Keep track of the Dirt Pack on Adventure for the Cures 2012. These gals will be riding 24 hours in the dirt on behalf of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation. You can check out each rider’s page by going to dslrf.kintera.org/adventuresforthecure
Look for photos and stories coming up starting May 14 – May 18, 2012!
It’s April 26, 2012. My brother Terry’s birthday. He died at 29 in a Sky Diving accident as a professional sky diver doing an event over Niagara Falls. He lived life large and likely had more excitement in his life in 29 years than most of us have in our life times.
As I look forward to Adventure for the Cures 2012, I think he’s looking down and saying… “Way to go Sis!”
When the Dirty Dozen riders completed Progressive Adventure for the Cures 2009 – Dual Sport Ride to End Breast and Ovarian Cancers, they shared their stories at the Women’s International Motorcycle Conference in Keystone, Colorado. Gin and I were so moved by their accomplishments and their willingness to share their experiences and inspire other women.
Adding to our joy was the fact that Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha extended our time period on the WMF loaner dual sport bikes we had used for the Dirty Dozen Riders, which ranged from 200c.c. to 250 c.c. This allowed WMF and Coach2Ride (a dirt bike training program out of Ramona, California) to offer Progressive Dirt/Dual Sport Schools throughout the conference. Introducing other women to the paths less traveled and then offering the Women’s Conference its first guided Dual Sport Ride to Hot Springs, Colorado just put a whole new layer with frosting on an already great cake!
Additionally, Progressive Insurance served as the sponsor of our Progressive Moto Action Center at the Women’s Conference in Keystone providing WMF with the opportunity to offer action oriented seminars out doors on a variety of maintenance and riding skills designed to help each rider become even more independent on the highways and byways of life on two wheels.
Resting on our collective laurels can only last so long. Then, it’s time for action again. As with every project we have ever completed, we had learned too many lessons just to put them on a shelf to gather dust. Thus, we began looking for the next Adventure for the Cures chapter we were to write.
This time when we approached Progressive Insurance, our primary corporate sponsor, we presented them with a long term plan and a set of goals to meet. Ultimately, the plan and the goals are intended to not only grow opportunities for women in motorcycling, but also to support the avocation of motorcycling overall. You may have noticed, the average age of motorcyclists is going up. If we don’t find ways to replace ourselves, this passion we all share for life on two wheels will cease to exist.
First and foremost WMF set a goal to build its leadership base. To do this, we decided to introduce a group of innovative, healthy risk takers to an adventure that would test their mettle physically, emotionally, psychologically while growing their dirt and dual sport skills. Some who jumped on board had worked other fund raising/educational events with us in the past. However, many others who came on board were completely new to us.
We surmised that anyone who would sign up for a two-week, 2500 mile dual sport ride within a region of North America known to be remote… with dirt roads and trails known to disintegrate rapidly due to bad weather… in an area where it would likely rain at least a part of each day, or even snow… had to be tough!
We were not wrong! And, we’ll introduce you to these “Peaceful Warriors” in future blog entries.
Continuing on with our long term plan, we want to increasingly engage more women in dirt and dual sport riding. Statistically, women make a majority of household and family budgetary decisions on what will be purchased and how the family will spend its recreational time together.
Establishing a leadership base primarily made up of women, sends the message that riding in the dirt is fun and can be shared with other members of the family. More women riders equates to more men keeping their motorcycles past their early twenties when they get married and “buy a boat” the whole family can use. More women riders leads to more kids learning to ride and sharing a lifelong love for motorcycling and the out-of-doors with their parents; and in turn, with their own kids down the road.
Beyond these selfish goals to grow the number of women motorcyclists specifically and the number of motorcyclists in general are other compelling objectives. Adventure for the Cures exists first and foremost to raise funds to help eradicate breast cancer. Each Dirt Brigade rider committed to raising a minimum of $2000 apiece on behalf of the Susan G. Komen for a Cure – Global Promise Fund.
This deliberate focus on women’s health invites the involvement of men too. Forty percent of our riders participating in WMF fund raising have been men. Our male counterparts have always been intricately involved as both staff members and participants. Such was the case for Adventure for the Cures 2011 as well.
Mike (Gina’s husband), John (Cindy’s partner), Roy (Shirley’s husband), Walt (Nancy’s partner) and Brenden were all on board and just as vested in the mission as were the women riders. Our rides are aimed more at women’s health issues due to the numbers of women worldwide who are diagnosed with breast cancer compared to men. However, men have many women in their lives and they, themselves, can be targeted by the monster that is breast cancer. We want everyone to join our ranks as riders, spirit riders or sponsors to put breast cancer where it belongs… into the history books.
Also, it is not lost on us that once women’s health issues become a top priority worldwide, women will have the where-with-all to focus on other areas of their lives as healthy individuals whose worth is recognized by themselves and others. Such strides will enhance the human condition for all, women, children and men.
