Here’s the story of Miss Rider’s motorcycle trip to Panama from Worcester… in her own words.
Riding a motorcycle 5,944 miles (9,566 kms) ‘from sea to shining sea’ across the United States during the summer of 2011 created in me a deep thirst for long distance motorcycle riding. And the opportunity to ride to the Panama Canal provided a 15,000 mile (24,140 km) challenge to quench it during the summer of 2012 could not be resisted. A group of cowboys was to go with me through Central America, about one-third of the trip, due to concerns with safety. Despite all the warnings, circumstances left me traveling 800 miles (1,287 kms) alone through Mexico. Though the cowboys crashed, got lost, or otherwise abandoned me; this woman, me, succeeded in returning to the American border on a motorcycle desperately in need of repair.
The spectacular views of Central America were worth the hunger, isolation, poor road conditions, food poisoning and exhaustion that tested my mettle. Through it all, it was the amazing people I met throughout the journey that kept me moving forward to accomplish my goal. People welcomed me into their homes; they slept on the floor to provide me a bed and ensure I would be well rested to continue riding the following day. People cared for me providing medical care and nourishment when I experienced food poisoning. People provided gas money with an open heart. People treated me like a celebrity; asking for autographs and photos of me with my motorcycle. The television station in Nicaragua interviewed this woman who had the fortitude to ride along these men.
Triumph motorcycle dealerships kept my Bonneville moving through the journey. They assisted me with free service and even opening their doors on a Sunday, when normally the shop was closed. It’s the people I meet along the way that made my rides successful.
My riding companions, the cowboys, were a tremendous challenge in themselves. We met for the first time when we gathered for this ride. Some were true gentlemen, helping a ‘damsel in distress’ – such as helping me get my overloaded motorcycle on its center stand and lube or tighten the drive chain. One fellow traveled hundreds of miles to ensure my safety through some of the worst areas of Mexico when he found out I was trying to get home alone without a GPS or map. The most difficult aspect of the ride was the personality conflicts that stemmed from their negative, cultural, views of women. These men were threatened by a woman who had the courage and ability to ride with them. They could not accept a woman who stood her ground through the extreme challenges, fighting for her own safety without hesitation. Though some of the men were difficult to deal with, they pushed me through my fears. They taught me how to pass in very tight, mountain curves to escape the dizzying, black, diesel fumes that filled our lungs. The exhaust, combined with the high elevations, gave me constant headaches. After a while, I was fearless, poking my head into oncoming traffic on those mountain passes, looking for an opportunity to get around the old buses and trucks so I could breathe! The fear of failure kept pushing me on, taking risks that were new to me. Passing in tight traffic, on roads with no guard rails or nighttime illumination, getting pushed off the cliff by a truck, or my head cut off by an oncoming bus, were real possibilities. Refusing to be defeated, I faced the dangers, determined to be the woman who can stay with the cowboys that ride motorcycles instead of horses!
The heat, length of the ride, difficult road conditions, and lack of food, poor sleeping accommodations, and the horrible attitude toward me as a woman was taking its toll on me. One night depression swallowed me. The urge to cry and give up brought no tears. I thought of my daughter and received positive feedback via text message from MOTORESS. It was their encouragement which lifted my spirits and gave me strength to continue riding the next day. Eventually, the men realized I was on a mission to overcome all challenges and accomplish my goal of riding to the Panama Canal. My determination to be a woman that can keep up with the big boys earned their respect.
We all dropped our bikes in Central America because the road conditions were so poor. The local men who ran to help were shocked that all I could do was laugh when in a parking lot with loose stone and a difficult incline. Snapping a photo, I was grateful it was just a “dumb drop” with no damage or injury! Two of my companions could not finish the ride and had to find other ways home due to the great physical harm to their bikes and bodies when they went down.
Most motorcycle riders dream of the type of roads we travelled and with such technical riding challenges. It takes an experienced motorcyclist to truly appreciate the hundreds of miles/kms of tight, twisty turns our route provided. Coming from the cold riding weather of New England gave me an advantage over the cowboys, who struggled with the cold damp mist and rain in the high altitudes of Costa Rica and Panama. Heated hand grips and gear designed for warmth made me leader of the pack, earning more respect as a woman rider. Overcoming the negative aspects and difficulties, have made me a stronger rider. There will be many memories of this amazing journey embedded in my mind forever!
Central America is full of beautiful color that is shared in the native clothing, souvenirs and homes. The small villages offered a glimpse into another way of life. Farmers guided herds of goats to the green grass next to the highway, yet kept them away from traffic. Cows and horses would sometimes slow traffic, crossing the Pan American Highway, as they roamed free looking for green pasture. Old towns featured cobblestone streets, motorcycle traffic interspersed with carts full of firewood pulled by horses and bulls. Kiosks along the Pan American Highway featured local fruits, grilled corn on the fire, and coconut water (a wonderful alternative to bottled water!). Enjoying the sweet smell of pineapple fields and spectacular vistas along the Pacific coastline of El Salvador was worth the horrible experience of that border crossing. At high elevations the Costa Rica rainforest has beautiful, large leaves, five times the size of my motorcycle. The magnificence of such beauty is only captured as snapshots in my memory since the road lacked safe stopping areas for quick photo shoots.
Motorcycling in the United States and Canada, offer a different experience. The excitement of being back in the safety of my home America was tempered by the laws and regulations. Passing and riding the yellow solid line as I did in Central America is illegal. Riding alone from Monterrey Mexico to Sturgis South Dakota my pace was slowed to follow the riding rules on the long stretches of boring freeways.
While in Sturgis I joined up with a group of female riders for a few days and this offered a different perspective. These women were inexperienced motorcyclists and appeared intimidated by my riding style. It scared them when I passed, bored out of my mind from moving slow as turtles and taking no risks on the road. My attitude of “keep up, get out of the way, or get left behind” I experienced from the cowboys in Central America became so much more understandable to me. The dynamics of group riding, whether with men or women is so different from riding solo!
As a woman traveling alone I have learned the value of taking care of myself, and my motorcycle. Possessing the tools and know-how is important, whatever the country traveled. There is always someone willing to lend a hand with a heavy bike. While travelling in the United States; a complete stranger in a parking lot helped lift the bike onto its center stand for me to work on the chain. Though he didn’t know how to help, he waited for me to finish my repairs, before continuing on his way. He was a gentleman.
A female rider in Toronto, Canada provided welcomed honest hospitality. She hosted me and showed me her beautiful city. At one point in that city, low on fuel and stuck in traffic, another motorcycle rider stretched his commute time to lead me to a gas station.
It was a great experience I never wanted to end. I invite you to read more about my Panama ride and others, visit my website MissRider.com
Written by Madeleine Velazquez, edited by Gypsy Spirit Rides