The Ride of a Lifetime

Story by Barbara Wynd// Photos by Barbara Wynd
May 1 2009

There comes a time in one’s life that you just know what you have to do, and I got that feeling when I read the articles about the Harley-Davidson 95th Anniversary in a 1998 issue of the Harley Owners Group’s Hog–Tales. I decided then and there that I would take part in the 100th Anniversary in 2003.

Not a big deal, you think? Well, if you are female and live in Kirkenes, one of the northernmost towns in Norway, it actually is a big deal. My dream was clear from the beginning; I wanted to spend two months riding along the east side of the North American continent, starting in Halifax, Nova Scotia and ending in Key West, Florida, and then ride north to Milwaukee. And since I am the only one who can make my dreams come true I did exactly that, only not in that order.

The first step of the real planning was to tell my boss in March 2001 that I would need August and September of 2003 off. He happily agreed to this since he is a biker as well. After examining all the possibilities, I decided to ship my bike to Canada in a container. The Canadian authorities demand an absolutely clean bike, which left me to do a thorough cleaning of my 1993 Sportster 883 Hugger, affectionately known as Diva, over the long dark 2002/2003 northern Norway winter. I even used an electric toothbrush to clean the shocks!

While I put the offer out for company on my adventure, none of my buddies were able to come with me so my journey was to be a one–woman venture. That was fine by me; I always enjoyed riding by myself.

The other things to arrange were insurance, customs requirements and lots of paperwork. After looking into accommodation, I decided it would have to be campgrounds as I was on a budget.

To me the trip became real for the first time when I saw my dear Diva in her homemade crate being hoisted aboard a freighter in June 2003. I knew I had to follow, she was already on the way and I had to join her. It was not frightening, but the excitement sort of crawled up my back. I was really going to do this!

I left Kirkenes, Norway in the beginning of August and headed into the totally unknown. I had never been to Canada, let alone driven in North America. I knew my bike had arrived and that Customs and the other inspections were waiting for me. Would everything be OK, I wondered? Would I run into delays? It turned out to be so easy. I was only ten minutes at the Customs office and I could then proceed to where my beloved Diva was waiting in the container yard. After some quick paperwork there, the inspector broke the seal on the container and opened the crate, and there she was. Unharmed, shining clean, and ready to ride. At noon on August 12th I was finally heading out for my big adventure. If you have ever done anything like this you will know the joy and excitement of that moment, the whole world lying in front of your wheels.

Normally, my life is very well planned, but when I travel on my bike I prefer to go where the road leads me so I didn’t have a single reservation, apart from the ‘Riders’ Ranch’ campground in Waukesha, Wisconsin, just outside of Milwaukee.

I started my ride in Halifax and followed the coastline east. I had some local maps and, of course, the Harley-Davidson Road Atlas, the instrument for all my planning. Off I went towards Cape Breton, enjoying the scenery, and spent the day and night of the Great Canadian Blackout in total ignorance, only hearing about it two weeks later. I later visited Prince Edward Island and rode the Independence Bridge to New Brunswick.

Standing in front of a red covered bridge in U.S.AI met wonderful people and spent very little time alone. Everyone wanted to know where I was from and how I liked the country. I got invited for dinners and for beers and just had a great time.

I had one unexpected ‘pit-stop’. Against all odds my fork seals gave out and I had to do a little detour from New Brunswick to Harley-Davidson in Augusta, Maine, to have repairs done. They were the only ones around who were open on a Monday and I arrived without an appointment. I was very appreciative of a friendly fellow-biker who waived his appointment in my favour saying he was local and he could come back later, but I surely couldn’t. Two hours later I was on my way back up to Canada.

I continued on further west through Montreal (do they ever drive crazy in that city!), and continued into Ontario, through to Timmins. I saw lots of trees and straight roads and met up with a lot of nice people… but thankfully no moose.