So, what’s next for the Women’s Motorcyclist Foundation, in terms of its long term goals and objectives as they relate to dirt and dual sport riding?
As a result of Progressive Adventure for the Cures 2011, our leadership base has grown considerably. For 2012, WMF, Inc. will be hosting Progressive Adventure for the Cures Dirt & Dual Sport Training camps around the country. Each camp will require participants to raise a minimum of $500 for the Global Promise Fund and each camp will focus on building dirt and dual sport riding skills.
This will be done through a series of partnerships with commercial endeavors and WMF, Inc. Our students will get a discounted rate for the training, and there will be partial scholarships available too to ensure we are able to attract a broad, diverse base of riders of all ages. Thus far, WMF, Inc. is working on collaborations with four different organizations including Hollister Hills, one of California’s State Recreational Vehicle Areas. Puget Sound Safety in Washington represents another location. The BMW Training Center in Greer, South Carolina will offer a third location and we are working on nailing down details with other partners.
Additionally, for those already well versed with dual sport riding, WMF, Inc. is collaborating with MotoQuest Tours on a ride in Laos. Registration and details for this ride will be available shortly.
Beyond the Dual Sport Rider Training and Tours, WMF has its hands in many other projects. Check out our web site in addition to this blog to find out where WMF will be with its Progressive Moto Action Seminars as well as Progressive “On Track for the Cures” programs.
For images below, click on picture to enlarge.
WE HAVE ALWAYS RELIED ON THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
After the Arctic Circle we all eventually returned back to the Eagle Plains Lodge where we were now roomless since all their rooms were booked. Tenting was still a possibility, but Cathy the ambulance driver/road maintenance Forman knew how exhausted we were after our awful ride up the day before. She took some of us in her apartment, others she housed in her RV. Her employees gave up their rec room and laundry room for the rest of us to unfurl our sleeping bags. So for one more night we were warm and dry. The manager of the Lodge, Eleanor, herself a breast cancer survivor, put together a banquet for our dinner at a majorly reduced rate. We gathered for dinner and then our nightly Medallion Passing Ceremony.
It’s easy for bikers to get together and verbally re-ride the day’s events. But we weren’t here just for a ride. We were here to honor our pledges and raise money for the Susan G Komen Foundation so every morning after we’re fed and we’re geared up and ready to go, we start by passing around the Inukshuk, each of us touching it to give it our energy. Then we stand in a circle holding hands and we scream out the immortal words of our late friend, Woody, “I’m Alive! I’m Awake! And I Feel Great!” Then it’s Kickstands up and Throttle on!
In the evening we have the more extensive remembrance of our motive. The Medallion Passing Ceremony.
The Medallion is actually like the old puzzle rings from the 70’s, but not confusing or difficult. It’s 4 bronze pieces that fit together to make the one design. Each piece is symbolic of a different aspect of our cause. There’s the horseshoe that symbolizes our survivors of the disease; the ring of memory that fits into a groove in the horseshoe and that symbolizes all those we have lost and hold in our hearts; another horseshoe to hold the hope of the future free and clear of cancer and that piece sits snugly right on top of the survivors’ horseshoe, sandwiching and protecting the ring of memory; and finally the heart. The heart is the piece that fits inside the ring and makes it solid, strong and whole. The heart symbolizes the worldwide community we need to put an end to Cancer.
Each piece becomes an individual pendant worn around a rider’s neck by a strong purple ribbon about 1 1/2” wide. The pieces have some solid weight to them so you’re aware you’re wearing it. When you ride a motorcycle it becomes easy to just stay in your head, allowing your thoughts to whiz by with the scenery. If you’re the bearer of a piece of the medallion for that day it helps anchor you to the cause and you think about that piece and its meaning…. and most important what it means to you. And For you.
So we gather in the evening and the four pendant bearers stand together in front of us all. Each one gives a synopsis of how it made him/her feel that day and the thoughts that went through that rider’s head associated with those feelings. Then we reassemble the Medallion in a special box and pass it around, all of us giving it our energy. That pendant bearer then passes on his medallion piece to the next day’s bearer and that person says a few words about what it personally means or whatever thoughts it evokes in whatever direction. It’s actually quite an emotional passing of time. This one night there was a busload of tourists from Australia. We didn’t know it, but as we were doing our ceremony they were passing the hat and collecting money to donate for our cause. Along with that, Cathy’s employees were moved to their wallets. $205 dollars was donated that night. We were so touched and honored. It’s those moments that kept us going.
Now we must get going back down. Back down the Dempster. Another bike was brought out for me and I was ready to face my nemesis, that muddy highway. All of us had a slight trepidation about the trip but we were warriors on a cause. We shouted our motto in our heads as we faced our tires south. “A bad day in the mud is still better than laying in a hospital bed with chemo going through you,” reverberated in my helmet.
ANNNNND WE’RE OFF! (But we’re only ‘off’ enough to make us interesting)
What a difference a day makes. The road was dry and a dream. The sky, blue. Still rutty and gravely, but we can deal with that. Totally a beautifully uneventful ride back. We slept at a Dawson Hostel and were ready in the morning for….
