It is 5 am and I feel drowsy. I had not slept all night. My ever faithful friend, Cath, is driving me to the airport. There is a double black coffee waiting for me in the cup holder. She thinks of everything. If I was a lesbian, I would marry that girl.
I am leaving for California for my first time. My first time without a suitcase on wheels. My first time renting a motorcycle. First time solo. I leave with the bare essentials. A 60-litre dry bag for my tent, a sleeping bag, a mattress and a lunch box. I also have another bag with my essential clothing for 5 days, my camera and a notebook, that I take on the plane with me. My luggage is divided in two parts: The Babes Ride Out 4 and my extras.
The Los Angeles Sun
It is early afternoon as I arrive at LAX. After spending 6 hours on a plane with closed cabin windows, the blazing L.A. sun hits my face. I don’t complain as in Quebec it is already starting to get cold. I grab a taxi and head to the Ramada. My room is huge. I empty my bags and check out the room. I call Eagle Rider to book a shuttle for the next day but unfortunately they have no availability. Marian, with whom I have been communicating over the past few days, reassures me. “Take a taxi, we will reimburse you.” Marian is so very thoughtful!
The next day, I would head to Joshua Tree for the Babes Ride Out 4. This exclusively female gathering is an important international motorcycle event that I didn’t want to miss. Since 2013, the event has progressively attracted from 50 to almost 1,800 female motorcyclists from around the world. They call themselves The United Nation of Babes. I leave with no GPS but only a few notes written on a sheet of paper that I stick on my gas tank with painter’s tape. I am riding an unfamiliar bike and headed into unknown territory. I visit the event’s Facebook page and see that there is a group leaving about 30 kilometres away near the Lucky Wheels Garage, where I needed to pick up my motorcycle. So, I change my plans and decide to leave with the group. I would have all the time in the world to tame my new beast rather than follow my makeshift GPS.
Lucky Wheels Garage
More than 20 women from the Los Angeles area are meeting at the Lucky Wheels. This garage is out of the ordinary with a “Do It Yourself” style. For $50 per month, you can access all you need for your motorcycle, from powder coating to general mechanics.
They welcome us with hot coffee and bacon doughnuts. What a great ambiance. We are informed of the user safety rules. Our road captain asks us each to choose a buddy. We will be responsible for each other should a problem arise on the road. I am teamed with Blare. She is riding a bright red monster and is outfitted from head to toe in a black leather Dainese suit. Her soft and fragile appearance conflicts drastically with her biker look.
Catherine, Blare and the Indian
We hit the road. I condition myself to riding my Indian Scout Sixty, a brand that I am not very familiar with. I am a Harley girl; Indians in Quebec are rare. The guy at Eagle Rider promised that I would be impressed by how it holds the road. He was cute, so I smiled, but deep down I doubted he could convince me to give up on the Harley.
I ride on, leaving the city behind with our crew ahead and already meandering through the mountains. Blare is in front of me and often glances behind her. She is taking her role to heart and we develop a connection. She is my guardian angel. The landscapes fly by, as I ride with these women that I don’t know, on a sporty motorcycle that is light and easy to handle, Wow! I am falling madly in love with the Indian Scout and I would kiss the Eagle rider guy just to thank him.
265 kilometres later, we are riding at 120 km/hr on a country road. We are almost there… less than 25 kilometres to our destination. We open the throttle to blindly ascend a long upward slope. As we arrive at the summit, it is disaster! We are plunged into a huge cloud of sand. We all feel the state of emergency as the road converts into a miserable sand pit, without warning. We were riding too fast with our custom motorcycles to account for this unexpected change. In my mind, I keep repeating that the camera around my neck cost an arm and a leg and if I was to fall, there would be a slim chance of it surviving undamaged in the sand. I don’t want to fall so I let go of the throttle and with all my might, I hold back from touching my front brake. I keep repeating to myself that I need to lightly press on the back brake.
Blare is behind me. She looses control. I don’t know it but I am directly in her path. I am looking ahead and thinking only of my damn camera and that I cannot touch the front brake even if I am dying to. As Blare’s motorcycle came into contact with mine, she tilted her motorcycle and fell to the ground. She chose to fall in order to save me. Yes, she is indeed my guardian angel. Seeing the cloud of dust behind me, I quickly stop my motorcycle and run back to help her. She is a little shaken but ok. Her black leather suit did the job it was meant to do but her clutch lever no longer had a pedal and her horn was blaring, jammed inside its housing. As we were not equipped to fix the clutch, she had to ride her damaged motorcycle to our destination.
