You’re Never Too Old to Become a Biker Chick

My husband and I come from two entirely different worlds. He  grew up on a ranch in New Mexico, and has been  a dive master, a jump master, a professional photographer, a glass artist, an aspiring drummer, a motivational speaker and last year, became a whitewater raft guide AND a ski instructor.  He has also been riding Harley’s since he was 19. I like black and white movies, preferably the kind with subtitles, or without sound. I collect old books.  I am a painter, a gourd artist, a handbag designer, and my idea of a really, REALLY good time, is sitting on the back porch with the dogs and a glass of  red wine watching the sun set.

Shortly after we met, we went to Turks and Caicos on our first vacation together. I wanted to lay by the ocean and have a waitress bring me a cocktail every hour or two.  He wanted to go “exploring”. We wound up walking five miles in the blazing hot sun our first day with no food or water, no suntan lotion, no idea where we were going and no way to get back, because there was no bus service from where we were, to where we needed to be.  We were so sunburned by the end of the day that it hurt to lay on the cool cotton sheets back at our hotel.  The next morning, we rented a scooter, and drove from one end of the island to the other, a decision that beat both “The Forced March”, and cocktail hour by a wide margin.

I am amazed by how quickly and how deeply I fell in love with riding, having previously only been on the back of the dirt bike my uncle used to own when I was a kid.  I think I still have some gravel in my knee from the time we went down hard on my grandmother’s driveway.   I am still in the passenger phase of this newfound affair, but I am so inspired by the unparalleled joy of exploring the world on the back of a bike, that I am eager to pursue as many adventures as I can.

Last October, we decided to head to Maggie Valley, North Carolina for the first annual Kickstart Classic, a joint venture created by the Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum,  American Iron Magazine, and Baker Drivetrain.  Designed to celebrate vintage bikes of all kinds, the Kickstart Classic was little more than a thinly veiled excuse to ride amazing old kicker bikes through some of the most breathtaking country on the planet, on two of the most beautiful fall days you could ever begin to imagine.

(I am just above the n in American and Michael is just above the I in Iron)

Everything from a 1933 Harley, to a 1936 Indian, to a motorcycle and sidecar rig that cobbled together from bits and pieces of two or three different bikes from four different time periods were already parked and waiting, while the staff of American Iron assembled everyone in front of the museum for a group photo.  Dozens of riders from New York to Connecticut to Tennessee brought their vintage bikes to life one after the other in a cacophonous roar, and then we were off.

Because we were on Michael’s 1988 Heritage Softtail Classic, we were supposed to ride in the back of the pack to give the kickstart bikes center stage, but within minutes, were separated by traffic lights, vehicles and a questionable set of written directions, coupled with a well-meaning but uncertain tour guide who brought the entire flotilla to a screeching halt to go back to the gas station we’d just passed to double-check our next turn.  Approximately half the riders went the wrong way on Highway 28 and headed south when they were supposed to be going east, but by the end of the day, we all pulled into Panhead City, a treasure trove of vintage bikes and biker memorabilia tucked away in a narrow glen outside Rome, Georgia, where ice-cold beers, hot homemade stew, and a spontaneous awards ceremony spearheaded by Burt Baker of Baker Drivetrains awaited us.

      (Michael’s picture was featured in the April 2012 issue on the 2011 Kickstart Classic in American Iron)

Several riders elected to stay on the property at Panhead City under the open starlit skies that night, while the rest of us packed up and headed into Rome and the comfort of a nice, warm bed at the Days Inn Hotel.  Following a breakfast of bagels, waffles and bananas, bikers splintered into two groups; the ones headed for Leeds, Alabama, and the continuation of the Kickstart Classic, and those headed for home.  We fell in with a lone rider on his way back to Chattanooga, Tennessee, intent on retracing our steps back to Maggie Valley and then  home to Mars Hill just north of Asheville, but when we made a pit stop in Tennessee for gas, we were invited by another group of riders to join them on their first visit to the Dragon’s Tail.

We’d been on the Dragon’s Tail twice before, but this group was as different from the group we’d ridden in with the day before, as night is from sunrise. We thought we would go along for the ride, if for no other reason than to see the Dragon’s Tail through the eyes of people who were all relatively new to the whole biking experience The riders we joined had new bikes, new helmets, new leather jackets and chaps, and most hadn’t ridden together before, if they had ever really ridden at all.  As we wound our way alongside the Ocoee River on Highway 64 past whitewater rafting outposts and zipline adventures, we realized that these weekend bikers, most of whom were salesmen or teachers, weren’t even remotely interested in the camaraderie that comes with the true biker lifestyle. The riders we’d left with in Maggie Valley had at least a hundred of years experience between them, and most were dressed in whatever clothes they had available.  One rider looked like a henchman from Wicked Witch’s Army in his elbow length black fur gloves, while another had a yellow ribbon tied around his leg in tribute to all the riders who couldn’t be with us that day, and still another was dressed in jodhpurs and a wide leather belt.  There were no airs and no affectations, just a sheer love of riding and the true pleasure of each other’s company.  There were no strangers among this group, even though most of us had just met minutes before the ride began.

We decided to part company with the group we’d joined up with once it became clear that our presence wasn’t really appreciated, and stopped in Bryson City for a buffalo burger, fries and a beer at Jimmie Mac’s before heading home on Highway 19, on a day that was the perfect blend of amazing weather, lush fall colors, clear blue skies, and an unforgettable first group ride with some of the most beautiful bikes, and some of the most enjoyable riders, I may ever have the opportunity to meet in my lifetime.


