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Motorbike Road Trip: Making it Happen – As a Solo Female

“Normal people don’t go camping with their motorcycles,” a boy said very seriously to another kid as they walked past me at the campground. I was surprised he did not mention anything about me being a female. I was doing my last trial run with all of my gear to note any needed adjustments before my big, three-week solo motorbike road trip.

Non-“normal” me did not grow up on dirt bikes or around motorcycles. I started riding two years prior to my road trip. And really the concept five years before that was that it would be cool to do a motorbike road trip through Asia; making it actually happen was not something I had seriously considered.

Fast forwarding to now, I have my motorcycle license, and a used BMW 650GS that came with panniers and everything. But despite having these, or especially because of having these, I was intimidated. The “motorbike” part of the “motorbike road trip” idea was looking doubtful; I was terrified of the combination of my hesitant abilities, traffic on the road, the size and weight of my motorcycle.

I am only 105 pounds, which means my motorcycle weighs four times the amount I do. Thankfully the “road trip” part was a non-issue, I had pushed through intimidations related to that a few years ago during my seven-week solo road trip in my small SUV. But back then I was quite nervous about camping solo in places wilderness enough to have no cell phone reception.

I did a trial run then too, sleeping in an unstructured, dispersed camping area in my vehicle night one, in a tent night two, and confirmed I could manage and therefore handle a solo road trip. Plus I had my satellite messenger device so people knew I was alive, or if I was in trouble. By the end of that long road trip I was so comfortable solo camping that I slept the second to last night in my hammock, and the last night on the ground under the stars.

I have learned that by trying things out in small ways to build up to the bigger goal, it is possible to gain the knowledge needed, become adept and more comfortable with things that initially are intimidating. I think I have an idealistic view of humanity and was less concerned for my womanly safety from human predators than others were, but then and since, despite my placing myself in some admittedly sketchy situations, I have never had any problems, and have only found that people, especially males, become protective and keep an eye out for me, despite being complete strangers.

Overcoming intimidation, at least for me, takes stubbornness and practice. To do an extended motorcycle road trip safely and successfully, I felt that I had to become competent and comfortable at a number of things.

I had to learn how to pick up the bike on my own if it tipped over. I needed to be unabashed about asking for aid from strangers. I had to experience riding through hairpin turns, in the rain, in relentless crosswind, in the dark, with others, and by myself. I had to know how much my butt could handle riding in a day, at a time, in terms of both hours and distance. I had to learn how to handle my big adventure motorcycle off-road, how to make tighter u-turns, how to (mostly) hold a line, how to start a bike up a steep hill, how to turn around on a steep hill (at least in concept), and all of these when awkward material and slopes are under the tires, because one just never knows when that might be the situation; so to learn and practice these details, I participated in a RawHyde class and trip.

I had to figure out how to reduce helmet turbulence. I had to find out my capacity and stamina, both physically and mentally, because I might need to make serious decisions or need to use my skinny strength under stress and by myself. I had to get comfortable with the basics of motorcycle parts, functions and troubleshooting in case something happened out in the field, so I took the Puget Sound Safety motorcycle maintenance course. I had to determine innovations and alterations to make to my gear and motorcycle and set-up make the most logical, efficient and comfortable ride possible (backpackers have it down, and are my first go-to for food and gear advice).

I had to figure out how to pack things to make everything fit. These various things required observation, practice, and lots of questions. Lots. I am sure any of the folks working at South Sound Motorcycles can attest to my unending questions (and their unending patience and insight). This also took experience, and persistence, frustration, and bruises.

I think my one-on-one coach at the off-road RawHyde class picked up my motorcycle by himself (he wanted me to conserve my energy for learning) a minimum of fifty times in one day. Which meant I fell no less than fifty times that day, and also got up and back on the motorcycle no less than fifty times, knowing my odds were that I would be sprawled down in the dirt again soon next to my rented 700GS. By the time of the class trip a couple of days later, I only fell in a couple of situations in the “real world” of off-road riding. I gained skills and confidence. I had to know I was mostly capable of handling a general array of potential events, before taking off on my long road trip. This meant practice with stubbornness mixed in.

It became time for my motorbike road trip. Up from Seattle into British Columbia, spending nearly a week in the Canadian Rockies, then down through Watertown Lakes National Park, winding through the Beartooth Mountains, then across and through the Northern Cascades. I found road trip by motorbike to be awesome, a bit more stressful than I anticipated, not exactly romantic, and more awe-inspiring and with feelings of accomplishment in ways not experienced when doing a road trip by car.

I handled the situation where my bear-proof canister with all of my carefully selected food was (temporarily) stolen a couple of days before my mountaineering class; I managed three hours of mid-20 mile per hour crosswinds with gusts in the mid-30 mile per hour range; I had a beautiful accidental moment doing single track gravel at a campsite at sunset (this trip I opted to not do intentional off-road by myself). I probably had more unique interactions with people on the road during this trip because of my mode of transportation.

Next time – I am already planning a next time – I am seriously considering bringing my banjo, because it fits on the motorcycle, and would not that twang be a great day’s end at camp? I can imagine that little boy saying, “Normal people don’t go camping with their motorcycles, and they never bring a banjo on their motorcycle.”

The final count: 23 days, 4238.9 miles, 2 countries, 5 states/provinces. I ended the trip thinking: I can do anything. Even that motorbike road trip through Asia I dreamt up several years ago. If a skinny, barely-over-100-pound woman riding a comparatively heavy motorcycle was successful on a solo motorbike road trip and feels like anything is possible and doable – then that must be true for everyone. We just need to be stubborn enough to make it happen.

Marcia A. McGuire/October 2015 - reprinted April 2018 from the archives of Puget Sound Rider


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