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A Ride to Change Your Life—Yes, Really!

A die-hard street motorcyclist tries riding off-road

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor
3/18/2011


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“Been there, done that.” I was saying that a lot when it came to planning activities around my motorcycle. Three years ago, I was burned out on motorcycle riding. I’d been working in motorcycling for a very long decade. When I was not writing about motorcycling, I was riding a motorcycle, and if I was not in my office talking motorcycles, I was traveling to an event to talk motorcycles. It was motorcycling 24-7. I’d been riding for almost 20 years and—dare I say—my enthusiasm was waning.

A Ride to Change Your Life Street Glide
One way I helped alleviate my motorcycling malaise was by trading in my aged ’94 Dyna Low Rider for this new Street Glide in 2008. Here I am just outside Sturgis, South Dakota, on my way to annual motorcycle rally in 2008.

I needed a new challenge, something to jump-start my mental motorcycling battery. I needed to get excited, to stretch my motorcycling boundaries. I needed something to get my adrenaline pumping again. I could feel that daring side of me slowly escaping my midlife psyche. Parachute out of an airplane? Don’t think so. Climb Mt. McKinley? Not on your life. Jump off a cliff to go hang gliding? Yeah, right. These are all activities I’d have engaged in 10 years prior, but the aging, mature mind has a way of messing with your bold plans if you don’t get around to doing them when mortality is not even a thought in your brain.

“Dual-sport,” I wisecracked.

"The die-hard street rider in me immediately dismissed
the notion of riding on a dusty trail..."

In the fall of 2008, I was presented with the opportunity to participate in an eight-day dual-sport ride. “Dual-sport,” I wisecracked. “Isn’t that riding in the dirt where you have to wear all that safety gear?” The die-hard street rider in me immediately dismissed the notion of riding on a dusty trail where I’d get dirty. But a few days later I was talking with tour organizer Sue Slate about what the experience could mean to me on a larger level, and I realized this off-road adventure might just be what I needed to reignite the two-wheeled fire in me. 

A Ride to Change Your Life dual sport
"Oh boy! What am I getting myself into?" Here I am on day one of our ride, getting acquainted with our bikes.

A Ride to Change Your Life Sue Slate Gin Shear
Sue Slate and Gin Shear (at right) of the Women’s Motorcyclist Foundation (WMF), organizers of this ride. Sue is a 63-year-old grandmother who can tear up the dirt trails—and she’s only been riding off-road for the last few years.

I definitely had some trepidation about going on this dual-sport tour, called adventure touring these days. The three occasions I’d been on a dirt bike were not thrilling enough to get me running out to buy one. Typical street rider, I am. I had not been able to get accustomed to the tires spinning out in the dirt beneath me. I like my ground hard and stable. I’d later learn that controlling the back wheel on soft ground is part of the off-road experience, and is what you eventually learn to master.  

A Ride to Change Your Life dual sport tires
Dual-sport tires are designed to grip dirt and sandy surfaces. The tire on the left is more street-oriented, but does work in dirt and gravel. The knobby tire on the right is a pure dirt tire.

Sue talked about riding over 12,000-foot mountain passes in Colorado (my second favorite state after my home state of Montana), venturing off the beaten path (something I can appreciate, living in Montana), staying in cute rustic lodges (I love rustic!), riding with 12 other women who are all street riders (hey, we’re all about women riders at Women Riders Now), getting a lesson on dual-sporting before hitting the trails (training before the ride, right on!) and most importantly, raising money for breast and gynecological cancers research. I could appreciate the philanthropic aspect of the ride, as I had been feeling like I should be giving back in a bigger way through my motorcycling life. Could this adventure tour possibly be the medicine to mend my motorcycling malaise?

A Ride to Change Your Life dual sport Colorado
How could I resist views like this?

A Ride to Change Your Life dual sport trail Colorado
Solitude abounds: the perfect environment to readjust your priorities.

I signed up for what was called Adventure for the Cures Dirty Dozen Ride, taking place over eight days in Colorado in August 2009. Dirty Dozen because there were 12 women and we’d be riding in the dirt—and getting dirty. Boy, did we get dirty.

A Ride to Change Your Life dirty dozen
The Dirty Dozen, the 12 women who participated in the ride, plus one who rode when she was not on support crew duties. Each raised a minimum of $2,000 to participate. Thank you to my supporters, as well as those who donated to each of these rider's efforts.

A Ride to Change Your Life tent camping
Wiping the dirt off my face, a daily ritual.

Dual-sport means the motorcycles are equipped to ride on dirt and pavement. The dirt trails are the reason for the ride; the pavement is just a way to get to and from those trails. 

