Backroads With Betsy: Ride Straight

The hazards of drinking and riding

By Betsy Huelskamp

By “ride straight,” Im not talking about your sexual preference thats your own business. Ive long been made fun of for my “John Denver/be high on life” attitude. Not that John Denver was straight, but he looked the part. Ive even been called Nancy Reagan because of my rigid outlook on smoking, drugs and alcohol. Im not at all insulted or embarrassed to be associated with Nancy. Ive been high on life for 27 years, as I was only 19 when I discovered I was really not very good at substance use of any kind. It seemed everybody but me was able to develop a “tolerance.” I was always that cheerleader slumped over the bushes, puking and then passing out. Then the whole hangover thing seemed to last twice as long for me, and I just didnt see the point. It wasnt like I needed extra courage. In fact, someone should have given me a pill to mellow me out. But thats a whole other can of worms, so back to my topic.

We all know driving under the influence is not a good idea. But the fact is, one of the main draws at any bike event is the beer booth. One of the main destinations of most rides is a bar. People are driving under the influence at most organized events you attend, all around you. It is actually amazing that there are as few accidents and deaths as there are in places like Sturgis. The odds are really against us! As long as Ive been riding and as experienced as I am, I know I can only control my own actions. I love to ride hard, and fast. I love to fly through the canyons and lean so far into the turns that I can smell the pavement. But do I want to die on that road? Hell no, I dont! And do I want to go out because someone else made the bad decision to impair his judgment? Once again, no thanks. I want to live to be 120, and still be riding a Harley, and bungy jumping off bridges. I want to die in my sleep with a smile on my wrinkled old face after living a long full life. And if God calls me home sooner than that, Im okay with his plan.

But somehow when a young person is taken in the prime of his or her life because a fellow biker had one, two, or three too many, that seems like an unnatural death to me. Yes, accidents do happen. They happen every day. We are only human, and we all make mistakes. But making the decision to drink, or do drugs, and then get in or on your vehicle and drive, is not an accident. That is a choice, and not a very good one. The legal limit for a DUI is now 0.08. It only takes a few drinks to put most people over that. There is a reason for that, and the reason is so simple. It doesnt take much to impair our ability to safely operate a moving vehicle which then becomes a weapon of the worst kind, and is capable of killing you, and anyone around you.

Im all for live and let live. I dont believe I, or anyone else was put here to judge another mans actions or choices. If there is a judgment day, Im pretty sure it wont be me you come before. And I certainly have and will make my own mountain of bad choices. But, when your choices affect those around you, then that is a different story. If you have a death wish, you have that option. If you have the desire to drink yourself silly, thats OK, too. But the open road… you share that. You share that with your brothers, your sisters, your lovers, your mothers, your fathers and your fellow bikers. You can decide what you do with your own life, but is it fair to make a decision that in turn could end the life of someone else? Someone who still wants to live and has a purpose? Not to mention all of the lives affected by the untimely death of a loved one?

Smoking is being outlawed in many places because it has been determined that second hand smoke kills. I support that because I desire clean air. If you want to do things that harm yourself, that is your right. But when your actions can and do harm others, is that an accident? Not knowing or caring how your actions affect those around you is not an accident. It is ignorance. Can the result of your educated chosen actions, not be your responsibility? Whos responsibility do you think it should be?

All of these thoughts have been inspired as the result of the accident that long time fellow biker Billy Lane had this past Labor Day. I interviewed Billy for a magazine last year, and he was truly one of the most impressive young builders alive not to mention great looking, funny, intelligent and gifted. And lets not overlook hes done charity events that benefited children, and our countries vets. But unfortunately, all of the great things he is and has done cannot take away the events and outcome of that night.

The charismatic Billy Lane. (Photo by Betsy)

It broke my heart, along with anybody in the motorcycle community, that knew him at all. He was truly liked, and respected, both by his fellow builders, and his fans. I seriously doubt if there were many people that knew or watched Billy, who didnt like him. I didnt know him all that well, but his infectious smile and personality had women wanting him, and men wanting to be him. My thoughts have turned to him so many times since I learned of this event that I really felt it was a topic of strong enough value to write about. My prayers are with Billy, because I cannot even imagine the anguish he must be feeling. A hang over will finally go away, but the tragedy of that day never will.