Top Of The World. Damn. I was trying not to remember that we had to do it again to return. Ok. A day on a mountain with a drop off is still better than laying in a hospital bed with chemo. Uhhhhhhhhh. I think I need a new mantra right now.
The weather was drizzly and the worst of conditions existed. Fog. Total fog. 10 to 20 feet visibility would be optimistic. At one point I had to pull over to the side of the road to lift my visor and remove my glasses as they were both fogging up. I THOUGHT I moved to the side. My co-riders, who had to swerve around me, tried to educate me on that maneuver that evening but they laughed and understood when I said, “I thought I WAS at the side of the road!”
And I think we most all agreed that the return trip on Top Of The World was the worst. But at least I couldn’t see the drop now. Too much fog. So was the glass 1/2 full or 1/2 empty?
We arrived in Chicken and as soon as I landed I had tears in my eyes. Joy? Nope. I think tears of terror. But I am still so proud of myself for my accomplishment. I faced my fear and……cried. But I faced it. I might have arrived a little more frazzled than my cohorts, but we all did arrive.
Ah, and Chicken. Susan owns the restaurant there and is pretty much the sole reason why Chicken is a thriving little area. We were so disappointed when we were there the week prior that she was out of Chicken Potpie. She remembered that we were returning and had ready 16 chicken potpies for us to warm our souls. Remembering our return date might have just been good business for her, but it became a memory for us all. A warm caring memory. I was carrying the ring of memory that day. We had her in tears as we left with our show of appreciation.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS….IS BETTER LEFT OUTDOORS
Back to Tok. We were supposed to stay at Vanessa’s Eagle Claw campground again and Vanessa and her friend Lanys had a b-b-q feast waiting for us as a gift but we were all so cold and wet from Top Of The World. Gina moved on ahead of us and scouted out some possibilities. She did find some showers at one location which would help us ease our cold bones, but the majority of the group needed more as some of the riders’ raingear didn’t hold up. The local motel was decided on. Vanessa fully understood our need for solid shelter and the owner of the motel offered to shuttle us the 2 miles to Vanessa’s campground and then return after our bellies were full to bring us home. These were all a few of the angels we met on our journey.
And our final location, Gracious House Lodge. Located remotely on the Denali Highway about 72 miles from Denali National Park (Mt. McKinney to you Sourdoughs) owned by Carol and Butch. We’re not allowed to tell any of you, but these two strong people gave us such a break on the price to tent or lodge there and for our meals. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone because that discount ain’t gonna happen again. Many of us tented the first 2 nights but we all had to take a room for the last night to allow our tents time indoors to dry out fully since this was it. We were going home after. But not until we enjoy this area for 2 days.
3 of us went up in Butch’s little 4-seater airplane and he flew us over a few glaciers. Indescribably beautiful. I took photos aplenty, but trust me. They won’t do it justice. Then we flew low over the flats looking for animals. Caribou, moose, sheep were all over. Suddenly a brown bush took the shape of a bear and stood on its hind legs, raising its paws at us in warning. We flew over an eagle’s nest with the mother and father’s watchful eyes on us. Some of the others got back on their bikes and had a fun day doing a creek crossing. They all returned wet and laughing; all of them dropping the bikes at one time or another in the water. Unfortunately we also had another medical emergency when 4 of our riders decided on a personal side trip to Denali for the day . The Denali Highway is not a paved road. Again it had rained and there was road construction about. That usually consists of lines of gravel and mud that can grab your tires and redirect you off your desired path. About 30 miles from the lodge, first Rita felt herself go off the side of the road, down the burm, but she got herself back up. Nancy wasn’t so lucky. The pile of grit caught her tire and she went down, breaking her arm up by the shoulder. Eldonna rode fast back to us at the lodge and we called an ambulance. Brendon drove Jethro to them with Walt, Nancy’s partner. Nancy was taken to Fairbanks hospital but she and Walt were able to rent a truck and continue the final day back to Anchorage with us.
So, the next day was the last. A rainy ride back to home base. As we were riding down the road, all of a sudden Gina zoomed around me to our group leader, Roy. I saw her gesture to him and they pulled over to the shoulder, all of us pulling over behind them. They dismounted and started running back to me. I had no idea what was happening! “You’re on fire!“ they yelled as the two of them and Mike started pulling my small trunk bag off my bike. It appears that a loose battery in the bag might have made contact with some other piece of metal in there and caught fire. My external hard drive burnt and melted as did my hat and my brand new Ugg boots. Later on we all were laughing hysterically as Roy stated that he had heard the term, ‘Flaming Homosexual’ but didn’t know there could also be a Flaming Lesbian! I am proud to be the bearer of a new moniker!!
