A few weeks ago, I found myself on a red-eye back from a work conference in California. Two chatty folks next to me upheld their zesty conversation while I tried to pop my ears through my nose and stay sleepy at the same time. I wanted to sleep so badly — back in February, I bought a ticket to attend the Fox Run ladies’ motorcycle weekend, and I had met a bunch of really fun ladies who also planned on attending. I was excited to make more friends and go on group rides in Lancaster. When the week-long California conference popped up unexpectedly, I hesitated canceling only for a second before devising this plan: Go to conference. Grab red-eye, sleep. Jump on motorcycle. Party time.
But I didn’t sleep. Not a dang wink.
The gray sky looked threatening when I arrived home from the airport. But I more or less ignored it; it was 6:30 AM, and I had to keep moving if I wanted to see my new gal pals. No excuses. It was the PLAN.
After showering, loading up my luggage (filled with Frogg Toggs rain gear, extra boots, dry layers) and wolfing down a banana, I bid my boyfriend good morning and good bye, and jumped on 95, on to Route 1. My heart was hammering for two reasons. 1) Excitement, obviously, and 2) this would be my very first solo highway ride. Backroads would have added extra an 30 minutes or so and I didn’t want to be late. Besides, what could go wrong?
A few miles down the road, I couldn’t ignore the cold rain that was starting to pierce my legs repeatedly. I pulled over in a Harley Davidson parking lot, hoping for solidarity in my next actions. I waddled around my bike and pulled out my next rain layer, pants, and awkwardly wriggled into them, like I was doing some sort of rain dance. Before hopping back on the bike, I pulled out my water bottle for a swig, and immediately the cap snapped in half. I stomped over my marshmallow body to the garbage can at the store entrance, and hurled the metal container in with all of my might.IT RAINED THE WHOLE TIME. And not just a cute spritz. Twenty minutes into my ride, I pulled into a Wawa and threw my rain jacket over my Rev’It armor, and immediately felt warmer and dare I say fuzzier. I looked super cool, don’t worry.
Back on the road. I felt pretty good, like I was taking care of myself by keeping dry and not dying.
In the middle of patting my back, my ankle suddenly started to feel cold. I glanced down and saw that I didn’t fully cover one, just one boot when I put my rainsuit on. I didn’t want to pull over on Route 1, but instead halfheartedly tried to reach down while riding, to pull down my pant leg, to no avail. I should have stopped. One boot was slowly starting to soak and fill with ice-cold water.
I somehow convinced myself that it’s cool, it wouldn’t be a big deal in the next hour, and kept on riding.
Finally, I pulled into familiar farm country and realized that I was only moments away from the camp site. The rain tapered down as I zipped through the loopy, quiet roads, not another car or bike in sight. Everyone was still sleeping, like smart people. I whooped behind my helmet as I went up and down, up and down.
Now, the Fox Run organizers were very good about warning riders about the road leading up to the Tucquan Park Family Campground — gravel, a motorcyclist’s obnoxious enemy, followed by hidden oil. Add to that, mud and rain, oh it was a ball pulling in. I passed a woman leaving in her van and she gave a lovely, knowing smile. I was so excited!
Past the gravel (I didn’t drop my bike, hurrah!) I followed the road into a lush green field filled with the revving of engines and badass ladies of all ages tending to their bikes. It was marvelous sight, like warriors preparing to go into a battle! Early on in the day, I had decided not to camp, rather just hang out til my jetlag catches up, so I pulled up on a side of a hill to stay out of any campers’ way. Turned off my bike, and…
Damn. Kickstand won’t go down!
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a new problem. My kickstand has gotten stuck in the past, the only difference is that Michael was around to help me adjust the gears, and I was on my way. I should’ve pointed it out to my mechanic the week before, but well, there I was. On a big stupid hill. Covered in mud and rain. On a bike that I can’t get off of.
