BETH DIXON is living proof that beauty comes from within, the kind of woman who has the honesty and sense of humour to look herself in the face and remark that she has a pretty good waist.
As a teenager she was a tomboy who had her own way of making friends with the opposite sex. If she couldn't attract boys by looking pretty and acting stupid, she did it by out-dragging them from the next stoplight.
This, plus the warmth of her personality, proved a pretty potent come-on then, and still does, more than 15 years later. Nowadays, she is a 34-year old office manager for a high-tech public relations firm near San Francisco.
If anything her circle of friends is larger than ever, men who find a gutsy woman with a big laugh and a caring attitude a pretty attractive package, especially when stretched out over a fire-engine red Italian sportsbike. Beth is tight with some women, most of them riders, but she has always made friends more readily with men than women.
"I'm very much treated as 'one of the guys,'"she says.
Beth's introduction to motorcycles was at a Bay Area networking company. Her hobbies were Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) racing and SCUBA diving, so it was no big leap to begin riding pillion on a fellow employee's Kawasaki Concours.
"I really struggled at first," she remembers. "I'm not especially co-ordinated and take things slowly when I'm new to them. I need a long time to build enough self-confidence—in my skill level rather than in the machinery—to feel comfortable at anything. It was practice, practice, practice. Eventually, I got to the point where riding was more fun than work."
Because she'd enjoyed Italian-made automobiles, Beth gravitated towards Italian-made motorcycles. After two years of research, she decided on a Ducati 750SS, a 400lb sports machine capable of speeds up to 130mph. Beth bought it sight unseen from a dealer in southern California because it was the last California model with the white frame that she wanted. It was quite a gamble, not because she didn't know the dealer, but because her entire motorcycle piloting experience at the time consisted of 2,500 miles on a Yamaha SR250 Exciter. The purchase was one of blind faith that she'd be able to handle the larger, more powerful Ducati, so she named the bike "Faith."
The name didn't stick. Beth did something almost no one would do with a new motorcycle, she let her friends ride it. These mostly male acquaintances included some who flew into town for a visit as well as locals who hadn't had a chance to ride a Ducati. Her boyfriend promptly named Faith, "The Slut." He said, "Every guy who comes into town gets a ride ..."
Whatever its name, Faith or The Slut, the bike's stubborn attitude and lightning reflexes suited her.
"I'm just one of those sick people who like Italian vehicles," she says with a smile. "I had driven Alfa Romeos for the previous 12 years and their personalities seemed to fit with mine. I like the quirkiness, the heritage, and the basic design concepts that seem to be in vehicles from Italy."
Again, she started slowly, keeping her solo trips to a day or less, accompanied by another rider for encouragement. Soon Beth was commuting to work, going for fun Sunday runs through the twisties, and taking weekend-long camping and touring rides.
One day towards the end of June last year, Beth's life suddenly changed. Her long-term live-in relationship ended, suddenly and without warning. At first, the logistics of packing and moving kept her busy, but eventually Beth realized she was a little scared and uncertain, and lonely. To make matters worse, it looked as if she'd miss seeing some of her riding buddies. For the previous two years, she and the boyfriend had attended the Dryside Gather in Washington state, a motorcycle rally similar to the Joust in California. She'd missed the event and, with it, her annual chance to meet face-to-face with her Pacific Northwest friends.
No relationship, no visits with friends and no long-distance bike tour; it was too much to stand for, so Beth didn't. She started organizing a trip of her own that would wind over the mountains to Reno, north through Oregon to Washington, east to Idaho and Montana, west over the Cascades and back south to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Because she had worked for a computer company, she had long used the Internet and knew a lot of people on the WetLeather(tm), euro-moto and Ducati mailing lists. E-mail flew back and forth as the planning commenced, a route was mapped out and arrangements confirmed for overnight accommodation. Beth promised everyone she'd report on her adventure so they would know she was OK. Her friends understood how much the end of her relationship had affected her; this would be a journey of self-exploration as much as it was a holiday tour.
What follows are her reports, more or less in their original form, as they were received by Beth's mailing lists. The subject is motorcycling, but the subtext is personal struggle, physical control and the nurturing of a community of friends.
