Most improved

Me on my new Harley named Perseverance (Percy)

“Jodi, what are you doing right now?”

“I’m trying to find neutral so I can start the bike!”

Of course the training motorcycle I was assigned had a hard time shifting to neutral. I couldn’t start the bike until it was in neutral. My foot was flailing as I tried to bump the shifter up a half step. The whole class behind me was waiting.

I’m an adult. I’ve driven cars for many years, including stick shifts. Why is riding a motorcycle so complicated?

I had ridden behind my husband on our Harley for years. This was the year I was going to learn how to ride my own. I registered for the riding class at our local Harley dealership. Three days to make me a rider.

The book work wasn’t that hard. I have a Masters Degree in Teaching so I know how to study. Our first session was reviewing some of the information in the guide which included the controls, how to start and stop the bike.

There was one other woman in my class. One other adult over fifty. The remaining five students were young men with dirt bike miles. I didn’t let my inexperience freak me out as I knew all the answers in the classroom.

The next day was the range.

We met at 6:30 am at the fairgrounds parking lot. A line of small black Harleys waited in a line. Our instructors had cones placed in a mysterious pattern. For each activity, we watched one of the instructors ride it while the other explained what we had to do. Looked easy enough.

Until I tried to start the bike. Neutral eluded me many times that day, adding to my stress and frustration. During the course of five hours, I had to push all fear of failure and negative self talk out of my brain, as I only had room to focus on making my bike move.

When our instructor finally gave us the signal to park the bikes, I was soaking wet and trembling. It was time for lunch and back to the classroom.

My whole body ached when my head hit the pillow that night. The other woman in my class had already quit after the practice range. One of the young guys didn’t come back either. I didn’t have to prove myself to anyone.

I didn’t have to ride a motorcycle.

I groaned when my alarm went off the next morning. The day of our riding and written tests. Should I get up and get dressed?

When I showed up holding my helmet, my instructor raised his eyebrows but didn’t say anything. My mind was set. I was going to do this.

I got on my bike and fired it up. All I could think about was following directions, following the other riders, following my dream.

After some warmups, we completed a series of motorcycle skills for the riding test: swerves, slow turns, quick stops, street turns. The instructors scribbled on clipboards as we sped by. Then we got the signal and parked the training bikes for the last time.

My hands shook as I unbuckled and took off my helmet. My hair was plastered to my face and my makeup had disappeared hours ago.

“We need to retest one student. The rest of you passed. Go get lunch and meet back at the classroom for the written test.”

The name they called was not mine. I passed the riding test.

On my way back, I stopped at Starbucks for a cold drink and a cake pop. My mind buzzed like I’d just come out of my first Lord of the Rings movie. I knew I could pass the written test, but the riding course was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life.

Later that afternoon, the instructors passed out awards to our class. All of us who showed up the second day had passed both tests and were ready to apply for motorcycle licenses at the DMV. We’d still have to take another written test there, but after what we’d been through the past three days, it sounded simple.

The awards were light-hearted, including one for Speed Demon, Shortstop, and Curve Master. My award was not surprising.

Most Improved.

Before the Thunder

WCT7

West Coast Thunder is a motorcycle event sponsored by Riverside Harley-Davidson held each Memorial Day to assist The Riverside National Cemetery. Around 6,000 motorcycles parade through Riverside, CA, past the National Cemetery, and end up at a venue for a concert. 

It’s actually colder at dawn than in the waning night hours. And your Harley can get soaking wet sitting outside without rain falling on it. Two things I learned at this year’s West Coast Thunder.

Frank and I joined crazy HOG members that met at 3:30 a.m. the morning of the parade. After setting up behind the barricades (already at least 50 bikes ahead of us), some hiked over to Denny’s a few blocks away. Monika, Jeff, Frank, and I opted for the pancake breakfast at the dealership. (The bacon was surprisingly perfect.)

All was quiet, except the golf carts rushing around. (Watch out for Mitch!) As the sky grew light, the rain-threatening clouds pulled back, and it got colder that when we first arrived. Monika and I shivered in our leather jackets, chaps, and gloves. Frank, as usual, was barely cold. After what seemed a very long time, riders started to walk up to the dealership.

Sitting at the First Aid booth inside Riverside Harley-Davidson’s parking lot gave me a front row seat to observe the variety of riders that participate in West Coast Thunder. Ladies dressed alike in white and purple. Grey-haired men in patch-covered vests. Grandfathers with their excited granddaughters. Young men sucking down their cans of Monster. Couples dressed in leather, holding hands.

Riders stopped by to visit. I met the director of the Pomona HOG chapter. One of my relatives rides with them. He reminded me that they came to one of our activity meetings to see how our chapter got so many rides on the calendar. So many things about IE HOG I take for granted, and yet other groups aspire to our success. Which wouldn’t even happen if not for our great members who love to ride and hang out.