Driving towards my next destination, Wawa on Lake Superior, I stopped at a small roadside café to warm up. It was raining a little and when I wanted to get back on the road, Diva definitely didn’t. I had known my two-wheeled friend for ten years, and within ten minutes of fiddling with the spark plug cables I was back on the road.

After Wawa, I rode south to the main object of this trip, Milwaukee. The party was about to begin and I didn’t want to miss out on any of it.

The sky was looking a little ‘iffy’ so I decided to spend my first night in the United States in a small campground in Fairport, Michigan. Fairport is on a peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan and is fully exposed to the elements with water on three sides. There were only three tent spots left. I chose one with no trees above it because I like to be in the open and the ground was a little higher allowing the rain to run off.

Night fell, thunder began rolling in and I dozed off. At about two in the morning I awoke. The wind had picked up dramatically and then I heard several tree branches falling. I peeked out of my tent and saw some branches around me, but since it was pitch-black I decided just to stay where I was. Not much more rain fell, the wind dropped and I went back to sleep.

Early in the morning I heard people milling around outside. I stuck my head out of the tent and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were a number of trees down, trailer roofs broken and the other two campsites, which I might have chosen, were covered by a big tree that had fallen across them. There was one big branch lying between Diva and me and that was all that had fallen on my site. It turned out that a tornado had passed through the campground during the night. It took several hours for the fallen trees to be cleared off of the campground roads before I was able to leave.

That day I was riding with a very special thankful feeling inside and then… there it was! Milwaukee! On the way down, the road had become more and more crowded with Harleys. Oddly enough, I was passed by a biker whom I had met along with his wife, in Canada and he had told me that he was going down to Milwaukee as well and I had said “Well, see you there”. He just laughed. He laughed even more when he realized it was me he was passing, just north of the city.

Milwaukee at Last

It was Tuesday, August 26th, a very hot and humid day, a climate I was definitely not used to. I arrived at the ‘Riders’ Ranch’ in Waukesha in the early afternoon. It was buzzing with bikes arriving and I was amazed by the enormous size of this campground. I picked out a quiet area figuring I could go party when I wanted to and return to a quiet spot to get some rest when I needed it. So I rode Diva to what would be my home for the next six days.

Exhausted by the heat, I pitched my little tent and immediately went to find water. I needed a cold shower and decided to walk because I was so tired that Diva seemed too heavy to handle. I didn’t have to walk far, which was typical of that week, as someone would always offer a ride. If I remember rightly, there were around twelve thousand tents, approximately fourteen thousand bikes and sixteen thousand riders. And all of them were smiling and having the time of their lives. It was an atmosphere I shall never forget.

After a refreshing shower I returned to my tent and found a bunch of guys standing around my bike and staring at her number plate. For those who don’t know, Norwegian plates look like cake plates compared to the small plates of North America.

And there was that question again, where did I come from? I told them and they invited me to their campsite for a beer. After I mentioned that I was there on my own, they wanted to make sure I did not end up with the wrong people that week. Thank you so much Dave and Bruce from Canada, and Hal, Alan and Rus from the USA. We have been friends ever since. I was never left on my own and I had to try the back seats of all their bikes on our fantastic trips around the area. For six days I felt like a much–appreciated mascot.

The days that followed were a whirlwind of plant tours, concerts, organized crowds and riding around the Milwaukee area stopping at dealers to buy T-shirts and taking in all the area had to offer.

On Thursday we all went to the EAA Airventure Museum in Oshkosh. This time I was ‘allowed’ to use Diva, but because I have no windshield on my bike, they were concerned that I would not be able to follow them. Hey, I am used to it, no problem.

By now the boys had brought my tent from its original spot over to their site. My bike seemed to be parked there all the time, so it made sense.

Friday came and we all went together to downtown Milwaukee to take a look at the city and the ‘Summerfest Grounds’ by the lake. It was a beautiful warm day. We were amazed by the enormous numbers of bikes parked in the streets and by the people of Milwaukee who welcomed us all so warmly. I have never before seen people standing on bridges and waving at all the bikers as they passed under.

