Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On being a motorcyclist....

I'm not a "biker", I'm a motorcyclist or motorcycle enthusiast. I love riding and have been riding my own for ten years this Memorial Day. I thought I'd tell you a little about why I learned to ride.

My late husband and I married in 1985 when my youngest daughter was eight. We lived in several states, mostly career moves for my IT career; he had a home office for his telecommunications work.

We lived in a suburb of Atlanta when she headed off to college. We were both involved in high pay, high stress careers; his for a division of IBM and mine for BioLab, Inc. We were in our dream home but never had time to enjoy it.

My father died the year I turned 50 and when his house was sold we had a small inheritance. Coming back from his funeral we had discussed the fact that although we both talked about traveling the country by RV when we retired, we had done nothing towards that goal. The inheritance that summer gave us down payment of 30% on a used motorhome, a 1989 Allegro.

In December an opportunity arose for us to travel and work as fiber optic inspection contractors. The pay was excellent, we traveled with the various projects and we lowered our stress levels immensely. So, we quit our jobs, sold our home and headed out in the RV.

We did this for almost two years, buying a small cabin in north central Pennsylvania. The work on the backbone was almost complete, I was laid off and my husband was hired full-time by Volt Telecom as a project manager.

In 2001 we had our wake up call...he was diagnosed with head/neck cancer. Often called throat cancer, his had surgery and six weeks of radiation. For those so inclined you can read the full story here. I keep it up as a reference, at least once-twice a year I get a thank you from someone who it helped in some way. As a side note, his first day of radiation was 9/11/2001, which was also my son's 35th birthday and a day that will leave in our countrys memories forever.

When he was first diagnosed I told him, "It's a bike or a boat. You pick, but we're going to start enjoying life." He picked a motorcycle and it had to be a Harley. We traveled to Jamestown, NY and he bought a used 1998 HD Electra-Glide. We had some wonderful rides through the Pennsylvania countryside before we headed to Cincinnati for his six weeks of radiation.

During those six weeks he spent a lot of time convincing me that I needed to learn to ride my own motorcycle. I'd ridden on the back since I was a teenager and had never really thought about it. My sister-in-law in Florida rode and I had met a couple of other women riders there.

In December we traded in his bike and bought a new 2001 HD Sportster in White Pearl for me and a 2001 HD Softail Heritage Classic in a dark green for him. We then trailered them to Florida for the winter and left them at my youngest brothers. I still didn't know how to ride. In March we learned that he was being promoted to a GM position in Clearwater, FL. That meant year round riding! We both took the MSF course over Memorial Day weekend in West Palm Beach and my motorcycle riding journey began.

Six months later I traded up to a 2003 HD Low Rider, about 250# heavier but a much lower center of gravity and a bigger engine. I rode that for two years, including doing a charity ride for breast cancer which took me from Orlando to NYC, via Chicago in August 2003.

In the fall of 2003, he was diagnosed with a recurrence of his cancer on the non-surgical side. It was inoperable and terminal. In June of 2004 we took what would be his first, last and only long motorcycle trip to Thunder in the Valley, Johnstown PA from Florida.

By September of 2004 it was obvious that his time was limited. We moved from Florida to the small town of Sparta, TN where I would "retire". We also opted to sell my Low Rider and upgrade me to a 2005 HD Softail Deluxe from the local TN Harley dealer. He passed on November 30th.

As with all widows, the following months were a time of reflection and change. I needed to find - define the new "me". So I started planning to ride all 48 states. The trips started in March, five in all - the longest being 10 weeks in duration. I ended in October of 2005 having managed to ride through 42 states and over 27,000 miles solo.

My original plans were to come back from my trips and find a job, holding me over until age 60 when I qualified to start Social Security. But living in a small town with an increasing unemployment rate, jobs were scarce. In the end, with the urging of my youngest daughter, I decided to sell my house and go full-time RVing once again but this time I would be solo.

In the summer of 2007 I sold my house (to my UPS man and his wife), sold my Harley (to a good lady riding friend), bought a barely used 2006 BMW F650GS dual sport motorcycle, a used 1999 Tioga Class C and a small utility trailer for the bike. I hit the road in October and never looked back.