We finally arrived in Anchorage at 6pm and got settled in various motels. Michelle and Todd, my anchorage friends and hosts, had a b-b-q ready. Bless them for opening their beautiful house and home to 13 wet, tired and muddy riders. Kathy and her husband, Dale, who had flown in after the accident excited us all by showing up to this final time together. She was in pain, but we needed her with us and she needed to be with us.
Then that night, Kathy and Dale flew home to Nebraska.
A few hours later Eldonna caught her flight to Southern California and Laurie to New Hampshire.
The next day, Walt and Nancy jetted to Norco, Ca and later that night we felt the separation as Cindy, John and Rita left us, winging their way back to Long Island.
The day after, Anchorage lost out as Gina and Mike departed to the airport, headed for the Boston area. Then the following day Roy and Shirley took to the air towards North Carolina.
And now, Sue, Gin and I are in the RV again, motoring back with all the bikes in tow. We say goodbye to Pink in Washington and go on to SoCal where Gin and Sue drop me off in Los Angeles. Then they turn to the east and head back to upstate New York. But meanwhile as we drive we remember our angels along the way.
And we had so many of them. So many people we met were moved by our cause and moved us with their stories and their empathy. From the store keeper in Teslin, Ada, who gave us our first Inukshuk; Campers who were tenting near us who gave $20; Campsite owners and restaurant managers who heard we were coming and were ready to aid our comfort; the pizza girl who gave us her day’s tips and the tourists who dug in their pockets. We pray we don’t have to ride for any of them. But the truth is we ride for all of them. And for ourselves. And for you.
Gin and Sue have raised a collective 2.4 million dollars for cancer research, organizing these motorcycle events. Let’s put them out of business and let them retire.
So far we have raised $35,000 dollars on this ride alone. The website will be open for a bit longer for your donations. Please join us in reaching for the cure.
In health and peace
Marna (Trapper) Deitch
SUCCESS IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT
The people at Eagle Plains Lodge took great care of us; opening the kitchen when we arrived after it had been closed and making us all dinner. They could only offer us one item and it was the most expensive thing on the menu (prime rib) but we LOVED it and devoured it and gladly paid for it. Breakfast was delicious and we all met up and discussed the goal for the day…..the Arctic Circle.
Originally we had decided to do the Arctic, 20 miles north of Eagles Plain and then head up to the Northwest Territory and dip our tires over the border there, an additional 40 miles up, but we scrapped that idea due to the experience of the night before. We heard that the road up to the Northwest T was like that last 70 miles we encountered the night before; wet, slippery and overall not good. Cathy, our ambulance driver, was also the Forman for the road maintenance crew up there, the first permanent woman Forman in all of the Yukon Territories. She went out early in the morning to scout the road conditions for us and promptly came back with her findings which helped us make our decision. But the 20 to the Arctic? No one was going to talk us out of that!
I had to assess my injuries from the night before and make my decision as to whether I was going to go or not. Hell Yeah! I’m going! I decided this is what Advil and Ben & Jerry’s was invented for! So I downed my Advil, got my gear on, and dreamed of possible Ben&Jerry’s waiting for my successful return. We all saddled up, revved our engines and we were OFF!
And it was a beautiful ride. When the 15, of us arrived at the Arctic sign the celebration commenced. Let me share with you some of the emotions that we all shared there. First, we celebrated for our Kathy, now in the Anchorage hospital with 3 cracks in her pelvic bone. She got so close in miles before she fell, only 70 miles short. And when you traveled the roads we traveled up to then, 70 is just around the corner. So we celebrated for her and cheered her success.
Then… we celebrated remembering the reason we rode. Breast cancer.
2 years prior was another ride organized by the same duo, Gin & Sue, and for the same reason. Cancer. It was the first dirt bike ride they organized after 13 years of organizing motorcycle fundraisers. I was the first to sign up but was unable to follow through due to an unscheduled dismount I had had 2 months prior that landed me in the hospital. That was The Dirty Dozen riders of Colorado. Cindy Fata was on that ride. And months after that success which raised close to $50K, both Cindy and Gin were diagnosed with breast cancer. And I’m happy to say they are both now survivors. In so many ways.
Cindy faced her chemo and radiation with the mantra, “I WILL ride to the Arctic Circle. I WILL ride to the Arctic Circle.” She successfully finished her treatments in May, just 2 months before we all started our Adventure for the Cure. Gin’s diagnosis and mastectomies were in Nov 2009, just months after the Colorado ride. 21 months later she is still cancer free.
And we celebrated them. Strongly.
That’s why we did this. And we stayed up in the Arctic for about 3 hours, celebrating Gin and Cindy, celebrating the people in our individual lives who we loved through cancer, fought with through cancer, lost to cancer. We celebrated them too.
Cindy’s love, John, also a Dirt Brigade rider, celebrated his love’s success and we celebrated his support of her. I celebrated my mother’s life and my cousins’ battles with the disease and for my friends and untold others. Each of us had a story we celebrated. Cheering celebrations. Quiet celebrations. Celebrations where one of us would walk away from the group and go into themselves, communicating with the past and with those we lost.