I saw some ladies in rain suits prepping to ride out nearby, so I waved my hands and called over. “Hey, I can’t get off…”
They were from Ohio, and plenty prepared. One of the ladies hauled over a rusted toolbox and threw it down next to my bike, setting to work immediately. Two other ladies followed, and at first all I could do was sit tight and hold the bike up. They fussed with a set of pliers and popped…something out, my spring, included. The kickstand fell down. Which left the issue of it now not being able to ever go up again. I gripped my bike and pulled one way while the ladies all pulled on the spring another way, all of us using every bit of strength possible.
“Shit, is that me?” one woman asked. Blood was streaking down her hand; I felt so bad, but thankfully (maybe?) it was an existing cut that broke open. What a badass chick.
After minutes of pushing and pulling, it was time to call it. The bleeding woman handed me a fistful of zip ties and said I’ll have to secure my stand the next time I go. My mind suddenly caught up with my exhausted body. That sounded terrible. Zip up when I go, zip down when I stop.
I thanked the ladies, and walked around the camp ground. Many riders already took off, earlier than scheduled, and I couldn’t find my friends. We only kept in touch via Instagram — genius, no cell phone reception! I chatted with anyone I could, but mostly everyone left looked a bit pooped from the previous night, and oh, the rain they slept in all night.
Time to run into town. I stuffed a pair of borrowed scissors into my gear bag, and two kind Canadian ladies helped zip my bike. Over and out.
“Into town” in Lancaster can mean different things to people. There is definitely a “proper” downtown area, with modern restaurants, concert venues and rowhomes. It was tempting to take a break into dry civilization where I could pretend I’m not wet or muddy, but the smaller strip mall experience in Amish country was what I had in mind. Ideally, I was looking for a Good’s Store, or what Michael calls the Amish Target. All the Carhartt you can dream of, and more. Unfortunately, again, T-Mobile was crapping out on me and I couldn’t navigate one specifically; instead, I just rode for 20 minutes until I ran into something or got reception, whatever happened first. Tried to enjoy going back out on the road. Did for a little bit, especially finding smaller backroads in a woodsy area, but then it started raining. Again.
Sexy hotel room mess.
I pulled into a gas station/strip mall parking lot (sans Amish Target), dialed Michael, and wailed my woes (never getting off my bike, of course.) I was so anxious, so annoyed, so cold, so tired. But there was a weird part of me that loved being forced into this physical frustration, chilled to the core, parts of my body aching. I felt so challenged and pained by choice. Part of me wanted to keep going on. Part of me wanted to collapse. Michael listened but gave no strong opinions either way. But I think we both knew that I was running on a minute’s sleep at 2 PM and a banana, and that the journey was just about over.
I hung up and hit the mall pizzeria, then the dollar store for a pair of shitty scissors and a huge bag of zip ties. I was seriously planning on heading back to camp until it was time to actually move on. Leaning my bike against the concrete base of a light pole, careful not to scratch her up, I zip tied her stand as if I was tying a delicate child’s shoe. What a pain. This was stupid. And it started to rain again. I finally gave in, and drove up the road to my backup reservation at the Double Tree Hotel. Friends and family discount, hollah!
* * *
I buried myself in thick white sheets while listening to the rain pound against the window of my warm hotel room. Helmets off to those awesome ladies who stayed and stuck it out, seriously. I felt pretty disappointed in myself for not going back, but then again I have a firm rule to not ride when I’m not 100% coherent (this was also taught in the PA Motorcycle Safety class; it just makes sense.) It’s almost as bad as drinking and driving; if you’re tired, who knows what will happen. Despite my mild regret, I still felt kind of proud. I still got to meet new people, figure out disasters on my own, build riding skills, and you know, didn’t end up killing myself.
My second firm rule is to be comfortable, and not to push myself to misery. I’m at a place in life where I can pick and choose my adventures (hey, if I want to ride in the rain, that’s my prerogative), and I’m grateful, and lucky for it. Besides, I saw some other motorcyclists check into the hotel, and felt better — more hot tub for all of us! More hot tub, clean sheets, and sweet dreams.
By the way, the next morning, it totally rained while riding back. Not that much, thank goodness.