By Julie “Squirrel” Andrews

We’re all in this alone together.

In the recent past, I was accustomed to group riding. A two-hour solo ride seemed daunting. I worried about getting lost in the countryside with no one but the cows for company. I worried about getting a flat or breaking down. I suspect these fears trouble many women riders. But if we crave the adventure and freedom of rolling solo on two wheels, then our only choice is to prepare as best we can and do it anyway. Author Brene Brown calls this “daring greatly.”

For some, riding solo is a siren’s call. If you take the leap and venture out alone on your motorcycle for a day, weeks, or months, you’re not likely to regret it. Once you’ve done it, it won’t be long before the road calls you again. And you’ll go. Because you can.

Carla Jean - "When I'm on my bike my fears go away."

“I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I just started talking about it a year in advance and made it a reality,” explains Carla Jean of her first solo trip from Texas to Florida. “It was a spiritual journey. All the fearlessness and confidence I had as a kid came back to me. When I’m on my bike my fears go away.” She carefully planned her itinerary for 500-mile days and a specific destination each night with hotel reservations or by prior arrangement with friends or family. The take-away for me is to set reasonable goals.

My trial by fire was the 10,000-mile Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge (HHMC) in 2018. No GPS, no advance knowledge of the route, and only outdoor sleeping allowed. I agree the prospect seems entirely unreasonable. And yet…what if I could? The goal is to complete the route without deviation (as quickly as you reasonably can). The HHMC is not a race, nor is it a group ride. Riders merge and diverge throughout, traveling in pairs, small groups, and individually.

Julie Andrews learned a lot about riding solo after participating in the 10,000 mile Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge.

I hadn’t intended to ride solo, it just worked out that way. Leaving Franklin, North Carolina, I found myself rolling solo at the back of the pack. I didn’t feel alone because I knew others were somewhere ahead. With the first checkpoint and more than 2,500 miles behind me, I wasn’t about to turn around. I worried about safety but discovered most people, when asked, just want to help. Ultimately, I navigated about half the route on my own to cross the finish line in 21 days.

But how do you prepare for something like that? You want to be ready for it all. But, girl, don’t pack crap! Even when you feel you need to be prepared for every eventuality, be minimalist and remember you can purchase almost any forgotten item. An overloaded bike won’t handle as efficiently. Too much weight stresses tires, compresses suspension, and compromises braking. In short, it’s dangerous.

We’re all guilty of overpacking to some degree. I still rationalize packing mascara and some form of espresso. However, I’ve whittled my list down so everything fits in my saddlebags and one roll bag strapped to the passenger seat.

It makes little sense for me to attempt to itemize a comprehensive packing list here. Beyond the essentials, your priorities and packing lists will change with trip length, lodging choices, terrain, and seasons. I recommend searching riders’ forums, blogs, Facebook groups, etc.  to customize a list for your needs and riding style. Fully load the bike, take half off, cinch straps, and GO.

My non-negotiable items have more to do with when I’m on the bike rather than off it. Water, for example, is often missing from people’s packing lists. But I’ve gotten heat sickness riding off-road a couple times, so I don’t take water for granted. It’s not only a question of how much water (anywhere from 1.5 to three liters), but also how I plan to carry it. Before setting out, I’ll fill a water bottle to keep within reach and stash more in the saddlebags.

My riding policy is “all the gear, all the time.” I’m never without my full-face, modular helmet.  Regardless of the season, I wear an armored touring jacket, ADV-style pants or riding jeans, full-fingered gloves, and waterproof motorcycle boots. I “pack” all my bulky protective outerwear on my body. If, for some reason, I need to load it on the bike, I’ll use a cargo net.

Under the ADV suit, I swap out between thin, moisture-wicking base layers and warming layers of synthetic fabrics. I’m looking for seamless slip shorts, leggings and tops, because I learned after two days on the road, I will feel every stitch. A great tip is to store each day’s underlayer (underwear, t-shirt, leggings, socks) in its own Ziploc bag. I bring three or four days’ worth of undergarments in addition to travel-sized Febreeze spray and washer-dryer sheets.

Last summer, I met Libby mid-way on her 9,000-mile solo road trip around the country. She had everything, including camping gear, loaded in one 70-liter dry bag and a tank bag on a Kawasaki Ninja 650. I was impressed!

Long distance traveler Libby and her trusty Kawasaki Ninja 650. 

When asked about her packing priorities, Libby said “My 100% go-to would be all my layers (of clothing). I have to be prepared for any kind of weather.” By layers, she’s referring to a riding jacket and pants, zip-in waterproof and thermal liners, base layers, and rain gear year-round.

As for the bike, I carry only the basic tools. You can search online for a recommended list or purchase a pre-assembled tool kit. I also throw in shop rags and a quart of oil. Truth is, I’m not a mechanical whiz. If the bike seriously breaks down, I’m probably calling AAA. Still, I don’t want to wait ages if I can solve a situation by getting to the next gas station, so I also carry a tire patch kit, mini compressor, and gas siphon. Add to this kit a mini jump starter that doubles as a flashlight and power pack to charge electronics.

