7 days until the start of The Ride.
I’m parked in Skylar’s roommate's GMC next to an air pump. I'm at the gas station nestled at the base of the mountain. My phone drops into my lap from its precarious position balanced between the spokes of the steering wheel. The hand that had been steadying it was now pressed against my mouth. I sob into it, hoping she won’t say anything, but knowing she will.
Her voice makes the tears welling in my eyes start to fall.
I wipe the tears away, trying to pull it together.
“Don’t hide from me, please. Let me see you.”
Reluctantly, I raise the phone again so I'm in view of the camera. I can see from the corner thumbnail that my nose is already bright pink. Ugh.
“I’m fine, really. I just miss you.”
I look directly at her, forcing my eyes off her face to make uncomfortable eye-contact with the camera lens.
“I promise. I’m sorry, I didn’t know it would be this hard.”
“You don’t have to apologize to me. I completely understand."
Impossibly, my throat clenches even tighter. I’ve never missed anyone the way I miss her. I take a deep breath, align the truck’s misaligned shift lever on “Neutral” (to be in "Drive") and pull forward, turning the truck towards the steep incline on my left. We fight the poor reception to stay connected as the truck winds its way up the side of the mountain. By the time I’m turning onto the driveway, the tears are falling again. We don’t even have to say anything. Just knowing she's on the other line brings a peace I’m now terrified to lose.
“I’m so sorry, but I need to go. I’ll text you, okay?”
“Of course, I’m here for you. I love you."
We say our goodbyes and I hang up the phone. I barely register that I’m dripping sweat from the stifling heat of the truck. I kick the door open and I’m immediately greeted by a chorus of barking dogs. I hear Skylar’s coaxing voice in the background:
“Joy’s home! That’s right! Who’s here? Joy’s home!”
I make my best attempt at transporting all the bags in one trip, but still end up abandoning the six-packs of RC cola. I wipe my eyes with the arm carrying the lighter load and shake my head a little to clear it.
The dogs are still barking excitedly as I open the gate. Skylar is in the same place I left her. She is bent intently over her tablet, fuzzy hood pulled up over her silver mohawk, tapping out yet another email. She really never stops. First thing in the morning, she's either sorting through email notifications or checking the fundraiser page to thank the donators who contributed while she was sleeping. We discuss The Ride and activism throughout the day. Before my grocery run, we had spent the morning in FQT Live (Feminist Question Time Live hosted by WHRC) connecting with feminists the world over.
[Side note, the first time I typed "warrior" instead of "world"... parapraxis, maybe? (No, I won't give that Fraud any credit.)]
I drop some of the bags in the unoccupied rocking chair and take the perishables inside, my mind still on the phone call. I meant it when I told her I didn't know how hard this would be. There was no way to know what it would feel like to uproot my entire life until I did it. But that is part of the sacrifice. As Sky regularly reminds me:
"If this were easy, we wouldn't be the only ones doing it."
She's right, of course. No matter how discouraged or angry I feel, I always feel the drive to keep pushing forward. Well, more like upwards than forwards. Even just reaching this point has truly been an uphill battle from the beginning:
January- "Are We Really Doing This?"
I have been a licensed motorcyclist for 10 years. But the extent of my riding experience was always friends' bikes, and nothing bigger than a 500cc. Skylar was going to be riding a cruiser, specifically, a Kawasaki Vulcan. 900cc is a lot bigger than 500cc. I decided to take a refresher class for intermediate riders so I could get my boots back under me. Classes don't usually start until early March, so in the meantime I started researching motorcycles. In the end, I decided to get the same bike as Skylar. Not only because I could identically apply the basic bike care I would be practicing on mine, but also because we would be sure to have matching tank capacities for the road. Also... I really like matching things!
February- "Save ALL The Money!!"
I spent most of the month attempting to prepare my finances for purchasing a motorcycle. It would be the first vehicle ever titled in my name. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck, so preparing financially was no easy task. I figured the combination of my (entire) savings and the coming refund from my university might be enough to cover it. In case I couldn't swing it, I started researching loans and preparing myself for the possibility of an uncomfortable conversation with my father. I don't like asking for money. Who does?
March- "This Is The One."
March kicked off with my riding class. Unsurprisingly, I was the only woman in either section. The majority of the men in the class were open about the fact that they signed up to get their license. Some of them had been riding unlicensed for 20 years. My instructor said that is was par for the course over the last decade of his teaching career. I thought it was hilarious that we were in an intermediate class and I was the only licensed rider.
After that weekend I not only felt comfortable riding again, but I felt inspired to start shopping for my own Vulcan. I started with some of the more official websites that feature auto dealerships like cycletrader and autotrader, but quickly realized dealership prices would be too high for me. I turned to Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for private sales. I searched every day, multiple times a day, for weeks.
My list of must-haves included:
Eventually I saw the post for the bike I would ultimately buy, a 2009 Kawasaki Vulcan LTE:
She was right, it was absolutely perfect for me. My best friend went with me when I went to take the test ride. The seller lived on a mountain about 4 hours away from my city. We pulled into her gravel driveway and I greeted her as she opened her garage door. I took a few pictures of the bike and a short video of me revving the engine to send to Skylar's roommate. The seller wheeled it out of the garage and waved me over as she dismounted, encouraging me to jump on.
