BY KRIS FANT
We recently caught up with three travel bugs who shared their stories about how riding a motorcycle upended their lives and pushed them into a new and vibrant career.
Courtney VanBriesen (USA) started riding 2.5 years ago. A pharmacist at the time, she saw a girl ride into her parking lot on a motorcycle, grinning ear to ear. That same night, Courtney went home and told her husband she was buying a motorcycle, and his response was “as long as I can buy one too.”
Gaila Gutierrez (USA/Germany) started riding at 47. She was working for the city in the public works engineering department, would ride pillion with her husband to riding meetups. So inspired by the women riders she and her husband encountered, she completed her endorsement and hasn’t stopped riding since.
Alisa Clickenger (USA) started riding in 1995, and was working a corporate job. There were so few women riding when she started that a local newspaper did a story on her, as the only woman rider in northwest Connecticut.
The Metamorphosis Described
My first big trip was the first Dream Roll event. I had been riding with my husband and his friends, but hadn’t met any women riders. It was bumming me out. Then I saw a post for the Dream Roll, an all women’s motorcycle camp out in the PNW. I was ecstatic, and new this was my chance. Not knowing any other lady riders, I attended the event alone and came home with dozens of women motorcyclist friends and the inspiration to start a women’s motorcycle group in Portland, named the Torque Wenches.
My big trip started on April 15, 2012, a 14-month tour of the US, Canada, Mexico and Central America (11 countries total). My life partner Tad and I were burned out on corporate life, and decided to stop dreaming about it, gift ourselves time and go for it. We quit our jobs, rented the house and took off four months after we made the decision.
I think that two wheels is absolutely the best way to explore the world around us. We all know that we are part of the scenery when we are on a motorcycle rather than just looking at it, yet there’s more to it than that. There’s something about the vulnerability of not closing yourself off from the world which encourages other people to engage with you (Or maybe most people just aren’t as crazy as we are so it draws them to us!). I think when two people travel together they form a unit, and that perforce changes the dynamic. My most exquisite moments of traveling and transformation have undoubtedly happened when I have been adventuring solo.
The Metamorphosis Continues
The mental transition started almost as soon as I started riding. It was such an all consuming passion. When I wasn’t riding, I was thinking about riding. After the Dream Roll, I started the Torque Wenches. The group grew quicker than I could have ever dreamed. As the group grew, I found myself spending more and more time in the motorcycle world, meeting fellow riders and putting on motorcycle events. It began to feel like I was living two lives, happy time with motorcycles and still sheer depression when at work. I couldn’t stand the highs and lows, I decided I had to leave pharmacy and find a career where I could be happy at work. Shortly after leaving my job, I contacted Paradise Harley-Davidson and told them they had to hire me, that I didn’t know what position I’d be best for, but that I felt with my passion for motorcycles, that working with them would be where I could shine. They agreed, I now work as the Warranty Administrator and Accident Specialist and I love my job.
Returning from our moto journey, I knew life as I knew it before would never be the same. The old “normal” didn’t seem so normal anymore. That journey lead me to launch businesses, MotoStays.com (a home share website for traveling motorcyclists) and MotoSoul Resort, a motorcycle hotel/destination located in East Germany. This is a historic castle that is currently under renovation with a 30 room hotel, café, events and moto rentals and tours.
It took a personal epiphany in order to get me to quit and to walk the Camino de Santiago (the spiritual pilgrimage across Spain). While walking across Spain I met a motorcycle journalist, a career I’d never heard of, and decided that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to write and inspire other people, so I rearranged my life and did it.
What is the present state of your metamorphosis?
I’m happy. Riding motorcycles saved my life. Prior to riding I felt misplaced. I had been living in Portland for about 2 years with my husband. I had only a few friends and my family lived across the country in Pennsylvania. Between the Torque Wenches and other motorcyclist I’ve met, I now have more friends than I could even count, many of whom I consider family. Anytime I need help with anything, I can always find another motorcyclist willing to lend a hand. During the holidays, I now have a motorcycle family with whom I can celebrate. I feel a part of something special. Riding motorcycles and meeting other motorcyclists brings me an abundance of joy and sense of belonging, I feel whole.
