Heading out for 900 miles on the paved highways of New Mexico with my DR650 and twenty or so women I don’t know is something slightly different for me. I needed to blow out the cobwebs, the fears and nightmares that have kept me down, diminished, hurting. We all have stories, mines not so unusual, grief affects us all one time or another. It’s how we deal with it that lingers. In my case, I’m not doing well after Rosie’s death. It has taken a toll, on my work (walked out on my friend and boss-but she gets it), my own writing has ground to a splattering of words and sketches but nothing holds together, a project on the meaning of safety and home gets scrapped as it’s all up in the air now. My health’s taken a beating with too much coffee and then beer with little else, one meal perhaps, snacks, a few swims, yoga, the gym.
I needed to get away.
The Women Riders World Relay came out of the idea that hey, there’s a lot of female bikers out there but the industry and media ignore us. WRWR was setup on 29th August 2018 by Hayley Bell, a 27 year old rider from the UK, who wanted to do something that’s never been done before to this scale.
“I wanted to ignite a global sisterhood of inspirational women to promote courage, adventure, unity and passion for biking from all corners of the world and do something that’s never been done before to this scale. Going into motorcycle stores and seeing a lack of choice, combined with stereotypical pink and being told ‘there just isn’t the market for women’, highlighted to me just one small element of a much bigger picture around women in Motorsports. I want to show the industry the force behind the market that is so blindly overlooked.”
I’d say it’s working. WRWR is a global female biker relay, covering even the remote and vast parts of our world. They’ve set up a system of bringing together individual riders, groups, and ambassadors from the various regions in each country. This involves women passing a baton via “legs” of a journey across the world, for example: London to Paris, Paris to Berlin. Or more locally, from Madrid, New Mexico to Laredo, Texas, and then handing off the baton to the Mexican riders to take south through Central America and beyond.
My good friend, Jaime Smith, had ridden much of the first weeks through the States despite having a pretty bad ankle injury. I’d gone round to her house in Santa Fe the day before. Colette Tindall Edeling has ridden through 47 countries and she’s heading off for more. South African/Australian wanderer and IT project manager, she had some great stories about her experiences through Europe and Canada, the two that struck me most. In Europe, she said that she’d been treated so warmly, hosted and encouraged to keep going, push through the grueling daily miles and hours on the road. In Canada, she talked of how each region had an ambassador who met the riders, introduced them to the locals joining that next stretch, and gave out presents from tourist boards, gas cards, all such signs of their planning ahead excitedly within their communities. Lovely.
We spent the afternoon working on each of our bikes, tightening chains, all that good stuff. I was still in my pajamas but it seemed like a good start to the weekend.
On Thursday, I packed my bike, and met them in Madrid.
Yes, they came through our little village of Madrid for a bite to eat, checking out a few studios, and catching up with each other. I met them here. Ready to go, petsitter ensconced with Harold and Stevie, panniers of extra layers, snacks, a water bottle, and toothy grin. At four pm, in rolled approximately 21 motorcyclists from all over the world. It was incredible.
After they all stretched legs, chatted and laughed and loved the music on the deck at the Cantina, we headed out to Moriarty, some 40 miles south to meet up with the Albuquerque riders. I’d not really planned much so had thrown in a sleeping bag, hoping that someone would share a room or floor with me. As I grabbed by pack off the bike and walked into the hotel, a voice behind me said, “Sleam? You’re sleeping with me tonight.”
Well, sharing the room. Separate beds. Staci had checked in already, knew I needed a place, and took me in. After chatting to a few more folks, Jaime and Karin included, I followed the crowd down the frontage road for dinner at a local cafe. Simple but good food.
The conversations though were worrying but full of teasing. The issue was the temperatures overnight. The riders usually would get up early, meet at 6.30am to talk the logistics of route and gas stops, followed by KSU at 7am. Kick Stands Up. That next morning would be cold though, way below freezing. I went to bed and tossed and dreamed of a hellish day, my anxiety levels peaking again. I’ve not been feeling my usual brave or fearless self recently, I was scared.
