The ride after the ride

I just learned a ton. Honing a new skill in an intensive learning environment for three weeks straight. Surrounded by Motorcycle Safety Foundation teachers, racers, tour guides, industry journalists, and other riders so seasoned they’ve been riding since before I was born. Most of them were older than me, although sometimes it was hard to tell. Motorcycles are a time machine — they keep people young.

Many of them mentioned it was “up to me” now. “Next time, you do it,” Alisa Clickenger said, after one particularly long day in Colorado Springs. Now, producing events is one thing — I do that for a living already. Who knows what’s possible on that end. But the riding part. What about when I go back to my regular life? My CAR?! Without riding every day, I will forget how to do certain things and my skills will begin to erode. Without the Sisters Centennial Ride community around me, I will have to start from scratch, solo.

Or… maybe not. I have some friends who took the MSF course with me back in November, who are intelligent, strong young women. Maybe we will build up our collective skills and ride off into the sunset together. But in order to make this happen, there are things I will need to give up in order to give this the attention it deserves. Can I do that? Will I do that? Eat, sleep, ride, repeat? Life on the edge, full of love, in the moment and prepared for anything? Track days and dirt bike school? Or should I not worry about it too much, knowing that riding and the motorcycle community is always there for me, whenever I’m ready to join it again?

Or is it fruitless to try to recapture something that, in its very essence, was fleeting? Not only is riding an exercise in temporality, the Sisters Centennial Ride itself was an assemblage of people who will likely never be in the same place at the same time ever again. And that’s why it was so special. Like the dance floor in the club space at Islington Mill on July 20, 2013 during Bill Campbell’s 40th birthday (when we as CHERYL and collaborators the Volkov Commanders and Positively Destructive created an event called Psychic Rhythm Abduction), it’s been a party on wheels that will be hard to top anywhere, ever.

So I guess I’m unsure as to what’s in store yet. I gotta pay the bills, and my job as Event Producer at Basilica Hudson is a demanding one. And I’m an artist, with a collective that I’ve been absent from for some time. And I’m part of other communities — of artists, musicians, nature lovers, weirdos — who have nothing to do with motorcycles. Actually, it’s kind of a feat in and of itself that I was able to do this ride at all, considering all the other stuff in my life that has nothing to do with riding.

At the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days, a woman posed the question to my cousin Skyler and I — did we feel obligated to do this? Or was it coming from a place of real interest and love? Sure, there was obligation there, to fulfill some sort of cosmic family legacy, I suppose. But also — to quote my good friend April F. Greene — I am an “experience junkie.” Why the heck would I turn down the opportunity to expand my realm of experience? Back in Springfield at the museum, Queena Quý mentioned she understands the burden of upholding the family legacy, as she comes from Vietnamese royalty. It can be a weird task. But in this case, at least it also meant getting acquainted with a whole new world I knew nothing about.

I’ve always loved exploring subcultures; once you’re deep in, you don’t even notice the bubble. Motorcycling is one of these things, but as you get deeper in you realize there are many disparate communities, bound only by a single thread of two- (sometimes three-) wheeled riding.

As I said above, most of the people on the ride were older than me. When I started I expected there to be more interest from people my age. I thought motorcycles were having a “moment” in popular culture again? People my age were interested in them? But upon further examination and after speaking with two female peers and seasoned riders I met on the last day (both riding Kawi Vulcan S 650s into SF with us), Joslyn Petty, PR rep for Kawasaki, and Jessica Kline, a Canadian Moto blogger, they explained that the renewed interest is more from the surface-laden, Instagram-heavy zone of millennials; young women with feathers in their hair buying vintage Hondas, riding gear-less, doing it for looks. Not riding 350+ miles in a day. Huh. Ok.

There’s gotta be room for more. I can’t be the only new rider who has fallen in love with the concept of long-distance riding. I can’t be the only one who is interested in the continued legacy of women pushing boundaries on motorcycles — women I had the pleasure to meet and ride with, like Sarah “SeCCRet” Moreau and Erin Sills.

Also weird that the motorcycle industry isn’t playing up alternative transportation more, to garner more interest from cyclists (or former cyclists like me). As I mentioned in an earlier post, Critical Mass is a successful way of alerting the general public about why bicycles are important. Why isn’t there a similar kind of thing going on with motorcycles? Could there be?

No matter what happens, I know I will keep exploring, learning from the amazing people in the motorcycling community who stopped at nothing to overcome unspeakable odds. It’s time to go home. My train stops in Hudson, NY in a few minutes. I will step out into the Northeast once more, vowing to receive what comes my way with love.

—SVB

What’s it all mean?

So it’s official, I traversed the USA, along with my dad and cousins and a bunch of mentors and new friends. We were reminded along the way just how courageous (and maybe a tad insane) Adeline and Augusta truly had to be to do what they did 100 years ago. 2016 is a different world, and a different USA. I was worried about being bombarded with crappy news about elections and guns as we made our way west, but weirdly we were kind of immune; every time we stopped in a town, people wanted to talk about the ride. About motorcycles. About women pushing boundaries. About people doing something because they believed in it. There wasn’t a whole lot of extra time for other conversations, and there wasn’t a lot of interest in watching the 11 o’clock news.

This bubble of positivity definitely had an affect on all of us, I think. The ride was cathartic for many, for a host of reasons. And the message we carried was delivered successfully to those who may bring it farther, electing to take a risk or empower themselves because they witnessed what we did — if we can, they can.

I’ve spent so much time traveling outside the USA in the past six years on tour with CHERYL in Europe and the UK. It was very important to get a non-American perspective on the world, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. However, I’ll admit I’d kind of forgotten that yes, there are indeed some things worth seeing (and saving) here on American soil. Things are fucked in a lot of ways, of course, but maybe if we all just spent a bit more time out in the open, outside our comfort zones, we could find some more common ground.

(Aside: I will say that going through all the “I” states was kind of sobering. I cried in my helmet somewhere in Iowa, having intense thoughts about how privileged I am. Not only to be lucky enough to do the ride [or to get born in the place/time I was born], but also to be from the Northeast, to have received a great education, to have had the chance to explore the world. People from my region tend to look down on this region, which is essentially a factory for the rest of the country. The people here are “salt of the earth” types, but they’re subject to what could be interpreted as contemporary serfdom, tasked with doing our dirty work. Us in the Northeast can choose to reject the military / agricultural industrial complex, but no matter how you slice it [unless you’re a carless hermit living off the land in the Yukon], you are participating in this machine and its fallout. It’s not the fault of the people here, it’s the fault of our government. And good ole’ supply and demand, of course.)

That’s the beauty of a motorcycle — you aren’t isolated from your environment like you are in a car; you’re part of it. You are not in a padded box filled with things to make your life easy. You aren’t distracted by phones, music, food, or other people. You aren’t separated from the rider next to you by two panes of tinted glass. Your world on the road isn’t curated to fit your lifestyle; it’s received, hopefully with a large serving of humility and acceptance, knowing that there are some things we can change, and other things we cannot. And certain situations which require negotiation.

