The Road Taken
In her inspiring new book, The Road Taken; Men, Motorcycles, and Me, Linda Dodwell paints a fascinating picture of American history and international cultures that form her understanding of herself and her presumed roles and place in the world as she tells the story of her life leading up to becoming a motorcycle tour guide and rally car driver.
Dodwell is a strong and intelligent woman, and reading her life story is at first a fascinating lesson about American history. Then it is about various U.S. and international cultures which form her understanding of herself and her presumed roles and place in the world through generations.
Dodwell begins her tale as a young child, relating stories similar to those my mother told me about life during her upbringing, during the era of strict gender-formed expectations of girls and women, and eventually amid the backdrop of the emerging feminist movement and beginnings of racial integration. A good reminder of lessons and struggles my generation and the next sometimes take for granted without knowing our shared “her-story.”
As Linda puts it, “We couldn’t help but notice that almost all the male artists had wives raising their kids and putting dinner on the table while the female artists were expected to do it all. We were feminists, whether we self-identified as such or not, and we were experiencing those frustrations and inequalities that would manifest as a full-blown Women’s Rights movement.” (p 77)
This isn’t a book about terrible things and the struggle to survive, but more about the subtlety of learning to understand one’s place in history and surroundings as we realize we do have choices, although they might be difficult. Dodwell depicts finding empowerment of the learning-as-one-goes transformative sort.
You’re quite far into Dodwell’s tales of coming-of-age, housewifery, nursing school graduation, and starting an art business before she begins her motorcycle journey. Soon after her beginning motorcycle training, she quickly launches into a complete lifestyle of motorcycling—all without her husband’s blessing.
After her daughter goes off to college and she and her non-supportive husband divorce, Dodwell finds out that her pitiful monthly “allowance” was no indication of their actual means. She suddenly realizes she doesn't have to worry about money—a luxurious freedom to travel and experience the world most of us who suffer wanderlust wish we had. It would be easy to judge her because of this, but it is important to remember the time. She was going through the motions of what she had been taught about women’s place in life, and remained steadfast and slightly rebellious in spite of it, benefitting from not caring about her station in life.
She quickly moves up to a bigger bike and then launches into some incredible touring adventures starting with tagging along on a ride down the Baja Penninsula with a woman she’s just met. Remember, this is the era before the internet and cell phones, which makes for a wild adventure—the first of many. From there, she goes on a three-person tour around Australia and winds up helping the tour guide grow his business and help riders criss-cross the rugged, remote continent.
Her world continues to open up with more motorcycling adventures. She participates in the first tour through Russia after the fall of communism, and partners with another woman motorcyclist to co-pilot a rally car from Peking, China to Paris, France. The duo even won both the gold medal and the Women’s Cup in their maiden race. Dodwell then continues her motorcycle adventures while using her art and interior design experience to recreate an Australian outback experience in her new home in Sonoma, California.
The Road Taken reads like a novel, and I found Dodwell’s adventures keeping me up to read another page or chapter. I imagine myself on her motorcycle rides and dealing with the challenges and mishaps that play out in the two-wheeled lifestyle. I highly recommend this book for its combination of historical insight, adventure, and transporting your mind off on wild new motorcycle experiences. I would love to see the movie one day, too.