5 days until the start of The Ride.
My eyes snap open to a dull thunk against the window. I turn my face into the pillow and groan, then roll over to stare at the ceiling.
That stupid cardinal.
I normally feel a rush of affection when I see cardinals. My mother always said that cardinals were a sign from my grandmother. Her mom loved to see the bright red birds contrasted against the dark greens and browns of Vermont countryside. My mom preferred blue jays. Thanks to the new direction of my recent research interests, I discovered plumage dimorphism. This type of dimorphism is when males and females of the species have different colorings. Whereas male and female blue jays look identical except for size, the red bird sported by St. Louis fans is only an accurate depiction of male cardinals. Thunk. Yes, like the one currently attacking the bedroom window. The females of the species have more muted plumage that make them more difficult to spot. The characteristic cardinal red of their beaks also tips the soft brown and white of the feathers on their crest, wings, and tail.
Now whenever I see a female cardinal I think of my grandmother and feel particularly affectionate. Thunk. I groan again, squinting to look directly into the slits of sunshine piercing through the blinds. This time I see the flash of red before I hear him collide with the glass. Thunk. I flinch at the sound before throwing the covers off and sitting up. I appreciate the motivation to get moving even if it is in the form of a bird with serious personal space issues. I’ve read that territorial birds will sometimes mistakenly attack their own reflection in windows. Later, I actually managed to snap a photo of him mid-self-assault while fixing a cup of coffee:
I’ve never been much of a bird watcher before, but I love watching the ones that visit Skylar’s front porch. The small wooden deck is accessible from a door between my bedroom and the kitchen, which gives the windows in both rooms a fantastic view. Squirrels looking to munch frequently scale the narrow posts that support the railing. The railing supports a variety of bird feeders. Some are hanging from metal structures and the one hanging from a stone window archway is affixed next to the handcrafted feeder shaped like a circus tent. Three large but shallow clay basins, each situated at a different height, serve as bird baths. Every morning, along with feeding the dogs, Skylar and her roommate replenish the railing with a think line of bird seed. If the water levels are low in the basins, they are refilled as well. I imagine to animals the porch is an incredible gig. It’s no wonder that cardinal is so protective of it. I look briefly and unsuccessfully for the cardinal’s mate before heading for the porch to join Sky in making our protest banners. We talk a lot about the message of our mission. Love. Skylar is fond of the metaphor of a circle of elephants that adopted by PEC (Partners for Ethical Care).
Elephants form a circle in order to protect vulnerable members of the heard from predators like hyenas. For example, when a cow is giving birth or an elephant is old, weak, or sick and unable to protect itself. Safeguarding. Before putting my life on hold for this trip, I was volunteering in Victim Advocacy. Hours and hours of training about trauma-informed care and safeguarding policies. I know how important it is to offer additional forms of support when people are experiencing additional hardships like limited autonomy.
The Ride is an act of love for all women. But we recognize children, incarcerated women, and lesbians are suffering additional hardship on top of facing erasure and loss of their rights. One of the most important goals of our advocacy is to raise awareness of unconscionable violations in basic safeguarding that have replaced common sense policies designed to protect vulnerable people. That is why we will be picketing pediatric gender clinics and women’s prisons that have implemented mixed-sex housing policies. The limited autonomy that children and incarcerated women experience is compounded by barriers preventing them from freely voicing their opinions and concerns. We will be a voice for the voiceless. We will protest the policies exposing them to more vulnerability.
We start by designing our signs. We cut 2 large pieces of canvas in half so we would both have a transportable set. 1 sign for pediatric clinics, 1 sign for prisons. Today we primed our signs in white and left them out to dry in the mountain sun.
The cardinal is back again by the time I go in for lunch. I start gathering the supplies for a pb&j when I hear it. Thunk. I roll my eyes at his persistence as I grab the peanut butter from the top shelf of the cupboard. But if he’s back that means his mate will be around and I might be able to catch a glimpse of her. I let the cupboard door blocking my view swing close so I can look out the kitchen window. I freeze in surprise. Two blue jays, one slightly bigger than the other, are perched on the railing. I move slowly over to peer out the window of the porch door. Wow. They are so beautiful. I’ve never seen a blue jay in real life. As I'm watching, the crazy cardinal swoops by, a flash of brown and red behind him. I can't believe it. It's the female cardinal too!
