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After raising her “4+2+1” brood—four kids, two stepkids and one unofficially adopted Ethiopian daughter— Diana Bletter faced an empty nest. What would she do now? And more importantly, who was she now?
With nothing left to call her own, she decided to ride a motorcycle (with her husband on his motorcycle) from Long Island up to Alaska and back again. Only one slight problem: she’d never been on a motorcycle before.
After six motorcycle lessons, she took off, traveling across a continent, and then up the Alaska Highway, a road that is “sometimes dangerous, often unpredictable, and always saddled with the solitude of a frontier trail.” She and her husband, alone together for the first time in years, confront fierce winds, drenching rains, grizzly bears, moose—and each other.
Full of spiritual insights, observations and humor, The Mom Who Took Off on Her Motorcycle captures the way two people, madly in love and yet so different, learn to count on each other and rediscover their passion—despite an accident that almost tears them apart. This story of a 10,000-mile journey to the Great White North is the inspiring tale of how one woman takes off to discover who she was before she had children and to find out who she could still become.
HERE’S A SNEAK PREVIEW OF THE FIRST CHAPTER:
One soggy gray morning in the Yukon, I spotted a terrifying bridge in the middle of nowhere and did the one thing I had vowed to my husband, Jonny, that I’d never do.
I pulled off to the side of the road and cried.
I was riding my motorcycle, not sitting on the back of his motorcycle with my arms wrapped nonchalantly around his waist. Ever since I’d dreamed up this farfetched, foolish trip— riding a motorcycle from the East End of Long Island to Anchorage, Alaska—I’d been trying to prove that I could be just as Zen about the art of motorcycle riding as the next guy. Yet there I was, gushing girly, geyser-sized tears at the thought of crossing this grated bridge.
And who did I have to blame for my predicament? Myself.
This little ten-thousand-mile journey was my idea. All year I had been trying to figure out what to do after the last of my brood—four kids, two step-kids and one unofficially adopted Ethiopian daughter—left home in the fall. For more than two decades, I had put all my energy into them.
Before the kids, I’d had an exciting life. I’d gone to an Ivy League university and then worked at National Lampoon. I published a book when I was 32 and gave lectures around the United States. But after the birth of my fourth child, I moved to Israel with my first husband, divorced him, and remarried Jonny, taking on his two kids and then unofficially adopting a seventh. Those kids had given me so much and they had taken so much from me, too. And no matter what I was doing as they were growing up, I always felt I should be doing something else. When I was reading someone else’s book while breastfeeding, I felt like a cow; and when I was away from my kids and working, I felt like a cad. I juggled to be everything all at once: a successful writer, wife, mother, daughter, friend. I hadn’t wanted to sacrifice my kids for my work but I had sacrificed my work for my kids. I wanted to ride a motorcycle to discover who I was before I became a mother, and to find out who I could still become now that all our kids had grown up.
As soon as I suggested this motorcycle trip to Jonny, a seasoned motorcyclist, he was packing his buck knife and his traveling toothbrush. Before I had a chance to come to my senses, before the kids were even out of the house, he had bought a blue BMW something-or-other for himself and, for me, a red BMW 650 GS. (Or was it a G 650 GS?) There’s no better reason for a 52-year-old woman to get a motorcycle other than to accessorize her cherry red lipstick.
We left the eastern end of Long Island just after dawn on the morning of the summer solstice in 2009 and reached the New York-Canadian border by the next day. I wanted to stop in Niagara Falls but Jonny sped right by.
“It’s chock-full of tourists!” he said. “Go there with your next husband!”
On our way across Canada and toward Alaska, we faced perilously steep hills, desolate roads, isolation, exhaustion, moose, bison, and grizzly bears—and now this, I thought, as I stared at the Nisutlin Bay Bridge in the Yukon. My guidebook had warned me that the bridge was slippery in a drizzle; it had been raining all morning. How did I ever think I could do this journey? I’d been hoping to inaugurate the next chapter of my life but all I could picture were scenes of my death.
In Scenario One, my motorcycle’s wheels glide like a hockey puck over ice and I smack into a trillion-ton trailer barreling over the bridge from the opposite direction. Scenario Two finds me crossing the bridge ever so carefully only to be whammed from behind by a driver in a shiny RV who notices my license plate and despises New Yorkers. I recalled the words of one of Jonny’s friends, this tough motorcycle dude whom I referred to as Mr. X. He had sat me down right before I left for this trip and told me, “I know how much you want to do this ride, but I know you’ll never be able to do it.”
So now I pictured my funeral, my kids and my husband and the other mourners, and I zoomed in on Mr. X who was shaking his head, a sad, smug expression spreading on his face that meant, I told her so. I looked out at the Nisutlin River with its silvery gray water tumbling between the grassy banks. The water was so cold that if I swerved and fell in, I’d have about 30 seconds to survive. Then again, with my padded jacket and pants and my heavy, steel-reinforced boots, I’d most likely sink and drown and the river would carry me all the way to the Bering Sea. I’d never even make it to my own funeral.
My motorcycle engine was running, but everything seemed still.
Jonny pulled up on his motorcycle, lifted his helmet visor and looked at me. He had olive skin and a muscular build with penetrating, intensely dark eyes. His eyes had captivated and conquered me so instantly that only a few months after meeting him, I had flipped my life upside down. I had ended my marriage with my first husband even though he was a good man and I thought I loved him and we had four children, all under the age of six at that time. Yet in no time at all, I had fallen out of love with him and into love with Jonny, never once looking back.
Until now. Orphaned by the time he was twenty and an Israeli commando by twenty-three, Jonny liked schedules, order, and staying vigilantly prepared for the next war. I, on the other hand, had never encountered a battle outside the house I grew up in on Long Island, and liked writing, reading and daydreaming. But we understood each other. We each had our secrets. We knew things about each other that we had never been able to tell anyone else. Still, was this grueling 10,000-mile odyssey of round-the-clock togetherness more than we’d bargained for?
I flipped up my motorcycle helmet visor that was caked with mud, streaked with rain, and decorated with a splattered assortment of dead flies and mosquitoes. Straddling my motorcycle, shivering with fear, the bridge that stretched the length of six football fields took my breath away. In the distance, after the Nisutlin River, was the village of Teslin, which was north of Juneau and south of so much glacial ice. Beyond that, the mountains rose into majestic peaks, as if they were the earth’s emperors. Even in July their jagged shoulders were cloaked with bejeweled capes of snow.
“What’s wrong?” Jonny asked.
“What’s wrong is that I’ve only taken five motorcycle lessons in my entire life!” I said. “And we never covered a grated metal bridge in the Yukon!”
“But you’ve already ridden 2,000 miles to get here!”
“A stunt woman who looks like me rode those miles,” I said. “How about I walk the bike across?”
“Are you nuts?” he said. “That’s more dangerous than riding across it.”
I stared at the bridge as if, just by staring at it, I could somehow transform it into something less formidable. But the bridge didn’t budge, nor did I, and there was Jonny, a man who charged into battles without thinking twice, who never hesitated to fight, who didn’t doubt his courage for one moment and who couldn’t understand how I doubted mine. He could serve as witness and encourage me on but this was a solo act. My test. It was me versus my own fears, my own ghosts.
I’d reached what felt like the end of a lifetime and also the beginning. How would I find myself again? I had no idea. All I knew was that I had to push myself even more and ride even farther than I wanted to go. But where to?
Even deeper into the vast unknown.
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- If You Believe In Something, Then Go After It With All Your Heart. (thebestchapter.com)