A warm and dry week beneath Utah’s seamless, sunny sky proved to be the perfect setting for a group of women to meet, ride, share and heal.
For most of them, it took the persuasion of family or friends to commit to the event, but once they were there, it didn’t take long for them to relax with the Motorcycle Relief Project. This was to be no ordinary week away from home, and their apprehension was soon replaced with excitement. Created to help returning veterans suffering from PTSD or other invisible injuries, the nonprofit Motorcycle Relief Project was formed to take veterans on multi-day motorcycle “Relief Rides” as a means of helping them decompress, connect with others who have had similar experiences, encounter nature and beauty, and learn valuable techniques for managing their injuries.
“I find motorcycling to be incredibly therapeutic in my own life and could not help but think that, for many veterans, motorcycle riding would do the same, while also satisfying the thirst for adventure that inspired them to enlist in the first place,” said Tom Larson, founder and executive director of MRP. “We want to offer the Relief Rides as not only a way of honoring and blessing veterans and thanking them for their service, but also to provide some tangible tools for reducing stress and moving toward recovery and re-integration.”
Right from the beginning, the trust each rider put into the MRP team and the itinerary that lay ahead set the tone for a journey into genuine self-discovery. Five days of riding dual sport motorcycles along with the carefully crafted evening workshops proved to be the perfect prescription for those who had struggled to find a mainstream therapy that works.
The women who registered for the ride were all looking forward to the chance to ride motorcycles off-road—something most hadn’t ever done—and the opportunity to learn and practice basic off-road skills was going to be invaluable. As an avid supporter of basic skills coaching, I was more than happy to help. The approach I like to use when teaching novice riders is to begin by deconstructing the intimidating reputation that riding big adventure bikes has, while stressing important safety issues and then encouraging the discovery of how to control these machines.
The impressive riding skills I witnessed from the outset were a testament to how well the group had listened. Coupled with their eagerness to understand and their desire to master these new skills, we were ready to venture out and discover some of Utah’s dirt roads. As the week went on, each rider’s comfort level grew. The women also grew more comfortable with each other, and evening workshops gave everyone the opportunity to develop personal coping skills useful to each of us, not only in our everyday lives, but in times of crisis as well. By the end of the week, the group had bonded beyond expectations.
Describing her experience, Cindy told me, “I’ve always considered myself a cruiser type of girl, relegating the dirt bikes to high-adrenalin youth who clearly didn’t have a very strong survival gene. Then came the Motorcycle Relief Project, complete with BMW GS bikes. The whole experience of the first-ever, all-female veteran’s MRP ride is too all-encompassing to write about here, but I have been thoroughly enlightened regarding dirt vs. road bikes. The GS is a beautiful marriage between road and dirt, solving challenges like carrying extra equipment on your bike to the dirt-friendly areas and eliminating the need to have two bikes. A huge relief was knowing that in the extremely likely event of dropping the bike (ahem, was that really twice?), I wouldn’t be cursing about ruined paint or dented metal.
The array of female veterans was impressive, from tattooed biker grandmas to a Boston comedian to the millennial self-proclaimed cat-lady. Having been “just” a scooter rider, I was anxious about 1) killing myself, 2) embarrassing myself (kind of the same thing, don’t you think?) and 3) irritating everyone else by being a slow-poke beginner. Instead, I was cocooned by a sea of estrogen and guided by an experienced badass with a great accent. Those first rides were thrilling and terrifying (refer back to #1 & 2), and I was too scared to worry about #3. My world shifted, however, that first day I put that beautiful red 700 GS on dirt; it was like she and I were home. The world around me disappeared as I felt her bucking and shifting beneath me on the uneven ground, and I was thrilled as she responded to my shifting weight and leaning knee, akin to how a horse responds to its rider. Bex tells me this can be my ‘therapy,’ and I’m happy to agree. I think I’ve found my happy place.”
To read the rest of this story, refer to the online edition of the February 2017 issue of Owners News, available in our Digital Archive.