A Ride to Change Your Life gravel trails
Most of our 750-mile ride was on gravel trails like this one.

A Ride to Change Your Life gas station
The times we rode on pavement were to fuel up and to get to another trail.

The trails are where the fun and adventure happens. If you ride on trails in out-of-the-way places, like we did in the Colorado Rockies, you’ll find there are no other people around. Solitude abounds. 

A Ride to Change Your Life Paradise Divide
Where else can you get photos like this than at 11,000 feet? My favorite photo of me from the ride, taken above Crested Butte, Colo., at the top of Paradise Divide.

A Ride to Change Your Life Paradise Divide dual sport
The only way to get there is to ride, drive, or take a long hike.

A Ride to Change Your Life women rider bonding
Taking in the breathtaking scenery while having a girl bonding moment.

A Ride to Change Your Life dual sport riders
This is the steep and narrow, but easy, gravel trail we climbed to get to the previous overlook. Sue, in the gray helmet, and Scott Agnew, one of our support crew, are looking at wildlife off in the distance.

I enjoy hiking and getting out into nature. Think of dual-sport as a way to hike to peaks and valleys in a much quicker turnaround period. What would take you two days to trek on foot could take you just one day to ride. 

A Ride to Change Your Life Crested Butte Trail
You could hike this beautiful trail, or you could ride it on your dual-sport and take in many more views in a day like we did here.

After getting a day’s lesson on the fine art of riding a dual-sport motorcycle in gravel, dirt and sand from on-site instructors Andrea Beach and Bonnie Warch, owners of Southern California dirt-bike riding school Coach 2 Ride, we newly minted dual-sport riders embarked on pathways that would take us on everything from flat dirt roads to steep, gnarly, rocky, rutted one-track trails. 

A Ride to Change Your Life dual sport training
Getting a lesson on standing on our pegs while riding.

A Ride to Change Your Life Genevieve Schmitt
Here I am riding on one of the easy trails. I don’t have photos of the gnarly ones, as I was too busy being nervous and falling.

A Ride to Change Your Life dual sport trail
Riding down from a vista point, slow and steady. Scott stands by the water to make sure we power through it without falling.


"...the rest of the group was ahead of me because I was being a slowpoke."

So How Did I Do?
I was OK on the flat gravel areas—heck, give me a hill or two to really get my blood pumping. It was the gravely, rutted routes and the sink-your-tires-in-deep sandy stuff that pushed me to the edge—literally, one time. I was in the wrong gear (second instead of first—yes, you ride in that low of a gear a lot of time) going up a steep, rutted-out road, and when I twisted the throttle too much, the surge of power sent the little 200cc motorcycle flying out from beneath me. VroooOOOmmm—I can remember it like it was yesterday, with me stumbling over onto the hard surface, witnessing the bike flying through the air over the uphill edge of the trail (versus down the hill), coming to rest in a twisted position in the brush. 

I was alone; the rest of the group was ahead of me because I was being a slowpoke. I stared at the bike in its contorted position and sighed. Ho hum. I was OK. I didn’t get hurt. You can be OK when you “crash” a dual-sport because you’re wearing proper safety gear and usually going slow. Crashes are usually just mishaps from which you can recover quickly. However, I had not yet mastered the skill of maneuvering a fallen bike down from a hillside riddled with logs and rocks on my own. You eventually learn how to do that. I was going to have to wait until someone came back to assist me.

"Like a lot of women, I’m hard on myself." 

A few minutes later, Andrea rolled down the hill on her dual-sport and helped me right my bike, easing it back down onto the steep, rocky trail. I was too shaken to steady the bike enough on the narrow, slick rock surface to straddle it and continue riding it up the hill, so pint-sized Andrea hopped on that high-suspension motorcycle and zoomed up the rest of the trail like she was riding on pavement. My bruised ego and me hoofed it up the remainder of the way. 

A Ride to Change Your Life Andrea Beach
Andrea to the rescue: Petite Andrea Beach came to help when I couldn’t upright the bike. She’s a spitfire on these dual-sports.

A Ride to Change Your Life riding through mud puddle
Here’s where another of my mishaps took place—in this mud puddle. See me looking down into the puddle. Well, you go where you look, right? That’s where I went. It wasn’t pretty. I got back up though, and rode through the puddle again, the right way with my eyes focused on where I wanted to go.

A Ride to Change Your Life elbow bruise
I was not wearing my elbow pads that day, and look what happened—the start of a bruise. We’re not invincible. From that day forward, I wore my elbow pads.

