Honda Shadow RS, 750. Four years ago, those words would have meant nothing to me, but now, they spell freedom, self-reliance and independence.
I’ve always had a rebellious streak; the fastest way to get me to do something is to tell me not to do it.
When I first got my motorcycle, the reaction I got from everyone except my (admittedly awesome) dad was some variation of "OMG so dangerous! OMG you’re gonna die!"
I’ve always been pretty risk-averse. But motorcycling appealed to me, and after my first class, I was hooked. Even riding around at 25 miles per hour in an empty lot was like nothing I’d ever tried before.
Once I got my Honda, I rode every day until, thanks to a combination of the laziest of landlords and the crackiest of crackheads, my motorcycle was vandalized twice in six months.
I had to save up to pay for the most recent vandalism, which meant I couldn't ride for a long period. My confidence in my motorcycle skills took a big hit. Between the vandalism and my own anxiety, I decided to sell my bike.
Enter my new friend Mama X on her trusty Triumph Thruxton. She not only offered a safe garage space for my bike, she also told me about Babes Ride Out (BRO), an all-female motorcycle camping adventure.
I hadn’t been camping in five years, which was also the last time I got poison oak and said fuck the outdoors. With no sleeping bag or anything approaching real camping skills, and plenty of anxiety in big groups of people, I had every reason to say no.
But I’d just received an offer from someone who wanted to buy my bike, and I suddenly knew, unequivocally, that it was time to go all in or get out. I thought about it for maybe 60 seconds, and said yes. I bought my ticket to Babes Ride Out the next day.
On a sunny Thursday morning, we loaded our bikes into the back of Mama X’s rugged Toyota Tacoma and hit the road.
I'm still a beginning rider, I'm not the best camper, and I'm kind of a nerd. So I had plenty of worries and what-ifs heading out. Would I get mocked like Steve Urkel or accepted like Stefan Urquelle? Would I fall and break my collarbone before my Obamacare kicked in?
Babes Ride Out was officially running from Friday 10/23 at 3 p.m. to Sunday at 10/25 11 a.m. We left a day early to cut the drive in half and stopped off at Kern River Campground on Thursday night.
We met up with a group of women on Harleys, as well as Vivian Shock, who rode all the way on her Yamaha fz07, and some friends of Mama X, Salt and Lt. Crash Less. (Biker names can be kind of like roller derby names.)
Vivian rustled up a fire within minutes of meeting everyone, and we all gathered round, swapping stories and getting to know each other. The Harley group had ridden down from Sacramento together, and we were duly impressed.
Before that weekend, my longest ride had been 30 minutes and less than 30 miles, but they’d covered 300 miles in one day, and were filled with energy and funny stories.
They were surprised when I told them I was a newbie, but had nothing but encouragement and positive words to share. My fears of being the odd one out were already evaporating.
We all headed out in the morning. We made it to Joshua Tree later that afternoon, and promptly ended up an extremely long line for registration.
Motorcyclists aren’t exactly known for their patience in queuing. There were quite a few loud suggestions as to how to manage registration better, from women with backgrounds in everything from concert production to project management.
It quickly became clear that these women were big on self-reliance, and efficiency.
When we finally got through, we set up our tent in the dark, and then went to check out the Babes Ride Out setup.
There was an astronomy show, which we bailed on once we realized it consisted of three telescopes, a slide projector with maybe two slides, and a monotone announcer. There was a stage with some decent rock/punk bands (as a hip-hop head, I’m not particularly qualified to comment, but they sounded pretty good). There was another stage with a couch next to an elevated viewing area, and a couple of booths with free beer, sunglasses, and raffle tickets.
We drank, wandered around and drank some more. Almost all of the women I met were super friendly.
The next day was riding day. After all that time sitting on my ass in the truck, I was finally going to get to sit on my ass on my motorcycle, for 176 miles no less!
As the only rider in our group with less than 10 years of experience, I was extremely nervous. So of course, I started the ride off by accidentally calling a carabiner clip that had fallen off Salt's bike a "caliper."
A caliper is a very important piece of the brake system in a motorcycle. Everyone pulled over with a quickness to make sure the rear brakes hadn’t actually fallen off someone's bike.
After clearing that up, we got back on the road. Not an auspicious start, but I knew I needed to focus on riding, and not how badly I’d embarrassed myself in front of a group of seasoned riders.
We started off on the freeway, then ended up in the hills with some great twists and turns, and then came back down to the freeway.
I was following Salt, with Mama X and Lt. Crash Less in front, hitting the turns with the speed and finesse of a Blue Angel in a perfect Diamond Roll.
I often fell behind, but the others stopped from time to time to wait for me to catch up.
We took a break at a biker burger joint in Idylwild for lunch, and then headed down the mountain.
At this point I was thinking about my dad. He flew planes in the Navy, and his first bike was a Kawasaki 350. He did a cross-country trip on a Suzuki 500 Titan in the 70s, with my Grandma calling every hospital and jail across the country whenever she didn’t hear from him for too long. He learned to ride from Theresa Wallach who had a shop on the southeast side of Chicago at the time, and was a motorcycle dispatch rider for the British war effort during WWII.
She also wrote Easy Motorcycle Riding, which was required reading before I got my license.
After about six hours on the road, I learned more than I thought I would, and started thinking about doing my own cross-country trip, something that I never would have considered before BRO.
So what did I learn? Biking buddies are good. Some bikers will look out for newbies, some will be condescending and laugh at your mistakes. Find the former, ignore the latter, and enjoy yourself.
At the beginning and end of it, we ride because it’s fun. Don’t let anyone destroy your joy.
Give short shrift to the opinions of non-riders. They usually have no idea what they’re talking about, and they panic easily. Don’t panic. Stay confident, remember your training, keep your eyes on the road, and look to where you want to be, not at where you are. You’ll surprise yourself with what you can handle.
Lastly, bikers come in all shapes, stripes and from all walks of life. And no matter who you are or where you come from, there are those who will accept you as you are, right now. Look for them, because they are your people.