RR: What first interested you in riding motorcycles?
VG: Actually it wasn’t my idea. I didn’t know a single woman who rode, so the idea didn’t even occur to me. I loved riding behind my husband, Paul, so much that he suggested I give it a try. I surely didn’t think that would be a good idea. Everyone knew how dangerous motorcycles were! But I loved that rush I felt on two wheels. So I dared. Using an old dirt bike my sister had that all of my nephews had flung around with abandon, I chose my spot. The alfalfa field I picked looked soft enough for a landing but proved to be quite bumpy. I didn’t fall off and couldn’t quit smiling.
You began your long-distance riding career on Mother’s Day, May 15, 1977. What is special about that day?
Actually I began my BMW riding that day. I’d worked my way up from that dirt bike to a seemingly huge Yamaha RD 250 on which I explored around our country house. After riding in our yard the first hundred miles, I ventured out first to the gravel roads and finally to the pavement, where I had to deal with traffic. Paul found a gorgeous “toaster tank” BMW R60/5 that a friend was selling at a great deal. He brought it home as a Mother’s Day gift. I blush to tell you that after my first ride on it, I told him it was better than sex! I did make him promise not to take it apart until the fall, when snow put an end to the riding season.
You’re obviously a loyal BMW motorcycle rider. What attracts you to the brand?
Definitely the people I’ve met. But also, I’ve always considered BMW to be at the leading edge of technology that enhances safety. I’ve had antilock brakes for a very long time. Engle Motors, our BMW dealer in Kansas City, has been invaluable to keeping us on the road. And because BMW dealers are so sparsely located, we’ve built up a network of many more as we’ve traveled around, each one outstanding in their commitment to their customers.
What are the things that you like best about the motorcycle touring community?
Almost everyone I meet is enthusiastic and living vibrantly. Two-wheel travel brings out the best in people. With email and now the Web, I can build even closer friendships with lots of friends almost daily.
What navigational aids do you rely on during long rides?
I usually plan with paper maps, but use a GPS to plot and keep track of where I am in the world. There’s nothing like taking that side road to who knows where with confidence that the GPS can find the way home if I get hopelessly lost. I do have a reputation for always finding the end of the road before I turn around. Most of the highways I prefer are a whole new experience headed in the opposite direction.
We understand that, prior to retirement, you were also a special education teacher. Was there a particular event or person that interested you in that profession?
Definitely the most amazing woman, Elda Sievert. I student-taught with her in a North Dakota high school. She was so tuned into the kids that she invented her curriculum to fit where each student was each day. No hard-and-fast lesson plan for her. She wrote down what she’d taught to keep track for her principal, but she was so good she was free of the requirement to do lesson plans!
And then there was the high school student in her class who taught me to listen—probably the most important tool I had in my special education kit.
What do your grandkids think about their grandma and grandpa riding motorcycles all over the world?
Noah, age 11, said he thinks it’s the coolest thing since sliced bread, especially since he got to ride some of those million miles with me. Brody, almost 9, said only one word—AWESOME! They both like riding a dirt bike all over Uncle Mike’s country place.
One of the most remarkable things about your million miles on BMWs is that it was ridden accident-free. Do you have any safe riding tips you’d like to share with our readers?
Ever since I started riding, I’ve read everything I could about this admittedly danger-fraught endeavor of ours in an effort to turn the odds in my favor. I ask for other riders’ advice, practice my skills, and take safety classes. I’m rarely surprised by other drivers’ boneheaded moves because I’ve learned to predict what they might do. Leaving as big an envelope around me in every riding situation is key. And then being lucky helps. I definitely do not subscribe to the commonly held belief that you’ve either been down or you’re going down. If I’m faced with certain danger, I don’t want a single atom of my being to accept that this is my turn. Starting with my first solo trip in 1991, I always depend on having the bike in great shape with fresh service and tires and then adhere to a daily checklist to prevent problems before they happen. I wave to other riders because I’m friendly, but also to keep me from daydreaming and being less vigilant. So far it’s worked!
How do you fight off fatigue and stay alert on Iron Butt rides?
It’s key to begin the ride being rested, to stay hydrated and comfortable. To me the most important thing is to know my own needs and what my body is telling me. I do need food and I do need sleep, so I keep myself as well as my bike in good condition, with good fuel and rest. I’ve learned that yawning is my body’s way of telling me something isn’t right, so I change it. I might be too hot or too cold or just need to move. My own unique sign for tiredness is when my usually active brain can’t make sense of numbers. And always, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
By riding so many miles every year, you must go through a lot of oil changes, tires, and other maintenance procedures. How do you manage the maintenance demands of high-mileage riding?
Without even knowing the importance of it, I married a guy who is a genius at keeping our bikes running in top condition. And BMW makes bikes that keep on keeping on for lots of miles. My ’94 R 1100 RS has over a third of my million miles! Since we’ve moved to Texas, we depend on Engle Motors of Kansas City to send up parts via Manny, our smiling UPS guy.
You’ve ridden in all 50 states and in several other countries. Do you have any favorite riding locations?
Definitely, though I’m most happy just wherever I happen to be at the time. Riding around the Big Bend of Texas where we live gives me wonderful variety. I dearly love the Glacier Highway into Hyder, AK. And I smile thinking of conquering Swartberg Pass in South Africa, a road recommended by friend David Hough. Almost any road on the South Island of New Zealand holds fond memories. Red Mountain overlook on the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado, where I met Ardys Kellerman to finish our million miles, is wonderfully curvaceous. (Ardys and I were the first two women to document riding 1 million miles on BMW motorcycles.) Lolo Pass from Montana into Idaho. And. . .
Now that you’ve accomplished the million-mile goal, are there any new riding goals in your future?
Safety first. And then as many miles as I can fit into this wonderful life I live.
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