There are nice people here. In the middle of nowhere. Who don’t want to shoot you or condemn you for your beliefs. Who speak to you with respect, even if they don’t understand you. There are other sweet people here that you can ride alongside every day and get along with, despite the fact that they have different beliefs than you. And there are amazing people that you will never forget, who stand outside time as road warriors — at one with their machines — some armed with nothing more than a flip phone and a map, and will show you roads you never knew possible.

That last group have been TRUE MENTORS on this trip, and without them there’s no way I could have done this. I’ve mentioned some of them in this blog, but here’s the whole list…

Bob Van Buren (MY DAD, BVB!)

Alisa Clickenger

Diane Ortiz

Bob & Becca Cross

Pete Athanas

Sue Slate & Gin Shear

Karen Thomson

Peg Preble

Erin Sills

Porsche Taylor

Sarah “SeCCRet” Moreau

Queena Quý

Lisa Machalowsky

Robert Pandya

Sara Liberte

Holly Ralph

Joanne Donn

Marjorie White

Lisa Niner

Durga Krummer

Diane Huston

Irmalisa Jackson

Olivia Solero

Vivian Gerstetter

Mary Beth Quinn

Brittany Morrow

Zandra Charbonneau & Helen Berry

Johanne Laverne & Tina

Magda!

… and all the other riders that I was lucky to ride with, and honored to now call my friends!

THANK YOU ALL FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART.

The Last Ride

Carson City was a bit crazy as we had suddenly multiplied. Day riders and friends were joining on to do the final push with us. One of the day riders was my MSF instructor Roy Denny, instrumental in getting me ready for this trip. He gave me a couple extra lessons which really helped my headspace in the weeks leading up to the trip, when I was filled with dread and anxiety. He was originally going to meet us in Springfield as well, but he hit a deer one morning on his bike, got banged up, had to get surgery, and just recovered with enough time to blitz out west in four days to meet us. As Roy likes to say, “ride, eat sleep, repeat!”

Back with the Mighty Wood Ducks (MWD for short), our numbers had doubled. As he was donating booze from his bar, Kilowatt, over in the Mission for the closing party, Pete had gone up ahead. Bob was leading us, Diane was the tail, and Bob’s lovely wife Becca had joined on as well. We dodged rush hour traffic headed north into Reno. I gave a motorist the finger when they cut me off and then had to remind myself to calm down — I was already freaked out about the day. Not good to flip off people off on the highway!

Highway 80 got twistier and was filled with more and more traffic. We were plunged into shadows, evergreens growing around us as we crossed over the border into California, riding near Donner Pass. My teeth chattered, my hands almost numb. I had forgotten how cold northern California could be. We stopped in Truckee and everyone hopped around, soaking in the growing warmth of the new sun.

Back on 80 and a jerk in a pickup truck swerved, almost hitting Holly. She can’t use her back brake due to limited mobility in her ankle, so her only choice was swerving out into the next lane. Luckily she was unscathed, albeit rattled. A bit further down the road and a black SUV (douchemobile) almost cut me off as i passed through its blind spot for mere seconds. Sheesh. We were indeed headed towards civilization again, warts and all.

Up ahead we were rewarded with lengthy traffic jams, the now unbearable and punishing sun shining down relentlessly. I wondered how thirsty was too thirsty. We crawled over bridges and under highway overpasses. We watched solo riders split lanes as we fought with the friction zone, clutches flickering. Up over another ridge, it appeared we were in the Marin Headlands. But how long would it take?!

We traveled over a steep bridge and suddenly there was water and wind. The temperature began to drop. After an indeterminate amount of time, we zoomed around a corner AND THERE IT WAS. The Golden Gate looming below. Holy shit. I sucked in air, gasping, a half-sob.

Quick through a tunnel, much like the longer one we took to exit Brooklyn so many days earlier. Tunnel book-ends. Turning down into Fort Powers, at the base of the bridge, for photos. They were waiting for us. Folks from the San Francisco Motorcycle Club (SFMC) were on site to direct us, pointing the way and cheering us on. Bikes everywhere. I see Robert Pandya ahead, he shouts for me to drive straight. To my right are all the riders, screaming and “woo!”-ing and clapping. Ahead and to my left were many many cameras, telephoto lenses in gear, invisible “snap!” of digital shutters.

BUT WAIT! We weren’t there yet! People wanted to hug and cry and celebrate, but I kept thinking… we still need to go over that big bridge! Ever-anxious, I was obsessing about the hairpin turns we’d have to travel back up to get out of the park. My brain had to stay in travel-mode, as odd as that seemed, for self-preservation purposes.

We queue up, me with the Indian riders so I could be next to my parents, behind them and Sarah “SeCCRet” Moreau (SeCCRet about the break Bessie Stringfield’s record for most cross country trips — completing her EIGHTEENTH, which seems impossible.) We wait for the rest of the cross country riders to pass. I know them all, send love direct to each of their hearts as they climb up the turn. We fall in after, before the day riders. We climb. Around the bend. SFMC riders here and there, zooming up to hold the cars back, blocking the intersections.

We approach and enter onto the bridge. IT’S ALL HAPPENING. This is REAL. We so many (150+) that we take up one entire lane, beginning to end. And then the crying starts, of course. Orange pillars pushing up the fog-laden air. It’s a moment outside time, although crossing probably couldn’t have taken more than three minutes. I look to my left and see my brother Adam, his wife Meg, and our good family friend Bob standing and cheering at the last pillar, holding up a sign which read, “CONGRATULATIONS VB SISTERS RIDERS!” I shoot my arm up, high five with the sky, before entering San Francisco proper.

We veer around the corner, sea breeze to my right. I look over and two big white/orange hawks are flying with us, cresting on air currents. I like to take birds as signs, and this was as good a sign as any — Augusta and Adeline, there with us, bearing witness.

People are everywhere, taking note, taking photos. Some of them ignoring, somehow. We continue. SFMC takes us on an outlaw-style tour of the city. There’s only about five of them riding with us, but they have it down to a science. One guy zooms ahead at full speed, stopping at the next intersection. He puts his hand out, and that’s all it takes for motorists to stop — they’re confused or scared or interested; at any rate, they obey the hand of the motorcycle rider; this hand could just as easily stop floods or move mountains in this moment. We parade through. Next guy is already past us at the next intersection, and then the next. The first guy zooms past again to the next spot. They hop-scotch through the city, taking us up and down 60-degree-grade hills, pushing traffic aside.

Eventually there are just too many intersections and not enough SFMC members… which means we just blow through the intersections, horns blaring. Not a cop in sight. Surprisingly, we do this with minor issues, save a few huffy hipsters and impatient Saturday drivers. (Of note is the fact that I hadn’t seen hipsters in three weeks, until entering San Fran!) People regard us with the full spectrum of facial expressions. We demand attention. They don’t even know what the whole thing is about; they just see a line of bikes as far as their eyes will strain in the afternoon sun. It reminds me of Critical Mass in NYC, the radical cyclist event which forces other street users to pay attention. WE ARE HERE. But instead of a “share the road or fuck off” intention, we were filled with joy and tears, happy to meet the city, lucky to traverse their beautiful streets.

SFMC takes us along the best route we could have asked for, a real victory lap. This group has heart. And balls. I found out later that this was completely outlaw-style, unsanctioned. No permits filed, no permission asked. “We do this all the time,” they said. Makes sense — I’m always surprised when I get to SF, forgetting how much more like the Wild West it is than NYC, which seems uptight and regulation-heavy in comparison.

