The thought of riding off into the sunset without a care in the world is a common daydream for most of us. We drive home from work thinking, “What if I just kept going?”
One day, I did just that. OK, not quite that spontaneously; instead I rapidly planned out my great escape and finally rode away from work and my life for the majority of the 2016 summer. I didn’t return to the Pacific Northwest for good until the leaves were turning color. With the combination of time, fabulous roads, and weather as my guides, I went wherever I wanted. I lived the dream, with not a care in the world.
My dream of riding without constraint had always been in the back of my mind, just waiting for a spark. That spark came with the announcement of the 2016 BMW MOA National Rally’s location: Hamburg, New York. I live in Seattle, and what a better excuse to ride across the country than that? My dream began to take shape. As I planned the trip, looked over maps, and calculated mileage, it turned out it would be a rushed trip out and back with the amount of time I was allowed off from work – plus some unpaid time off. There would have only been two weeks to make the journey to the rally and the be home again for my next shift. My mind worked overtime trying to figure out how to do this and still have fun.
The furthest east I’d ever been was South Dakota, and that was when I was a kid. Anything east of Wyoming was going to be new to me and I couldn’t wait! Many people warned me of the bore of some parts of the country. I took their opinions with a grain of salt and decided I would make my own judgements about any landscape. Besides, if their opinions stem from driving along the interstate inside a car, then I’d agree that it would have been rather awful. The interstate kills almost any landscape while it literally plows straight through the land. The goal was to stay off the interstate as much as possible to avoid pure boredom and disappointment. The point was to take it slow and find the roads less traveled. Allow myself to feel the road and experience the sites, sounds and smells as I rode by. Any interstate travel is strictly for getting from A to B as quickly as possible. That was far from the point of this journey.
As my plans began to form and I shared my excitement with people, they always seemed to react by offering advise, sharing their own stories, or warning me of appending doom. Talking about my trip sparked a lot of interest from others and the conversations were never dull, and this helped to fuel my determination. For those that worried about my safety, I tucked their concerns away and considered it a show of love. Nothing anyone would say was going to change my mind and a lot of people had a lot to say.
The more I thought about my trip and my job, the more I realized how much I disliked my boss and how badly I wanted to experience free-form travel. I quit the job, didn’t sign another lease, and set myself up to head out on the road. It was a big change and it felt right with a pinch of scary. What I didn’t sell off, I stuffed into my car and stored at my parents’ house. I felt like a damn gypsy and it felt great! I whittled my belongings down to the bare minimum since there isn’t a ton of storage space on a motorcycle, and I fell in love with the simplicity of it. A handful of clothes, enough space for food and other necessities, and that was it.
The day of departure crept closer and closer and I was growing more and more anxious. The wait was exciting but as it become more of a reality I began to second-guess myself. I was going alone, across the United States and possibly Canada, for months on end, with no long-distance or solo travel experience. “What the hell have you gotten yourself into?” played on repeat in my conscious. The answer was often, “Just exactly what I want to do!” The truth was in my answer. I was doing exactly the thing that I wanted, exactly the way I wanted to. The time had come to hit that big ol’ reset button in my life. Having left me job (my income) and my home, I was committed to this wild dream. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m not a fan of commitment, though that might be exactly why solo travel suites me so well. I won’t get stuck in any one place for too long and the pace is up to me.
Only a few days after celebrating the Fourth of July weekend with my family, I nervously packed up the bike for my maiden voyage the next morning. My anxiety levels were high and the only thing that kept me strong was my determination to prove this journey to myself. Regardless, I questioned my choices; my mind asked “why” and warned me profusely to be careful because I was a girl. Being a woman was my only true fear and it is a very real concern. Crashing, getting a flat, et cetera, were concerns as well, but being a woman, alone in an unfamiliar place, can be the greatest danger. My best safeguard was to keep my eyes open and emanate an immense amount of confidence through all situations. This approach kept me safe through my journey as I faced many places, people, and situations.
