mileage day of the trip home, we quickly packed up and hit the slab.
For years traveling south on I-95, I have seen the exit signs to Darien, Georgia. I never knew until I did some research that Darien was actually a small town off the beaten path worth a visit. This last stop of my Southern tour turned out to be a huge surprise. Darien, about 50 miles south of Savannah and founded in 1736, has had a very eventful history over the years, honestly too much to write here, but worthy of a Google search. Today, it is a fishing village full of character and historical properties to explore. We arrived at our B&B, Open Gates Bed & Breakfast, just as the sun set. A call from the innkeepers earlier in the day let us know that we would be the only guests staying with them and that we could choose any of the five rooms in their circa 1876 home. Located in an historic square, as well as within an easy walking distance to the waterfront area where there were several restaurants and a lot to explore, this B&B served as another great all-around experience on my motorcycling trek of the South.
After a stroll waterfront and a delicious seafood meal, we enjoyed a night cap in the comfortable living room of Open Gates with some really great jazz music playing in the background. Following a dreamy sleep, we arose to the smell of fresh coffee brewing and breakfast being prepared. Our innkeeper and accomplished gourmet chef, Zach, prepared his award-winning “Sweet Stuffed Crepe Cigars” along with bacon, sausage, fruit and sweet breads. Certainly a meal fit for royalty – even if they rode in on BMW motorcycles. I wanted to explore the village after breakfast, so Zach extended our checkout time and allowed me to casually explore the fishing village and historical areas on foot for much of the morning into the afternoon. When I felt satisfied that I had seen everything, we packed the bikes and departed for the 275 mile trip home – at 1:00 PM. Did I mention that I don’t do much of anything the “normal” way?
My motorcycle is currently on its center-stand in the garage waiting for a new set of “chicken strips,” and my life is back to the day-to-day routine. As the days become shorter, I often find my thoughts wandering back to my Southern excursion and all that I experienced on that journey. I fondly linger in the moments and memories made, and it makes me celebrate my long-distance “style” of doing things differently even more…I realize that being unconventional and extraordinary is what leads me down the roads less traveled where I see, smell, hear, taste and feel much, much more – and that has made all the difference, indeed! 💋
My Three Rs of Riding
(Originally published in BMW Owners News Magazine – November 2015)
Well, it’s that time of year again…the leaves are falling, footballs are flying, the temperatures are getting brisk and it’s almost time to put our two-wheeled steeds in the stable for the winter. It’s a bit sad knowing that riding season is coming to an impasse, but for those who spend the winter like me, it’s also a time of reflection and a time to scheme and dream about the adventures to come.
While reminiscing during the past few weeks about some of my favorite two-wheeled journeys, I’ve noticed that three subjects keep coming to the surface: the roads which take us on high adventures as well as some of the unique things that happen while cruising down them; the rallies…oh, the rallies; and the rainbows, along with the sunsets, flora and fauna that continually fill my soul with warm fuzzys as I’m cruising along. Just as the foundation of a basic skills-oriented education program has its “Rs,” I’ve discovered that I, too, have my three “Rs” which serve as the foundation of my life on two wheels.
I have to say that this year’s motorcycle travels were absolutely epic for me. I’ve never before gone the distances I ended up riding and have never been on so many awesome stretches of road than I did this year. As a fairly new motorcyclist, I was very fortunate to ride the “Moonshiner 28,” the “Tail of the Dragon,” the “Burr Trail,” “Beartooth Highway,” and the “Million Dollar Highway,” all in four months time. When I think through each one of those legendary roads, I remember how deeply terrified I was at the “start line” of every one of them, but how I finished them all with new-found courage and progressive determination to continue my quest of living a life free of the chains of fear. It’s funny looking back and remembering how I was completely petrified prior to riding the “Dragon,” but after conquering the Million Dollar Highway during a wicked storm two months later, that ol’ Dragon’s tail looks pretty tucked to me.
This year, I’ve traveled down smooth straight roads, windy gravel roads, severely steep switchback roads with no guardrails, rough mountain roads with hair-pin turns, bumper-to-bumper city roads and everything in between. I’ve dodged autos, pedestrians, bicyclists, tire gators, potholes, tumbleweeds, and a bizarre littering of countless hula skirts on the road (no joke)…but sadly wasn’t able to dodge the squirrel with the giant nut in his mouth who ran straight under my rear tire in West Virginia”. Rest in peace, dear Rocky.
