I’m geared up in a motorcycle jacket, pants and boots, helmet hooked on my left arm, and I’m loading a bag of groceries onto my motorcycle in the supermarket parking lot. A truck pulls up alongside me and I hear a slightly shocked, perturbed voice ask: “Is that your bike?”
If you’re a woman who rides, you aren’t surprised by the sheer stupidity of that question, a question I’m sure you’ve been asked yourself, many times, probably while operating the bike referenced. Sometimes I respond with deserved snark, other times, like this one, it’s just a short, exhausted “yup.”
He stared at me awhile, mouth slightly agape, mumbled something, then took off.
It’s not breaking news that our society’s male focus causes a lot of extra work for women. Besides the obvious “challenges” more loudly vocalized in recent days—sexual harassment, disparate wages, the disturbing images and expectations of advertising—there are endless smaller, more subtle day-to-day challenges.
Because we experience these “little comments” and actions every day, many—most—of us have trained ourselves to remain calm, staying quiet so that everyone stays comfortable.
Except us, of course.
We’ve grown so accustomed to holding these discomforts that the very act seems normal to us and made up to others. This is part of why so many of the opposite sex—or race, sexual orientation, culture, et al—are shocked by the current wave of people speaking up. Women tend to assume the role of nurturer, soothing and assuaging others, most likely due to biological differences of the sexes and child rearing. It’s certainly a big part of why we take on the burden of making others comfortable at the cost of our own needs—pregnancy, anyone? We are literally built for it.
I’ve heard that later in life, as our biological clocks wind down, women begin to put themselves first. This may explain why gray divorces are more often initiated by women than men. Maybe we’ve finally had the last straw, or maybe it’s because there are no more children to care for. Either way, we finally shift the focus to ourselves. But this is something more and more women are looking to achieve earlier in life, a healthy balance of self-care and culturally acceptable norms.
Regularly filtering and translating this man-made world, not designed for or by us is exhausting. How do we process this? How can we care for ourselves and recharge? What must it have been like for the women who came before me, before this language of self-care existed? Before the numerous women’s movements? These questions whirl through my head most days. I’m constantly thankful for all of the women who came before me, the heroines who took on larger challenges and helped to create a world in which I can ask for even better than they had, a world in which I have the luxury to do more than serve and survive.
Riding my Own Ride
One of the paths I chose was riding motorcycles.
Before I rode, I saw motorcycling as equal parts freedom and rebellion, but only learned the other, equally powerful benefits once I twisted the throttle myself.
Riding puts me in full control of my own path: no backseat drivers, no radio to distract. It is an out to get back in; out of the daily grind and into myself, who I really am when no one is looking to or relying on me. It’s slightly uncomfortable, requiring more than driving both mentally and physically, requiring more physical involvement in the act of “getting there.”
Photo: Surj Gish
Mentally, riding offers something of a break from the distractions of life, a meditative state that simultaneously demands focus on the here and now for survival, resulting in a total reset that rebuilds what is depleted by work, family and life in general.
A fellow woman rider, Angie Howard, puts it perfectly, in language anyone who throws a leg over these powerful machines can relate to:
“When I ride there’s a mental shift, it leaves my body in perfect rhythm with my mind. All the pieces of this crazy beautiful life seem to come together perfectly and everything is in balance….my body, my soul, and my mind.”
Empowerment is defined as “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.”
Riding has become the best way for me to own space in a world where I have a hard time setting boundaries. There is emotional labor in being alone, but also emotional freedom: no one needs or expects anything from me. If I’m not on a bike, somebody is going to want something and assume I’m there to give it.
On the Road, Again and Again
Another path I’ve chosen has been solo travel. This is mostly due to circumstances: I would rather go alone than not go at all, and my drive to explore is often poorly timed to the schedules and destination desires of others.
Intentional or not, it leaves me free to go where I want, when I want, without waiting on someone else’s clock.
At first it was difficult and intimidating but it’s grown into something I love, an enjoyable challenge, requiring me to be more resourceful, more aware, more involved in the process, decisions and transitions. Traveling in groups allows for distribution of responsibilities, but can create a wall of “protection” that prevents truly experiencing new people, cultures and places. I interact with strangers much more when I am alone.
Angie relates, “I feel like I connect with people on a level I never would have under different circumstances, it’s magical.”
Emma Cases-Möller, a fellow solo female traveler, expands on her experiences on the road by herself:
“Travel to me is the incarnation of the ultimate freedom. It is like being at edge of a great spectrum of unknowns and therefore also at the edge of an equal amount of possibilities and eye openers. Naturally, the further away from your comfort zone, your stomping ground, your country or your culture that you venture, the greater is the gap between what you don’t already know, and what there is to learn.”
Photos: Kerri Dougherty
There is a growing trend of women empowering themselves by traveling alone. Women-focused travel is on an upswing. A quick online search will show you endless articles and travel company after travel company hip to this craze. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed was all anyone could talk about a few years ago, even more so after it was turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon.
Now here’s the icing on the cake, combine the two, motorcycling and travel for the ultimate injection of empowerment! You are more connected and involved in the transition from here to there, experiencing all of the elements changing around you as you tick mile after mile on the road.
Jennifer Young, another women rider, experienced this first hand on her travels: “Traveling by [motor]bike brings you closer to the place you are traveling in. I recently did a solo trip in Ireland. Not only did I get to experience and see places off the “map” but it invited conversations and often dinner.”
Leading you off the well-worn path of tourist traps and major highways, you see a different side of the world.
Emma expounds: “In the attempt of trying to measure an adventure potential starting to motocamp was like putting a coefficient in front of the whole equation. The adventure potential just suddenly doubled or tripled. My cycle takes me where buses won’t. Where cars neither will take me and it forces me to be an active part of the adventure at all times.”
Photo: Surj Gish
These themes and ideas have been extensively discussed and written of, even more in recent years. Motorcycle travel provides us with challenges and strength derived from pushing past our fears and taking risks, but with every new day the list of reasons to be angry and feel powerless grows longer. Our frustration as women is justified, but also leaves us, again, shouldering the burden.
There have been fantastic shifts in conversations, many examples of self-reflection on the side of allies and perpetrators both big and small. But it’s not enough to release the exponential buildup of pressure with each breaking headline—that crushing pressure can leave you blind to the good and target-fixated on the bad. And any rider will tell you, target fixation will cause you to crash.
So, especially now, whether you’re “just riding,” or traveling, or whatever your escape to empowerment may be: find it, use it, and recharge. Find your fearlessness, gather your strength and focus on the things you can control, the ways you can feel good—even when the world is hailing shit.
Because in the end, it really starts with you: you can’t make things better if you don’t feel good, you can’t be in a position of perseverance and courage if you feel powerless. For now, I’m going to keep riding and traveling and speaking with everyone I meet along the way.
Kerri is the founder of Motobird Adventures, a motorcycle tour company for women riders, run by a woman rider. Find out more at MotobirdAdventures.com.