Friday morning, as I sat in my pjs, sipping coffee at 8am, glad there was a later launching time, in strode another rider. Clara had just ridden down from Santa Fe at 5am in such freezing temps that she’d had to stop every fifteen minutes to rub her hands back to life. She was grinning. Ready for more. Tough enough.
Back in my room, I prepared for a bit of a chilly ride.
Pajamas. Thick woolen socks. Trousers. Insulated overpants. Boots. Tee shirt. Long sleeved shirt. Sweatshirt. First Jacket. Insulated dual sport second jacket. Two scarves. Gloves and helmet.
In short, I wore everything I’d packed. The saddlebags hung empty on my bike.
Our group were ready by ten. Then one bike had a flat battery in the cold, didn’t it, Jaime? Luckily one of the pack, Chris, had a jumper battery kit so it was a minor delay and to be honest, more time in the sun was a good thing in my books. Although we had 425 miles to cover and a six pm deadline. Pressure. The daily pressure was one of the constants for the riders and it wore at some of the rider’s patience. Tempers and emotional outbursts flew out of a few mouths but given how understandable that was, no one took it personally. Or rather I didn’t when…but that’s in the afternoon. I’ll get to that.
We set out, first along I40 East to Clines Corner then south on 285, the one road that would take us all the way to Ft Stockton.
By Vaughn, NM, yes, it was cold but I still had some inner warmth keeping me going. It was the next 120 miles that broke me.
The wind battered me. My hands cramped up in the frozen air. The bikers sped down the highway at 80 mph and on my DR650, I struggled, not so much that it couldn’t go that fast but it was outside my comfort zone, to ride in close formation, in these temperatures, at those speeds, with riders I didn’t know well enough to trust. I was scared. In pain. And after another night of insomnia and shitty dreams and memories, the voices screamed in my head, battling me as much as the conditions outside. Other people’s opinions on how I was dealing with with the way Rosie died, was killed.
Give it up! Move on. They’re not going to help. No one is.
Sell your property. Move. Leave.
Don’t let the fucker force you out.
Fight back. Take him down.
Get a gun. Shoot the fucker. Shoot his dogs.
Go where you’re safe.
Write about it.
Get over it.
Deal with your PTSD.
You’ve got friends here.
All true. All valid. All screaming into my broken heart, the rattled self I’ve become in the last 6 weeks.
My fingers cramped, calf muscles wanted to kick out, I screamed back.
I AM NOT BROKEN. I AM STRONGER THAN THIS. I AM STRONG. PTSD IS NOT ME.
Over and over again, I screamed myself back into this body and life of mine. I yelled, tears dribbling down, chin wobbling, engine powering through. I couldn’t give up. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t let the other riders down. I’d keep going. I’d get through this. I wouldn’t let the fucker next door break my spirit. My strength.
Brave, not fearless.
In Roswell, we stopped for gas. I knew my eyes were wide, red, vulnerable. Yet, I’d done it. Come through. I took my helmet off. Jaime pulled up beside me. She turned off her engine and grinned at me. “The Brit and her bike who could…I love you, Sleam.”
Fuck. That morning did something to me. Twenty minutes for coffee to warm my hands, chips, jerky, inside the gas station and then we were off again. The deadline to be in Ft Stockton drove us south. Sunshine warmed the air to a whopping 38 or so. Clara and Jaime kept at my speeds despite the peer pressure to go faster faster faster…
Late afternoon, south of Carlsbad, we hit a stretch of road that was torn up with the truckers from the oil fields, construction, and accidents. Stuck in single lines of impatient semis and full size pick-ups wasn’t fun. I beeped my horn at the team, six of us, and took off slowly down the side of the highway. It’s what we do in Britain, in most countries I’ve rode in, we make the most of the ways we can pass the traffic jams. Right? Well, our young leader was pissed. At me. She yelled at me for risking fines, would I pay for them all since I’d make them break the law? I laughed, not the best reaction probably, saying, but you’ve broken the speeding limit all day long, risking fines!
Traffic inched along. I’d not got us out of the backup, just a little way. We sat there for another 90 minutes as the leader wouldn’t do it again, well, she did, but that was to get away from me, swearing, fuck this.