For those of you unfamiliar with Billy Lane, he is probably the most popular bike builder made famous by Discovery Channels notorious “Biker Build Off” series. His Choppers Inc. business has been building bikes for more than a decade, and he has patented a line of unique accessories unlike anyone else. Hugh King of Original Productions (the company that produces bike Build Off) told me in an interview that Billy was one of the most charismatic, and brilliant builders on his shows. He sighted his hair as being his real strength, and said women across the country just couldnt keep their hands off of it.

But an event occurred this past Labor Day that has not only changed the lives of those involved, it will have an impact on the entire motorcycle community. That evening Billy was involved in an accident resulting in the death of 56-year-old Gerald Morelock. Billy was driving his 2006 Dodge Ram, and had a female passenger with him named Erin Derrick. It was reported that Billy attempted to pass two vehicles in front of him and crossed a double yellow line to do it. The two vehicles he was passing are now witness to the accident in which the truck Billy was driving collided head on with a 1983 Yamaha moped, killing Gerald Morelock instantly. Erin was injured, and Billy was also hospitalized with injuries.

At the hospital, Billys blood alcohol level was tested, and sadly the results showed a 0.192, which is more than twice the legal limit. To further complicate matters, it came out that he was sighted in June for a DUI as well. He has now been charged with another DUI, and this time involuntary manslaughter, to which he has entered a plea of not guilty.

The less popular but no less important Gerald Morelock was a man who reportedly had just told friends he was thinking about getting rid of his motorcycle because he thought it was getting too dangerous. In his early years he had a career as a child psychologist but left the field because it was too hard on him watching these children suffer. He went on to work as a park ranger, and loved nature and snook fishing with his young nephew. He loved music, and entertained his whole family at holidays. His brother said he was just the coolest guy, and could really make you laugh. He said they were very close, and that the whole family was in shock and disbelief at losing their Gerry in such a tragic manner.

Obviously, there was no one involved in this event that came out OK. It is truly a losing situation. Nobody wins here, and even we lose. We lose an icon in the motorcycle industry. Gerry’s friends and family lose their brother every day for the rest of their lives. And Billy loses the ability to wake up every morning for the rest of his life without thinking about this. So what good, if anything, can come out of this?

As a woman who believes in God and heaven, I have to continually wonder, why do bad things happen to good people? And sadly ,I have no answer at all. The best I can do as a writer, is bring awareness to people. Can we learn anything from the fate of those around us? There are people killed by drunk drivers everyday. Somehow when the driver is young, handsome and famous, we pay more attention. Why do we have to wait until something really tragic occurs before we learn? We know smoking is terrible for your health, but many will never quit until they hear the word cancer. Why does it take hearing the worst, before we can begin to orchestrate change in our lives? Why do we have to be scared straight? And how scared do we have to be before we get it?

I will be the first to admit that the only way I seem to learn that fire is hot is by sticking my fingers in the flames. I rarely will take the advice of even the wisest elder over my own personal experience. My hope when I work with women on a daily basis as a personal trainer is that I can get them to understand the cause and effect that goes on every day with their own body. The better you treat yourself with diet, exercise, sleep and joy, the more everything else around you will fall into place. It all begins with the very basic concept of loving yourself enough to take care of yourself, so that you are mentally and physically well enough to treat the things around you respectfully. It’s all connected. We are all connected. Like it or not, and we have to start caring about that, and it does all start with what you see looking back at you in the mirror, and how you are with that person.

With all of the alcohol and drinking that goes on in, and around bike events, are there any solutions? Can people drink OR drive, instead of drinking AND driving. When you are on a motorcycle, it’s not really an option to appoint somebody else as the designated driver. You are the designated driver — the only designated driver of your own vehicle and of your own destiny. I wouldn’t wish what happened to Billy or Gerry to happen to any of us. If anything good at all can come out of the events of that day, perhaps it will prevent a few people from getting on their bikes, or behind the wheel when they are under the influence. Perhaps a few less people will lose their lives. Billy has inspired countless young people because he is about as “cool” as they come. Perhaps we can now learn from our coolest idol, that driving under the influence is not “cool.”

To see more of Betsy, visit her Web site at

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