I pulled my riding gloves over sweaty, slightly shaking hands. This bike was huge. Its engine was almost twice the size of the largest bike I'd ever been on. Not to mention, it was a stranger's bike. I was so scared I would drop this nice lady's immaculate motorcycle. I nervously zipped up my skid-plated jacket and pulled my helmet on, almost forgetting to buckle the chinstrap. My heart was pounding. I swung my right leg over the seat, straightened the handlebars, and made sure to clock the basic controls like a horn, signals, brakes, lights, etc. I spent a minute or two dragging out the process so I could get my breathing under control.
Eventually, I took a deep breath and took off- wobbling like crazy for the first few seconds before finding my balance. I began my descent, shifting into second gear and riding extra cautiously along the gravel roads. It was both thrilling and terrifying. I was feeling a little more confident as I approached the road at the bottom of the mountain. I made the arbitrary decision to turn left, making a mental note to remember the way back after reaching for my phone and realizing I had left it behind. Oof. Oh well.
I sped down the open country road, making sure I could open the throttle and shift smoothly between gears. Once I was satisfied that I had applied all the research and advice I'd compiled over the past couple of months, I started looking for a place to pull over and turn around. I made the unfortunate decision of choosing a relatively open pull-off at the top of the next hill. As I slowed to a stop and shifted into "Neutral" to park, I wobbled precariously again. I put my feet down in an attempt to regain my balance, and as I did, realized I had stopped a meter too soon.
Anybody who rides bikes or drives stick-shift knows the gut wrenching panic of starting to slide backwards on an incline. The enormous bike started to roll backwards, effortlessly taking me with it. My heart jumped into my throat and I squeezed the front brake tighter, stopping the bike but not the shaking of my hands. I cautiously raised my left toe to nudge the kickstand down, almost losing my balance again in the process. As soon as it was fully extended, the engine stalled out. I blinked in confusion.
What just happened?
The green light under the "N" was still on, so it wasn't a dead battery. I turned the handlebars all the way to the left, positioning the front wheel parallel to the hill to keep the bike in place. I flipped the engine cut-off switch off and back on again, then tried the start button. Nothing. I tried again, this time turning the key off and on before trying to start it. Nothing. That was when I really started to panic. Had I messed up or was something wrong with the bike? I didn't have my phone. How was I going to call and ask for help?
I focused on steadying my breathing against the growing tightness in my chest. I needed to keep my rising sense of panic under control. I waved down the next car to come along. Thankfully, the driver was a friendly woman and I gratefully accepted her offer of a ride back to the seller's house. The drive took less than 10 minutes and our conversation flowed easily enough, but I couldn't ignore the growing feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. How could I come back without the bike? When we arrived, I thanked the woman profusely for her help, promising to be careful on my future trip. I felt like I was walking the plank as I approached the house. It would be an understatement to say the seller looked worried when she came out to see me standing there without her motorcycle. I recounted what had happened and told her I didn't know if it was something related to my lack of experience or if something was actually wrong with the bike. We climbed into her truck and I directed her to the hill where the motorcycle sat waiting. She climbed on and I involuntarily held my breath. When she tried the start button the engine immediately roared to life. I could have cried with relief. The bike wasn't ruined. I must not have messed up too badly. The seller nodded her head as she climbed off and smiled at me.
"This bike has an auto shut-off when the kickstand goes down before the engine is shut off. Sometimes it can take a little while before you're able to start it again. I'm sorry, I should have mentioned it before you left. Nothing to worry about. But just to be sure, I'm going to ride it back to make sure everything else is alright for you."
She tossed me the keys to her truck. Somehow I managed to catch them with still-trembling fingers before climbing into the driver's seat. What the hell did I think I was doing? Could I really make this happen? I spent the short return trip with my brows furrowed in contemplation. I knew this bike was an outstanding bargain. I would be hard pressed to find a better deal anywhere. Time was running out if I was going to have sufficient practice before The Ride. I felt my resolve start to stiffen during the windy trip up the mountain. My teeth were gritted as I slowed to a stop next to her in the driveway. I got out and we approached each other.
"So what do you think?"
"This is the one."
She folded my entire life savings into her back pocket as we discussed plans for when I could come back to do the title work. I felt like I was in a bit of a haze as we hugged goodbye and I dropped into the driver's seat of my car. My best friend, who was taking a picture for snapchat, glanced over at first and then looked at me again with more concern.
"Are you okay? Did you buy it?"
I nodded my head slowly and started the engine. It was too much to explain at that moment. As we pulled away, my heart started racing again, but this time with excitement. I had just bought a motorcycle. It was mine. I was really making this happen. I felt an unfamiliar pride swelling in my chest and one thought shone brightly in my mind:
I am going to do this. We are going to do this.
Where there's a will, there's a way. We have willpower in spades and work to do. To save women and children.
In strength and solidarity, sisters...
We Rise. We Ride. We Rebel.
Love, Joy xx