Seeing the birds has me thinking of my mom and grandmother. I only have a few fragmented memories of my grandmother before she died when I was a young child. As a young adult, my mom died from uterine cancer. She had been misdiagnosed for an entire year but by the time they caught it in stage 4, she was accurately diagnosed for less than a year before she passed away. I always said it was so sad that we lost her before my little brother was old enough to drink. I believe my mom went misdiagnosed for so long because she was overweight. Doctors regularly wrote off her legitimate health concerns, always managing to blame it on her weight. When she noticed irregular spotting that didn’t stop, she went to her gynecologist.
When a doctor says something is “absolutely not cancer” you are more than inclined to believe it. My mom was desperate to believe it, especially after working as a nurse for 30 years. Her doctor assured her on three separate occasions that it was fibroids (“absolutely not cancer”) and scheduled a surgery that could have killed her. Before the day it was scheduled, a friend asked her a question that gave her pause:
“Did you get a second opinion? My mom had fibroids that turned out to be cancer.”
The second doctor took one look at her and confirmed our worst fears. Cancer. Stage IV. Fast-forward through 9 months of chemotherapy and last-ditch experimental treatments to the night before she died. My little brother and my best friend came with me to visit her in hospice. We spent hours playing the game “Cards Against Humanity” and roaring with laughter. She always said our laughter was her favorite sound in the world. I hold onto that thought whenever I remember getting the devastating news the next day.
I recognize different aspects of women’s oppression in the events leading to her passing. I believe many women have or will experience the same lack of support as mothers, struggle with weight gain and the dismissal of legitimate health concerns, and ultimately die due to improper medical care directly associated with their sex. Uterine cancer. A cancer that only affects women. She was not a “birthing person”. Her cancer was because she was female, not because she was a “uterus haver” and the term “bleeder” in context is downright offensive. She was my mother. She was a woman. She deserved better care than she received. We need to be able to name the problem and those affected by it before we have any hope of addressing it, much less fixing it.
I rub the tattoo on my thigh that has her ashes in the black ink of the design. She always encouraged us to push ourselves, to face our fears, and to stand up when something is wrong. I face the summer with her on my mind and outraged passion in my heart. R.I.P., Momma Bear. I won’t let you down.
In solidarity, sisters….
We Ride, We Ride, We Rebel.
Love, Joy xx
6 days until the start of The Ride.
I’m sitting on the top step of the wooden staircase that leads into Skylar’s backyard. My computer is propped open on my knees, its screen shaking as one leg tirelessly bounces in hyperactive restlessness. It’s not the most secure seat choice. Any rustle from the trees bordering her property or crunch of gravel from the driveway could bring down a tidal wave of fur and frenzied barking from behind. It’s worth the risk to feel the day’s last rays of warm sunshine. It radiates through the filter of treetops that block our distant view of the opposing mountain range. It’s also a nice break from the rocking chair. I think sitting in the same place for so long is starting to get to me. I sit upright at this thought, pressing my hands into my lower back as I arch away from my computer. The time spent developing that ache was more than worthwhile though.
Earlier, we had a zoom meeting with independent filmmaker, writer, and women’s rights activist Vaishnavi Sundar. We scheduled the meeting to discuss The Ride and pick her brain about how to best capture useable footage for our social media pages and future documentary. V, as we affectionately refer to her, is the creator of the 4-part documentary series “Dysphoric: Fleeing Womanhood Like a House on Fire”.
Find the series playlist here:
I spent the hour-long meeting hunched over my computer and filling three pages of a word document with invaluable advice. She gave us a lot of guidance about how to capture quality material and safely store the footage we record. Most of the meeting I focused on coherently recording the wealth of experience Vaishnavi shared. V’s bright personality suited her earnest goodwill and sincere enthusiasm. She said she wished she were still in the U.S. and able to join us. Instead, she offered a close second:
“If I were there, you would be asking me 100 questions, right? I’m going to share my information. Please feel free to ask me lots of questions as if I was there. Any time!”