This motorcycling dual sport adventure took me to places in my head I didn’t want to go at my age, places I’d been shying away from quite frankly. Falling off the bike, stalling out the bike, being in the “slow” group—these things made me feel defeated and beaten down. I didn’t like that feeling, so I’d been avoiding activities in the last few years that made me feel that way. I knew what I was capable of, so that’s about all I had been doing—staying within my shrinking comfort zone. 

A Ride to Change Your Life wide open spaces
I love wide-open spaces like this one. Provides my heart and soul with a sense of much-needed freedom from the confines of life that bog us down. This ride started getting me back in touch with what’s important in life.

On this ride, my body took a bit of a beating, but it was nothing some ice, ibuprofen and a few bandages couldn’t fix. What was aching most was my ego, that stupid vanity-producing Freudian part of our psyche that gets us into trouble more with ourselves than others most of the time. “C’mon, Genevieve, get over it,” I kept demanding of myself. The other riders, who were also falling off their motorcycles, were reassuring me that falling is part of riding in the dirt. But why was I feeling so crappy inside?

"Mental mightiness is what’s needed when we feel like giving up..."

I’ll tell you why. I’d done a lot of things in motorcycling, and I got good at a lot of it. I accomplished what I set out to do and did those things quite successfully. Riding in the dirt, something I’d avoided all this time, was pushing me beyond my comfort zone, forcing me to dig deep and muster up the strength and courage to get back on the bike despite the bruised ego. 

My body is strong. I make a point of keeping it strong, part of how I’m embracing the aging process. But my mind, which had started getting lazy and complacent in the last few years, needed a kick in the you-know-what. Mental strength is what keeps us going when the physical part is on the brink of failing. Mental muscle is what keeps people alive in dire situations. Mental mightiness is what’s needed when we feel like giving up—or giving in. I was getting mad and disgusted with my performance, and my bruised ego was feeding that destructive cycle. I needed to get a grip, quit with the egotistical thoughts and find joy in all that I was accomplishing.

A Ride to Change Your Life Yamaha TW200
I’m a dual-sport rider! Riding a Yamaha TW200.

Now, 20 months later, thankfully I’ve moved past all of this. I can now articulate how I was feeling and be honest about it. I realize, too, that this is how many women riders feel when they take up street riding for the first time. I have a whole section on Women Riders Now about failing the MSF class and getting back in the saddle despite feelings of defeat, as well as falling off the motorcycle, dropping the motorcycle and all the other actions that make women adopt self-defeating attitudes and give up far too early. 

"...I should celebrate my accomplishments and find peace in them..."

Like a lot of women, I’m hard on myself. I’m quick to criticize when I struggle with something. But as I’ve reached middle age (isn’t that what they call the mid-40s?), I realize that instead of being critical of myself—which can be so self destructive—I should celebrate my accomplishments and find peace in them, instead of using them as a stepping stone to push myself unnecessarily to achieve more and be better. Constantly striving to be better never gets you anywhere because you just keep wanting to top yourself—you can never enjoy being present in the moment of your accomplishment or appreciate being really good at what you do. Get what I mean?

So if you’re feeling like me, dual-sport riding may be just what you need to get excited about life and infuse you with a renewed sense of yourself. I was honored to do this ride with Sue Slate and Gin Shear, two of the most self-less, endearing women you’ll ever meet in motorcycling. I will always be grateful to them for this experience—one that gave me much more than I could have imagined. 

A Ride to Change Your Life camping under stars
When’s the last time you literally slept under the stars? Jasmine Bluecreek Clark and I ditched the tent one night to sleep under the celestial ceiling. We saw lots of shooting stars and I expanded my horizon a little bit more.

Meet The Dirty Dozen

A Ride to Change Your Life young riders
Shelby Summers and Neda Skific-Lee, the youngest riders.

A Ride to Change Your Life Amy Holland Dual Sport
Amy Holland, editor of Friction Zone magazine, photographed our ride.

A Ride to Change Your Life Karen Kime
Karen Kime, a gentle soul.

A Ride to Change Your Life Carolyn Ficklin
Carolyn Ficklin, the tough girl of the group.

A Ride to Change Your Life Alisa Clickenger Darrell Drew
Darrell Drew and Alisa Clickenger in matching BMW outfits. Alisa was one of our support riders. Alisa has since embarked a solo multi-continent dual sport ride inspired by this trip.

A Ride to Change Your Life Jasmine Bluecreek Clark
Me with Jasmine Bluecreek Clark. We became buddies on this ride.

A Ride to Change Your Life Peg Preble Tina Sanders
Peg Preble and Tina Sanders, the quiet ones of the group.

A Ride to Change Your Life Cindy Fata
Cindy Fata kept us laughing.

