A closed mind and the open road
6/2/2009 By Jennifer Burns - From AMA Women & Motorcycling Conference
There I was, lost in the exposition hall among endless rows of vendors. It was like a cornfield gone wrong with warm sunshine and cool breezes supplanted by fluorescent lighting and the constant buzz of conversation.
Don’t misunderstand. I adored my annual trek to the motorcycle show. It was a bright spot during the notoriously frigid Chicago winters that tested the fortitude of even the heartiest natives. I loved roaming the aisles, coveting the shiny new machines, running into old friends and making new ones. Amid the hubbub, something caught my eye. It was a glossy poster announcing a conference for women motorcyclists. I feverishly grabbed handfuls of literature like it was candy and I was a kid on Halloween. I stuffed it into my exposition-issued crappy plastic bag and was on my way. There was almost too much to see at the show; I had to keep moving.
Later that week, I settled into the monotonous drudgery of bundling up, going to work and coming home. The cycle was broken when I came across my crappy plastic bag of dreams. I pulled out the now-crinkled information on the women’s conference and smoothed it out. What a tremendous idea! For fun, I mentioned the conference to Bob, my boyfriend of three years.
“Why don’t you go?” Bob asked.
“What? I can’t go to the conference. This is only my third riding season. What if I get lost? What if I get sick? What if I run in to terrible weather? What if I get a flat tire? What if I drop my ignition key down a sewer drain?” I said, taking a breath while summoning my next index of perfectly good rationalizations.
“This is America,” Bob stated as he coolly thwarted my shotgun spread of irrational fears. “You have a cell phone and a credit card. What’s the problem?”
“Uh…,” I was dumbstruck.
Why did he make so much damn sense? I had nothing. Not one concrete reason to miss the conference. I mulled it over for a couple of days and then something happened. I started having daydreams of making the journey on my own. It was not outside forces that prevented me from embarking on this adventure; it was all me.
I stitched bits of courage together and registered for the conference. I secured the time off from my boss. I daydreamed about the trip over the next few months. Performing mundane tasks at work and home became tolerable. I could even get through my step aerobics class, aptly nicknamed “Vacation from Dignity,” with ease. Meanwhile, Bob went over my $450 1979 Honda to be certain my machine was ready even if I wasn’t yet. He taught me how to perform routine road-trip-type maintenance, packed up a tool roll and made sure I knew how to use what was inside. I obsessively compiled a packing list so I would not forget a thing: shirts, pants, socks, underwear, rain suit, sunscreen, earplugs, maps, addresses, auxiliary key, trusty tool roll and, of course, my cell phone and credit card. I could not believe I was really going to do this. I was excited but apprehensive at the same time. I felt like a politician, cautiously optimistic.
I could barely sleep the night before I left town. My mind was restless; the “what ifs” crept in while I battled to rest. Fortunately, I eventually fell asleep and woke the next morning to a beautiful summer day. The sun shone through the 40-foot high oaks that guarded my building like soldiers. I peeked through to check if my bike survived a lonely night on the city streets. There she stood, upright and undamaged, patiently waiting for me to saddle up and set out on our big adventure. Today was the day.
I budgeted 48 hours to make the 438-mile trip to Athens, Ohio. I built in extra time to allow for the unexpected, such as a light case of food poisoning or a rogue semi tractor-trailer. I struggled to find balance between being aware and prepared for all possible situations and being paralyzed now that I was aware. I had to remember the “prepared” part. I was prepared. I was not going to talk myself out of this undertaking.
I nervously wasted time until 9 a.m., a seemingly reasonable hour to leave town. The logic was I’d be missing rush hour traffic. But this was Chicago and just about every hour was rush hour. Regardless, it was time to go; no more stalling. I went to the bathroom, suited up and carefully went over my checklist again. Sure enough, I had everything. Miraculously, nothing had changed from when I checked the list 10 minutes earlier. It was time to load up and hit the road. I took a deep breath, picked up my bags and headed out to the street. I strapped my luggage to my bike and checked that it was secure. I strapped on my bright yellow helmet, black leather coat and gloves. I turned on the ignition switch and the gas, pulled the choke and hit the start button. My old bike was ready to go, and I was as ready as I was going to be. I put up the kickstand, pulled in the clutch, dropped her into first and gave her some gas while letting off the clutch. We were rolling.
I ventured south through the city and over the Skyway into Indiana. So far, I was disaster free. Before long, I had gone 200 sunny miles with sporadic beef jerky and Gatorade consumption behind me. I passed through Indianapolis and headed east on Interstate 70. I crossed into Ohio and only my helmet could contain my ample smile. While stopping for fuel, I noticed an old airhead BMW across the way. Sure enough, it was another woman on a motorcycle. I decided to approach her, not something I would normally do, but then this trip was anything but normal for me.
“I bet I know where you’re going,” I said, noting her Minnesota plates.
“To the conference, of course!” she said.
We decided to continue on together to the headquarters of the American Motorcyclist Association just outside Columbus. These folks were the hosts of the conference in Athens another 60 miles away. It was early evening and the AMA was closed, but we weren’t expecting any fanfare. I mean, this was the corporate headquarters. The grounds were beautiful, but corporate. We just wanted to see it. We wanted to see the building where the people worked that cared enough to host the conference in the first place.
We decided to rest on the lush lawn to discuss plans for the evening when a gentleman exited the building. He saw our vintage motorcycles, and heard us excitedly talking and laughing. He approached and greeted us warmly. He invited us to return the next morning and ride to Athens with the AMA staffers. He opened the museum and let us poke around a bit while he rustled up the nearest hotel information, escorted us to it and said goodbye for the evening.
My new companion and I split a meal and a room. I slept soundly that night, exhausted from the road with a permanent smile on my face. This was it; I was on the road.
The next morning we arrived at AMA headquarters for a beautiful ride through the green hills of Southeast Ohio to Athens. Once at the conference, I attended interesting seminars and test rode every bike I could. I met the most amazing women, including an exotic motocross racer from Italy and a spunky air traffic controller from Texas. I got matching sprocket tattoos with a woman from DC, knowing her for less than 24 hours. Irresponsible and a tad impulsive, yes, but to this day it is my only tattoo, and we’re still good friends. The tattoo meant a lot to me at the time and still does. It is a reminder that I can do anything I set my mind to. I came back from the conference a changed person.
Since this trip, I married my calmly logical boyfriend who continually encourages me when I need it and keeps me calm when I don’t, which is still more often than I’d like to admit. We have gone on many road trips together, including an epic journey to mysterious Nova Scotia. Our latest conquest was the breathtaking Dolomites of Italy.
I will make the trip to Keystone this year with my friend, Beth. We plan to hit The Black Hills then drop down to the conference. These trips each started with a daydream from an open mind. The dream could be anything: playing the piano, starting a business, going back to school. Dream it first, prepare and execute. It’s really that simple.