On the morning of my departure the skies was dark and threatening. The radar showed a big rainstorm spanning from eastern Washington to the middle of Montana. Nevertheless, July 6th was the big day and I was determined to get my journey started. Once on the road I learned a lot of things about my bike, my riding ability and my gear – and most of it on that first day. The learning curve continued pretty intensely for the first few weeks and held on throughout the entirety of my journey across the U.S. and Canada.
Day one was a day of arranging, rearranging, and fussing with my luggage. Until this journey, I had never gone more than a few days out for a weekend camping trip, so I felt as though I was all thumbs – not to mention it was pouring down rain most of the day. When I found shelter under a bridge to put my rain gear on I forgot to put the covers on my soft luggage, which called for a second stop to put the covers on. There was a good amount of fumbling like this for weeks as I encountered new climates and continued to work out the details of where to store things on the bike. As I made my way down the interstate (that day I did want to cover ground to make it to my cousin’s house), there was a crosswind and the raindrops were big, my mind came over the loudspeaker and asked me if I thought that maybe I should turn back. My response was a hard “No!” and I pressed on.
Pulling into my first gas stop, I felt excited, nervous and determined. A woman came up to me to ask what I was up to since she saw the bike was loaded down. She complimented me on taking on such a journey and told me that she had done a similar trip in the 1980s on her Honda. This gave me much-needed confidence boost and it reassured me that this journey was right for me. Proceeding through my boost I suddenly noticed that the rain cover for my luggage was gone! Day one and I’d already lost the rain cover for my luggage. Frantically I called my Dad, but he couldn’t help but laugh at me as I panicked. He calmly explained to me that back before the luxuries of rain covers he would just put his belongings in a large trash bag, then put it in the luggage. His laughter helped me to realize that this was not an emergency and that there was a simple solution. For the remainder of the journey I had my belongings in a plastic bag, and they never got wet.
My folks were a great support throughout the planning and the duration of my adventure. The bike I rode was a loaner from my Mom, which I later purchased from her. I will forever be grateful for their willingness to get me on the road. When I planned this trip I decided I’d go simply, which meant no music and no GPS. Paper maps and my thoughts were enough for me. The time spent in my helmet was great. Day-to-day life doesn’t always allow us to sit and ponder or create much because we are juggling so many responsibilities and obligations. I had some really wonderful, meaningful, silly and focused thoughts and ideas that rotated around in my helmet each day. I kept a journal and wrote in it every night and sometimes I’d write multiple times during the day. By the end of the journey in early autumn 2016 (or two and half journals later), I was certainly a changed person.
When I left the driveway early in July I figured I’d come back a different person, but I never anticipated it would be to such a degree that my friends could notice the transformation upon my return. Travel helped me to become vulnerable, especially having gone alone. Vulnerability was something I was terrified of at first, but I learned that it was exactly the emotional state I needed to be in as it allowed me to be open to help and be grateful to strangers. It also forced me to be humble and appreciative. When trouble met me out on the road, and it certainly did, I was able to smile through some of the toughest situations, knowing that being kind was the only way I was going to make it through. Armed also with the BMW MOA Anonymous book, I felt a sense of security knowing that someone willing to lend a hand was never too far. Thank goodness too, because I ended up in a few pickles that required a cry for help.
Unrelated to my troubles, I met some of the nicest people during my journey. We would have never met had I not set out on this trip in the first place and not allowed myself to be vulnerable. It was a fabulous combination that opened doors I never even knew were shut. I learned quickly that kindness through vulnerability is the greatest currency and it definitely helped me stay and get back out on the road.
Nearly three months and over 14,000 miles later, I returned home to the Pacific Northwest. My dream came to a close, but the memories will forever be strong. When I look over the map and trace the roads with my finger, I have a story for every mile. Each moment is tied to an emotion, a sense, and a feeling. There was the strong side wind that pushed me out of my lane, the aroma from fresh rain, the pure excitement of that perfect ride and so on. As I flip through the pages of my journal and look back at photos, I can’t wait for my next great adventure. The people that were worried about me going out on the road on a motorcycle as a woman all alone, had said, “I’m glad that you got this out of your system.” Listening to their comments I can’t help but laugh and think, “This is only the first of many.”