(Sue just read this part and broke down crying, remembering her pain as her love of 35 years, Gin, was diagnosed, dealt with, and ultimately was able to carry the banner of Cured. And remembering the bittersweet moments at the Arctic in celebration.)
And we celebrated together. As the Dirt Brigade Riders for a Cure. We ate lunch up at the circle, talking and celebrating life. One of us looked up and there it was again….the start of a beautiful rainbow. We ate as we watched it grow, arcing across the sky. We ate as we watched it become more vivid with each passing second, each minute. It spread a canopy of purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, as if to protect us. So bright. Colors so strong.
And under this canopy we released the ashes of our friend, Woody. A friend to all of us, even those of us who never met her. Woody was a strong motorcyclist who rode with Gin and Sue for over a decade, raising many a thousand of dollars. Woody was diagnosed in June of 2006. In her devastating battle towards health she pledged to join the Dirty Dozen riders in Colorado. She didn’t make it. We lost her June 13th, 2009. 2 months before the ride.
Gin, Sue and Cindy each took some of the ashes and sent them up to the rainbow while the rest of us watched and wept.
And then, again, we became adventurers. We each collected a rock from the hillside at the Arctic and collectively built our own Inukshuk. That’s ok, we didn’t know what it was either. Here’s the explanation.
Sue, Pink and I were trucking the 9 motorcycles lent to us by Yamaha and Kawasaki up to Anchorage in Pink‘s RV. We stopped at a gift shop in Teslin, Yukon where 5 years prior I had stopped. The cashier told me she liked the color of my do rag (the headpiece that bikers wear to protect our hair. Yeah, I know. It doesn’t work.) It was Fuchsia with flames. I wasn’t ready to part with it but I took her address and promised to send her one. Well, I’m a bad girl. I never did. So we stopped at this gift shop and went in. I asked the cashier if there was anyone still working there who was there 5 years ago. She said she was. I said that I had come by 5 years ago and the cashier then had……She interrupted me saying, “Liked the color of your bandana.” yikes! She remembered! I ran out to the RV and grabbed a bandana giving it to her. She was so touched that I remembered (and I was so embarrassed that she remembered). We told her what we were heading towards now; our ride for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. She was so touched by this, and by her bandana that she gifted us with a small statue of an Inukshuk. After she explained its meaning, we vowed to have it as a part of our morning ceremonies before each day’s ride. The Inukshuk is a statue of stones that the Innuit built to lead the way for others to follow and to wish for them a safe journey. Many travelers have taken up the tradition now as a way of feeling connected to the land and to announce to the world, “We were here.”
So now, our celebration warming us, we again became adventurers. We each collected a rock from the hillside at the Arctic Circle and collectively built our own Inukshuk.
Our time at the Arctic was coming to a close. I think it invigorated us. Buzzing conversations began about attempting the 40 miles up to the Northwest Territory. Some wanted to go, others wanted to go back to the lodge. Those who wanted to go grouped to the left. Those who wanted to go back to the lodge grouped to the right.
And there I was, stuck in the middle again.
I so wanted to go. I wanted to color in another territory in my map of states, provinces and territories that I have ridden through (49 states, 5 Canadian provinces and territories). But I had just crashed the day before and still wasn’t sure how I was.
Lowering my head, I moved to the right. It was a good choice. I was alright, but I did have to switch to a new bike (which had already been given the moniker, “squirrelly bike”) and I wasn’t really comfortable with this new mount. Also, I still hurt and needed to take it easy.
Well, as easy as I could knowing what was coming.
And this is the end of part 3. Part 4 next time I get internet service
Please donate and support our ride:
AND ON THE 5TH DAY THEY RESTED
Dawson in the Yukon and a day of rest after the eastbound ride over Top Of The World. In the morning we walked into the Midnight Sun Hotel and restaurant. The waitress asked, “How many?“ “16,“ I said. Her jaw dropped, one eyebrow raised. Then she just threw her hands up in the air and said, resigned, “Just sit anywhere.“ She was wonderful.
After breakfast some of the Dirt Brigade riders motored around the scenic road surrounding Dawson others went panning for gold while a few of us walked around town, soaking up the local color (which was grey, as in cloudy). Yep, I walked the town. After TopOfTheWorld I wanted a day with both feet planted firmly on the ground. The Midnight Sun restaurant which is also the local Chinese restaurant offered us a great discount on dinner and in the evening we all met up there and had a FEAST! My GOD I never saw so much food come out from a kitchen in my life! And yes, I tasted all of it. It was delicious. Dirt Brigaders were photographing the food left and right. I swear we have more collective photos of all the food we ate during this ride than we do of scenery.