But there was another reason SFMC gave us such a welcome. 100 years ago they weren’t where they said they’d be. The plan was they’d meet the sisters as they rolled into the city, but they flaked. Augusta and Adeline arrived to absolutely no fanfare and nobody, tired and annoyed. They quickly said “screw this” and left for LA, where they got a warm reception from some Hollywood types.

At our closing party later that night, the historian from SFMC issued a formal apology for their 1916 gaff. They certainly made up for it! SFMC 4-EVA! (And their clubhouse is totally amazing, filled with old photos and memorabilia; they’re the second oldest motorcycle club in the world behind the one in Yonkers, NY. If you ever have a chance to visit them, DO IT!)

—SVB

Western Wilds

Bryce canyon was mystical. I did a full moon hike with my friend Sara Kinney (who is also a videographer / editor, currently working on a documentary project about the sisters) and my new friends Tom and Joyce, both of whom joined Sara to help with shooting. Didn’t know what to expect, as I didn’t have an image in my mind. It’s the best way to approach something — like going into a movie without seeing the trailer.

We crept towards the lip of the canyon guided by a young ranger, and were greeted by spires of wonderment. It was somber and otherworldly, alien and beautiful. You just have to go to fully get the vibe. Lit by the moon, our eyes adjusted, we saw depth and cold color. A thunderhead mushroomed in the distance, the lightning zapping from the inside, setting the whole cloud aglow. We heard and saw a rattlesnake (my first!). We learned about the Native people’s beliefs – the canyon was a sort of hell, filled with souls who had done wrong, turned to pillars of stone forever. It felt vaguely like a cemetery.

The next day, July 20, was BVB’s 70th birthday. Pretty important. Aside from some small bickering, it was a nice day, ha ha. We spent a chunk of it in Bryce, walking the rim trail slowly, viewing the spires from all angles. A raven floated by, croaking. We smelled the butterscotch of the Ponderosa Pines. We bought trinkets. Dad was content, I think, albeit slightly tired after this seemingly unending journey.

The following morning, the moon was still full, sitting low in the blue sky, amongst gauzy clouds. We took off for the “Loneliest Highway” into Nevada, which is Route 50 and also the Lincoln Highway – we were reconnecting with the sisters’ original route after the cool detour. Once we crossed into Nevada, the heat bore down. The afternoon stretched; the winds on the flat lands between the ridges blowing harder. I spied a dust devil off to my left, and calculated that it would reach the road just as I was riding by. I made a decision to ride through it. Oh god, never again. A personal two-second hurricane. A tiny tornado. In case you were wondering, dust devils pack a punch. I was able to stay on my bike, on the road, but just barely.

Since I’ve lived to tell the tale, I suppose I’ve crossed over into some sort of Old West mentality.  Nevada oozes it. Sometimes it’s a bit gross — anything and everything could be a brothel. Cigarette smoke wafts through the air. Hotels are casinos. Hell, gas stations are casinos. Best not to make eye contact with some folks… like the disheveled old gold prospector-type eyeing our luggage at Hotel Nevada. But there’s also warmth in places — the cute soda fountain in Ely; the mayor named Melody we met at the thrift store who welcomed us. The lady who was attending the spelunking conference who looked like Mrs. Potato Head.

We rode clean across Nevada in one day, from Ely to Carson City, breaking away from the group to ride, just me, my folks, and Sara, Tom and Joyce following in the Prius. Peaks and valleys rising and falling. Climbing through small mountain passes with names like Pancake and Pinto, and then dumping back out into long stretches of straight road, The road ahead, straight for 50 miles until it tucks back up into the hills again, is filled with illusions, reflections. A lake pools in the middle, hulking shapes moving through it. As we draw nearer the water evaporates into nothingness, the shapes morph into a cow or a car.

This is the road wherein I go the fastest I’ve ever gone. 85, 95, 100. At first it feels daring, but then it becomes the new normal. Slowing back down to 75 mph feels like I could walk faster. I keep checking my rearview to make sure BVB is still following, Mom on the back. Slow down. They’re near now; speed up. The road lays out before me like a submissive lover. I am moving through a golden shimmering tunnel, my eyes fixed on the point where road meets horizon. I feel a wave of calm sweep over me, inexplicable. Trance-inducing. Reminded of when I performed with a butoh dance company. We walked, each step a thousand years. Fred Hatt, one of the accomplished dancers, coached me. You are walking slowly, fixed on the horizon, looking through the wall of the building out onto the landscape beyond. Eight golden buddhas spin around me, hovering in light. Walking the ages, aeons falling away like autumn leaves.

Bouncing over frost heaves, hurtling along. Om dum durgayei namaha.

This road is indeed the same the sisters travelled, but they didn’t have the privilege of speed during their journey. I’d imagine they still fixed their eyes on the horizon, the landscape wavering in the heat of high noon. Dehydration and hallucinations. God knows how they did it; it would have taken them a few days to get through what we did in an afternoon.

Detour into 722, passing an old tramp seated on the side of the road, shirtless and sunburned. Our first sandy salt flat, a cloud of brown in the air above it. The smell of campfire. We move closer and now it’s evident the brown cloud is not dust but smoke. We are headed into another mountain pass, towards a wildfire. It’s seated on the top of the mountain, but we thankfully skirt around it through a charred landscape. Dead trees with grotesque reach of black limbs. Black ground. We come ‘round the corner, farther from the fallout. I look in my rearview and see the side of three consecutive mountains aflame.

We stop at Middlegate Station, an extremely old timey lunch spot that harkens back to the Pony Express days, about a half mile down the road from a tree covered in old shoes. Back on the road, I flash the “two wheels” hand sign at a leather and brain bucket-clad one-percenter next to his hog on the side of the road. He gives me the sign of the beast.

Getting closer, mid afternoon heat almost too much to bare. Military jet planes circle in the near distance, rumbling. Where’s Area 51 anyway? In Nevada you truly feel most alone, but are likely being watched. Heck, we were likely being watched in Colorado Springs too, staying near the antennae-laden peak of NORAD. But more about that later.

We were getting close. Arriving in Carson City, it was our last stop before San Francisco. In the parking lot was Monique Filips, the cool mom who has been traveling with sidecar containing her two kids, Spencer and Makayla, her husband Frank following on his own bike. Makayla cheered as they arrived, her little fist punching into the air as she yelled, “Carson CITAYYY!” We laughed.

—SVB

Vibrations in Time

After passing through the Rockies, we headed south towards Arizona on Tuesday. A slight detour from what the sisters did, but quite the opportunity to ride through some amazing landscapes. As we buzzed along, the topography began to change yet again. Rocky Mountains with evergreens and shrubbery gave way to giant mesas, truncated tabletops looming in the distance, their colors slowly evolving to include more and more red. The land spread out and flattened to the point where you could almost get a hint of the curvature of the earth. Clumps of desert grass and smaller shrubs, no trees. Heartier organisms. The air grew drier; my lips felt chapped.