She didn’t go far. We followed her anyway. Parked. Waited.
Luckily I was totally oblivious of how angry she was as she didn’t tell me but yelled at Jaime, Clara, Colette and Deb about punching me, getting her friends’ guns etc. I sat on my bike and watched a Monarch butterfly flutter past my helmet.
Like I’d said earlier, I get it now, the pressure, the constant drive forward, it’s enough to break us. This youngster was at her limit, calling Mummy everyday for support, and my, er, insubordination tripped her. I’m sorry that this two sentence interaction flipped her over the edge but it did. She left us shortly afterwards, heading out alone as we stopped for gas. I wish it hadn’t gone south for her like that…
We pulled into Ft Stockton, Texas at nine local time. We’d been on the road over ten hours in sub-freezing temperatures, broken and exhilarated by the push to get there. We did it. That last hour in the dark was brutal.
As Miki wrote, “Left Moriarty, NM for FT. Stockton, TX just as the sun was rising with the temperature registering around 23 degrees Fahrenheit. Add a 80 mile an hour+ wind chill to that and the first hour or so was quite the challenge! By the time we arrived in Roswell it had warmed all the way up to 38°F, and it was darn right balmy! The next 120 miles were more tolerable with a strong crosswind, but the final 96 miles into Ft Stockton was one of the most challenging and possibly the most dangerous road I have ever ridden.”
The hotel was bright, the parking lot filled with 30-40 motorcycles. We pulled up, the ragged last riders of the day, and Miki welcomed us, need a room? YES! I’d had it in my head, the oh-fuck, where will I sleep tonight? I turned to Clara, Want to get a room and sit on a bed and eat pizza? Not that I know you for more than a day but…she grinned, yes, perfect.
Jaime was at the counter, turned to us, and handed over two key cards. My treat, she said, and once again, my heart exploded inside my eight layers of sweaty clothes.
Colette, Jaime, Clara and I were all within rooms a few doors from each other and once settled in, we ate our pizza and salads and talked and laughed and bitched and got it all out and then laughed even more.
At six thirty, I woke Clara, “they’re leaving.” She jumped out of her bed and stood next to me at the window. Pitch dark skies, the thrum of thirty engines, we spotted Colette and Jaime, Kick Stands Up. Clara videoed the riders head south to Loredo, the end of the Stateside leg of this global relay, handing the baton over to a Mexican motorcycle team to accompany them further. I sat on my bed. Sad to be heading home instead, but shit, I ached. My whole body hummed with the stress and energy it took to ride in those temps and that wind. I put the coffee on. We were saying goodbye to the WRWR riders, thankful for the days together. Clara and I were heading back to Santa Fe County together, a different route.
“Highway 285 by Pecos, TX is known as Blood Alley. The traffic of the day before? Another fatal accident.” Miki and Michelle, two riders from Albuquerque told us over breakfast. “We’re taking the I10 and I25. Want to join us?”
I shook my head. “Not me. I’m taking it easy today, back roads, slower, stop for photos, get lunch somewhere. Yesterday was, well, hard on me.”
Clara nodded, “Let’s find another way back.”
We first took 18 North from Ft Stockton into Jal, New Mexico. Once again, we were warned away from that stretch of US 285, weekly fatalities the man told us, shaking his head. Clara lead the way and I was happy to follow. We both ride dual sports, 650cc, similar riding styles, or at least, she kept us to the speed that felt comfortable. I’d not told her how hard the day before had been. She knew nothing of the demons and insomnia I’d battled. That second day’s ride was a blessing, a gift. Strong in myself.
We’d stop every hundred or so miles for gas – my bike has a small stock tank, something I’ll have to change soon if I want to ride more in the spring. Photos, chatting, snacks, water breaks. The day was exactly what I needed, in a different gentler way.
We made it back just as the sun set. I turned down Wild Dog Road, Clara waved and rode home. Nothing’s changed here, I have to face the same memories and legal pressures, the need to know what to do for myself to feel safe but I’m back. Home. For now.
Photos by Clara De La Torre, Colette Tindall Ederling and Sleamsta.
Adventure by WRWR, an incredible group of inspiring riders from across the globe.