Dinner over and a quick stop at the Downtown Hotel and Bar where we watched our Laurie and Brendan enjoy a SourToe cocktail (a shot of your choice with a petrified human toe dropped in it). After dinner the agenda consisted of finishing laundry, showers, sleep and we prepared ourselves for……
THE DEMPSTER HIGHWAY
25 miles out from Dawson and then you turn left to start the Dempster Highway trek. You mark the beginning of this journey by taking photos with the Welcome To The Dempster Highway sign. Then you mount your bikes and start the engine and notice the next sign:
“There are no emergency medical services on this road.” It also informs you that the first fuel stop is 370 kilometers ahead at Eagle Plains.” (roughly 225 miles)
As the smallest of our bikes could only go about 80 miles without a stop, this could be a problem. And guess who was riding this peanut tank? Yours truly. These bikes are not built that close to the ground so this was the only bike that my feet could get CLOSE to the ground on. Our follow truck, named Jethro, was equipped with a 60 gallon gas tank for ‘on the road’ fill ups. Jethro was donated to us to use by Motoquest Motorcycle tours of Alaska. They also donated the diesel to run Jethro which was a major financial donation for them to do! This enabled us to focus more on raising money for the Susan g. Komen foundation. Driving Jethro was the most wonderful young man most of us have ever met. Brendan. This 23 year old was so knowledgeable about dualsport riding, about motorcycle mechanics, about the area (even though he was raised in Colorado) and about people. He cared for us, laughed with us, watched over us. He also brought down our average age since all of us ranged from age 45 to 64.
Get ready. The story gets interesting now.
First it was quite fun. We said goodbye to pavement at the start of the Dempster. We shall see it no more as we travel this road. Gravel, ruts and frost heaves abound numerously, but we were all maneuvering around them skillfully. An amazing feat when you remember that most of us were practically virgins to this dirt bike sport. We slalomed through a town called Tombstone. Not a name I wanted to encounter on this remote and infamous road. We were joined by another biker named Jordan who was camping near us in Dawson. We didn’t want him to attempt this road alone so we had him pack in with us in the back, just in front of our truck, Jethro. He had been riding since the east coast, but many of us questioned his bike choice for the Dempster. It was a huge BMW R1200GS. Quite heavy and not set up with 50/50 tires (50% dirt / 50% road) like our mounts.
The night before, many of us made conversation with the RVers who were camping near us. On these roads its customary for people to share stories of the road conditions and difficulties that they had come across. We heard stories of a couple on a Harley riding up the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay just a day or two before. They crashed and the man died, his wife on the back seat injured. They were medevaced out. We also heard of two bikers, a husband and wife, on our Dempster who the day before crashed, he injuring his ankle. A passing motorist (and believe me, there are not many of them) stopped to help them and suggested they drive up to Eagle Plains with him and retrieve their bikes tomorrow as there was a bear with 2 cubs circling them all. About 100 miles in we passed them, loading their bikes onto a pickup truck.
Things were going great and I wasn’t too concerned with these stories. My experience with these AlCan related stories is that most of them are true, but they’re not meant to scare you. Like New Yorkers who are often accused of complaining, these stories are meant to boast. Look at what I accomplished! Look at what I survived!
And surviving we were! And flourishing!
UNTIL THE RAIN HIT
The gravel became slick and slippery. The ruts were now filled with a mushy chocolate pudding mixture of dirt and gravel, making it hard to see how deep they were. The suspension on these bikes are made for these ruts and I was doing great.
Until I wasn’t.
I have never heard of a TankSlapper before in all my 26 years of street riding. It’s basically when the motorcycle shakes its head violently left to right almost hitting the ground with each direction change. Sort of like a front wheel fishtail shake with the handlebars oscillating from full lock right to full lock left. It happens generally when your front tire hits a slight bump and knocks it out of alignment.
I hit a rut. It turnout out to be deeper than I thought and my front tire quickly sank. I throttled up to push myself out of the rut and my front tire hit the lip of it, sort of like a slight precipice. And that’s all it took. I felt the wobble and told myself to relax, not grip the handlebars -not fight it, but in a snap the wobble became violent. I tried to stay holding on as the bike violently and quickly steered itself from left to right to left to right and then…
Crash hard to the right and I was down, sliding in the mud. I prayed that I would stop before the road ends and drops off to…well….somewhere lower than the road. I prayed that the bike would come to a stop before it slid into me, pushing me over. I prayed as I slid. I stopped sliding. And laid there. My eyes were closed and I started an inventory of my body as the others came running up to me. Toes, moving. Check. Ankles moving. Check. But painful. Legs have sensation. Check. But ouch. Fingers, arms, everything seems to be moving. Good.
“Trapper! Trapper! You okay?” (Yes, that’s my biker name. Trapper.) How scared they must have been to see me laying there with my eyes closed. I eventually spoke and they started to help me up but I wasn’t ready yet and denied the help. One of our riders, Rita, ran up and quickly; took charge of the situation as she has been trained in accident scene management. With her help and guidance I eventually rose to my feet and we looked at the bike. The front cowl and speedometer was gone. The right bark buster was a few feet away. It was decided that I should join Brendan in Jethro for the last 70 miles of our trek, as we weren’t sure of the condition of the bike. Or me. Rider John suggested also that I just enjoy the last 70 miles in the dryness of the truck, but I found out later why he felt that way. He wanted us to get going fast as he and Sue saw that bear with her cubs a few feet away. I’m glad they didn’t tell me. As they helped me out of my gear and into the truck I became aware of more aches and pains and was secretly glad of the respite.