My smile when we started talking ended up lasting the entire conversation. I smile again now, thinking about the wholesome interaction. Connections like that are my favorite part of being a radical feminist and activist. I am regularly inspired by the results of endless goodwill between women. Whether it’s through shared knowledge, emotion, or experience, I always appreciate women’s ability to create rapid and authentic solidarity. My smile fades a little as I mull over that concept. Solidarity.. Sometimes it comes from light, like our meeting with Vaishnavi. Sometimes though it comes from dark, like during my grocery run yesterday. I didn’t mention it in yesterday’s blog because I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. But after our meeting with V today, I think it’s pertinent.
It was mid-afternoon when I made the trip into town for gas, groceries, and (if I could swing it) a bottle of champagne. It was a special date. Having grown up in a small town, I suspected I would be able to find all three in the same place. A quick google search showed I was right. The local supermarket has its own gas pumps and wine section. It was a straight shot from the base of the mountain. The supermarket was bigger than I thought it would be. Busier, too. The automated doors never stayed closed for more than a few seconds at a time. They were still open as I approached. I blissfully closed my eyes as the refreshing blast of AC washed over me. I made quick work of my list and decided to shop around with my extra time. The day was hot, and I wanted to enjoy the air conditioning. I had been lost in fond memories while looking at the display of flower arrangements when it happened. The first thing I noticed was the icy wave running up my spine, its surging crest raising the hairs at the back of my neck as it ascended. The kind of chill you get when you’re being watched. I think my senses picked up more than I registered because I felt the anxiety I get when I’m triggered before I recognized it for what it was.
It’s been difficult trying to describe the trauma response as I experienced it. I’ve re-started this paragraph half a dozen times. I think the most important words are bright, loud, and slow. My vision sharpens, sound is amplified, and time feels like it slows down. Moments that would otherwise be imperceptible suddenly last long enough to register. The bouquets in front of me snapped into HD, the different petal colors brightening and standing out in sharp relief against their black display stand. My head filled with the swell of background noise typically filtered out by my desensitized consciousness. The half-second after I picked up on the possibility of danger dragged on as I dragged my unwilling eyes off the flowers in front of me.
The combination made me instinctively stiffen and look around. I immediately noticed two men in the closest checkout line only a few yards away. They were openly staring at me. I made eye contact with the taller man and didn’t have to break it to see his smirk. After what felt like an eternity, his eyes left mine to flick upwards. They lingered on my buzzcut for a few seconds and then slithered down my body, slowly taking in my loosely covered curves, rolled-up jeans exposing grown-out leg hair, and motorcycle boots before backtracking upwards. He made brief eye-contact with me again before looking over at his friend and scoffing:
His friend had been staring at my hair…or lack of it. At the other’s words he let out a snort of agreement before they turned to face the register line that had moved forward behind their backs. I stood frozen for few seconds. To quote the last blog post:
What just happened?
When my feet unfroze, I walked away from where they stood to the opposite end of the register line. I shook my head and pulled out my phone, searching for enough service to place the phone call from the beginning of yesterday’s blog post.
I didn’t think much of what happened until our meeting today with Vaishnavi. Skylar was discussing the importance of butch pride and the potential visibility The Ride will offer. She mentioned “new homophobia”, a phrase she’s brought up before but immediately gained deeper meaning for me in the context of the traditional homophobia I experienced the previous afternoon. As if she was reading off a script of my thoughts, Skylar brought up the instance from the supermarket:
“Just yesterday, Joy was called a d*ke in the grocery store. 10 years ago I was called a d*ke in the parking lot of that store."
I looked up quickly at Sky.
“What? That was the store parking lot from your story?”
“Yep. The same one.“
I let a change in subject overshadow my urge to highlight the significance of that moment at length. Pondering about odds and chances is looking at the problem through the wrong end of the telescope. It’s not a stroke of fate that, a decade apart, we were subjected to the same misogynistic harassment on the property of the same small-town supermarket. In truth, the identical uses of the slur demonstrate a deeply entrenched normalization of women’s and lesbians’ sex-based oppression. I wish we lived in a society where I would be shocked by such unwavering acceptance of lesbophobia that persists through other improvements in cultural consciousness. But I’m not. In fact, the “new homophobia” Sky references could be called the “newest homophobia” when viewed through the porn-soaked filter of deleted search histories that show “lesbian” as the material most sought out by heterosexual men.