Saturday was the day of the Big Parade. None of us went, we all slept in. I guess we aren’t as young as we used to be. This day we split into two groups, Hal, Alan, Rus and Bruce went on a longer ride and Dave and I enjoyed our last day together in Milwaukee. It was both a wonderful and a sad day. We strolled around, visited the fabulous Milwaukee Art Museum and were again amazed by the friendliness of the city. However, we knew that our wonderful time together would be over the next day.

On Sunday morning Hal, Alan, Bruce and Dave had to leave in order to be home again in time for work on Monday morning. We tried to postpone the inevitable ‘Goodbye’ as long as we could, but I had to see Dave rolling down the campsite road through my tears.

I spent the rest of the day visiting the mother of a friend who provided me with a lot of local newspapers that I used later for my album of the trip. In the evening I drove to Veterans’ Park for the big end of the week party. The plan was to find Rus, but we never found each other, there were just too many people. The concert was wonderful with Tim McGraw and Kid Rock and an unexpected appearance by Elton John. But I missed Dave.

Heading South to the Keys

Parked motorcycle in Key West I was now feeling lonely after spending six days with my new friends. My next destination was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I have to admit that I do not remember much of the drive through Illinois, a corner of Indiana and into Kentucky. All I recall are fields of corn and beans, beans and corn and more corn and beans. As usual, I avoided the bigger towns and kept to small campgrounds along the way, meeting all kinds of nice people on the road and at gas stations. In Kentucky, I had to stay in a motel for the first time during this trip because of the rainy weather. After two days at the motel, the sun was shining and I left for the Smoky Mountains. Once more, I ended up quite by chance on a motorcycle ‘hotspot’ called ‘Deal’s Gap’, or ‘The Dragon’ as it’s also known. A little surprised, I mastered the curves slowly but happily; there are some really twisty roads in this country.

After enjoying the mountains I left early in the morning and drove through Cherokee where there was a Harley rally that weekend. A van drove in front of me and suddenly hit the brakes. I was driving quite slowly but, oddly enough, I found it impossible to brake hard enough to stop without hitting the van so I turned the bike sharply to the right to avoid a collision and put her down on the asphalt. Immediately the people on the street, mostly bikers, rushed to me and helped me up. Luckily, nothing was really damaged. The footpeg was bent a little but some strong hands and a wrench corrected that immediately. I was puzzled by this incident but continued on to the southernmost point of the trip, where you can’t get further south in the United States; Key West, Florida. After passing through Georgia and then crossing the border to the Sunshine State I felt a huge thrill of triumph; I had crossed the USA from north to south on my bike, alone!

Key West was hot and I have to admit I didn’t really enjoy the trip over the Keys. Concrete barriers left and right guard the road and I was sitting too low on my Sporty to see over them. There were no special ocean views for this girl. In Key West I found the southernmost telephone in the USA and was able to call Dave for the first time since we had parted.

We decided we had to see each other again so I changed my plans and shortened my stay in the hot south, and after only two days I rode north.

I stuck to my original plan to drive up the east coast. I visited Daytona (of course), then headed north as quickly as I could. I needed three and a half days to get to Orangeville, Ontario. I rode seven hundred kilometres a day, which is about two hundred kilometres more than my usual comfortable distance. Even though I was in a hurry, I enjoyed the Blue Ridge Parkway for a long stretch. I celebrated my birthday while I was on it, splurging on a gourmet breakfast at a beautiful café in Blowing Rock, and then continuing on this wonderful stretch of road. What a birthday for a biker babe!

I drove through Virginia and West Virginia and headed north to Pennsylvania where I stayed at a small campground near Huntington. There is a delightful typical ‘diner’ in town where I had both dinner and breakfast. This was one of the experiences that made me feel as if I was in one of those old American movies I used to watch back in Europe.

