May 18, 2011

Have Lipstick, Will Ride

Posted in Motorcycle, Spirit, Travel, Writing at 6:47 PM by moxiemuse

There was never a why, just a when. It always came down to time and desire. For me, it was both, simultaneously. Not a chicken or egg-type deal. The right time and the right amount of desire had come together at last. What am I talking about? Why, riding solo, of course! 

First, it was riding back of boyfriend’s bikes. They loved the look of me in red lipstick and black leather. So did I but it was not meant to be. Then it was a pack of friends renting mopeds on the Greek isle of Paros for our 30th birthdays. No sooner was I on the moped than I was off again, unfortunately, not upright. I accelerated too quickly, hit a curb, and fell heavily on my bare shoulder. A big ouch and lots of loud, colorful language didn’t deter me from riding with the Viper Queens, as we called ourselves. I knew someday I had to master this mechanical horse and learn to ride with confidence. The wind in my hair, bugs in my teeth, and the feeling of freedom never left me.

Years passed and the longing returned. Tired of sighing over a beautiful BMW ad and after many attempts to convince my husband to ride, I figured it was my turn. I did my research diligently – using sales brochures, browsing the Internet, chatting up sales associates, and listening intently to the stories of other riders and their bikes. Then, I signed up for the safety course in October and passed with (almost) flying colors. It was time; I was ready to roll.

In the spring of 2001, I placed my order with the happy salesman, sight unseen, and threw caution to the wind. I’ll never forget the day I picked “her” up. I stared in bewilderment as the salesman rolled her out toward me. Sparkling in the noonday sun, her shiny red and black coat made my heart skip a beat. The great mass of chrome and leather loomed so large and ungainly that I felt sure I’d drop her the minute I mounted. Alas, she held steady for me as I revved the engine loudly for all those within earshot to hear. Ah, her pipe noise was music to my ears. Wow, I thought, she’s truly mine.

My husband Jason beamed as he stood next to our friends who had come down to the dealership to witness my excitement. “She’s a beauty,” exclaimed Sandra, who was thrilled I had chosen a Suzuki similar to her cruiser. I christened her, “Vixen the Volusia”. Suzuki’s latest model was named after Volusia County in Florida near Daytona Beach where all the new models are introduced every spring. As for “Vixen”, the name brought me back to those carefree days in Greece and my virgin solo ride.

Enough posturing, it was time to take my iron steed for a spin around the parking lot. My hands were clammy, my forehead dripped from the beads of perspiration that had formed, and my ever present lipstick was starting to chap. She seemed too heavy to turn and awkward to steer at first but soon, she was like putty in my hands. She responded to my every whim. I looked at my husband as I approached the turn and mouthed, “She’s a keeper!”

Now the true test: out on the open road. Leaving the dealership in the dust, I lead the pack down rural West Valley Highway. Fortunately, the spring rains and blustery winds had died down the night before and brought sunshine for my inaugural ride. It was thrilling to feel the cold bite my cheeks. The more I rode, the more I felt Vixen and I getting into the groove.

I did not ride far that day. I didn’t need to. I had allowed pure bliss to permeate under my skin and take hold. It was a good feeling to finally feel my own bike beneath me. The sensation of freedom was indescribable yet evident on my face. Pulling up to an intersection, the driver in the next lane took a long slow look at Vixen and nodded his approval. Giddy, I smiled broadly so that he could see I was a girl with bright red lipstick. Surprised, he grinned back and waved as I sped away.

Soon, Vixen and I bonded as we travelled wherever my heart and her sturdy frame could carry us. After a few long weekend rides, I planned some week-long rides. From 2002 to 2004, I rode around the Olympic Peninsula and into the Hoh Rainforest, down to Mt. Shasta and the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, took a few ferry rides and sped along some good twisties to hang out in Tofino relaxing at the Wickaninnish Inn, and a tour through Washington and Idaho’s enchanting lakes. 2005 was coming up fast and with it, my 40th birthday. It was my husband’s 50th that year, too, and he surprised me with a two-week 4-star trip to Egypt. Wow, that was hard to top but I decided I still wanted to do something on my own. Well, not truly alone because I knew Vixen would want to be by my side. I wanted to taste the fun—just  me, my red lipstick, and the open road.

I planned to attend a conference in Salt Lake City so what better way to travel than to ride? It was my first cross-country ride–a 2500 mile loop through Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Oregon. I left during a downpour in mid-July. The rain and hail (yes, hail) continued unabated for three straight days. Each morning, the hotel guests marveled how I could gear up and head out in monsoon-like weather. I would always smile, apply some red lipstick, gear up with my Gore-Tex clothing, and head out. I have to admit that even I got tired at the end of Day 3 and at one point near the Montana/Wyoming state line, I swerved off the highway, dismounted Vixen, lifted my arms skyward, and shouted, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

After getting that frustration off my chest, I endured 300 more miles of thunder, lightning, and yes, more hail. Days 4 and 5 turned me into a lounge rat, sitting in Jackson Hole drinking as much lemonade as I could get my hands on, writing postcards to disbelieving friends, and drying out. Having made it thus far, I needed a treat and the town delivered in spades. My AMEX became friends with a charming piece of bling for my right index finger, a large turtle shell Indian rattle, and a travelogue about the Navajos of the Southwest. Day 6, I arrived in Salt Lake in 110 degree heat. Talk about climate change. This called for shopping in an air-conditioned mall hunting for a new coral-colored lipstick with SPF of at least 15 that would soon make itself into my oh-so-fashionable tank bag. That’s “purse” in motorcycle lingo.

Four days in cooled conference rooms made the learning part easy so when we wrapped up, I was ready to roll home. I left at 8 PM and it was still 90 degrees. Coming from the Pacific NorthWET, that was new for me. The temperature hovered near there until I reached Twin Falls. Fortunately, I had made reservations at the Super 8 otherwise; I would have been in big trouble. Massive forest fires forced State troopers to close the main highways and everyone was forced to hole up in hotels which were booked solid. I was one of the lucky few who didn’t have to sleep in their cars that night. Vixen and I rode in companionable silence all the way to Walla Walla and our favorite grand hotel there, The Marcus Whitman. Wanting another treat but not needing more lipstick, I meandered through the town’s boutiques, partook of some local winery tours, and later, enjoyed a relaxing massage. That day was a perfect end to my first cross-country tour.

Fast forward to spring 2011, where I finally had some spare time and decided that my long-planned tour to and through the Southwest—18 days and 3400 miles—would finally become a reality. The scenery ranged from bucolic stretches of Oregon farm country, snowy Wasatch Mountains, kitschy Four Corners, tumbleweed-infested New Mexico, windy Colorado, culture-soaked Hopiland, the stunning red rocks of Sedona, and unremarkable northeastern Nevada. Vixen weathered a few lost parts on the way down and on the way up, I endured a large rock flying into my face (long story), cracking the visor in half. A requisite amount of blood and tears were the norm that day but since I had only 250 miles left, I cleaned up, applied a fresh coat of lipstick, and set Vixen’s compass for home sweet home. The last leg was uneventful and just what I needed to complete my trip of a lifetime.

The trials of the open road are ever-present yet I know when it beckons, Vixen and I are ready.

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