I know better than to think it’s a coincidence that the women who do not sexually desire men are the same women they sexually objectify the most. Only rapists and abusers have sexual interest in people who are actively disinterested in return. The fixation on sexualizing lesbians is a particularly depraved yet pervasively normalized example of Rape Culture. It's one of the most deeply-rooted tendrils of patriarchal oppression that needs to be unapologetically uprooted. The war may be enduring and difficult, but we must stand together in order to summon and foster the strength we need to defend ourselves. I know I’ve been more empowered during the past half-year of leaning on Skylar than I could have imagined before my introduction to radical feminism a few years ago. It is with the utmost pride that I plant my feet and brace myself to return her support. We need each other to keep pushing forwards and upwards. We have work to do. To save women and children.
In strength and solidarity, sisters…
We Rise. We Ride. We Rebel.
Love, Joy xx
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
8 days until the start of The Ride.
I’m back on the porch in my perpetually rocking chair, but this time I’m wearing more layers. I’m in my own socks and undies but I’m wearing a pair of Skylar’s grey wash jeans. My burgundy sweatshirt provides a thermal layer under the dark brown leather of the jacket she gave me earlier. It’s a chilly night considering the heat of the day made me break out in a sweat during the short walk for fresh socks from my saddlebag. I pull up my hood over my buzzcut and grab both sweatshirt strings, pulling down simultaneously to cinch the material around my face. I'm grateful that the hood will not only help fend off the cold, but also the dozens of moths fluttering around the light above the door behind me. I just can’t seem to get used to the sudden sensation of them colliding off the side of my head or landing on the front of my shirt. I glance over at Sky. There is a moth fluttering around the illuminated screen on her tablet. She doesn’t even notice it. The quick wave of my hand is involuntary as another winged insect passes in front of my face. I turn down the brightness of my screen and pull my hoodie strings a little bit tighter.
Skylar picked me up from the airport on Monday. It’s Friday now. It feels like it’s been longer than 5 days, in part because of how much our plans changed over the course of the week. Our original plans were to leave on Tuesday, riding down to spend a week in the Florida Keyes preparing for The Ride physically, mentally, and emotionally. But as you know, we’re still on Skylar’s porch.
That morning, after all the stress of packing down the bikes, a last round of tearful goodbyes with Sky’s loved ones, and an impressively graceless takeoff on my part, we were ready to start the ride to Florida.
We didn’t even make it 30 miles from the base of the mountain. I had been zoned into riding the highway, enjoying the breathtaking scenery we were zipping past, when Skylar’s voice filled my helmet:
“You okay? Try to keep up, kid!”
I looked forward and saw the purple running lights illuminating the underside of her bike were much farther away than they had been just a minute ago. It’s important to stay close when riding together for multiple reasons. A prominent factor in many motorcycle crashes is the motorcyclist not being seen by other drivers. That’s why “Watch For Motorcycles” and “Look Twice, Save A Life” are popular bumper sticker slogans.
By riding close we’re also able to mitigate impatient drivers who tailgate, which can be terrifying when riding a motorcycle. Skylar rides in front, but she’s always paying attention. Sometimes she notices someone tailgating me before I do. When it happens, I pass her in the lane so she can slow down to drop back and force a bigger following distance. She stays there until the driver backs off or the problematic car turns off our route, then she passes to get in front of me again. Being a very new rider in comparison, I am always so appreciative of her 30 years of experience.
“Oops, sorry! I’ll catch up!”
My left hand started to pull in the clutch as my right hand gripped the throttle tighter in preparation for the shift In gears. I tapped the gearshift lever up with the toe of my left boot, twisted the throttle towards me, and eased out my clutch to move into fifth gear. But instead of speeding up from 50 mph, my motorcycle started bogging down. I tried again, repeating the cycle, thinking maybe I made a mistake shifting. But no, I couldn’t shift any higher. I spoke into the mic of my own comm unit:
“Uh, Skylar? I think something’s wrong with my bike. It won’t go faster than 50.”
