By Laura Reeve.
I flew into Seattle-Tacoma Airport with butterflies in my stomach, grabbed an Uber to Puyallup, and picked up my rented F700GS from TourUSA. With the whole day to get to the PSSOR ADV Camp near McLeary, Washington, I rode northward, crossed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and headed south on 2-lane roads along Puget Sound. The beautiful day, scenic ride, and lunch on the deck of a waterfront restaurant restored my confidence, but as I turned off the highway and into the Off-road Vehicle camp, the butterflies returned. I made my way slowly across the gravel parking lot, over a bridge and down a dirt road to our camping spot. This was my first time getting off paved roads, and I was nervous. But in many phone conversations Kyle had assured me that this was exactly what the camp was all about – teaching riders with experience on pavement the skills to go off-road. I felt a mix of and excitement and dread.
The instructors called out friendly greetings. Tad radiated calm and inspired confidence. Paul was full of jokes and bantering. Fletch was gung ho and exuded happiness just to be there riding bikes. I would get to know and appreciate all three of these instructors for their detailed knowledge of technique, for their endless patience, and for their nonstop encouragement. The other participants began arriving, and we all pitched our tents and set up our camps, then gathered in a circle of chairs to introduce ourselves and what we hoped to learn that weekend.
I looked around the group of 12 students and 3 instructors and found myself the only female, at 58, one of the oldest, the least experienced, and the least skilled. Whereas I simply wanted to get comfortable on rough, gravelly surfaces, these guys wanted to ride the Washington BDR (a new term to me), be ready for baby-heads (another new term, referring to loose rocks the size of a baby’s head) and other much more ambitious goals than mine. I was not (too) daunted yet – in my work life I run a girls’ middle school and I always tell my students that you learn and grow most when you step out of your comfort zone. Now it was my time to step out!
I started riding at age 56. As someone who has always liked to have a certain amount of adventure in my life, I made a resolution when I turned 50 to keep trying new things and having new adventures. So when my daughter wanted to take the Basic Rider Course and get a motorcycle, and invited me to do it with her, I gave it a try. I loved it. I rode and toured around on a Triumph Bonneville for a couple of years, but then took a trip to Death Valley and realized I wanted a bike (and the skills) to go off the pavement and on to dirt roads. So I sold the Bonneville, bought a BMW G650GS, and signed up for the PSSOR Adventure Camp.
The first morning we headed to a grassy area to work on riding stance, slow speed control, riding over obstacles, braking quickly – adapting riding techniques to this new of world off-road. We turned in tight circles and figure eights, weaving between cones, all the while learning to shift our weight and lean the bike as we stood on the pegs. I soon learned that one of the benefits of camp is that there are people to help pick up your bike when it goes down – which mine did a lot!
By lunchtime on that first day, I had decided that since I was not going to be the strongest rider, or the most agile, or any other superlatives, I would be the one who persevered and never gave up. That was pretty much the theme of the camp for me. Never turn back – keep trying!
We spent the next two days riding on rocky roads, up and down hills, through a course of whoops, and, most devilish to me – an obstacle course where we had to make tight turns, weaving through a grove of trees, riding over large roots and rocks, tapping our feet on tree trunks as we passed, and finally exit. I grew to detest what had at first looked like a lovely grove of pines, and tried over and over to get through it, before I finally told the ever-patient Fletch that I was never going to ride that f*!%-ing course again!
After two days of pushing well past what I thought were my limits, we set out on our excursion in the Capitol State Forest. It was a revelation that a proper stance allowed me to ride all morning standing on my pegs – without my quads screaming. It was exhilarating to look at a steep, rocky hill, thinking “no way!” hear Paul yell, “Nuts to the tank!”, then take a deep breath and go for it – and make it to the top! Fortunately, the terrifying parts were supplemented by long beautiful sweeps through the forest.
The PSSOR Adventure Camp had a huge impact on me. I loved it. It felt good to push myself, and I was surprised at what I was capable of. What I tell my middle school girls is true – you do learn and grow most when you’re outside your comfort zone. I learned far more than I had expected. I did much harder things than I had hoped to do. I was riding on adrenaline most of the time, and because of that, my skills grew. Being with riders who were more skilled, and, most importantly, more willing to take risks, pushed me farther than I would have gone on my own. I definitely felt that I needed to keep up with the young guys in the class, on behalf of older women everywhere!
Photos provided by PSSOR.