Joyce Paulson rode motorcycles in her 20s as an act of rebellion. At 53, her motivations have changed.
"It's adventure. Sometimes my life is just too boring for words. I'm always looking for something to make my life meaningful," says Paulson, a Wimer resident.
Paulson is one of about 35 women in the local chapter of Women in the Wind, a national group dedicated to promoting positive images of female motorcycle riders, as well as safety and riding education.
Paulson and four other members gathered recently at D&S Harley-Davidson on Medford's South Pacific Highway to discuss life on the road. All are in their 50s.
This age demographic comes as no surprise to Terrie Martin, whose family owns the Harley dealership.
"We'll have young women by in their 20s and then women in their 40s. There's a gap in there if you're raising kids. It's just too hard to leave them behind," says Martin.
Though she grew up around motorcycles, Martin didn't begin riding until she joined the family business, about the same time her daughter got a driver's license.
"It changes you "… You're out there by yourself; nobody sees you doing it. You can ride 100 miles and come back and feel great, no matter what's happening in your life," says Martin.
In the eight years since this group formed, they've helped each other through divorce, illness and even the death of a fellow rider.
Maureen Wright, of Grants Pass, had the moral support of her riding friends when she went through treatment for breast cancer. That experience deepened her passion for riding motorcycles.
"You hear people say, 'You know, when I was younger, I wish I woulda.' Well, I'm not going to be that person. I'm going to do that now. Time is of the essence," says Wright.
Wright plans on being on the road for the long haul.
"Too many young women are concerned with things that fade away later in life, whereas if you pick something that's strong, you can do it all of your life," she adds.
Fear often is a barrier to pursuing the motorcycle endorsement for an Oregon driver's license. Fatal and crippling motorcycle accidents make headlines often, even though their numbers are small compared with car and truck accidents.
"I started riding when I was 14; you have no fear back then," says Marsha Carrino, a Phoenix resident retired from a career in the defense industry. "Now I'm more scared of other drivers. Can they see me?"
Team Oregon is a rider-safety training program offered by the Oregon Department of Transportation. It offers courses for beginner through advanced riders. A law passed last year requires the basic course for new motorcycle endorsements.
"I don't ever want to have fear be my measuring stick," says Hollie Christian, a nurse who lives in Ashland. "I don't have to be reckless, but I'm certainly not going to stay in my valley because I'm afraid to go somewhere. I get on the bike and ride to L.A. by myself without fear because I have the knowledge."
But once you get past the fear, there is a sense of freedom, of focus, that each of these women embraces.
"At this point, you can't do anything but think about riding. You can't think about cleaning the kitchen and work. You can't think about nothin' but the road, the cars around you, the smells," says Martin.
It's the sensory experience that makes riding come alive, something impossible in the hermetically sealed environment of a car or truck, according to Paulson.
"The temperature variations, the warm spots, the cold pockets — it's humid; it's dry; it's constantly changing. In autumn, you get the smell of the leaves," she says.
The number of female motorcycle riders is increasing. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, the percentage of women who owned motorcycles in 2008 was 12.4 percent, up from 9.6 percent in 2003.
"Seeing other women doing it is important — meeting another woman who rides or seeing another woman on a bike," says Martin of what helped her get started. "Suddenly, you think 'If she can do that, I can, too.' "
The local chapter of Women in the Wind does more together than ride and socialize. For the past six years, they have organized a group ride called the Corset Cruise. The event has raised more than $25,000 for breast-cancer testing for Rogue Valley residents.
The group has also collected toys and delivered Easter baskets, valentines, backpacks and school supplies to children at Rogue Valley Medical Center.
For these women, riding is about alone time in a busy life, even while riding together.
"The freedom of it — you're by yourself," says Carrino. "You have to stay in the moment. It's hard in life to stay in the moment."
For more information on Women in the Wind, contact Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-535-5515.