Niagara Falls waited for me at the end of the winding roads through the state of Pennsylvania but I didn’t have too much time to look at them, Dave was waiting. It started to rain and I wandered about on both the American and the Canadian side in my rain suit and with my helmet on. I must have been a funny sight. Those last four hours to Orangeville were the wettest of my whole trip. I made it… of course! And, Boy! What a treat was waiting for me at the end of that day! Dave and I spent a wonderful week together.

I took Diva in for a check-up and service to the Harley dealer in Barrie who charged a fraction of the price I would have paid in Norway. There I got an explanation of my little accident in Cherokee. My brake disc was bent and I had only one-third of my braking power on that disc. Now I know how to check my brake discs before I leave for a trip.

One of the funny events in Canada was that I got ‘jacked up’ by some cops who couldn’t believe that my Norwegian number plate was for real and not a fake. After proving to them that everything was OK, we ended up all having a coffee together.

My time with Dave came to an end and we had to have another tearful goodbye. It was not easy at all because we didn’t know when we would meet next. At least we were now sure that we needed to see each other again.

My next destination was New Jersey and New York City where I have a number of relatives; my grandfather’s brother immigrated to New Jersey in the early twentieth century. After a night in a motel and a wonderful drive along the Finger Lakes and through the Catskill Mountains I arrived in Secaucus, NJ and saw my family. Of course I visited Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, which I had visited before and had even been up in the towers prior to 9/11. You have to see the place to really feel it.

It was getting towards the end of my wonderful holiday and I had to be in Halifax to board my plane back to Norway on October 2nd. I rode through New York City on my way to the Connecticut coast, but I wasn’t able to see Cape Cod as I had spent too long in Canada. I needed to hurry through New Hampshire and Maine to Portland.

On the way I discovered another little pearl for my collection of beautiful places, York Beach just on the southern border of Maine. What a lovely spot.

I left the USA with the night ferry from Portland to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and had a deep sleep on the boat. If you like the rumble of a Harley, you’ll enjoy the sound of a ship’s diesel engine as well. From Yarmouth to Halifax I had one more night to spend and I chose the idyllic Peggy’s Cove for it.

One last night in a small campground right beside the ocean and one last seafood dinner; I could have stayed forever.

Next day I headed for Halifax. What a shock! I hadn’t heard any broadcast news of course and I drove right into a disaster zone to learn that Hurricane Juan had hit the city only two days earlier. When I arrived two months before, Halifax had looked very different.

I was sad to leave. After 17,509 kilometres, I had to bring my dear Diva to the shipyards, kiss her goodbye before she was stowed in the crate again, then spend the last night of my holiday in Halifax.

It’s Not Over Yet

You think the story is over, don’t you? Oh no, it isn’t! There are a couple of chapters more and here is a summary of what happened. Five months later, at the end of February, 2004 I was back in Canada to be with the love of my life, Dave. I had a visa for eight months in my pocket, my house and my dog in Kirkenes were in good hands and we were ready to test this relationship. Time went quickly but we discovered that we were indeed meant for each other. After only a couple of months we bought a B&B. Motorcycles are very welcome, of course.

We settled in Lion’s Head on the beautiful Bruce Peninsula. We moved there and started our life together. In October 2004 I went back to Norway and sold my house. Dave came over and met my family and friends. After that I took my dog, Masi, and moved to Canada. In March 2005 I applied for immigration and became a resident in November 2005.

Unfortunately, the import laws did not permit me to bring my beloved Diva. She has had to stay with a good friend in Norway. These days, I have Dave’s 1995 Sportster 1200, the bike he rode to Milwaukee. He now has a 2004 Electra Glide Classic and we are now riding together on Mars and Venus!

The biggest event, though, was on August 31, 2005. We flew down to Las Vegas, rented a 2005 Heritage Softail and drove through the Drive-Thru at the Little White Wedding Chapel and were married.

That is what can come out of The Ride of a Lifetime!

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