I had never really thought about owning a Harley, but when a friend rumbled up one day on a pretty black Shovelhead my ex-husband and I had to have one. His credit was bad and mine was good, so I took care of the financing. We shopped around and purchased a brand new 1999 SoftTail Standard from John at Michael’s Harley-Davidson. We had to wait a few months and when it finally arrived, my ex rode it everywhere and I rode happily on the back. We made all kinds of plans to ride here and go there, really looking forward to what was possible. Well, as relationships sometimes go, ours ended and I was left with the bike.
I was upset enough about the relationship ending -- what was I going to do with this bike? Sell it? I immediately assumed that was the answer, until I remembered the plans we had made and found I still wanted to do those things. What if I were to ride it? I am a pretty independent woman and I don’t usually put gender restrictions on activities, but I certainly had categorized motorcycle riding. The more I thought, the more I liked the idea. I bet I could learn to ride it, I said, and I signed up for a beginner’s course to find out.
Between the class sign-up and the first session, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was facing surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment; in the midst of it all, I took the beginner’s course. I learned to ride on a little bike and enjoyed it, until my hair fell out and I was too tired from the chemo to even think about riding. A Michael’s Harley-Davidson (Cotati, CA) bandana, however, regularly covered my bald head. A year passed before I got my strength back and all that time I thought, I want to be strong enough to ride. In many ways, thinking about riding kept me going.
As I began to feel better, I decided I was ready to start practicing around my very large yard. I rode back and forth, trying to get the feel of the bike. Taking it out on the road was out of the question –- I was way too nervous. The driveway was long and pretty solid. And gravel-covered. I was feeling pretty comfortable, going back and forth, and then I learned what most riders know: inexperienced riders and gravel don’t mix. The bike was fine: just a couple of small dings. I waited two months, however, for my three broken ribs to heal. My oncologist was actually kind of proud – not many of his patients feel good enough to be out riding motorcycles and breaking ribs.
But I wasn’t in a place where I could feel proud. Here I was with a bike that I wasn’t sure that I wanted in the first place, the heartbreak at the end of a relationship, the emotionally stressful and physically draining treatment for breast cancer, and now, broken bones. I had to stop and think, do I really want to do this, is this motorcycle thing not a good idea, how much more abuse do I take before I just give it up? The bike had become a symbol, almost a rite of passage, testing my ability to overcome those things that life just throws at you. You handle them, or you don’t. In my case, a little bit of “don’t tell me I can’t do something” goes a long way, and I found myself even more determined to ride. But I’m not stupid and at this point I realized I needed help.
My ex and I had joined the Redwood Empire Chapter of HOG when we first bought the bike. What if I rejoined? I could hook up with someone to help me learn to ride. I went to a meeting, and the first thing I asked at the sign-up table was, where do I find other women riders? They pointed me to Alta Gardner. I told her the story I am now telling you, and I asked for help. We exchanged e-mails until a bright Sunday afternoon when Alta and several wonderful women riders came just to support me on my Harley in a parking lot. Round and round I rode, as they stood and cheered me on.
We have ridden together now, the LOH and I, to Sausalito and up over Coleman Valley Road to the California coast. My cancer treatments are behind me, and I am doing well. I am still a beginner – I have a lot to learn – but I know enough and am comfortable enough on the bike that I now know just how much fun it is to ride.
And don’t even think of trying to stop me.