Brendan and I were driving along and were a bit behind the bikers as the truck can’t maneuver this road as well as a bike. 20 miles after my accident scene we saw our bikes on the right side of the road and our bikers on the left side of the road. And Kathy laying on the ground. We were in shock as Kathy, at age 60, was one of our stronger riders. A tank slapper had gotten her too. Rita was called into action again. Kathy was fully conscious but not getting up though. Rita thought maybe a broken pelvis was sustained, and that worried us as that could cause Kathy to bleed out internally into that region. We grabbed our satellite phone but it was not getting through due to the extreme cloud cover. We activated our Spot Finder which is supposed to send a message out in case of emergency but got back, “message failed.” Again, no service. We were worried. Sue Slate hailed down a passing car driven by a First Nation family who lived in the area. They had a radio phone and they called ahead to Eagle Plains for an ambulance. At this point also, our BMW friend Jordan decided he had had enough and turned his wheels around to camp at the side of the road for the night. He knew it was too dangerous for him to continue. We believe he headed back down the road as we didn’t see him after that.
THE DREADED DOUBLE DROP
Sue Slate and her partner Gin Shear are the organizers of this event and have organized many such rides, albeit maybe not this challenging, since 1993 raising a collective 2.4 million dollars for breast cancer research. They decided that Gin, Rita and another staff member, Shirley, should stay with Kathy and wait for the ambulance while the others get up to Eagle Plains. On the way up we passed the ambulance and hailed it down as Rider Mike promptly and accidentally dropped his bike in front of it onto the bike’s right side. There’s a technique in picking up a bike that enables anyone of any size to pick up any bike and Mike quickly got to it. Put your back low against the bike’s seat, grab the handlebar with your left hand and pull it to the right, grab whatever you can on the back of the bike with your right hand and start stepping backwards, pushing the bike up as you go. Then just let it fall on its kickstand. Perfect Mike! Go! Go! Keep going! Great! Now let it fall on its kickstand! Yep. That’s it. Yep. Uhhhh, you forgot to lower the kickstand before you started. While he was lifting it again, Sue (known as Mama Sue) was ordering the ambulance driver to inform the trio left behind that by NO means should they ride up! They were to wait for Jethro to come back and get them and their bikes. The driver, Cathy, now officially scared of Mama Sue, did as told. The ambulance got there, decided that a helicopter should be called and Kathy was medivaced out by air to Dawson where she was stabilized, then sent onto Anchorage hospital.
Meanwhile, the rest of the troops slipped, slid, and white knuckled their way up to Eagle Plains. The collective sigh of relief by all riders as we pulled into the parking lot was surely audible to Australia!
And the trio left behind? Bless them, as they were out there in the cold and rain for over 5 hours. But they did see the most amazing rainbow grow in the sky as the helicopter took off. The first of many amazing rainbows we experienced.
Tenting at Eagle Plains was on the agenda, but agendas were made to be broken. We all spent the money and got ourselves rooms for the night, four to a room as their were only four rooms available.
Tomorrow…..the Arctic Circle
And this is end of part 2. Part 3 next time I get internet service
Please donate and support our ride:
For those of you who received my mailings from my last motorcycle ride to Alaska, you might remember me stating that there are a few words I never want to hear in the same sentence again…….gravel, rain, downhill…..and curve.
So please someone, tell me why I voluntarily put myself in that situation Knowingly?
For the Susan G. Komen Foundation to help find a cure for breast cancer, sponsored by Progressive Insurance.
I joined 15 other people, many of whom have had No experience in dirt bike riding (like myself. Zero. Zilch. None), and we left our comfort zone and headed up to Anchorage to become The Dirt Brigade for the Cure! We each took at least 2 days of training. Every time we started feeling scared or uncomfortable we reminded ourselves that this is still better than lying in a hospital bed with chemotherapy. Much better.