It helps as you read along if you understand that Beth, tough as she is, is physically unable pick up the Ducati if it falls down. It also helps if you realize that a motorcycle that goes off a mountain road usually lands in the bushes like a lawn dart. And there is a third thing; consider how you'd feel if the only person you could turn to for help in starting your voyage of self-discovery was the very same person whom it was designed to help forget. Picking up that phone must have been almost as hard as picking up the bike.
Beth says about herself, "The only way to live life is to meet whatever it brings head on, and to do the best I can with whatever that happens to be."
Friday, Sept. 16I planned to leave my place in Sunnyvale (CA) to spend the weekend with Ed Hackett in Reno (NV). Reno Air Races weekend. Wanted to leave for Ed's about 1pm. At 2:30 I was packed, the bike was gassed up and loaded. I'm getting better at this...only 1.5 hours later than planned. But I was still waiting for Liz Sain to deliver my new, custom-fit electric vest. Tried to call repeatedly. Busy signal. The phone was off the hook. About 5pm I called Ed so he wouldn't worry about where I was. Told him I'd come up the next day. I would leave my place early in the morning and get to Reno in time for the air races. About 8:30pm, I went to bed. Still hadn't been able to reach Liz and getting pissed.
Saturday, Sept. 17 Up at 3am and dressed in leathers. Decided to repack and reload the bike. Changed the priorities of some of the things I was taking since I didn't have the electric vest I'd been counting on, and moved luggage around on the bike to a better (more stable, lower COG) position. I rolled out of my driveway at about 5am. Took Hwy 237 east to 880N. Off 880 in Fremont I took the Mission exit to get to 680. Coming off Mission and onto 680, I lost all traction. I was layed over into a right hander to go around the on-ramp. Never saw The Spill until I was in it. Had to be either diesel fuel or motor oil. Lots of it. A nice fat line of slipperly shit all the way around the entrance ramp and about 4 feet wide. Shit. The Slut valiantly tried to stay vertical, and did for what seemed ages. Finally, though, she went down on the right side at about 40mph.
I tumbled. Once I came to a stop, I figured out which way was up and got the hell out of the middle of the freeway on-ramp. I left the ignition on so the headlight would make me a bit more visible (I hoped), and tried to figure out how to move the bike. She was pointed back down the on- ramp right at oncoming traffic. I can't pick her up by myself, even when pissed. Boy, was I pissed. The next person around that ramp was in a mini-pickup truck. He almost lost it and slid into the bike. He stopped, helped me pick her up, and I rolled the bike to the shoulder. I grabbed my flashlight and started to look her over. Broken right front fairing panel (figured), broken right front turn signal, bent brake levers front and rear. Mirror ok other than a bit scuffed, same for the peg and bar end. Munched the SuperTrapp on the right side and bent the bracket. Grrrr. I decided I could get her home okay. Made it home, put her in the garage, and went to bed.
Up at 8am to call Ed so he wouldn't worry. Again. Took a nice hot shower and called BTF Motors. Dale said to bring her up and he' d take a look. Tried Liz Sain. Phone is no longer off the hook and she answers! She _did_ deliver my vest -- just like she promised. But to the wrong street address. I walk a block over and there it is sitting on the porch of an empty duplex. Oh, well. Decided I wanted someone else to look at the bike before I ride 40 miles to the dealership. Someone who knows a bit more than I do about this sort of thing and has good eyes. Godfrey, Jim Franklin, Brad, Duncan...shit, everyone is in Reno! Well, not quite everyone after all. Tom agrees to take a look at it for me and offers to let me steal parts of his 900SS if needed. His bike is at BTF for a service and will be waiting for parts anyway. He doesn't find anything really wrong with my 750 so we head for Livermore. Dale happens to have both the turn signal and front brake lever in stock. A miracle. We tape up the broken corner of the fairing, put on the new parts, bend the rear brake lever to a straighter angle, and call it good. Coming back home, I realize I've got very little front brake. Another call to Tom and he's giving me brake bleeding classes in his driveway. Much better.
I stopped by Helimot to personally thank Helmut for the hip padding in my leather pants and my Held kevlar/kangaroo gloves. There is not a bruise, not a scuff on me.
By the time I gassed up the bike and made it home, it was dinner time. I decided to forget about making it to the Reno Air Races. Had a nice dinner, a lot of Merlot and crashed.
Next installment....I actually, finally, get on my way.