I managed to log well over 12,000 miles of riding and have probably passed at least that many fellow motorcyclists on the road. On that note, I must say that I am highly intrigued by the variances of “greetings” sent out from fellow riders in passing. I’ve witnessed the casual nod, the serious two fingers pointing towards the ground, the “V” sign up (or peace sign), the casual wave, the “speak to the hand” sign, the pointed index finger sternly directed down towards the road, the complete ignore, the pillion popping out to wave while the driver sticks to the business of watching the road, the infamous “bird” (he probably was just having a really bad day), and I’ve even seen one biker point straight up to the sky. It’s very curious to me how one chooses their particular “sign” or greeting for the road. Me? I’m all about the “peace” sign, unless it’s a fellow BMW motorcyclist passing…then I wave like we’ve been friends for years. So when you see the big yellow suit waving like a crazy person at you, it’s probably me.
Admittedly, the BMW rallies are one of my favorite parts of the journeys. In fact, every long-distance ride I’ve taken this year has had a rally as part of the itinerary. I was recently asked what it was about the rally dynamic that is so intriguing. Great question. For me, it’s the reunion of friends, first and foremost. Over the past nine years, first as pillion and now riding my own motorcycle, I’ve had the pleasure of making so many friends at the rallies I’ve attended. Our common ground is BMW motorcycles, but it always stretches way beyond that. I see it as good people coming together to share our common passion while respecting and celebrating each others’ individuality. Call me “Pollyanna,” but that’s where my perception leads me. I’ve never met a stranger at a rally thus far.
It’s also been such a blessing to build close relationships with a core group of some really wonderful people, who also happen to have a history with BMW motorcycles. We gather together and spend our time catching up on each other’s news, exploring rally grounds and surrounding areas, and laughing…laughing a whole lot as we celebrate life together. A few years ago, we decided to give our small group a name and have since become an official BMW MOA chartered club. You may have noticed the “BMW Half-Moose Whiskapalians” during closing ceremonies with colorful matching t-shirts, silly mustaches, and bellowing out our special “half-moose” call. It’s camaraderie at its finest, but really it’s a family. And I see that kind of fellowship taking place with so many others at every rally I’ve been to. The highly social nature of the rallies is the number one attribute, in my humble opinion.
I also enjoy every rally venue I’ve attended and the distinct “flavor” of each, usually apparent in the daily entertainment and food and beverage offerings. One of my favorite rallies, in that respect, was the live “Glockenspiel” and the roving German Polka bands that entertained us several times a day at the 2007 BMW MOA International Rally in West Bend, Wisconsin. Let’s be honest, the beer gardens and music each evening at most rallies are usually a whole lot of fun. And the large vendor selections, especially at the International BMW MOA rallies each year, are awesome. For the Fashionista, it’s nice to have riding gear vendors available and in person so I can try on items and know for sure if something will fit properly before making a purchase. It’s also a plus to have access to tire services and motorcycle parts while on rally grounds…they’ve come in handy for us many times over the years.
My least favorite thing about the rallies – the 5:00 am tent city chatty chucklers. I’ve come to accept that I’m just not a morning person, and it takes a minimum of two cups of coffee before I can speak in complete sentences. But our fellow campers who burst out of their tents at ungodly hours of the morning, ready to excitedly and LOUDLY recite their dissertations of the previous day’s ride, must understand that it’s just not cool. And I don’t stand alone in saying that whatever it is you are blurting out at the butt-crack of dawn is really not interesting or funny that time of the day. Maybe hold that thought and raucous laughter for a lovely breakfast conversation after 7:00 am. A polite request…if you must interrupt the Fashionista’s beauty sleep, please leave a cup of coffee with honey and milk at my tent door.
The third “R” in my foundation of riding a motorcycle is the one that brings me the most peace – the scenery…the rainbows and sunsets, the flowers and butterflies, the mountains and cornfields. While finishing my IBA BunBurner 1500 this past July, the song playing as I glided into the finish line was Ray Charles’ version of “America the Beautiful.” Wow. To me, the words described the essence of what I had just experienced…”O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!” The moment was euphoric.
I know I share the sentiment with so many fellow motorcyclists in saying that riding is a wonderful form of mental therapy. And for me, that therapy comes from combining the riding with the amazing scenery that surrounds me and whisks by my helmet, mile after mile after mile. It puts a smile on my face and an indescribable peace in my heart. During stops, I often find myself snapping pictures of brilliant flowers and gorgeous panoramic landscapes. I’m drawn to the beauty of nature, and experiencing it from the seat of a motorcycle is simply heavenly.