We turned onto a desert road and buzzed down it, straight and flat, for an indeterminate amount of time. Welcome to Navajo Nation. We were at Four Corners, which is a strange idea considering it’s arbitrary state lines drawn in a place where there are no states – we aren’t technically in the USA while on the Reservation, so how can all four corners of the states (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico) meet here? Purely an economic opportunity for the Nation? At any rate, BVB and I declined to wait in the line to take our photo. It was too hot and the whole thing felt like a ruse.

On the road again, we blasted straight through a big storm, passing through towns called things like Teec Nos Pos and Dennehotso. No rain gear this time, let’s see what happens. It lasted longer than I’d predicted, but the cool wet was welcome after the punishing sun. We pushed through it eventually, the grey sky still above us, allowing for a more comfortable ride. The topography continued to change; redder, more sparse, more desert-like. We were headed to Lake Powell, created by the Glen Canyon damming of the Colorado River (larger than the Lake Mead / Hoover Dam to the west).

The day extended, time bending and folding over on itself. What time was it now? How many time zones had we cut through? Hard to determine. My cousin Skyler told me one of his friends called his motorcycle his “time machine,” for this very reason. Once you’re on the bike, a minute could feel eternal; an hour like the blink of an eye. Time feels more elastic, possibly because of the deep chasm of space you often traverse while riding.

In the late afternoon somewhere in Arizona, this feeling stretched out. Were we riding forever? Were we almost there? I had no idea. Our surroundings began to look more and more craggy, like Mars. This was the part of the Southwest that I love. It reminds you that we live on a planet. In space. We, criss-crossing it much like the characters in the novel Dune. Desert planet, offering little solace, you must be careful and keep your wits about you.

The oscillation of the engine mixed with the wind in my helmet began to fill my ears in a new way; tonal qualities, major and minor chords. A whole symphony building up around me. Auditory hallucinations, or the manifestations of the vibrations where engine meets air? If music is vibration, then riding a motorcycle must allow for some kind of drone-y breakthrough. You vibrate with the bike. When I get off the bike at the end of the day, I am still vibrating. Ultimately I do think the whole universe is one vibration… so does the bike get you closer to the source? Much the same way mystics use music?

I asked my dad the other day what he would pick if he had to chose – music or motorcycles. It was an easy answer. Music. Same for me. I need music to stay alive. But maybe riding the motorcycle is a new way into the fabric of space/time vibration; maybe it could help me create music. Collaboration with machine. Bike as vector; as catalyst. Perhaps that’s the answer in all of this. I knew when this trip was over I would devote more of my time to music. Perhaps this is the portal I was looking for. The direct connect to the muse. Some artists have it always (like Iasos), others need to find new ways in.  

The changing landscape affects the symphony around me. Waves of sound rise and fall with the elevation and the surroundings. The roads sweep this way and that, around mesas and buttes. The tar snakes are plentiful, resembling Arabic painted onto the roads. The dam and power station come into view; an alien landscape brought forth by human hands. Power line wire holders spread out across the rocks like sentinels. Lights blinking. Narrow metal bridge filled with tourists strolling this way and that. We were almost there.

A few days later, Diane Ortiz, one of our ride leaders and a favorite person of mine, generously offered to give me a slow-speed lesson in the parking lot. I still need work; I tense up too often in my upper body. She asked if I played an instrument, and I mentioned piano. “Sit like you’re at the piano. Stay loose,” she said. Immediately my mind went there, and my body knew what to do. Do a turn from a stop. At the piano. Make a figure eight. At the piano. My mind quieted and the bike went where I wanted it to go, my instrument of space/time.

—SVB

Learning to Lean

When we left Colorado Springs on Sunday, it meant leaving behind a strange unease and wigged-out-ness and welcoming in a next phase – more difficult riding on curvy mountain roads. We crossed over the mountains via Monarch Pass at over 11,000 feet, the moment you cross the Continental Divide. It was a small group of us: my parents (Mom on the back of BVB’s Indian Springfield loaner for the first time this trip), our ride leaders Bob and Peg, and I. Awesomely, we are all from Massachusetts.

Monarch wasn’t that bad at first, but two intense turns at the top gave me pause. I had to lean really far over on the last one, a sharp curve that seemed to go on forever. It freaked me out but I made it.

Pure goodness awaited us on the other side. We stayed the night in the beautiful town of Ouray, Colorado, nestled at the foot of jagged peaks on all sides. We stayed at the Twin Peaks Lodge, the “Switzerland of America”, a motel complex complete with hot springs-fed hot tubs and a pool. The air was bright, fresh and clean, we sipped drinks by the pool, and bobbed about in the salty, mineral-rich water. The almost-full moon rose above the tree tops, and Marjorie said “click!” to remember the moment by. That night I slept soundly, wrapped in the deep quiet.

The next morning I felt substantially more refreshed than usual, despite the fact that I had slept less and drank more. Must be the hot springs. However, my well being was soon diminished by the growing anxiety setting up shop in my stomach. Today was the day that we would ride the Million Dollar Highway. Switchbacks. Hairpins. Sheer drops. High elevation. I imagined the worst – a sheer cliff with a tiny road hanging off the side of it, no guardrail in site, and nothing more than thin air to slow your fall.

Freaking out, I sought the advice of a few seasoned riders:

“Remember to push. Don’t pull,” said Queena.

“Take it down to first gear and ride the turn like you would in the parking lot,” said Pete.

“Keep your head up, and look through the turns,” said Robert.

Well, that’s all it took. Amazing how clear-headedness and some good advice can breed slight (albeit temporary) mastery. I followed their directions and had zero issues. It was kind of a breeze. We got to the overlook (after the third round of mountain passes) and I wanted to do it all again. That’s the thing about riding – you can predict your outcome as long as you know how to handle the various circumstances presented to you, often multiple circumstances at once. It was a great feeling, and a great relief.

During our descent I came ‘round a bend and was greeted with a pristine mountain view. And then it hit me, and I lost it. I cried in my helmet for a while. I was truly happy to be alive. And I don’t mean the relief of being alive after a death-defying act – no; I mean truly realizing that life is a gift that I’m lucky to have. Whatever “life” actually means (A dream? One dimension of many?) is besides the point. The smell of Balsam wafted through the cool alpine air. The road spilled out in front of me. And the bike purred along.

—SVB

Rocky Roads

Just gained an hour in Nevada, sitting at a hotel / casino in downtown Ely where they allow smoking indoors. Jesus, I haven’t written in almost a week again, so I’m having to dig down deep into my memory pocket and my scattered notes. A couple small stories from Colorado, and then we’ll put that aside and talk about some philosophical, metaphysical stuff.

Colorado Springs had a dramatic beginning, us arriving mid-storm, the cloud cover unfurling over our heads, knotting and twisting, letting splurts of rain droplets and hail. Rush hour traffic slowly chugged (I would learn later that there is always traffic in Colorado Springs, regardless of time or weather), and like good ducks in a row we plowed a tiny path to the hotel through darkened highway lanes, lightning striking on either side of us.

We took a couple days’ break from the bikes, which was mostly logistical. I missed my green rocket, but so it goes. The next day was the Pike’s Peak climb, and as I have a healthy fear of heights (and no experience mounting a switchbacked road at 14K feet) I opted out, as did BVB. We took the cog train instead, which afforded the views we wouldn’t have been able to look at had we moto’ed up (target fixation is a real thing – you look somewhere, you will go to that somewhere… even off into the great blue yonder).