SUE, WE’LL FOLLOW YOU ANYWHERE
We left Anchorage on August 5th and got used to our new steeds, graciously donated to us to use for this ride by the Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA and Kawasaki Motor Corp., U.S.A. The 194.9miles to Copper Center on mostly pavement helped us learn our bikes, and the alternate amount of road construction gravel helped us remember our training; stand up on the pegs, turn the bike by pressing on the inside peg and get our weight off to the other side. We camped at the Copper Center Lodge, setting our tents up right alongside the Klutina River. Eldonna and I were the first to follow Sue to the campsite but the last to arrive at the site as we followed our leader who initiated us to trail riding by turning LEFT instead of RIGHT to get to the camp. Suddenly, we were riding single track next to a undulating river and then down a steep incline into a sand pit. Extricating ourselves involved climbing a steep, graveling hill to get back on the main trail to the camp site. Thanks, Sue, for more training. The next day was an amazing ride to Kennicut. 60 miles/120 miles round-trip of gravel and frost heaves (how the constant freezing and defrosting of the ice affects the road). We honed our skills on that ride and celebrated our success by enjoying a beautiful day by the now defunct copper mine. Kennicut has one restaurant and one bus equipped with a stove to make pizza. The young pizza chef, when hearing of our cause turned over her tip jar and donated her $7 that she had received that day. She touched us all with that act of unselfishness. A drive back to our Copper Center tent site and dinner at the lodge waiting for us, and we were all ready for a good night sleep. The next day was an easy ride up to Tok where we stayed at the Eagles Claw motorcycle tent sites. Vanessa, our host, was WONDERFUL. It’s an amazing place that she built. An old ambulance becomes a room for 2. A teepee also sleeps 3. It’s an eclectic mix of shelters put together with bikers in mind! That night the 16 of us shared a good campfire and a bottle of tequila. We toasted to our co-rider, Mike, for his 45th birthday that night. One of our ride guides, Roy (The sweetest bear of man from Apex, North Carolina), set up my little TW200cc bike for my electric clothing! I warned another rider, Shirley, his wife and girlfriend since the first grade, that she better be careful! I’m after her husband!
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
The following day things REALLY got going. We woke, ate, and got ourselves ready for our first real challenge. Top Of The World highway. I remember when I drove through the Yukon on my Honda VTX1300 5 years ago, everyone I passed talked me out of attempting that road. It was high up with no guard rails and MAJOR drop offs. The edge scallops off to the abyss below with the slightest of rain (and if you know Alaska and the Yukon, you know that rain is its ’morning coffee.’ The day just isn’t a day without it) and that bike just wasn‘t the right bike for the gravel and potholes that the road wears proudly. A dual purpose sport bike, ready for road AND dirt was the right machine to challenge it and now I am on that type of bike. And so I suited up with all the padding and armor I came with and rode the 2 miles to breakfast, ready to fortify myself for the journey. But what I ended up doing was fortifying myself against being able to move!
From the waist up I was wearing a silk undershirt, a silk turtleneck (silk is great for the cold), my electric jacket liner, my full upper body armor (which is quite bulky) and my already armored jacket with liner. From the waist down I was better. Silk stockings for warmth, armored underwear sporting padding in the hips, thighs and seat, armored sport bike pants with rainproof liner also armored in the hips and knees and then my electric pants. My hands were ready in my electric gloves liners inside my leather waterproof gloves.
But ready for what? I couldn’t move! I couldn’t get off my bike!
So, after being helped off my bike I tried various combinations of layers and got it whittled down. Drop the liner for my jacket (the electric vest works as such), pull out the armor in the jacket (the full upper body armor was quite strong) and ditch the electric pants (the liner worked perfectly). It’s a miracle! I can walk again!
ANYONE FOR A GAME OF CHICKEN?
So we all rode the 80 miles to Chicken, Alaska and got ourselves ready for Top Of The World. Most of our riders were Sourdoughs, people new to Alaska, so they held no fear for what was to come. Not me. Chicken to Dawson in Yukon, Canada. 187 miles altogether from Tok to Dawson, and 107 of those are, well, how do I describe them………..
Some of the other riders in our group described it as ‘Exhilarating’ ‘Exciting’ ‘Adventurous’. Ok, I’ll take those words and add in ‘Terrorizing,’ ‘Terrifying’ ‘Horrifying’. Ok, any ‘ying’ you can think of. I learned something very interesting about myself on this ride. I am NOT scared of heights. I’m just scared of falling off them. And the Top Of The World Highway is filled with twists and turns, a small shoulder that breaks away with the slightest of rain and claims the souls of many an RV, and just enough gravel to add suspense as to ‘is she going to stay on the road or not?’
We all did! I survived it!!! I was riding behind my group leader, Sue Slate. I focused on her, ignoring the major drop offs that hugged the road, standing on the pegs when she did, sitting when she did. When we got to Dawson, up in the Yukon, everyone was so excited saying things like, “Did you see that overturned RV? Did you see that beaver with the stick in his mouth? Did you see that bear?” Nope. I saw none of it. All I saw was Sue’s butt. I’m going to take a photo of that butt on the bike and caption it, “Marna’s Vacation”
We pitched our tents in a downpour of rain and walked over to the SourDough Restaurant for dinner. Dinner digested and many went to bed. I set out with my tentmate, Eldonna and we enjoyed a 12:30pm show at Gerties, the local gambling hole. Some entertainment, some slot machines, some loss of money to the slot machines, some Yukon beer and we were ready to hit the sleeping bags.
See Eldonna’s online blog for more stories, photos and videos of our ride:
And this is end of part one. Part 2 next time I get internet service
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