Although it’s so difficult to choose my favorite scenery from this riding season’s bevy of photos, my top few are: the sunny, brilliant blue sky day at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming; the breathtaking, vivid sunset in Salida, Colorado; the vast wild sunflower fields in New Mexico just before I almost ran out of gas; and the Finger Lakes region of New York where the vineyards roll over the hills as far as you can see. But there is one single vision of scenery that stands above all the rest. Riding towards home one particular day, I was struggling more than ever, physically and emotionally. The exhaustion of riding five days in a row was catching up, and I was also dealing with a storm of negativity coming at me from a supposed close friend. I felt beaten down and drained, sad and almost defeated. Light rains had come and gone a few times while riding the final stretch that day, almost like the sky was trying to gently wash my troubles away. And then it happened. The sun came out and cut a hole through the dark sky, and as I drew my weary eyes toward the light, I saw the most brilliant, defined rainbow I’ve ever seen. It stood directly in my path, and I spent the next few minutes traveling right into the glorious prism of colors. An instant peace of mind flooded my soul, and I suddenly felt strong again. That perfect rainbow gave me back my ride that day.
As the days get shorter, the temperatures dip, and the excitement of this past season’s two-wheeled adventures wane, I will focus on my fundamental three “Rs.” You can best believe I will spend the winter months scheming, dreaming and planning next year’s long-distance motorcycling itinerary full of more adventurous roads, exciting rallies with good friends and soul-inspiring scenery. For me, the “Rs” have it! 💋
How Are You Spending Your Day?
(Originally published in BMW Owners News Magazine – September 2015)
“There are 86,400 seconds in a day – how are you spending yours?” I found that quote some time ago on the back of a bathroom door. No kidding. It stuck with me, and I often find myself thinking about that question. How am I spending mine?
Sometime in January of 2013, on one of those dull days when it was cold and drizzling outside and there was no chance of slipping in a ride, I was thinking about that quote and began daydreaming about doing something adventurous and amazing on two wheels. I had just read about someone completing an Iron Butt Association ride and pondered the possibilities. I jumped online and read more about the IBA and what exactly had to be done to be awarded membership into this organization of the “World’s Toughest Motorcycle Riders.” I was completely intrigued and set my sights on a SaddleSore 1000.
So, I marched my confident self into the garage where my husband was wrenching on a bike and announced the news… “I want to be a member of the Iron Butt Association.” Believe me, his eyes popped right out of his head. After undergoing what felt like the “Spanish Inquisition” followed with a long lecture, I stood there unbroken and totally determined to undertake this challenge. He finally realized that this was going to happen and there was no changing my mind, so the preparations began.
Over the next few months, I took on the task of figuring out how to best travel 1,000 miles in 24 hours, while my husband spent time going through the mechanics of both of our motorcycles. I had read that many people attempting a SaddleSore 1000 get up early one morning and ride the whole 1,000 miles by the end of a very long day. That didn’t sit well with my body clock. I was determined to break those 24 hours down into segments and timed stops, including a long break for a stint in a hotel room for some quality sleep. I had many naysayers upon explanation of how I was planning the ride, but I forged forward anyway with even more determination to do it my way. I hand-wrote note cards for each stop detailing the city name, exit number and time in and out, carefully making sure time zone changes were factored in. It was quite a system I had set up.
So the big day finally came, and we began the ride in Asheville, North Carolina. The take-off was very smooth, and I glided down the road with a huge smile knowing that this day’s 86,400 seconds were going to be spent experiencing great adventure. With each stop, I was encouraged by my note card system…it was working! We ended up accruing a bank of excess time through quick stops and good road conditions. That worked out perfectly, as we encountered a lengthy traffic jam just below Indianapolis where we were at a dead stop. I wasn’t at all disappointed knowing we had extra time to spare, so I took a “selfie” and sent a post to my Facebook blog page. Prior to our departure, I had family and friends asking me to text them at our stops to relay our status. I knew that task wasn’t going to compute into our timeline, so I made the decision to set-up a Facebook blog page to relay the information one time to all. Best decision ever.