A Ride to Change Your Life Mary Taylor
Mary Taylor is Shelby’s mother, making them the only mother/daughter team on the ride.

 
Meet The Support Crew

A Ride to Change Your Life Diane Ortiz
Diane Ortiz, owner of Big Apple Motorcycle School, cooked some delicious meals for us.

A Ride to Change Your Life Roy and Shirley Anderson
Roy and Shirley Anderson, great navigators and support-vehicle drivers.

A Ride to Change Your Life Scott Agnew Dan Patino
Scott Agnew and Dan Patino helped with navigating those back trails.


I was asked to be part of the Dirty Dozen so I could write about it and inspire other street riders to consider dual-sporting. I hope I’ve done that with my story. Here are some more facts about our ride I feel are important to share: 

1. The Dirty Dozen could not have happened without the generous support of our sponsors. BMW, Buell, Fay Myers dealership in Colorado, Harley-Davidson, American Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha graciously provided the motorcycles used by the riders and staff. Progressive Insurance, the presenting sponsor for all WMF programs, assisted financially. 

2. The Dirty Dozen women raised more than $40,000, which was donated to two organizations: the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation and the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. Canadian Dirty Dozer Rider Neda Skific-Lee raised another $3,000-plus on behalf of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. The grand total raised surpassed the group’s fund-raising goal by $18,000.

3. Since 1996, WMF has been hosting rides to eradicate breast cancer. For the 2009 ride, WMF began addressing research needs for other gynecologic cancers, especially ovarian cancer. To help keep the riders focused on the mission of the ride, at the end of each riding day, a short, symbolic medallion pass ceremony takes place with a four-piece horseshoe medallion at the center of it. 

A Ride to Change Your Life medallion
Four riders carried one of the four medallion pieces, shown here assembled, with them on the ride that day. Each piece represents survivors and those dealing with cancer.

During the daily medallion pass ceremony, the incoming medallion pass team first assembles the medallion, reminding the group of the united front it will take to beat cancer into the history books. Then each piece is placed around the necks of four new riders, symbolizing the individual battles courageously waged at a very personal level by those in the throes of fighting cancer.

A Ride to Change Your Life Medallion Pass Ceremony
The medallion pass is a very intimate ceremony that makes these WMF rides so special. You can read more about this here.

4. Statistics indicate that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the few months following the conclusion of our ride, two of the Dirty Dozen riders were diagnosed with breast cancer. Both had treatment, survived and are doing fine today.

Related Articles
Kicked out of MSF Class: Will I Ever Be Able to Ride!
Beginner's Guide to Riding in the Dirt
Resolve To Make Your Motorcycling Dreams Come True


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Reader Comments


Aaaahhhhh, I love this! I've been thinking quite hard about riding to Alaska, even though the stories I keep hearing should scare me away. I know that I would want a dual sport to do it, a little short one! HAHA!! Just reading your attitudes and how you overcame not only the ideas you had, but your physical difficulties as well, encourages me to find my own road, my own challenges, and keep trying!

I'm too smart to let my brain talk me out of things, and too stubborn to quit when I probably should. I'd rather learn by falling down at this point in my life, rather than quit because I'm afraid to fall. Thanks.

Sash Walker
San Diego, CA
Saturday, November 08, 2014
I am a 64-year-old cancer survivor. Stage lll ovarian September of 2012, now in remission. To motivate myself toward the future I bought a Kawasaki KLR 650. I have never ridden. But I am taking the TEAM Oregon class. And I have friends who ride all the time who are willing to patient with me. I have been working out to regain the strength and energy lost to chemo. I have always been strong and healthy so even after the cancer I am hoping I can ride this bike on the OBDR or part of it in late July. I would very much like to hear from women over 50 who are in a similar stage of life where they are taking on a significant challenge. Or from inexperienced riders who are also at the beginning of this journey.

Diane Millican
Salem, OR
Wednesday, January 09, 2013
Please keep me in the loop for a ride like this for the summer of 2012. Wish I had known about it in Nov. 2010 when I was looking for a challenge. Since I could not find anything, I decided to just ride my Triumph Bonneville coast to coast alone, but I am very interested in your ride for July or August of 2012. am a teacher and have to plan using those dates.

Madeline
Worcester, MA
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Editor Response
The best way to keep "in the loop" on these kinds of rides is to sign up for the WRN Newsletter so that you are the first to know when we post a story announcing this. There is are several links on the home page to do sign up. Look for the box that says sign up.
Genevieve Schmitt
Where do I sign up for a ride?

Christine Thomas
chesapeake, VA
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Editor Response
Email Sue Slate at wmfginsue@aol.com. The link is at the end of the article.
Genevieve Schmitt
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