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Tracy Frank, Published March 23 2012

Along for the ride: Women enjoy adventure, camaraderie of riding motorcycles

CASSELTON, N.D. - The first time Donna Samuelson met the man who would become her husband, he took her on a motorcycle ride.

“He grew up on bikes. This was just a part of him,” she said. “At first I thought he would grow out of it.”

Instead, riding has become an important part of both of their lives. Donna rides behind her husband, Earl, on his Honda Goldwing motorcycle.

“I’m very at ease with him in control,” she said.

When Donna really started getting into their motorcycle rides was when they started taking longer trips with friends to places like the Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes and Niagara Falls.

“I swear, it’s kind of addicting,” she said. “I really like seeing new places.”

That love of travel is also what draws Sue Nelson of Fargo to her motorcycle.

Nelson has been riding since 1999.

Her husband, Jim, gave it up when their kids were small. When he started up again, Sue took a few rides on the back of his bike before deciding she wanted a bike of her own.

“I had never done it before,” she said. “If you told me 10 years ago that I would be riding a motorcycle, I would have said you were crazy.”

She started by taking a motorcycle safety class.

Now they ride their Harleys three or four times a week when the weather’s nice and every day when they take their bikes on vacation.

They like to travel to the West Coast. They’ve also been to Yellowstone, Gettysburg, Penn., and Michigan.

“I love to travel and see new things,” Sue said. “You see things differently on a motorcycle than you do in a car. We take back roads instead of freeways, and it’s much more interactive.”

Last July, they took a four-week motorcycle trip to Alaska.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” she said. “It was on my husband’s bucket list, and we were able to do it.”

They usually travelled 350 to 500 miles a day, spending eight to 10 hours on the road depending on the terrain and the weather. They were pelted with rain for part of their trip.

“There were days that were just horrid,” Sue said. “But we had to keep on going.”

They typically stop every 100 to 150 miles to gas up and stretch, she said.

“Ten minutes off the bike is all you need,” she said.

While on her husband’s motorcycle, Donna has to shift and stretch occasionally to avoid muscle cramps. They travelled 608 miles during the longest day of their East Coast trip last summer.

“It’s very doable,” she said.

Earl has also made the motorcycle trips as comfortable for Donna as possible. They have CB radios in their helmets so they can not only talk to each other, but they can also talk to their friends on their bike. Donna has a heated vest for when they travel in the mountains. And she said her seat is like a La-Z-Boy compared to most motorcycle seats.

They also pull a small trailer behind their bike for their luggage, and it has a cooler for snacks and drinks. But contrary to what many people believe, there’s no beer in the cooler. What you would find are sandwiches, water bottles and cookies.

The questions she gets about the cooler illustrate the misconception people often have of bikers.

Donna wears leather chaps and a coat – they’re essential to protect against the pebbles and bugs that might hit her on a ride. She also wears a black skull cap to help hold her hair out of her face under her helmet.

But once when they stopped at a hotel and a little girl approached her, the girl’s mother instantly pulled her daughter away.

“People think that we’re all these bad people,” said Donna, who works as a dental hygienist at Hagen Dental in Casselton and is one of the nicest people you would ever meet. “That really hurt my feelings.”

But there’s also camaraderie among bikers. The Samuelsons tend to drive places that attract other bikers, like state parks, and bikers will often stop and talk to each other. Donna said she sees a lot of female motorcycle passengers and drivers.

Sue said more people will stop and talk with her and her husband when they’re on their bikes than when they’re in the car. Usually it’s people who would like to be doing the same thing, she said. Young kids will often wave.

She hasn’t experienced discrimination as a female biker and said she’s also seeing more and more women riders.

“It’s a good way to travel, a good way to meet people,” she said. “We just have fun with it.”

Female motorcycle ownership is growing. Of the 27 million people who operated a motorcycle in 2009, 7 million were women, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

While riding is a fun way to travel, there are risks.

Donna and Earl don’t ride at night and they really watch the weather. Donna has been on the bike in hail and thunderstorms, but she said hail hurts and they try to head for a gas station or an underpass if it storms.

Donna said Earl is a very defensive driver, but there are still drivers who don’t see them.

Sue said there have been times when they’ve had to slam on their brakes because a driver has pulled out in front of them.

“We’ve had near misses, but you have that in a car, too,” she said.