As the sun set that evening and we made our way to our hotel stop in Madison, Wisconsin, it got cool and then cooler, and then downright cold. I was not prepared. It was July and I had my summer gloves. I mean, who in their right mind would carry winter gloves that time of the year? Pulling in the clutch proved to be quite a challenge because of my frozen fingers, but I managed to get it done. We got in to Madison, unpacked, showered, cleaned helmets and hit the mattress. Sleep was sudden, and upon arising three hours later, I was ready to take on the world. I enjoyed watching the sun rise that morning over the sleepy landscape of Wisconsin. I knew that I was spending the last fourth of those 86,400 seconds doing something amazing for myself…I was becoming a more courageous person, knowing I was getting ready to complete a very large challenge. It was euphoric, honestly.
We sailed into our ending location of St. Paul, Minnesota, with 45 minutes, or 2,700 seconds, to spare. Once the ending fuel receipt was safely in my hands, I threw up one of my mighty fist pumps and squealed with delight as happy tears flowed down my cheeks. I did it! And I did it my way! I was now a full-fledged member of the Iron Butt Association, and I was addicted immediately. That long-distance bug had bitten me hard.
So as I sat around this past winter wondering what long-distance fun I could conjure up, I knew my next step was a BunBurner 1500. Just as the year before, preparations fired up in the spring, including my trusty note cards filled with every timed detail of the trip. This year, I had 129,600 seconds to work with (36 hours) in planning a 1,500 mile ride. And as an added bonus, I realized during my figuring that we would have a longer sleep break. So, the trip was planned out, and we were ready to go…
And then it happened. Sixteen days prior to our departure, my husband woke up at 3:00 a.m writhing with abdominal pain. After a trip to the emergency room, tests and much medical hubub, he was diagnosed with a large kidney stone. Of course the naysayers immediately stepped forward and advised us to cancel our upcoming Iron Butt ride. I wasn’t listening. I knew in my heart we would figure this out and be sailing down the road as planned. And then 3 days later while exiting out of my laundry room, I found myself on my knees…a bulging disk on my L5 was now trying to put the brakes on our trip. Crookedly (as I couldn’t stand up straight), I still stood my ground and refused to give up. Call it sheer determination and my super-hard head, but I would not call it quits this easily.
After many doctor and chiropractic visits, medication and a procedure to break up the kidney stones, we were packed and ready to go. We set sail out of Hendersonville, North Carolina, looking to lay down 1,500 miles and be in Rapid City, South Dakota 36 hours later. There were a couple of “hiccups” along the way. It wouldn’t be an adventure if it all went perfectly. When it was my turn to lead, I took us on an unplanned 50 mile scenic loop (yes, I got us lost) using my trusty note cards as reference. And then, there was the “rest stop bike drop” scene…again, all me. Honestly, my saddlebags were a little heavier than usual, but after the BunBurner 1500 segment of the trip, we had 19 more days of high adventure on two wheels, so I had to have extra girly stuff. That’s life with The Fashionista. The good, the bad, and the glamorous.
But, the funniest part of the trip, in my opinion, was my SweeTarts escapade. Towards the final 400 miles of the ride, the sleepys hit me…HARD. Again, my stubborn nature took control, and I refused to give in. At the following fuel stop, I downed a Red Bull and tucked a large roll of SweeTarts in my tank bag. Every wave of sleepy that came over me would warrant a dip into the tank bag for several of those magic candies to perk me back up. Not the best remedy, I know, but it was working for me. I had the last 50 miles in sight and my last 4 SweeTarts poking out of my tank bag for easy access. We were going to make it together, me and my SweeTarts. As I reached for them, hoping to chew on a couple for a few more miles of wide-eyes before the lids got heavy again, something whooshed by the left side of my helmet. I looked down at my stash, and it was gone with the wind. You could hear me hollering obscenities for miles, I’m sure.
I made it over the finish line anyway with 59 minutes, or 3,540 seconds, to spare. My famous mighty fist pump was cast to the sky and I shouted out in victory to another Iron Butt Association ride accomplished. As we made our way to the hotel for a hot shower, stiff drink and comfortable bed, I reflected on the many hurdles, big and little, that tried to quash this big adventure with no success, thankfully. I remembered that quote from the bathroom door, and a huge smile crossed my face…126,060 seconds of my life were spent being strong and overcoming odds, staying hugely positive and experiencing big adventure. And, I’d say that was time very well spent! 💋
From Zero to Solo
(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! 💋