“Are you in fifth gear? Do you have the throttle cranked all the way?”
“Yes and yes. It’s so weird.”
“Try dropping down, can you accelerate in fourth?”
“No. It goes down to 45 and won’t pick up. It’s also starting to backfire a little bit.”
“Pull over. Let’s switch.”
We swapped bikes and she took off on mine, gunning up the road almost faster than I could keep up. But it didn’t last.
“Yea, I see what you mean. I got it up to 65 but then it bogged down to 50. Let’s turn around.”
Before we knew it, we were back on the mountain, stripping off our riding gear as we explained to her roommate what had happened. He seemed genuinely perplexed. He had meticulously checked both of our bikes in preparation for the cross-country trip and even taken mine out for a joyride a few days before. It seemed strange that something like this would happen so soon. From our description he guessed it was some kind of problem with the fuel pump, which could only be accessed by removing the gas tank.
Instead of seeking relief from the heat I decided to stay and learn how to disassemble that part of my bike. It was an incredibly frustrating process. At one point we were using three screwdrivers simultaneously to disconnect a stubborn wire lead at the same time we were trying to siphon the gas spitting out of the line onto our hands and clothes. But the frustration only served to heighten our success when the tank finally came free. We were just giving each other an enthusiastic high-five when I heard Skylar calling from the porch:
“Joy! Can you come up here for a sec?”
I grabbed my backpack, trekked up the wooden ramp, and slumped into the same chair that I’m writing from now. As I reached to retrieve my water bottle from a side pocket, I raised an inquisitive eyebrow at Skylar. She was still on the phone but raised a finger to indicate that she was almost done the conversation. I happily sipped ice cold water while I waited, hoping my bike could be repaired relatively quickly.
(Spoiler alert, it was a broken fuel pump filter. Replacement piece is on the way!)
What a filter is supposed to look like
What my filter looked like
After hanging up, Skylar told me the caller was one of the friends we had visited earlier. This friend had prayed over us that morning. During the call she told Skylar that before hearing news of our delay, she had prayed that if the timing for us to leave was wrong, we would be stopped in our tracks. Skylar agreed her prayer had been answered and we were clearly meant to wait longer before leaving.
Sky considers herself to be spiritual, not religious, whereas I don’t consider myself to be either. However, I’m beginning to understand and better appreciate the importance of belief the more time I spend with her. Even though I’m not a Christian, I still felt deep appreciation for her friend’s words of care and concern. I felt the earnest affection when her friend pulled me close for a hug before we left. I felt genuine connection.
It’s that feeling that I dwell on now, long after Sky has gone to bed. I stretch my arms over my head and arch my back as I yawn, thinking about how strongly affectionate I am of the group of women planning The Ride. All of them started as virtual strangers to me, like Skylar’s friend. At first, the feeling of authentic love from a stranger left me conflicted and a little confused. In a small way, I felt the trauma response of being cautious of any affection from a new person. But in a much bigger way, I felt in awe over our capacity to love each other, especially people we do not know and especially people who do not share our own beliefs or values. Unconditional love prompted Skylar to create The Ride. Unconditional love inspired me to support her endeavors however possible. Unconditional love fuels the support we receive from friends and strangers around the world. That’s both the entire point of our message and the inextinguishable fire that makes it possible. A ride of love. In the face of our own erasure and state-sanctioned child abuse, it’s time we actively work to put aside inconsequential disagreements and judgements between women. Fill the rifts with unconditional love. The kids of the future need us. We need each other. We’re the last bastion of safeguarding and the only hope of turning the tides back towards sands of sanity. We have important work to do. To save women and children.
In strength and solidarity, sisters...
We Rise. We Ride. We Rebel.
Love, Joy xx
9 days until the start of The Ride.
I'm sitting cross-legged in Sky's living room recliner. The TV is on but I'm not really paying attention. Instead, I'm mulling over my last conversation with Skylar.
