The best part? There were a lot of best parts. Depends on my mood when I look back on the trip. But the very best part was being alone. I don't quite understand that about myself—this lifelong love of being alone. I suppose being an only child is a big part of it. I just grew up doing things alone. Feels natural now, as if that's how it's supposed to be. And besides, I get along with myself better than with anybody else I know.
Joyously riding alone, never having to ask someone, "Shall we stop here? Do you want to turn off up there? Are you ready to go now? Should we camp here?"—that was the best part of all.
And the riding! That's all I had to do, day after glorious day, my white BMW R60/6 under me humming quietly through the blue and green and golden world. The bike was new. I'd had it only long enough to put 1,200 miles on it and have it checked over before I took off. It was my second bike (my third, really, if you count the 125 Suzuki Challenger that I'd started racing several months before). But my second street bike.
I'd had my first lesson on a full-dress BMW R75/5 and had fallen in love with it. "When I get good enough," I said, "I'm going to have a BMW." In about a year, I figured. And I rode my little Suzuki GT 250 thousands of miles through the northeastern Ohio winter while people kept asking, "Gee, isn't it a little cold to be out on that thing?" I had to ride. I had to get good enough.
Gradually I got better. I had to get better than I was that first day in the last week of October '73. That was when I went out to the garage alone the first time to start up my first bike and ride it after an hour or so of lessons the day before in first and second gear, stopping, starting and turning (or rather, lurching, stalling and wobbling).
After 20 minutes of fumbling with switches, frantic and clumsy kicking, a call to the dealer to find out why it stalled every time I tried to put it in first gear ("Rev it up a bit," his wife said. "It's new; everything's tight"), drenched with sweat I got the bike out of the garage. Only stalled it three or four times (between the garage and the end of the driveway, that is). From there I managed to avoid going in the ditch on the far side of the road as I swung out with what I hoped would be flair and what ended up as a gigantic, lopsided wobble. I made a mental note to write the highway commissioner about widening the county roads. My self-image was in jeopardy.
But I rode over a hundred miles that day. And the next day. And the next. A week later, shivering violently in pouring rain and 45� temperatures, I took my riding test, passed and sang at the top of my voice all the 15 miles back home.
Carefully, intensely, I piled up the mileage. Carefully one day I rode far out into the country and on a deserted road red-lined it through the gears to learn what the bike could do. Carefully I puttered through shopping centers, got groceries, did errands, rode to class. Carefully I rode fast on the freeways and slowly in traffic, with interest over rain grooves and with fear over the open steel grillwork of bridges. I rode thousands of miles alone and once in a while with a friend. Carefully that following summer I learned to race motocross and won a couple of trophies in powder-puff events. Gradually I was starting to feel good enough.
And then one day I walked into the cycle shop and there stood a brand-new white BMW. I'd never seen a white one. And I said to myself (and to anyone else who would listen), "O.K., Grace. I think you're ready for a BMW."
Two weeks later I took off on a 2,500-mile camping trip through New England and Canada. And the best thing of all was being alone with my bike the whole time. It just seemed as if that was how it was supposed to be.