Most riders made it up all the way, but a substantial amount were undone by the elevation, turning around and going back or simply leaving their bikes and getting a ride up in the car. And there was one small, unfortunate occurrence, which involved Madella.

I haven’t mentioned Madella yet, although she was one of the first people I met back in Brooklyn at the start of the ride. The moment I met her she gave me a big grin and a hug to match, and proceeded to explain how her tiny town of Colfax, California raised the money to allow her to make this trip. She was riding on a 250 cc scooter, arguably the smallest bike in the stable for this coast-to-coast journey. She fashioned a milk crate to the back of it, lashing it down with straps which sometimes didn’t hold things together as well as they should, but she never complained – she improvised. Anytime we stopped, she would drape an old bed sheet over the contraption, creating a sort of bike-tent which was a necessity in the hot California sun.

On one of our first riding days as the Ducks, we were almost marooned in a hilly patch of gravel. Stopped on a steep grade, riders struggled to turn around. Madella immediately jumped in to help, pushing BVB and others back up the hill, helping them right their machines, dusting them off, giving them moral support. All the while talking a mile a minute, smiling and laughing, in her pink helmet and cotton gloves to match, her “Jesus” vest and her military patches detailing her time in the service. We learned soon after that not only did she use to drive big rigs, she was part Cherokee, a descendant of the tribe which was forced to bear the Trail of Tears.

Madella was clearly a salt-of-the-earth type, we determined. Fully herself; uncompromising, honest, with a heart of gold.

So that day on Pike’s Peak, Madella decided to ride the scooter up, despite the fact that it had a carbureted engine – lack of oxygen at a high elevation could make it simply stop working. And unfortunately that’s what happened, in the middle of a turn, near the base of the mountain. She stopped, wrecked, and had to be taken to the hospital. Because she didn’t have a full face helmet, she chipped the veneers off her front teeth and bruised her face, including two black eyes. And she also broke her wrist. The throttle one. And she didn’t have health insurance.

Zandra Charbonneau, one of “The Canadians,” herself with a heart of gold, immediately started a fund for Madella, with much of the group contributing. The next day, Madella herself, swollen and limping, appeared at breakfast, and gave us the scoop. She was, unsurprisingly, her buoyant self, speaking matter-of-factly about her fall and the implications. At the time she didn’t know she wouldn’t be able to continue on the ride in one of the cars, but later on that day, it became known that she’d be heading back home via public transportation.

That evening, Zandra presented her with $1,700 from the group, to help with her medical bills and her journey home. And suddenly the room was awash with tears. Madella was completely taken aback, and sweetly thanked the group between sobs, tears streaming down her face.

Something about that moment was representative of Colorado Springs. Somehow, those three days in that big hotel seemed like our undoing. Out of our riding routine, spread across a large area, unsure of what laid ahead – a mood set in that didn’t feel great. Maybe it was anticipation of what laid ahead – the most daring riding on the whole trip. Maybe it was Colorado Springs itself – a gridlocked city of narrow mountain roads, NORAD in view from the hotel window. And for some, perhaps it was a release. So many on this trip have overcome incredible obstacles in their lives, and some of those obstacles are fresher than others. Madella’s thank you was a catharsis; others shared stories afterwards, we cried together, we grew closer.

Luckily, good things were ahead.

—SVB

Behind those clouds are mountains

McCook was all concrete and blazing sun, but Friday morning the clouds dappled the sky and the air was fresh. Some folks in our riding group had bike troubles, so we had a little time to sit around and shoot the shit. I gravitated towards Lisa Niner and Marjorie White, a duo from outside Baltimore, MD who are two of my favorite people on this ride. 

I already mentioned Niner, who filled my head with flat track intel back in Ohio. She’s the comic relief of the group – quick with a wise-ass comment or slapstick stunt. But if you sit down and talk to her, you realize how REAL she is. Totally present, no bullshit, and very kind. She’s thisclose to retiring after 30 years in the military, including a tour in Afghanistan during recent hellish times. She’s a lifelong loyal friend of Marjorie’s, riding beside her as they blaze a trail from coast to coast. 

Marjorie lost her son, Tom, three years ago when he was killed while riding his motorcycle. Last year she rode cross country in his memory, to raise awareness of motorcyclists and mental health. This year, she rides to recapture the joy of life. It is an honor to know this woman, who has overcome her fair share of obstacles. You wouldn’t know it if you met her – she exudes an aura of peace and love, the kind that I’d imagine Dorothy encountered upon meeting Glenda the Good Witch. It’s evident Marjorie is a deeply spiritual and mystical woman. Her blog is worth reading

Once on the road, Pete lead us out of McCook via route 17 (117 once we hit Kansas), expertly skirting two huge storms, us riding parallel and perpendicular, touching no more than a couple drops.

This stretch of road was the most beautiful of any road we’ve been on so far, in my opinion, save the lush curves of the Hudson Valley / Berkshires region. We were in the place where the high plains start to give way to desert and altitude. The light was bright grey and yellow in places; dramatic dark sky swirls with slanted curtains of rain falling in the distance. Fields were randomized: fallow, amber waves of grain, corn, and wild. Up-and-down-up-and-down sand dune roads. The curve of the earth was visible from this brilliant high perch if you strained a bit, grain silos looming on the horizon. Dead trees, evergreens, falling-down farmhouses from the dust bowl of America past. The road curved and sloped gently, and for the first time on this whole trip I felt an eerie sense of perfect calm. The silhouette of a coyote loped across the crest of hill, disappearing into the corn.

Colorado was next, and we stopped frequently to hydrate – a must as you gain altitude. We hit a large convenience store wherein I spent way too much money on hipster snacks (there was a dearth of both hipsters and their requisite snacks throughout Nebraska and Iowa, as you might expect) and marveled at their “souvenir” section, complete with marijuana memorabilia (weed tourism!) and a rack of drug rugs (those striped, knitted hooded sweatshirts that you could imagine being worn by either someone wearing leading a llama in the Andes or by a white dude with dreads at a jam band show).

Moving through the landscape, I kept expecting the mountains to roll over the horizon line. Were those clouds or mountains? It was hard to tell, the day increasingly hazy. By the time we got about 30 miles outside Colorado Springs, it was evident we were going to need our rain gear. A confusing network of cumulonimbus thunderheads loomed. We rode straight towards a curtain of grey. The road twisted this way and that, us veering away from the storm and then back into the heart of it. And then the mountains were there, creeping up, like they were there the whole time. I’d imagine brilliant white peaks, but instead was greeted by a dark, jagged and ominous silhouette. The rain began – giant droplets that must have been at least a half-inch in diameter. The traffic slowed. Lightning flashed to our left, then to our right. We joined a slow-moving moto-train as the Canadians appeared in front of us. (“The Canadians” is the defacto moniker for the foursome from Ottawa, self-guided lady riders who’ve been with us since Springfield.) The hotel soon came into view, and we were safe.

What an epic ride!

AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days

I never finished my story about the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days rally on Saturday. I mentioned I dumped my bike (in a very gentle way, don’t worry!), and I was rescued… here’s the rest of that tale, in the event I’ve left you hanging…

So the pair of intrepid travelers who came to my rescue were none other than Robert Pandya and Sara Liberte. Robert is the PR Director for Indian Motorcycle. He’s a skilled rider and a bit of a showman, riding an Indian bike connected to a sidecar containing Sara, an accomplished freelance photographer and videographer. The two of them together remind me of old timey circus people. Robert is a combination of a ringleader complete with signature trick (blazing around a corner, leaning hard so as to pick the sidecar – with Sara – off the ground for… long enough for people’s jaws to drop) and Indiana Jones (not just because he wears brown clothes; he just has the vibe of someone who’d successfully skirt a giant rolling boulder for a cool reason); Sara is ageless and lithe, her sidecar shooting style a combination of military-grade tactical maneuvers and gymnast-like athleticism. If the two of them existed 100 years ago, they’d be a traveling act on the vaudeville stages, or carnies on a circus train. Executing daring stunts and wowing audiences from Kalamazoo to Tippecanoe.    

When we finally pull into the chaos which is the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days at the Mid Ohio Raceway, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Tiny paths criss-crossed by every type of bike and rider you could imagine. Racers with tinted visors on asian bikes rapid-fire shooting past. Hicks on crappy dirt bikes wearing nothing but T-shirts and faded jeans. A wide assortment of riders on vintage dual sports, cutting each other off. Adults teetering on too-tiny, illegal street bikes, just trying to get from point A to point B without falling off. A group of bearded hipster dudes on mopeds. Old guys on cruisers with cigarette butts hanging out the side of their mouths.

We were corralled into a very small area near the racetrack, the whine of the road racers whizzing past us every minute or so. Leather-clad and leaning, they were going faster than I thought possible. It was miraculous and oddly inspiring. And we were next.

AMA was kind enough to let us do two “victory laps” on the track, something that novice riders get to do, well, never. But there was about 200 of us plus a pace car. As we bottlenecked our way in, I got the heebie-jeebies. This was going to be scary.

And I was correct. It was scary. Because once we made our way onto the track, the floodgates were opened, and suddenly all those hicks riding farty dirtbikes and vintage dual sports crowded in behind us. Mostly dudes aged 18 - 30, they were primarily gear-less (and brainless?) and whizzed around me in every direction. Total pandemonium. I went around once and was relieved that I was still alive. I went around again and felt a bit better. I wished we could have gone a few more times. Somehow everyone came out in one piece.

After a woogedy ride to a lumpy field where miraculously no one dumped, Sara Liberte promptly asked me if I’d like to join her in the center of the Wall of Death, the old timey show where daredevil stunt people ride motorcycles around and around and eventually mount the wall, zooming sideways, rumbling on the wooden planks. It all works because of centrifugal force and a bunch of other physics-related things my dad would have to explain. But who cares, really. It’s insane to watch. I was literally standing in the middle of the giant cylinder, looking upwards as a crowd of onlookers peeked downwards, 15 to 20 feet above me. The riders navigated the space with grace and magic. After it was all over Sara told me her best friend Sam was the premier female wall rider before she passed away a few years ago. Spending time inside that space seemed to be a healing moment for Sara, and it was a special thing to share.

—SVB

Changing gears

Sitting in the room at the Chief Motel in McCook, Nebraska. I can hear everyone outside as it’s essentially a motor inn with pool that was covered over later with a giant metal roof. So everywhere you go, it smells like pool, you can hear people splashing about from the room, and if you peer over the balcony rail, you’ll see carpet adorned with patio furniture. Mini Truman Showvibes, if Truman’s entire reality was a cheaply updated midwest motel. And the soundtrack is 1940s era crooning. Or at least that’s what it sounds like from inside this room.

We’ve been going mostly straight ahead, barreling through the midwest, since Saturday. It’s now Wednesday, July 13, and the midwest will soon be to our east. Tomorrow we head to Colorado Springs – twisty mountain roads, trees, and most of all, a bit of rest. Staying in Colorado Springs until Sunday morning. With, of course, some riding in between, including a jaunt up Pike’s Peak. Which is more than a jaunt for most. I will likely take the cog train up instead, and take that time to shoot some 35 mm film, relax, take in the views (my first time in Colorado, weirdly), and not be in crazy stress mode while trying to ascent a 14K foot high mountain. Looking forward to that.

Today was an easy day, for the most part. We’ve covered quite a bit of ground, albeit the flat stuff. But flat doesn’t mean easy, necessarily– we skirted a large rainstorm this morning, the wind howling around us. I was getting pushed into the other lane on the highway until I figured out how to angle my body, riding like an Egyptian wall relief, my shoulders stacked one behind the other.

We stopped in Hastings for lunch. Turns out Kool-Aid was invented there. Unclear if Kool-Aid Man was invented there. Something tells me that happened later. The topography began to change as we passed through towns with names like Friend and Funk (yes, real towns in Nebraska). Little hints of the desert, evergreens here and there, tweaks in the landscape. I was reminded of my time in Kansas a few years back, during an artist residency in Salina. Found a book about the massive sea that once sat atop the earth there, leaving behind an abundance of fossils preserved in deep layers of limestone and chalk. Assuming Nebraska is the same, if you were to fly over this landscape you would see how the hills were actually shaped by wave movements. Undulations eons before. 

To keep my brain busy on these long stretches of lonely roads, I’ve ticked through my invisible song catalog, singing at the top of my lungs as we hurtle down the highway. Keep finding my way back to Captain Beefheart and Beck, which is no surprise really, as we are locked and loaded on their zone. What do I mean by that? Don Van Vliet and Beck Hansen were/are true American weirdos. Their music encapsulates the American West – all it was and all it is. Roadside kitch, lawlessness, cultural mish-mash, hicksville. A jalopy bouncing down a dusty street at sunset, pulling over to take a bong rip. That’s what it’s like. We passed tattered, faded, falling-down hand-painted billboards for a place called Pioneer Village. We didn’t stop, to my chagrin, because it essentially looked like the fictitious downtrodden Civilwarland in the namesake George Saunders novel. Ah, next time. Nevada will be even more hardcore Van Vliet / Hansen psychedelic, what with the ghost towns and legalized vice and all. Carson City, here we come.

—SVB

Rubber to the road

I’ve been sitting here on the bed with the A/C cranked trying to get around to typing. Once again I’m totally exhausted and it’s hard to imagine writing. We’re now in Omaha and it’s officially halfway through the trip, which seems insane both because it feels like it will never end and because it feels like I’ve never done anything else. The rhythm of the ride and the rubber to the road has erased my previous life. The community around the ride feels eternal. But I suspect that’s what makes it so good – this is all quite fleeting, in every respect. And fleeting things are often the best things.

Perhaps that’s what makes the people in this world so excellent. The level of love here is only similar to those friendships I’ve made through art and music, places where people are similarly dedicated to the ephemeral. 

Today was a good riding day. Very straight, through cornfield after cornfield, Iowa slowly melting into Nebraska without much topographical shift, aside from a faded Omaha skyline in the distance which felt impressive given the homogenous landscape of the past two days.

