Motorcycle Mama Goes Solo
by Charlotte Hansen
(Longview, Tx. USA)
At the age of 54 I took a solo motorcycle trip from east Texas to New Mexico. I had been riding for a couple of years and was going to go to the big rally in Sturgis, South Dakota with a group. However, I wanted to go it alone for a week. So, I launched out with a trailer full of camping gear.
My big, red ride was parked in front of the house, trailer beside it. This would be a two week trip, one week solo to Taos, New Mexico. Then I would meet friends for the ride on to the big rally in Sturgis. The motorcycle sat like a big cat ready to pounce on the road; now for the challenge of packing all the camping gear and hooking up the trailer.
I'd begun to ride two years before at the age of 52. Then when friends decided to go to the big rally, I started thinking of riding off into the sunset alone to a place I'd always wanted to revisit, Taos. Most of my family and friends pointed out all the reasons I shouldn't go off alone on a motorcycle. Thankfully, my two children just grinned and told me to go for it. So, even though I wasn't a "hot" babe, I was a motorcycle mama, wearing my leathers with attitude, ready to conquer the roads.
Leaving that day felt like launching into a new world. There was no man in a group now to help me pick up the bike if it fell (which it already had) or to give that sense of protection and security. It was kind of like swimming across the pool for the first time, except there was no lifeguard.
August - hot as blazes in Texas. But, on the road at last, I felt biker-babe cool. That is until I ran out of gas. No problem. I had roadside service. Called and waited. And waited. Seems they couldn't find me. Then a kind young man stopped, assessed the problem, got the gas, and I was off again. The idea was to camp and not spend much money, but I began looking for a motel with a pool. Water inside and out was what I needed right now, and Amarillo was the place to go for it that first day out.
Santa Fe was the first major stop, with the idea of spending the night there. Going into New Mexico, I discovered that the speed limit had jumped to 75, and the big rigs were really rolling. There are lots of discoveries for a fairly new motorcycle rider, and riding behind an 18 wheeler is one of them. The wind draft made the bike shake some, and being passed by one was like a sudden wind gust hitting broadside. It makes the heart jump in the throat at first, but then becomes part of being on the road. Up to this point most of my highway riding had been with a group, with there always being some veteran to give advice and answer questions. Now, it was all mine to figure out.
I always wear a helmet and long sleeves in summer, and I'd already experienced people's reactions on seeing a partially gray-haired woman take off a motorcycle helmet. Some smiled, some grimaced, some asked questions. It certainly kick-started a lot of conversations. Of course, they also looked around searching for the man with me.
The second night I again opted for a motel as thunderclouds inched closer. I rolled into Santa Fe the next morning. There was a little swagger in my tired step as I dismounted. Lots to see there, so I would look for a campground later. History - more history - art museums. I strolled and looked, ate, and looked some more. Some time in the afternoon I realized that I'd seen all I wanted to see there and mounted up. Finding a good place to camp proved to be somewhat difficult - too much gravel for tent camping. Finally I asked if there was something in Chimayo, a little town I'd read about in the brochures. I was told there was a campground there; just follow the signs when I turned off in that direction.
Now, a dilemma - go on down the main highway, knowing it was a good road, or take the unknown. I decided to at least check out Chimayo. As I drove in, I felt like I was in a Mexican village - small adobe houses everywhere. Definitely off the beaten path. O.K., I could at least spend the night. I pulled in to the store and asked if there was a place to camp. "Yep," the clerk said, "just pick any place out back." I left, scoping it out. A couple of trailers looked like they had put down roots. O.K., so much for a tourist spot. Then I spotted a big tree, the perfect place. Trailer unloaded - tent up - bed made. So far, so good.
Well, this seemed to be alright. Now for dinner. There had to be some great Mexican food somewhere. So, I walked down to the general store and was given directions. Hoping I'd remember them and not drive around lost, I left. I arrived at what looked like a run-down old house in the middle of nowhere, but there were cars everywhere. On opening the door, I stepped into a delightful restaurant with open patios and waitresses in bright Mexican dresses. Off the beaten path was turning into pure joy as I lit into the chips and salsa.
The next morning, I got out the brochures to read again about a small chapel, built by the Spaniards a couple of hundred years ago, that was open to the public. Getting directions from the store again, I packed and set off. The small chapel was adobe and smelled of earth and candles as I entered. A few people were talking softly, walking toward a side room. I followed. Inside were more candles and pieces of paper tacked to the walls. I began to read them and discovered they were by people who had experienced miracles in this chapel. This was what kept people coming to visit. I went back in the main room and sat on a wooden bench. Time to leave, but which way to go?
I could go back to the main highway and be assured of good traveling or take the road into the mountains. Both ended in Taos. The mountain roads were paved but less traveled. I sat and thought - and thought. Well, as Frost said, the road less traveled is much more interesting. I headed into the mountains. The serenity of uncluttered highway told me my choice was right. The fried bread at the Indian reservation café clinched it.
The five days in Taos were uncharted; I'd made no plans. However, I discovered a steam engine railroad into the mountains and white water rafting. Then, a couple of days I just rode and looked, doing nothing in particular.
I met my friends in Clayton to begin the ride to Sturgis. Even with the group, the adventures continued. We rode through rain and sleet in the Colorado mountains and even hit mud on a road under construction. Riding the tops of the mountain passes felt like being on top of the world. But then, I'd already done some of that solo.
Fiftyish and gray-haired, I was having but the first of many motorcycling adventures, but then I've always loved the road less traveled.