Fast forward through meeting my present husband, also a full-time RVer, motorcyclist and widower, two more Harleys for me, having sold the BMW in March of 2007 and buying a used car in Arizona, and three Harleys for him. Here are a few photos of his three bikes and my two. [click any photo for a larger version]

The last photo shows Stu's last, not present bike, and my present bike, all tucked away in the garage of our toy hauler.

So, in all I have owned and ridden six different bikes over about 80,000 miles so far. We still plan to ride the old Route 66 from Chicago IL to Santa Monica CA the fall of 2013. At that point I'll be age 66 riding Route 66. Pretty neat!

I suspect at some point I'll move to a trike and probably not a Harley. I'm thinking a Can-Am Spyder might be in order (easiest steering for bad shoulders).

Oh, one last fact. I do come from a riding family, even if I did start late in life. Both my grandmother and grandfather rode Harleys in the 1920's-30's - it was cheaper than a car. My father and both uncles rode bikes, either Harley or Indian. Currently both my brothers, both their wives, my son and his wife, my step-nephew and his son, several cousins and their sons as well as both of Stu's daughters, his step-son-in-law and his future son-in-law, plus a nephew-in-law and a niece and her hubby....all ride. Most are Harley-Davidsons but there are a few other brands as well.


  1. I'm sorry for so much loss in your lives but it looks to me like you have learned to live well in spite of it! Maybe I'll buy a bike some day. :)

  2. Donna, I feel honoured that you wrote this post and very moved shared your heart with us. Of course, now that I think about it, in your writing, whether prose or blog post, you have always shared your heart.

    So many things I could say, but perhaps what I'll limit myself to is: you are an amazing woman and I'm so glad to be connected with you in this writing community.

    Many hugs.

  3. Oh Donna, thanks for sharing your story! Have checked out your previous blogs here and there - you've had quite the journey yourself. I say again - you rock, Lady!

    Love ya,

  4. Donna,

    But, but, but... you left out the story of taking out a mailbox in the mobile home park where you lived in St Petersburg when you were first learning to ride! (No, I will not let you live that down!) ROFLOL

    Keep on keeping on. It is refreshing to know that even old ladies like to put something exciting between their legs.

    I like the Cam-Am Spyder. Had a female coworker that was about your age that rode one and she loved it!

  5. your story really touched me especially the part about your husband's radiation being on your son's 35th birthday--i have two sons around the same ages now---you are truly inspiring!

  6. what an amazing story!

    and i love the pics of you & your gma! its in your blood!

  7. Donna, in spite of the sadness, your story inspires me. Sometimes people begin to think their lives are over long before they die.

  8. Aww, thank you Jo-Anne. I have met so many amazing women in both the motorcycling and RVing community. I am so blessed!!!

  9. Thanks, Betty. We all tend to take our journeys as nothing special or different till someone points it out. ;-)

  10. DC, I knew you would jump in here. No sense in boring everyone with my trials and tribulations of the early learning days. LOL!

  11. @Lynn, thank you and I finally added your blog to my list, thought I had it but it wasn't there. ;-)

    @Tara, thanks for visiting and reading. You're right, it truly is in my blood.

    @Mary, thank you. Unfortunately I know some people like that, it is just too sad.

  12. What an amazing tale. It really shows the importance of living for the moment and not letting things slide!

  13. I am in awe of your wonderful spirit and honored we share the same name...;0)

    Donna L Martin

  14. @Annalisa - I fell in love with my late husband's love of life and wanted to honor his always saying, "Life is for the living."

    @Donna (in Maine) - Thank you for taking time to visit and read!

    @Donna Martin - I'm so amazed by all the Donna's that write. Something in the naming gene? ;-)

  15. Life breaks your bones so they grow back stronger ... certainly seems to be your case. Inspiring to read.

    I'm lost by the choice of words, maybe it's an American/British English language thing. I don't mind if people call me a biker or a motorcyclist as long as I can get out there.

  16. In the US, biker tends to bring to mind a big, burly, bearded/mustached, tattoo'd male, probably in a bike gang. LOL! Or the scraggly buy who lives for his bike, sleeping underneath it when he can't roll it into his motel room.

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