Our “Wood Ducks” riding group (group 3, the slow-ish group) was really clipping along at a good pace. We have found our stride, which I think comes from getting to know each other better. My hangups are still the slow, sharp turns, and they continue to challenge me, but no one in our group gives me shit about it. Getting better at listening to the bike though, and learning when to change speeds without having to look at the speedometer. Oh, this sound means upshift. That sound means downshift. And the whole clutch control / friction zone thing. Worked on that for a while for the past two days as we crawled through traffic. 

Brittany Morrow, a young-yet-accomplished rider with her own story to tell (check out her nonprofit org, Rock the Gear) joined us on Saturday and will ride with us through Pike’s Peak. She gave me some great advice the other day after we rode braced against the wind (the same day I dumped the bike). She said when you panic, your brain clicks back on again, and usurps muscle memory. Porsche Taylor, another awesome lady and ride leader (who bounces down the road to her own 80s megamix blasting out of her bike speakers), said a similar thing to me yesterday (after we rode in the same sideways wind again) – stop thinking so much, have fun, and ride with the wind. 

Yeah, we were getting a stiff breeze from the southwest for the past few days, rippling through it. Sometimes it felt a bit like being pummeled by those car wash turny-brush things. More than once I ducked down behind my windshield for a break, crouching at 70 MPH, navigating through the bug-spattered plexiglass. 

The breeze waned midday today, as we burst through the cloud cover into a sapphire sky, the road cresting upwards. More soon…

—SVB

Bike doting and dumping

Once again I find myself behind the eight ball… saving up a ton of stuff to report all at once! Not ideal but hey, that’s how it goes when you’re riding across the country on a motorcycle while learning to ride a motorcycle to commemorate a centennial event with your family and a lot of new friends and stopping along the way to do other cool stuff.  Computering is kind of the last thing on the list!

So in the past few days, we moved through Ohio, Indiana and are now squarely planted in Illinois. Never been to the “I” states. We visited the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum on Friday; it was a sweet event. Niner, one of the ladies on the ride, gave me a crash-course (no pun intended), showing me around the flat track racing section, as she used to do it. The bikes are all super seventies and aesthetically awesome. 

Speaking of the seventies, the next day we had an epic group ride to the Mid Ohio Race Track forAMA’s Vintage Days, which was officially my first bike rally. Ever. 

Now, there are definite good days and bad days on the bike. Yesterday was an amazing DAY, as far as days go, but bike-wise, it was stressful and not so great. I blame this on the fact that I didn’t sleep enough and didn’t eat the right food for dinner. The slightest tiny small thing can really have a big impact on you when you’re riding. Your body is an extension of the bike, and so you need to be as much of a well-tuned machine as the bike is. It reminds me of when danced seriously when I was quite younger. The slightest small thing could have great impact. So I have to make rules for myself – eating specific things, sleeping at specific times. It’s almost impossible to follow, hence why Saturday was rough. 

The epic group ride was two hours long through the winding country roads of Ohio, on all types of pavement. (That’s another thing you get extremely sensitive towards on a bike – the stuff that covers the road. Weirdly fascinating, as I never imagined there were so many varieties.) I was doing okay, albeit a bit shaky. But then a left hand turn came, and there was a big truck in the way, and I had a panic moment. Turning at a slow speed is still very challenging for me, because you kind of have to go against what seems intuitive to execute a proper turn, looking all the way through the turn to your exit. That means observing what’s right in front of you only in your periphery. 

So the truck was there and in order to turn I basically need to put on X-ray specs and look throughthe truck to the clear road beyond (assuming it was clear, as everyone else was turning that way). I did not do this; instead I pulled over into a ditch halfway through the turn. And then upon attempting to get out of said ditch, I dumped the bike, in slow motion. Sort of gently letting it lie down.

It wasn’t that bad, and yes, I did the exact thing trying to get out of a gravel ditch the day we rode from NYC to Springfield. It was more a confidence shaker than a bone shaker, if that makes sense. I was going zero miles an hour. 

The funny thing is, that’s the time when you are most likely to dump a bike. All that highway riding is cake. It’s the subtle, small and slow maneuvers which really take the hutzpah.

Luckily there were a pair of intrepid travelers right behind me who jumped to help… to be continued when I have a spare moment!

—SVB

Riding with my tribe

I am going to set aside the news of the day to keep writing about this trip. I wish I hadn’t looked, actually. I wish I could take back the last few minutes I spent perusing the news. So let’s just set that aside for now, maybe I will reexamine it later, somehow.

So let’s talk about motorcycles.

A motorcycle is a machine that you have to meld with to use properly. You shift gears, it talks to you, you learn what speed works, you lean in and around it, you shift this way and that. Somehow it’s all physics which is still somewhat baffling to me. You swing around turns with your neck out, you lean further, you roll on the throttle. 

I can say a million things about motorcycles but honestly? You just have to ride one to understand. It’s borderline magic. As Karen Thomson, one of our ride leaders said, you have to “send your energy” where it wants to go. You have to look deep into the landscape to navigate your way through. You can’t look at where you’re about to go; you have to look beyond it. Your vision encapsulates your periphery, pushed out and all-knowing. Don’t stare at the pothole or you’ll go in the pothole. You know it’s there, so no need to look at it. Look out onto the crest of the hill, find the sweet spot to fixate on, lock into the turn, and a steady, vibrating hummmm starts to fill the space. It’s mesmerizing, but yet you’re the most alert you’ve ever been. It’s not unlike meditation, but with the other half of your brain. 

Actually I did have a mantra I was using last week as I was preparing for all this and was feeling out-of-control-terrified. It’s om dum durgayei namaha, a protective and powerful mantra conjuring Durga, the woman riding on the tiger. Funnily, there is a woman named Durga on this trip, who is awesome. (Of course there is a woman named Durga on this trip, who is awesome.)

Although today was almost all highway riding, it was extremely rad riding. Our group ended up splitting into two smaller groups, making it easier to travel. There were only five of us, and our leader was Erin Sills, who just so happens to hold a couple world records for speed – via “streamliner” motorcycle (that long thing that looks like a rocket that people race out on the salt flats) as well as a “production” motorcycle (literally a machine that is off the assembly line). Erin has a remarkable ability to ride standing up on her pegs, bobbing and weaving with supreme grace. Watching her ride is the best education you can get as a new rider. And she is really fun to follow! Fast and peppy but safe. The roads and obstacles were varied and she breezed through it, us riding her coattails. And at lunch she told us about racing, us gathered around the small table hanging onto her every word. Turns out she started riding when she was 35, the same age as me, which is interesting. 

She possesses a sparkly kind of wisdom and poise which makes her seem ageless, and remains open and humble in a way 99% of people aren’t, ever. Needless to say, it’s really awesome to hang out with her. She has lived through some difficult times in the recent past, as she lost her husband Andy last year, but reminds us that life is about the journey, not the destination. She dedicates this ride to Andy, his family, and the motorcycle community. 

And that’s not all! Stuck in formation to Erin’s side, moving like they were connected through all the turns and lane changes, is a woman named Holly Ralph. Holly rode down from Ontario on a 250. Holly selects her gear carefully, wearing a vest which inflates into an air bag on impact. Holly uses the latest weather apps I’ve never heard of. Holly is the Vice President of the Canadian Motorcycle Association. Holly has been riding since well before I was born. Holly has been living with Celiac’s and Osteoporosis. Holly is rumored to be 72.