Something discouraging happened today. I will go into detail in a later post, but for now just trust me that it was something VERY discouraging. Immediately afterwards I was sick with guilt and shame. That social anxiety reared its ugly head and my mind immediately went to the worst-case-scenarios. Skylar would be disappointed, I will just slow her down and cause problems, she wouldn't want me to go with her anymore… blah blah blah. In an uncharacteristic move, I voiced these insecurities to Sky. Her response honestly shocked me. (She shocks me a lot). She said:
"I started The Ride saying I was willing to do it alone. But the truth is, I couldn't do it without you. Or I could, but it would kill me."
My gaze met hers and I knew she meant it. I was silent in response, even though my mind was racing. I was thinking about everything it has taken to get us to this point, the challenges we have overcome, and the sacrifices we've both had to make.
I pull the wooden handle of the recliner and kick my legs out. One of Skylar's dogs, Bingo, comes over and rests his chin on my leg. I scratch at his ears, feeling heartsick over my own dog, Apollo, and how confused he must be. We've been together since he was 8 weeks old. The poor boy already has separation anxiety. I cry every time I think about him. I am thankful that prior to leaving I had lived with my roommate for a long time, so at least Apollo has a pseudo pet parent and a familiar environment. But wow, it still hurts so much.
Leaving our fur babies is a big deal but only a small part of our overall sacrifice. Every day that Skylar prepares to leave her sanctuary on this mountain, I see glimpses of the pain it causes her. Sometimes it’s the sniffling I hear drifting out from the tangle of brown and grey that is her whispering loving words to one of her dogs. Sometimes it’s her frustrated anguish that bubbles to the surface when we talk about what we are giving up and why we feel it's necessary to do so. Sometimes it’s her eyes becoming over-bright when she talks about people and things she will miss here while we are gone. Sometimes it's the hardness in her voice when she mentions the real possibility that she doesn't come back. All of those moments and more show me the true character of Skylar Gwynn.
I turn my head slightly to better hear the music from the porch that is wafting under the door. It’s Sky. She's singing along to one of her favorite songs as she sews patches onto the back of her leather motorcycle jacket. I feel my own eyes becoming over-bright. Skylar genuinely embodies strength, determination, and uncompromising integrity. I feel truly honored to accompany her on this incredibly important endeavor. I grit my teeth and follow Skylar's lead in hardening myself against the doubts, the insecurities, and the worst-case-scenarios. We have work to do. To save women and children.
In strength and solidarity, sisters...
We Rise. We Ride. We Rebel.
Love, Joy xx
10 days until the start of The Ride.
Sky and I are sitting in matching wooden rocking chairs. The rhythmic motion of mine never stops but hers never starts. It's pitch black past the edge of her porch. The mountain is so silent and the air is so clean it's actually satisfying to breathe. Everything is in stark contrast to the city life I left behind. Even though I've only been here for 2 days, the months of preparation make it feel much longer.
In January, I saw a post about The Ride on Skylar's (newest) twitter profile. I had not realized that she was back after yet another ban. Months had passed since I last saw one of her tweets. This one, a screenshot of a FB post, caught my attention not only because it was Skylar but also because she was returning with a call to mobilize :
For some reason I felt compelled to reach out to her despite the fact that I was an anonymous follower and we had never interacted before. I wrote a long DM explaining that I was happy to see her back and interested in learning more about The Ride. However, for reasons probably related to social anxiety, I didn't send it. Copy & Delete. So I'm sure you can imagine my surprise when a DM from Skylar appeared in my inbox a little bit later :
She asked me to friend her on Facebook so we could talk more. I made an account and sent a friend request that day. After messaging back and forth a bit, she asked me to join a video call so she could talk to me in real time. Our conversation lasted more than 5 hours. I was shocked when she said her plan was to ride across the country alone. 61 or not, you have to have ovaries of steel to face that massive undertaking alone. My reaction was simply "No, you can't do that. It's not safe! You at least need someone to sleep next to you at night." and from that moment on, I was fully committed to The Ride. No money, no motorcycle, but no reservations.
As I write from my perpetually rocking chair almost 6 months later, I still don't have any money. But I do have a motorcycle. Looking across the table between us, I make eye-contact with Skylar. I see unwavering resolve reflected back at me. Courage calls to courage. We will do this. To save women and children.
In strength and solidarity, sisters...
We Rise. We Ride. We Rebel.
Love, Joy xx