An entrepreneurial side of me has emerged that I didn’t know I even had!!! My work is now more aligned with my passions and career goals that are centered around travel, hospitality and motorcycles. It also allows me more creativity and flexibility to with my schedule and how I spend my time.
I am part of “The Rolling Classroom.” The rolling classroom that we have is a motorcycle tour designed to teach and empower women to be more confident and to ride more miles. We’ve developed a motorcycle tour that is a teaching tool…it’s a regular motorcycle tour, but what we do is we offer pre-tour coaching on tour skills development, and post tour encouragement to help ladies gain the confidence and build the skills they need to ride more miles confidently on their own. Each day we have optional seminars to attend that impart skills and knowledge, and then the rest of it is riding together, coaching, and the general everything which happens when women get together to support each other in their mutual exploration.
While we’re not calling it a “teaching tour” as we have in the past, this summer June 23-30th Pat Jacques and I will lead the first-ever all ladies Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route (COBDR). She’s a great teacher, I’m a great motivator and community builder, and between us, we’re guiding 10 women over this rugged and spectacular back country trail. It will be a fully guided and supported trip, and everyone will ride with one or both of us each day. That will be a dual sport rolling classroom. The next rolling classroom tour we’ll offer for street riding and touring will be in 2018.
What does it feel like to be on a motorcycle tour with other women?
Riding with like-minded women is always an incredible feeling for me. I’ll never forget my first motorcycle trip with only women. It was after a BMW rally, and the three of us took off together spontaneously for a three days’ riding after the rally. We chased each other up and over the mountain passes of Wyoming and Montana, having a glorious time. There was no pressure to be anything other than who we were and there was no judgment about riding abilities or style. In fact, I was the least experienced rider of the three. It felt so fun and so free and so supportive I wanted those days to last forever. It was very sad when the three of us went different directions. The funny thing is, we weren’t good friends… We knew each other, we respected each other, we all had a passion for motorcycling, but we weren’t best gal pals, yet it was an experience that “stuck”. There was something so special about three days we spent together…I don’t think any of us will forget it. That feeling of joy in the camaraderie of the road has stuck with me over the years and so many miles. I found myself thinking back to the deliciousness of those 3 days and the three of us riding together, and that’s why I created Women’s Motorcycle Tours, hoping to pass on some of that sweetness and support and self discovery to other women.
What are your future plans?
I want to continue a career that allows me to work with motorcycles and meet fellow riders. Following my heart and gut has been extremely rewarding for me. I don’t stress much about the future, trusting in my instinct to continue taking me down the path toward increased happiness. I want to continue to grow the Torque Wenches. With over 200 members, it is an awing feeling when a woman motorcyclist moves to town not knowing anyone and I’m able to introduce her to an entire group of women riders.
As far as trips, I’ve got several I’m currently planning with my husband, Max. One heading up to Canada to go rock climbing in Squamish with some Canadian motorcyclist friends, one heading down to the Baja Peninsula with some local motorcyclist friends for some sun and sand, and finally a trip out to Montana to attend an event put on by one of the Torque Wench ladies, the Rocky Mountain Roll, a co-ed motorcycle camp out run by the talented Amanda Zito.
Both my businesses are start ups, so my main goal right now is to grow them into successful businesses. I want them to be resources and help connect others who share the same passions. Taking another long journey is on the horizon for sure, but I’m not sure when. I’ll be busy with my Castle project for the next few years which is indeed an adventure and journey in itself.
Starting Your Metamorphosis
I think all the skills that any woman needs to go on an Overland Journey are already inside of her. I’ve always said that the hardest part of any trip is pulling out of the garage, and I really mean it. It would be useful if the woman is to be able to talk herself into something despite her fears because once you get on the road, once you’re rolling, everything solves itself. Good, bad, outrageous, it all works itself out once you’re on the road….you just have to start yourself rolling.
There is no perfect amount of preparation, skills or farkles. The best time to go is always NOW before life gets in the way. There’s no such thing as a perfect trip. There is, however, the perfect trip for you, which is the one you get and which is the one that unfolds as you are on the road.
Courtney’s VanBriesen’s photos by Max VanBriesen