Mother Nature has a way of taking the best laid plans, rumpling them up and tossing them to the side like a roughed-up ragdoll. Last year, Edina’s Jean Caizzo and Lisa Hawks planned a trip to Naples, Florida—not unusual, since many Minnesotans travel to warmer climates. What was unusual was their mode of travel–a pair of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, which they hoped to navigate along Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, through the Smoky Mountains. Enter stage right: weather’s heavy hand.
After lunch on the ride’s fourth day, a curtain of dense fog descended as the pair entered the Shenandoah National Forest in Virginia. “It’s a wide, curvy road, and the cars that were exiting [the park] were impatient,” Caizzo says. “They were driving fast and sometimes crossing over the center line.”
Excitement folded into trepidation over the next five hours. Caizzo and Hawks stopped for fuel and food before heading out for another 27 miles in darkness. “That was the scariest part of our journey,” Caizzo says. She recalls an eeriness that enveloped them as they returned to the open road, where the landscape, lovely under ideal conditions, could now prove hazardous. Near a meadow or a mountainous drop-off might be a doe and her three fawns grazing next to the highway– potentially sudden roadway obstacles. Another potential danger, standing on its hind legs, took a threatening post alongside a roadside wall: A bear eyed Caizzo over its left shoulder as she rode past. She feared that one bear could equal two or more unfriendly beasts in the area. “The bear just heightened my anxiety,” she says.
Providence intervened, and the pair spotted the off-ramp to their planned resting spot and navigated (with the help of a stranger with strong headlights and knowledge of the area) to an inn. Walking to use the main lodge’s land line (her cell battery was dead) to call her husband, Caizzo’s adrenaline began to recede, allowing fear and fatigue to take over. “I was really fighting back tears and exhaustion,” she says.
The next day, the inn’s proprietors encouraged the women to skedaddle and get a jump on serious weather bearing down on the region. The rains began during the night. “We were white-knuckling it to get out of there,” Caizzo says. Tornadoes and flood-inducing rains pushed behind the women as they made a hasty trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, where they waited out the storm for a few days before finally heading to Naples.
While it wasn’t the ride they expected, Caizzo says the experience forged an unexpected bond between the two women. “When you’re going through a situation...and you’re with somebody that you trust, a real bond develops,” she says. “That trip made us sisters.”
Recognizing that all riders, particularly women, are vulnerable out on the road, Caizzo and Hawks take great care in focusing on safety and have devoted many hours to training. The women find elements of beauty and personal sanctuary on every ride. “Long road trips are my forte,” Caizzo says. “It’s the vagabond in me.”
For Hawks, it’s an opportunity to push ‘pause’ and be grateful for all the things in her life and just be in the moment.
Will the riding duo take another trek along Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway? “Oh, absolutely,” Caizzo says, without missing a beat. “We’ve talked about it many times, and we want to go back and see the scenery.”
Jean Caizzo loves sharing her passion for riding motorcycles and offers tips to other riders, particularly women, who are hitting the road in increasing numbers. “We tend to really watch out for each other,” Caizzo says, encouraging women riders to take more time planning their routes and refrain from riding after dark. Also …
- Pack an extra cell phone battery. “Mophie makes one that holds up to two and a half times extra battery power. It’s small and compact. If your bike doesn’t have a phone charging port, this is a must-have item for travel.”
- Stay safe and connected by using a cell phone app, such as Find My Friends. “As long as you have service and your cell phone is on and operating, [designated friends or family] will be able to track your exact location.”
- Use a heated jacket liner. “This one item has extended my riding season like nothing else. A little heat also comes in handy when back and shoulder muscles are sore.” Pack single-use foot bed warmers. “It was 36 degrees the day we left Minnesota. Grabber foot bed warmers kept our feet toasty for the first five days.”
- Use a dry-erase marker to write route directions on the inside of the windshield. “They are easy to read while riding, stay put in the rain and simply wipe off with a soft cloth.”
- Stay out of harm’s way. “Plan out your trip beforehand. Make lodging reservations in advance so you’re not scrambling to find a place to stay at the end of a long day in an unfamiliar location.”