Riding with Erma : finally home

I remember the exact moment I knew I wanted to ride a motorcycle. I was 6 sitting on the toilet when I heard a rumble from outside. I ran out to see my grandfather with this larger than life grin of pure excitement as he revved the throttle of his 1992 baby blue Harley Davidson Softail.
I thought to myself  “I want one of those!”

My adventures in motorcycle riding were the foundation of my childhood.

I was a Lady of H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) cardholder. We attended monthly motorcycle meetings in the San Gabriel Valley and went on group rides every weekend all over Southern California. Sometimes these group rides were up to a hundred motorcycles taking over the roads and restaurants.

My grandfather would dress up as Santa Claus and we would deliver toys to neighborhood kids or do toys for tots on the Harley. There was always a parade that we were invited to ride in, I would proudly wave to the other kids. I made sure he always dropped me off in front of the school… Until I reached 8th grade. I mean let’s be real.

My grandmother followed in the car. Then when I was around 13 she opted for her own. She had a burgundy Heritage Softail. It was beautiful.

Our longest trip we did was from California to Oklahoma to first visit my family. Then we rode up to Oshkosh, WI for an air show to promote my grandfathers business. While we were there we toured the Harley factory in Milwaukee. From Wisconsin we went through Sturgis. I had a leather top, vintage sailor pants and purple hair. We rode back to Califorina by way of the Rockys. On this trip it ranged between 30-120 degrees depending on where we were. We mostly took back roads through tiny towns and mailed all our purchased vintage items back home. I got good at taking naps and reading Vonnegut books on the back of my grandfathers dark blue Ultra Classic.

I was supposed to get my motorcycle license when I was 17 but it was a very difficult time for me.  Depression prevented me from really exceeding my potential. I moved out at 18 and the dream of having my own bike fell by the wayside.

I visited my father at 18 in Oklahoma and the first thing we did was saddle up. We rode through the back country making stops at all the lookouts he took me to as a child.

When I began the relationship with my mother around this same time she showed me pics of her on her jet black motorcycle from the 1990’s. She wasn’t raising me… she was riding! She looked like a fucking badass doing it too.

Finally at 27 I got my motorcycle license. I got a motorcycle that didn’t work. I replaced the brakes and rebuilt the carborator but nothin helped. When I left Portland I gave it to my friend to fix up if possible. My hope is it will be a community bike for first timers once he gets it running.

While I was driving through Plainfield, Wisconsin this spring I saw Erma. She was sitting out in front of a house on Main St. She called to me and I pulled off the road to inquire. I made a handshake deal with the owner and he gave me a couple weeks to get my money in order. I talked him down two hundred bucks and convinced him to give me a refresher course in riding.

Today was my first ride. My first ride alone. I took the back roads from Amherst to Wapauca. Rolling hills and farm land. The smell of flowers blooming in this mid May spring. Manure thickening the air. Greens and blues painting the landscape and old farm houses standing firm on their ground.

I felt the freedom and life I never could have imagined. Even with all the miles on the back of a motorcycle it just isn’t the same. I am a woman of the road and I am finally home.

Erma is a 1978 GT185 Suzuki. She was owned by a potato farmer named Erma from Central Wisconsin, but I think the bike comes from Denver originally. She rested in an old barn for many years before Dan, Erma’s coworker, picked it up and then sold it to me.

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