Over the long 4th of July weekend, I decided to ride solo to Hot Springs and Little Rock, Arkansas. I chose to stay at KOA campgrounds because I feel safe there with attendants, a convenience store, lots of people, and good lighting. I get to park the bike next to my tent. The facilities offer showers, laundry, electricity, and sometimes Wi-Fi.

Although this was a solo trip, it wasn’t all solitary. For one thing, the games we play in online riding groups like America’s Ultimate Long Distance Rider and Ride-to-Eat Across USA provide ready destinations and entertainment. The first day I rode from Austin to Little Rock, where I ate at Rodney’s Handlebar & Grill and visited a friend at Rock City Harley-Davidson. I planned a route and explored the Ozarks on my own the second day. The following morning, I met up with local riders to make a run for the best apple pie a la mode I’ve ever eaten at Oark General Store.

Online riding groups like America’s Ultimate Long Distance Rider and Ride-to-Eat Across USA list fun rider-friendly destinations to eat at or visit. 

I went with an unknown stop for the ride home and reserved a campsite at Atlanta State Park, Texas. I arrived after dark and Google maps sent me down some pitch-black hardpack roads with dark houses offset in the trees. This didn’t seem like the way to a state park…. A barking dog ran into the street to chase me. He sounded like Cujo. While I eventually found the campsite, I’m not sure I would have stuck with it if I hadn’t experienced several uncertain situations on the Hoka Hey. I could have hightailed it to the nearest Buc-ee’s gas station galore. But here I am with another story to tell.

The pitch-black roads reminded me of another safety-related, aftermarket accessory I wish I had on the Hoka Hey. I rode a stock Harley-Davidson Dyna Glide and in hindsight, I should have had auxiliary lights both to help me see and be seen. I knocked off riding early more than once because I couldn’t see deer (or dogs) after dusk. As for my brake light, I doubt anyone could perceive more than a pinpoint dancing on a road in the middle of nowhere. You may not plan to ride at night, but there are always variables out of our control. An added bonus is lights that make the bike visible in darkness will also make your motorcycle stand out more during the day. On my list are LED lights to: (a) flood the shoulder, (b) shine a distance spotlight down the road ahead, and (c) make my rear end more obvious. This may be the only time you’ll hear me say that.

Julie was out traveling on her Road Glide when she met and befriended Libby on her Ninja 650.

In my travels, I’ve learned to keep my cool when confronted with wacky routing directions or none at all. I now carry paper maps or a road atlas as a backup plan. I’m not afraid to flash a grin and ask a stranger for directions. The worst-case scenario is going back to the place where I got off track and starting over. Ask me how I know.

I like to stay connected for my own and my family’s peace of mind. I carry power packs and extra charging cords to keep my cell phone and helmet communication system online. Google maps and other smart phone apps, like Life 360, will allow others to track your course. Because I prefer to check in rather than be checked on, I’m not a huge fan of being tracked.

The exception is when I’m riding more remote areas with spotty cell service. For safety’s sake, I also want to carry a satellite tracker. On the HHMC, I once stopped overnight in a national forest teeming with deer. With a SPOT satellite tracker, I was able to send my husband a (one way) “All’s well” message with my GPS coordinates. Okay, I didn’t know my impromptu camp was next to Carcass Creek—and I got an earful the next day. But hedid know that had an emergency (or a carcass?) arisen, I could have pressed the tracker button to call the cavalry.

For my next adventure, I’m looking at a Garmin InReach SE+ for its advanced features such as downloadable maps, weather charts, interactive SOS, and two-way messaging. Just think how much sooner I would have been “advised” of my poor choice in campsites. On a side note, it’s best to carry both phone and tracker on your body in the event you’re separated from your motorcycle.

A great advantage to riding solo is you decide. You plan where you’ll stay. You choose when, where, and how far you’ll ride each day. You don’t have to compromise. Throughout the HHMC, I paced myself to ride as far as I could one day, knowing I needed to be able to get up and do it all again the next. The more I rode, the more comfortable I became. I wasn’t trying to chase after anyone or hold anyone else’s hand. The solo thing is pretty cool. It’s empowering. It’s freedom.

I learned solo riding by doing it. Hard-won, valuable experiences happened on the HHMC. I had to improvise my way out of countless problems. I spent nearly an entire day lost and chasing my tail. After a couple weeks on the road, I was filthy, smelly, and worn out. But I kept going. I was elated along the way to say, “I’m doing it! Hoka Hey!” I proved to myself I could. And now I ride solo all the time. You’ll discover it for yourself, too. Baby steps, bigger steps— you got this. Just get out and ride!

More women motorcyclists than ever are answering the call of the open road.