posted: April 23, 2022
tl;dr: I haven’t met many solo female bikers, and I’ll never forget the first...
The year was 1986. Easy Rider had been released 17 years prior; if you haven’t seen the ending of that movie I won’t spoil it for you except to say that the movie chronicles the adventures and challenges faced by two young male motorcyclists traveling as a pair. Hitchhiking had become rare by the mid-eighties, as moms advised their kids never to get into a car with a stranger. Photos of missing, presumably kidnapped and perhaps dead children had been appearing on the nation’s milk cartons for years. The country’s psyche was not yet as paranoid as it would get during the COVID-19 endemic, but the long-term trend had begun. People were more than willing to give up freedoms and new experiences in exchange for safety.
A college buddy and I were a little more than halfway into our summer-long motorcycle tour of North America. We were winding our way north up the Pacific coast from California, towards an interim destination of Keizer, Oregon, a suburb of Salem, where my buddy’s uncle lived and would host us for a couple of days. The uncle was an oenophile, so as a small token of our appreciation we thoughtfully purchased him a bottle of wine while riding through Napa Valley. Our motorcycles could not take on much additional baggage, so one bottle would have to suffice. It’s the thought that counts, after all.
Northern California is quite rural, as is southern Oregon, with spectacular scenery, enjoyable roads for biking, and few people and travelers. We crossed the border into Oregon and visited the deepest lake in the United States, Crater Lake, famous for its deep blue water and volcanic setting. We left the national park and headed for a nearby campground for our first night of camping in the state of Oregon. I had been hearing from my buddy about how special a place Oregon was, and so far I was impressed.
We pulled up to the booth at the entrance of the lightly-populated campground and spoke with the attendant. Usually the process, as we had done many times on the trip at that point, was that you were allowed to enter and select the available campsite you felt was best, then perhaps you returned to tell the attendant which one you had selected, if they cared to know. This time, however, the attendant told us what our site would be: “Go to B17,” (or whatever the spot was, I can’t recall now), he said. That’s a little bit strange, I thought. We complied.
As my buddy and I were setting up our tent, a woman perhaps five or so years older than us wandered onto our campsite and introduced herself. She said she was also a biker, and invited us to join her for some friendly conversation around the campfire at her site, which was, coincidentally I thought, adjacent to ours. After we finished setting up camp, my buddy and I again complied. Before we did so, we remembered the bottle of wine that we had with us. What should we do? Should we enjoy the bottle of wine with this friendly female biker, in beautiful southern Oregon after a memorable day of motorcycling and sightseeing? Or should we stick with our original plan and deliver the bottle to my buddy’s uncle? It was an easy choice.
As we were enjoying the wine with our new friend, she told us her story. She was from Oregon, unattached, and loved motorcycling and seeing the country. Few other women ride motorcycles, so she was on a solo bike trip. She enjoyed meeting other bikers and talking about life on the road, so she let us in on the trap that she had set for us. Her process was: when she went to an attended campsite, she selected a site with an open site next to it. She then told the attendant that if some reasonably upstanding bikers showed up they should be assigned the site next to hers. My buddy and I, even though we were clad in leather jackets, looked like what we were: a couple of ex-schoolboys on an adventure. The attendant had assessed us correctly, and so the trap was sprung.
Now I was even more impressed with Oregon. This was my first time in the state, and my first significant interaction with someone from the state. It was more than a beautiful state; the people there really seemed different than East coasters. Within a couple years I would move to Oregon. I would end up marrying an Oregon woman, although not the solo female biker.
We finished the wine and our conversation, then my buddy and I returned to our site and tent. That left us with a problem: what to do about the gift we had intended for my buddy’s uncle? We decided to keep the empty bottle of wine. Several days later, upon arriving in Keizer, we very ceremoniously presented it to my buddy’s uncle and explained to him how we had chosen to drink the wine with a solo female biker rather than save it for him. It’s the thought that counts, right? Fortunately we knew that the uncle had a good sense of humor. It gave him verbal ammunition that he could and did use against us in subsequent interactions over the years, when he would tell others about how his ungrateful nephew and friend presented him with an empty bottle of wine because they got tricked by a solo female biker.