Holly never complains, is never late, and never lags behind. She warned the group that she can only go 70 on a hill, but somehow that hasn’t hindered her… at all. She doesn’t have mobility in her right ankle, so can only use her hand brake. She prefers to ride alone (except this time), and has a GPS tracker so her friends can see her progress and make bets on how long it will take her to reach her destination. She eats one date – “Only one!” – every time we stop to keep her energy up. 

Holly has some shit figured out.

—SVB

The Marmot

You know you’re in foreign territory when you see roadkill you don’t recognize. The Mohawk Valley of Schoharie County in NY cuts down and bumps and widens to create the Allegheny Mountains of PA. Similar topography but slightly different vegetation; different smells. Yesterday we sliced through much of Pennsylvania, going through Nowheresville towns with names like Coudersport and yes, Punxsutawney. 

The latter town was our last stop before the hotel in Greensburg, where we had a surreal rendezvous with Phil, that groundhog. Strange mythology cooked up over the last century has lead to a club where old white guys wear stovepipe hats and keep a marmot (yes, they called him a marmot) in a clear plexiglass cylinder. Apparently he’s 103 years old and he drinks their secret Elixir of Life once per year. But his special lady (or goddamn lady friend, whatever label you want to put on their relationship) who lives down at the zoo is denied said Elixir of Life. It’s still all about the patriarchy down in ole’ Punxy, I guess.

Pennsylvania has always sort of baffled me. What is it? Northeast or Midwest? It kind of inhabits a world of its own, a giant weird melange of Amish culture, rolling hills, rust belt decay, and two cool cities-as-bookends where people are fairly worldly and progressive. When I think of Pennsylvania though, what immediately comes to mind are those awful frilly dresses and bonnets that Pollyanna would wear in that Disney movie from the seventies. 

And I think of a trip that my art collective CHERYL took a few months back, a self-imposed “retreat” so we could brainstorm and get on the same page again. The three of us rented a small cottage on Airbnb which appeared rural from the photos, but was actually at a busy intersection skirted by trees on a street called “Tom X Road.” We hiked a mountain crowded by frat dudes blasting Skrillex, we went to a popcorn shop full of obese people, and we shared a PB&J from a PB&J-only restaurant. And we learned of the legend of Tom X, from the proprietor of the Tom X Pub (it’s hazy). We got out of there as quickly as we could, thankful for our lives.

Next up!  I need to tell you about the folks in my riding group, “The Wood Ducks.” More soon….!

—SVB

EPIC CATCH UP

Egads, it’s already Thursday morning, and I haven’t written since Saturday. Something always got in the way, still finding the rhythm. Lots has happened, almost too much to recount, but here goes…

Ladies have arrived from all corners of North America to participate. Ladies fulfilling a lifelong dream. Ladies absolutely over 60. Ladies with long flowing hair and Harleys. Ladies geared up with the latest moto-technology. Ladies sporting “JESUS” on the back of their jackets. Ladies riding small bikes. Ladies riding big bikes. Ladies as passengers. Ladies with stories to tell. Ladies with 1,000 years of combined moto-wisdom.

…And a few good men.

Riding out of NYC was epic, and strangely easy. Because who in NYC wakes up at 7AM on the Fourth of July? Only us, apparently. Going through the Bklyn Battery Tunnel felt like arriving on Mars through a Get Smart-level air lock. Something clicked for me on the Taconic, I felt one with the bike, my hips pushing it this way and that, gleefully. Tearing up mountainous back roads in the Berkshires, a teenage black bear galloped across the road directly in front of us. That was a first! 

At the first riders meeting with everyone in Springfield, each participant stood up and introduced themselves. There were teary moments, it was intense and beautiful. The next day we did a lot of city riding (good practice for me, as my “oh shit a right-angle turn is ahead” response is starting to chillllll), checking out the exhibition on the sisters at the Wood Museum of Springfield History. We have all mixed and mingled and had many many photo ops. Cousin Dan observed that Sofie looks like Adeline, and I look like Augusta, and hence there was much posing in front of historical portraits. “The Van Buren Family” has had our moment of deference, keepers of history. The event earned a second proclamation (the first from the Bklyn Borough President) from the Springfield mayor. We also went to check out Westover Airforce Base and had a nice reception there with some kind folks. I learned that my Uncle John was stationed there. He gave me an abbreviated history of his time serving during Vietnam as we strode over the hot asphalt towards a looming C5, the heat beating down on us.

Yesterday was our first push west, finally out of my zone. Back through the Berkshires (stopping at the Jacob’s Ladder rock cairn), across the Hudson and into the Mohawk Valley. Schoharie county spread out in front of us in all directions, the sun somewhat punishing. We stopped for lunch at a “cute” place that was part mom-black-hole gift shop and part insane pie shop. I kept taking a  wrong turn, getting lost in the Yankee Candle room.

Now I’m sitting in a chair in the Best Western in Sayre, PA. We are riding to Greensburg, PA today, almost clear on the other side of the state. 

I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on all this stuff. Including motorcycles and the people here. AGH SO MUCH TO SAY MORE SOON…

Wyzards / Wind

I was insanely nervous last night – woke up with a start, chest tight, fresh from creepy dreams. Luckily it was all for naught. It was a perfect day to ride – wind whipping in places, traffic moving at a good clip. Actually, traffic can be… fun? Strange satisfaction. We get into Long Island City after the epic Triborough bridge panorama moment (teared up a tad, yes, but that always happens when I come back here) and suddenly my cyclist brain woke up from its long dormancy. I felt totally aware of my surroundings, at home again riding through the streets of NYC. It was unexpected. 

Get to the hotel (Wyndham in Sunset Park) where their current branding strategy consists of a cardboard cutout of a bearded dude wearing all blue, standing in the vestibule of the lobby – look, look again, is he frozen-smiling at me? – small words at his feet: “WYNDHAM WYZARD.” OF COURSE. Corporate omen. Thank you.

In tandem with my discovery, my dad was making a new friend outside, a guy named “T” who was the ultimate homeslice. I arrived late to the convo; moments later we were whisked away on a ten-minute monologue adventure – he’s a builder. He knows Spike Lee. He’s friend with the Chinese guy who built this hotel. He can connect us with people. We gotta tell this story. He can find funding for Basilica Hudson (my day job). Yadda yadda yadda. He had the energy of a man half his age, piercing eyes below a shock of white hair, salt and pepper eyebrows like caterpillar senior citizens. He had five o’clock shadow around each of his ears – each must sprout a healthy ear bush. He ended his tale about four times, each punctuated by another handshake, a quick goodbye.. and then circling back for a last thought. And another. And another. He was well dressed in purple, white and blue. Local Wizard #1. We were disoriented.

—SVB

The Sisters Hit the Small Screen

Many of you have already seen the Travel Channel spot on the sisters as shown in the 'Mysteries at the Museum' series. If not, check out the link below.  The show is called "Greatest Mysteries: Sturgis". In 2003 Adeline and Augusta were inducted into the Sturgis Hall of Fame. 

The show runs for about an hour with 15 minute segments on the Sturgis rally, the history of the area and its founder Pappy Hoel, Deadwood, and the sisters. The sisters segment starts at minute 29 if you are pressed for time, but I suggest you watch the entire show.