How Being Retired is like Being Back In High School Again

In 1946, the year the first baby boomers were born, the average life expectancy was 66.7 years. You didn’t have much time to cram it all in, or even think much about your options before it was all over.  Immediately after high school, my father enlisted in the service, met my mom, got married, worked until the day he retired, bought an RV, and worried about his finances on a daily basis until the day he died in 2010.  That was what you did back then.

I went to college, got married, had a kid, got divorced, worked in the restaurant business until I met my second wife and had two more kids. I became a professional photographer, got divorced again, retired at 49, and took up yet another career as an artist before meeting my third wife.  Two years ago, I became a whitewater raft guide and a ski instructor at the ripe old age of 58.  My kids are grown, my mom has settled in a house near my brother, and I have at least another 30 or 40 years before I even start to slow down. Every yardstick my parents measured their success and progress by has absolutely no value to me as a guideline for what comes next, because no one in history has ever been where my generation is at before.

We are like the freshman class on the first day of high school, watching the “senior class” for clues on what to do and how to act.  The trouble is,  none of us want to be like the senior class, because there is a twenty year age difference between us. I have friends in their fifties who recently gave up everything they owned to buy and RV and hit the road. He is a doctor and she is an administrator, and after both lost their jobs, they decided to travel the country in search of seasonal employment to make ends meet.  Half the people they’ve encountered so far are in their seventies and half are in their fifties.  The seventy year-olds are living off social security and retirement savings, but the fifty year-olds are on the road out of necessity.  Some have lost everything in this new economy except their RV’s, and the only work they can find is temporary.  Others are on the road because after a lifetime spent pursuing a dream, they want to actually LIVE instead of just thinking about it, and do it now, before its too late.


But with thirty or forty extra years on their hands, it seems a great big question mark is hanging out there.  What do we do next?  Every phase of life up until this point has had a purpose, a routine, and map.  Someone else has done it before us,  so we know what to do when we get there ourselves.  The seniors know more than the juniors, and the juniors know more than the sophomores, and if we want to be cool like the upperclassmen at fifty, then we need someone to watch, so we know what to do next.

Well we have some ideas about how to do that,  starting with the turquoise 1969 Dodge Travco we just bought that will become the headquarters for  a new TV series we plan to launch about baby boomers this spring that you will DEFINITELY want to stay tuned for.

Because if there’s one thing we know for sure, its that we ain’t your grandma’s AARP!

The Importance of Adventures Both Big and Small.

I come by my wanderlust naturally.  I remember hearing stories growing up about how my grandfather would come home from work back in the 1950’s and find a note pinned to the front door of the house.  My grandmother would find a house she liked better while she was out running errands, rent it, pack the old house, and move in with the help of my mother and her brothers in the space of just a few hours.   When I was a kid we moved every four or five years like clockwork.  I started fifth grade one year at one school and ended it nine months later at a school across town.  I hated it at the time of course, because I was always the new kid in school, and every time we moved,  I would concoct an elaborate plan to start fresh with a different accent, or a different name so I could at least be the most interesting new kid at school.

Moving frequently however provided me with a burning desire to see something different as often as possible that has stayed with me all my life, and working as an artist for most of the past fifteen years has sated that wanderlust pretty nicely.  Shortly after I began working as a full time artist and was exhibiting art  all over the country, I developed a passion for two lane highways through the middle of nowhere, and would often find myself, on the top of a mountain in the days before GPS and cell phones, wondering if I had enough gas in the car to make it to the next station, because the gypsy in me would suddenly decide on a whim to take the path less traveled from here to there because it looked “shorter”.  I cut across New Mexico from Cuba to Los Alamos once because  it looked like it would save me at least another 100 miles on the road, and while the scenery over that mountain pass was sublime and I saw my first herd of wild elk, I also coasted into the next gas station on fumes.

With the economy still struggling to recover, and little time or money left to travel they way we used to, Michael and I have gotten creative in our approach to our frequent adventures.  We joined a group of about two dozen motorcycle riders on vintage bikes last fall for the first annual Kickstart Classic.  The ride began in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, and wound up in Rome, Georgia at a motorcycle museum/repair shop and grill known as Panhead City.  We were balloon handlers at the Macy’s Day Parade thanks to cheap airfare and a friend who traded us points at a Marriott Hotel for some artwork, and last week, we headed out for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee with the “circus”  (we have three dogs; a bossy 2 year old Shih Tzu we rescued from a snow bank, a 6 month old Pit Bull/Pharaoh Hound mix who’s turned the inside of our truck into a giant chew toy, and an ancient Pharaoh Hound who can’t hear, can’t see and can’t control his bladder) for a relaxing getaway.

We stayed in an inexpensive hotel that allowed dogs, and spent about 15 minutes turning our room into a palace with some things we’d brought from home;  a featherbed, flannel sheets, extra pillows,  candles, wine, with a cheese and crackers plate, and extra towels.  We let the dogs run around in a park across the street from the hotel, then loaded everyone up and went exploring.  We went to Knife City and the Lodge Logic factory store, then gorged ourselves on all you can eat sushi.  We also brought a DVD player and watched a movie called 50/50,  and after sleeping  late the next morning, had breakfast at the Old Mill Restaurant before driving through the Great Smoky Mountains Park back to Cherokee, and Bryson City.  It wasn’t the  most exotic getaway in the world, but we came home feeling rested and ready to tackle the world.  And it didn’t cost a fortune.  Just some planning and ingenuity. A stay at the Hyatt wouldn’t have been much better.

And any adventure, no matter how big or small, is a great adventure to have.  I plan on making them a part of my life until the day I die.