Ultimately, one in every four girls found themselves on the ground. Luckily, thanks to Blare, neither my camera nor my rental motorcycle had any damage. At that moment, I realize that strangely at the time, I never thought, even for a fraction of a second, that I could have been injured… it is funny how the mind works.
Babes Ride Out 4, Day 1
Around 6 pm, we arrive victorious at Babes. The camping is huge. I quickly set up camp and settle in. An hour later we attend our eagerly awaited meeting! Ines, Emma, Manuella and I are there with sparkles in our eyes and a proud look on our faces. Five months earlier, we met each other for the first time on a ride to Babes Ride Out in Narrowsburg (NY). And today is our big reunion where we talk about our respective adventures over a beer. But Ines hurries us over to the organized karaoke on the event stage. She attempts Independent Woman by Destiny’s Child while we dance in the background to get a rise out of the crowd. Think what you want but we Quebeckers know how to party!
Babes Ride Out 4, Day 2
The next morning, I join the biker chicks and two new travelling mates, Ségolène and Sarah, as we undertake one of the 6 rides proposed by the event. We choose the ride to Joshua Tree national park. In 1987, well before being declared a national park, U2 fans made this a pilgrimage site. Everyone wanted their picture exposed near Joshua Tree that was photographed on U2’s 5thalbum. Ours will not be there since the tree has long since fallen and we are far from ripping off our bras for U2.
Upon our return around 4 pm, we visit the kiosks. At Stance (a company that sells funky ultra comfortable socks), we pin our origin on The United Nation of Babesmap. In the Progressive tent, hundreds of #progressivemc photos are posted. We look on the wall for our photos taken during the day. We continue our tour by trying on clothes from Atwyld, the new brand of motorcycle clothing for women, co-founded by Anya Violet, one of the event’s organisers. Nearby, a shoe brand, the Red Wing Heritage, allows us to discover Lindsey Ross, a photographer who proposes ferrotype prints from her trailer for $60. There is a demonstration of forming metal, welding, pinstriping, and leather work… The list is so long that you don’t know where to start. The organization does not allow the sponsors to sell on site, they are rather asked to be extra creative in order to provide a unique experience. It is a success and we are all happy!
We finalize the tour at the Stetson kiosk where we write out some postcards to all of our friends who didn’t make the trip, while some waited patiently for their turn at the Brodeo, a mechanical bull contest organized by Biltwell.
Babes Ride Out 4, Day 3
I decide to spend this day with the girls from L.A. We take off for a ride. The objective: to enjoy the best ribs around in a little village in the heart of the mountains. It sounded like the perfect plan and I wanted a good hot meal. The girls were hungry and left without me, only Maria waited for me. We put the pedal to the metal to catch up with the others. Vroom! 50-80-100-110-160… We finally catch up with the pack. That is what I tell myself, but my joy is short-lived. The girls keep the pedal to the metal but the winds come up. It is so windy that our motorcycles are at a 45-degree angle. I am thankful that I don’t have a hangover and that I have excellent reflexes. I keep telling myself that the winds will calm down, that after the curve, the wind will be at our backs. We continue down a long slope between two mountains and at the bottom near the horizon, I notice windmills turning from the high winds. So, not a chance! There are cracks in the pavement, the windmills are dancing, the rear end of my motorcycle is dancing along the road and I am dancing in my head, not to a Céline Dion tune, but rather Deathbringer. Rock on!
When we arrive at Banning, we turn onto the 243, a winding road with several hair pin curves throughout the mountainside that lead us into the heart of the mountains. The road is heavenly but I don’t have time to enjoy it. The other girls have been through here before and this time is not a pleasure ride. I have moments of vertigo. They do not seem familiar with guard rails in this part of the country. I am thankful that my motorcycle is easy to handle. I fall behind the group but Ségolène and Sarah graciously follow me.
It is autumn in the mountains, a real contrast with our sandy campground. The air is gentle and cool and smells of the resin of the coniferous trees and the wet ground. The area resembles the Adirondacks. Our course comes to an end in the heart of the mountains at Jo’ An’s restaurant in Idyllwild. It reminds me of the Tail O’ The Pup BBQ on route 86 between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. I almost feel at home. The girls were right; my ribs are delicious, absolutely mouth-watering. It was well worth the ride.
