Solo Flight – Prep and Landing

September 12, 2019 3pm. Pointing the bikes eastward towards home after a fantastic day riding to the coast. My husband Mike was leading when he made a mistake on a righthand corner, there was a truck coming the other direction, and a few hours later he was gone.

It’s been just over a year since that day. I still miss Mike like mad and some days I cannot believe our life together is over.

I spent the first six months after the accident in shock and simply going through the motions of life. I honestly don’t remember much from that time, which is probably a good thing. I did some traveling, some with family and friends, mostly by myself with the pickup and tent setup. The haze of mourning didn’t quell my wanderlust, I still needed to get out to see and do new things (and force my butt off the sofa).

One day in April 2020, I realized I still wanted to ride.  I spent the next few months going through my KTM dual-sport. I wasn’t ready to ride the BMW I was on when Mike died, so the little KTM offered a fun and lightweight alternative. Working on the bike was also a relaxing activity — NOT! It was frustrating and scary and involved every brain cell in my head at all times, it was an awesome distraction. Added plus, the bike actually ran when I was done!

My first tentative two-wheel steps wouldn’t have been possible without thoroughly wonderful friends who not only supported me unconditionally, but also changed tires and replaced old Chevy fuel pumps without complaint. I am honest when I say I’m not a nice enough person to deserve Joe and Donell, but if they’re willing to put up with me, I’m more than happy to hang around with them!

We decided to take a week-long vacation, driving our truck and camper setups and trailering the bikes, this would allow us to have fun and explore even if it turned out I couldn’t ride. I dusted off the old Chevy and Joe helped me load the camper and I was ready…I thought. Or as ready as I’d ever be.

I was still a nervous wreck before our first ride. Putting on my gear was so difficult, the pants and helmet were the same ones I was wearing when the accident happened and this was the first time I’d suited up since then.

But, then I got on the bike and…happiness. I do not know why I love riding so much, but I definitely hadn’t lost that love even though I’d lost Mike in the worst way possible. After a week of lazy exploration, I was thrilled to know I’d quelled my fears and bad memories and been able to simply experience the joy of riding.

But could I get back on the Beemer? I wasn’t ready yet, and I honestly didn’t know if I ever would be. The thought of riding alone on a bike that was literally near my tipping point both mentally and physically (short rider, tall bike) was terrifying. I talked to Joe and Donell about it. Joe said I’d be ready when I was ready, there was no reason to push it.

So I waited. Then we had the awful season of fires. So many favorite places turned to ash, smoke so thick and evil it looked and felt like home was either on Mars or near Hell. The first anniversary of Mike’s death should have happened while I was at the beach with family, instead, we were all trapped in our homes.

I spent the week doing very little, sleeping way too much, and playing video games or reading to take my mind somewhere that wasn’t back on that road just outside Sweet Home with emergency lights flashing and… I was going a little bit crazy and felt a lot sick with asthmatic wheeze and lightheadedness making it feel as if the walls were closing in.

The following week it rained. Just a few drops, but like magic the skies cleared and I was free!

Free to…ride? Yes. I want to ride the Beemer… I think…

I started with a tentative little trip over to Joe and Donell’s, then Joe took me on one of my favorite loops down to the Cove. Not many miles, and I won’t say the feeling of complete happiness was there, but most demons had been vanquished and I had flashes of delight chasing Joe through the corners.

The next day I rode to Prineville to get my hair cut. I figured this was the best way to start my solo riding life, a well-known road, spending time with a wonderful friend, and hey, people nearby who could pick the bike up if I dropped it when I got there! Win Win! I enjoyed myself so much I took the long way home following the Crooked River, then boring flats back to Bend and home again. And I was ready for more. So ready!

I realized I was running at the tail end of good touring weather, we were having an Indian Summer, but November and its changeable weather was looming. The following week’s forecast looked perfect, sunny and mid 80s for most of the northwest. I decided on a loop Mike and I had done 4 or 5 times in the past, a four-day ride through Lolo Pass in Idaho, into Montana, then back through the gorgeous Sawtooth mountain range and home through Vale and John Day.

I spent some fretful days figuring everything out, getting my tool kit sorted and some bike maintenance done, then finally had everything packed and ready to go by Monday afternoon. I still wasn’t 100% sure I was going, I told myself that if I chickened out it wasn’t a big deal, or if I shortened the loop that was perfectly okay. No pressure, no schedule, no worries (hah!).

I’ll admit something, over the past 30+ years I’ve ridden over a 100,000 miles, but maybe only 200 of them by myself. I have gal friends who often do solo rides, but I never felt comfortable without a riding buddy. It’s not that I relied on Mike for every little thing, but knowing he was there if I needed him was so reassuring. Mike was one of those people who would always find a way — when things went wrong he could make them right. The thought of being my own and only backup was daunting.

But…I wanted to ride. And I wanted to be as careful and prepared as possible. I know that “careful” and “motorcycle” seem mutually exclusive and especially odd if you think all motorcycle riders are mostly insane. Some are, but if you see someone on a BMW, odds are they have every navigational and safety farkle known to man, and have actually read all the instruction manuals. They may have even written upgrades to said manuals and offered them for free to their Usenet groups. Yes, BMW riders are generally the nerds of the riding world.

Being the fretful old nerd that I am, I had already obtained a Garmin InReach mini, a satellite communication device which not only allows me to send SOS messages if needed, but also gives me access to maps and text messaging on my phone when I’m out of range of cell towers. I bought it when I started hiking solo and didn’t wish to be the main character in one of those stories you read about some lost and potentially dead idiot going out on their own thinking that their cell phone will get service in the middle of nowhere just like it does in suburbia.

That’s the InReach, clipped next to the mace on my backpack strap.

The InReach was perfect for hiking and exploring in the truck, but navigation on two wheels is more complex. After worrying about my navigational skills, or severe lack thereof, I decided to finally plunk down the cash for a dedicated motorcycle GPS, a Garmin Zumo XT.

Why hadn’t we been running a GPS on the bikes before? Because I was married to a UPS driver who not only had a great sense of direction but could read maps and was actually fine with asking locals for directions! On the other hand, my abilities in this area are bad. Really, really bad. How bad can it be, you ask? My directional skills are so bad I can get turned around coming back from the ladies room in an unfamiliar restaurant. I do okay with my phone and a cheap Garmin along with print maps (on the road, not in the restaurant), but getting completely lost and/or running out of fuel were two major worries and this unit took care of both. The Zumo keeps track of fuel mileage and reminds me of upcoming fuel stops (the bike doesn’t have a fuel gauge, just a trouble light that yells at you when you’re down to a gallon of gas — usually when you’re more than a gallon’s-worth of miles away from the next fuel stop). The unit also links up seamlessly with my InReach, phone, bluetooth headphones, and also adds another layer of safety with automatic incident notification if it senses a crash.

How cool is this?!?!

Next up, day 1 starts with some alarm.

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