Pretty Boys and Bikers: New Mexico to California

An Excerpt from Lone Rider
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The following passage is an excerpt from Lone Rider—the autobiographical story of Elspeth Beard’s 1982 journey around the world on her 1974 BMW r60/6. Elspeth's adventure—spanning the course of two years and crossing over four continents—took her through deserts, mountain ranges, and war-ravaged countries. In this excerpt from “Part 1: London to Sydney”, Elspeth Beard travels the Southwestern desert-scape, encountering tarantulas, bikers-in-pursuit, and the bitter taste of regret along the way. Continue following Elspeth's progress around the world with "Sydney to Madras: Its a Dog's Life.

          We parted outside the motel and I rode up to White Sands National Monument, an extraordinary 275-square-mile expanse of white gypsum and calcium sulphate dunes in the middle of the New Mexico desert. I walked for miles across white dunes, stared around, marveling at their stark whiteness against the dirty scrub of the New Mexico desert. The sky reflecting in the sand, it looked serene, unworldly. Taking off my boots, I walked on across the gypsum, felt the fine powder slide between my toes. Because it reflected light instead of absorbing it, the sand felt cool underfoot, quite unlike normal desert sand. It was a very special place.
After a while, I sat down, watched a tarantula spider crawl across the surface and thought through the previous twenty-four hours. Why had I slept with Buddy? What was all that about? And how would it be when I saw Buddy again to collect my $40? Doubting I’d find the answers in the middle of the world’s largest gypsum dune field, I walked back to my bike to continue the long journey west towards Tucson, where I relished a night alone in a bed before climbing back onto my bike for the long haul through Arizona into California, towards San Diego.


          I was in the Arizona desert, on the move, when I first saw them. Five dark shadows behind me, approaching fast, the only other living things I could see on a long, flat road, running from horizon to horizon across an empty landscape. With their long front forks, leather jackets, bandanas in place of helmets, I immediately knew what they were. A biker gang.
They came up alongside me, one on either side. A third rider positioned himself behind me, his front wheel almost touching the rear of my bike, the other two riders on his flanks. I was trapped on three sides. I looked across, saw the studs, skulls and swastikas on their jackets, the crucifixes and biker club emblems painted on their petrol tanks. One of them met my eye, swerved his bike towards me, smiled ominously. Was it my long plait, hanging down my back, beneath my helmet, that was making them do this?
Maybe I should have been scared, but something about them didn’t faze me. As long as I kept moving and didn’t let them pull ahead of me, I’d be fine. But the riders on either side edged ahead, the two flank riders to my rear moving forwards to take their spaces. They’d done this before, I realized. And I wondered what usually came next. I had to get out of there before they boxed me in.
I accelerated up to 70 mph. They matched my speed. I twisted the throttle some more, glimpsed at my speedometer, saw the needle push past 80 mph . . . 85 mph . . . 90 mph. Still they stuck to me. But I could sense they were struggling to keep up. I twisted the old girl’s throttle further, spied an escape in the distance. A corner. If I could make it to the bend before they pushed me off the road, I’d be safe. Their big ugly choppers and Harley-Davidson hogs could match my BMW for speed in a straight line, but cornering was another matter.


          I twisted the throttle further, edged slightly ahead, then watched three of the bikes – two on either side; one behind me – match me for speed. But now, only a few hundred yards from the bend, they could see what was coming. They started to slow and I moved ahead of them, taking the corner as fast as I could, glorying in the superior handling of my BMW over their dumb meathead hogs. Another two bends followed in quick succession and I watched them in my mirror, dropping back fast, knowing the game was over and I’d won.
With a further twist of the throttle, I left them far behind me, turned them into dots. The race for the corner had shown them up for what they were – five idiots who wanted to frighten a lone woman rider. Maybe they were just playing with me, but it was all a bit unnecessary. Bullies always travel in packs and pick on easy targets. I felt sure they wouldn’t have dared give the same treatment to a man. When I stopped for some petrol a couple of hours later, I made sure to tuck my plait inside my leather jacket. Maybe it was best not to advertise the fact that I was a woman.

Read an excerpt from the second leg of Elspeth Beard’s journey: “Part 2: Sydney to Madras”.
And find the book on our website HERE!