Babes Ride Out 4, Day 4
It is 5 am and I am already awake. We are at the end of the Babes Ride Out and embarking on a new adventure. Inès arrives at my camp; I could tell she had been celebrating. We give each other a big, somewhat grimy hug and wish each other luck for the rest of the trip. I pack up my equipment, and am filled with promise for what is to come. The sky is grey and we see pockets of rain in the distance. I can’t delay, I have a beautiful day planned on route to Las Vegas and I don’t have any rain clothes.
A New Start
Amber Road. As far as the eye can see is a long straight road surrounded by mountains. I feel alone in the world, as if I am in another dimension. Everything seems surreal, like a postcard. I brave the wind with my iron horse. It is me, the road and an indescribable sensation of being at the right place at the right time. In perfect symbiosis with the road, I am a solitary motogirl.
I head toward Oatman. Pascal Richard had suggested that I ride through this ghost town to experience the mythical route 66. It was worth the detour. I stop at the Hotel to eat and attend a street show. I had the impression of being in a far west version of the Santa Claus village but he was right, the road out of the village was mind-blowing. Guard rails are still very rare along the mountain slopes. You ride differently when you are alone. If you miss a curve, it could take a while before you are found. I stop at Cool Springs Station Museum – nothing to do with a museum – and I buy a route 66 pin to add to my jacket and promise myself that one day, I will come back and complete the entire route.
My Kingdom for a Shower
Vegas is opulence, it is “Bling,” it is too much. What a contrast with the simplicity of the last few days. There is a smell of a cheap fragrance mixed with the smell of cigarette smoke on the outskirts of the city. The odour reassures me. It is a promise of a hot shower and a king size bed. I can’t wait! After four days of camping in the sand, I feel filthy to the core.
I arrive at the Plaza Hotel that dominates the end of Fremont Street, a part of Vegas that I love. I prefer it to the Strip. The bars and restaurants are more authentic and away from the tourists. The water in my shower is black. That must be what they mean when they say dirty as a pig.
A Christmas Tree in the Rain
After an evening of rain, I awake around 10 am the next morning in my king size bed, tired, but surprisingly refreshed. The barman promised that even with his mescal, I would be in top shape the next day and he was right. I had to return my motorcycle to Eagle Rider for 4 pm. As they say, I have no time to lose. The sky is clouding over. I pack up my stuff and leave for L.A. It starts to drizzle but it is not too bad for the time being. I have a waterproof jacket and I am wearing my chaps. But, as I reach Clarke Mountain, it starts to pour. The rain is coming down in sheets. It is foggy and visibility is low. When packing my bags, since space was limited, I preferred to take a lunch bag over my rain clothes. Wasn’t the state of California like a desert? I am such an idiot. How can you leave without making sure you have all your essentials? I get splashed and am blinded by all the big trucks. Then come thunder and lightning. It couldn’t get any worse. I stop at a gas station. “I am happy to see you. I prayed for you on the road. With all the fog and rain, I couldn’t see you.” Not very reassuring.
At Barstow, I had enough. My feet were soaked, along with my chaps and my jacket. I am numb with cold. I see a Wal-Mart as you would see an oasis in the desert. Dry clothes on the horizon! I am in warm, not fashion, mode and want something cheap as I will probably never wear the clothes again. I come out looking like a Christmas tree, with the ugliest, brown-orange-blue, design pants in the history of good taste. But I didn’t care, as long as I was comfortable.
Too Much is not Enough
Upon arriving in L.A., the sun appears. It is 6 pm as I enter the Venice Beach Hostel. I am really tired but victorious even though I was too late for Eagle Rider. Why should I care? For the moment, all that matters is that I have arrived safe and sound. The Babes Ride Out part of my trip ends here doing laundry in the youth hostel Laundromat. Tomorrow morning, I will trade my Indian Scout for a big Harley Softail. My trip is not quite over. Earlier in the season, I had promised myself a solo ride, covering as many kilometres as I could, with no particular destination. Just me, all alone, on my two wheels, with my head in the clouds and my heart on the road. I keep my promise. My solo trip, with no plan or destination, has just begun.