And just in case you wondered, Monika and Steve (the only member of our team who was qualified) gave out two band aids, so we earned our positions. Frank and I passed out small water bottles.

Hours passed, and I grew drowsy at the edge of the crowd’s hum. Then the speakers came on, and it was time for the opening speeches and flag ceremony. The people surrounding the color guard were ten deep so I knew I would not catch a glimpse from our booth. Last year, Frank and I had staked ourselves a spot watching it. The solemn pageantry was unforgettable.

To wake myself up, I walked out to our bike to grab snacks. Imagine my surprise when I discovered our bike soaking wet from the morning dew. Some more intelligent riders had covers, but I stood there looking at yesterday’s wash and polish literally drip away. Oh well, two hours of my life I’ll never get back. (Add it to that one time I had to go into the DMV.)

Finally, finally, it was time for Kick Stands Up. Our fellow HOGs and I strapped on our helmets and got ready to go. The beginning of the line, with the color guard, leaves at 9:11 a.m. We sat on our bikes and waited, looking for movement in the line ahead of us. Then suddenly, we were off and riding under the huge flag that swung over the middle of the street. West Coast Thunder was on.

 

 

 

 

West Coast Thunder Weekend

 

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, crowd, text and outdoor

In the teachers’ lounge, someone asked, “What are you doing over Memorial Day Weekend?”

“Riding in a parade with 8000 other motorcycles,” I said.

Each Memorial Day, West Coast Thunder sponsors a motorcycle ride that goes through Riverside, California, past the Riverside National Cemetery, and to a concert destination (this year Lake Elsinore Storm Stadium). It is a charity event that supports the Riverside National Cemetery.

Riverside Harley-Davidson sponsors the starting point, and our HOG chapter is there to help. Some will flip burgers at the dealership Saturday and Sunday, while others will man the stops for the Annual Poker Run.

But Monday is the main event. My husband and I plan to meet other HOG members at 3:30 a.m. to secure our place in the bike lineup. There are so many different kinds of motorcycles, not just Harleys, that show up for the parade. Walking down the rows of bikes staged between k-rails helps pass the time until the 9:11 a.m. KSU (kick stands up).

So don’t call me Sunday night. My phone will be on “Do Not Disturb.” And maybe I’ll wave to you as you sit with your beach chairs and flags along the route.

 

 

 

 

Sisterhood of the Traveling Chaps

LOH ride

 

A HOG overnighter was where the magic began.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on our first overnighter years ago. The Grand Canyon was our destination, which we actually never visited due to snow (in May!). That trip was our learning curve—finding out that our bank would block our credit card if we used it at gas stations. Finding out we could ride in rain, wind, sleet, hail, and light snow. Finding out that we really needed to spend money on heavy gloves. We didn’t spend much time hanging out with the group due to the inclement weather, but it was still fun.

Our next trip was Utah. Since it was in June, the weather was hot in the desert and cool on the plateaus. Our first night of the four-day trip we spent in St. George. It was over 100 degrees, and as soon as we could change out of our sweaty riding clothes, we hopped into the swimming pool. Everyone was tired from the long day’s ride, so the girls decided to order pizza to eat poolside. Suddenly it became a HOG party, as more of our group joined us. Hanging out with each other was as fun as riding.

That trip I got to know the chapter ladies. We sat together at lunch. When we stopped each night, we texted each other to coordinate dinner as a group. The passengers shared photos we had shot along the way. We laughed about the wind that buffeted us each time we turned a different direction. Away from our usual responsibilities, we sat and talked for hours about our kids, homes, dogs, and dreams. We became family through our travels.

I was hooked on overnighters. As we became part of each other’s story, an overnighter became a reunion of kindred spirits. We couldn’t wait to hit the road and share each other’s’ company for a few days. There was always time to talk with friends while waiting in line for the only restroom at the gas station or munching snacks on the side of the road. Before dinner, we would hang out in each other’s motel rooms while we waited for everyone else to join us.

That’s when we began the HOG tradition of the Ladies of Harley group photo on each overnighter. Whether we rode our own bikes or sat behind our guys, we shared our love of adventure on the open road. A love that many of our non-riding friends could never understand.

The saddest part of any trip was the last day after lunch. It was time to head home, and on the final leg of the journey, everyone would split off to their own destination. After exchanging hugs and smiles, thanking each one for the fellowship, we pulled on our helmets and rode away. When we got home, the same text string we used for dinner plans would let everyone know we arrived home safely.

As I hung up my jackets and chaps, I was already calculating how many weeks it would be until the next overnighter. I couldn’t wait to head out on the road again with my dear friends and our sisterhood of the traveling chaps.