Motorcycling: The Best Therapy for Life’s Unexpected Twists and Turns

Cancer and divorce didn’t stop this rider from touring the country solo to rediscover what she lost

By Kathleen Terner, West Linn, Oregon

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motorcycling therapy solo cross country tour kathleen terner

It was the desire to see my son that led to my solo eight-week cross-country trip on my Harley-Davidson from Oregon to Washington, D.C., and back in the middle of a pandemic. I didn’t know it would be a transformative celebration of life as well.

motorcycling therapy 8 week solo cross country tour
After setting out on an eight-week cross-country motorcycle journey alone, I now know I can be happy by myself. I am much stronger than I thought, and I can overcome challenging obstacles.

I was diagnosed with stage 2 throat cancer in November 2019, and treatments left me unable to eat, speak, or drink. Within the first three months of my recovery I went through a second divorce. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, separating me from my older son for six months.

At the time, I only had my motorcycle endorsement for two years. With my personal confidence at an all-time low, I didn’t think I could complete my planned cross country trip on my 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim alone, but the motivation to visit my son overcame the fear. So, I set out to see him, celebrate life, and visit my favorite spots. I ended up riding more than 15,000 miles through 27 states and visited a dozen national parks along the way. I completed two certified endurance rides of 1,500 miles in less than 36 hours, and conquered several bucket list rides: Beartooth Pass, Million Dollar Highway, and Tail of the Dragon.

motorcycling therapy arches national park
Utah’s Arches National Park was one of more than a dozen national parks I was able to visit during the eight-week tour.

Far more important were the positive life lessons I learned on each stage of my journey. Initially apprehensive about traveling alone, I soon became aware that I did not feel alone. I traded stories with many wonderful strangers I met along the way, checked in daily with a friend and my daughter, had Facebook friends rooting me on, and sensed God’s presence anew. It was liberating to enjoy my bike even without a human riding partner.

I had begun feeling unsure about my inner strength. I wanted to attempt a 1,000-mile endurance ride but wasn’t sure I had it in me. But pushing past my comfort zone and riding more than 1,500 miles from South Dakota to Niagara Falls in a day and a half, I grasped that I am stronger than I had given myself credit for. The next leg of my journey found me riding south to spend four days in D.C. with my son, with a new appreciation that I am blessed beyond measure. Yes, I had gone through chemo, radiation, and a divorce, but I am fortunate to have three children I am proud of.

The feeling of empowerment set in after dealing with my bike’s mechanical difficulties, traveling through road construction, and conquering the challenging Tail of the Dragon. I proved to myself that I wouldn’t let obstacles stand in my way by outrunning thunderstorms in the southeast and completing another 1,500-mile ride in less than 36 hours from Tennessee to Colorado. My week riding my motorcycle on the Million Dollar Highway and exploring Rocky Mountain National Park brought me to new heights of joy after living for years with the pain of a marriage fraught with lies and betrayals.

motorcycling therapy solo tour deals gap tail of the dragon
The Tail of the Dragon at Deal’s Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains is famous for its 318 curves in 11 miles. Getting leaned over on the well-maintained banked curves is nerve-wracking but oh so empowering!
motorcycling therapy zion national park
Originally uncertain whether to spend several days riding in triple-digit Utah heat, I drenched my cooling vest and went anyway, visiting seven national parks and falling in love with Zion National Park. As I gaped in wonder at the bright orange swirls and rocky outcroppings, I realized that embracing life’s “heat” can bring untold riches.

Visiting three friends from my younger years offered time to reflect on my life and to realize that my past had shaped me but didn’t define me. I was free to choose confidence, joy, and hope as I looked to the future.

As I traveled to Painted Hills National Monument and Hells Canyon on the last leg of my tour, I felt immense gratitude for all I had seen, learned, and experienced. When a change at work provided me with an extra day to ride, I decided to add almost 1,500 miles for time to reflect on what I learned during my eight weeks of “wind therapy.” As I rode, my spirits soared knowing I had it in me to ride an extra 500 miles that evening after an already full day of riding.

Completing a loop to Salt Lake City, Reno, Nevada, and then back to Oregon, I realized a book is inside of me that will encourage others who are facing difficulties to keep pressing forward. While it awaits publication, more on my story is available at

A middle-aged high school math teacher with only two years of motorcycle riding experience may be an unlikely person to undertake a solo journey like mine, but I hope what it taught me will encourage others. Don’t give up, follow your dreams, and don’t let fear rob you of your joy!

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15 thoughts on Motorcycling: The Best Therapy for Life’s Unexpected Twists and Turns

  1. I admire this lady’s spunk to live her dream and how she pushed onwards to see her son and proved so much to herself.I drove to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in 2000 after winning an unexpected wrongful death lawsuit for the death of my second son. I enjoyed the trip so much, I came back to Washington and bought a Harley-Davidson. It was on my bucket list while raising three sons by myself. (I lost two sons 40 days apart in 1998.)I’ve only been as far east as South Dakota, but two years ago I rode to California on Highway 101. The following year I rode up to Canada, headed east, and down through Idaho. All because of losing my sons, riding makes me forget my losses while enjoying the scenery. It brings me peace.Due to Covid-19 restrictions and my bike being broken for months, 2020 sucked and I was only able to ride 6,000 miles compared to 12,000 the year before.I’m 71 years old and still want to ride to Sturgis before I can’t anymore. I haven’t given up yet! Inspiring stories like this help keep my dreams alive!Thank you.

    1. We are so sorry to hear about losing two of your sons. Yes, motorcycling is so good for the soul, and we wish you many more miles of soul-fulfilling fun on two wheels.

  2. You inspire me Kathleen. I am a recent cancer survivor myself. I’m in the process of selling my motorcycle for a more powerful ride across the states too. Awesome awesome awesome awesome! Many years to you lady.

  3. Wow! You are living the “DREAM” with more special adventures to come. I appreciate you for sharing this fantastic journey. You are a guiding light of encouragement and a motivating force of grace.

  4. I salute you Kathleen, you are an inspiration to many other women. I’m from South Africa, 57, and divorced. I ride a Harley-Davidson Sportster and have been riding bikes nearly all my life. But sometimes the unknown fear gets hold of me as I’m always aware that I can fall or something happens when I’m on the road alone. But I love my bike and the open road and will continue to be strong and have confidence while I can still ride.

  5. I love this story—so proud of you. You gave me hope that there are great days coming and this COVID won’t beat us. Looking forward to more of your experiences!

  6. Way to go gal! You’re an inspiration to many. You are so brave and your being brave will give others the will to face their fears head on and not let anything or anyone stop them. My helmet’s off to you. Awesome gal!

  7. Kathleen, I’m very proud of you! You are such an inspiration. A dear friend, and I really enjoy our rides. Keep going. You are a Diamond.

  8. I am amazed and proud of you, Kathleen. Riding alone is empowering to say the least. You are responsible for only you and you can do what you want when you want. Continue to ride and inspire not only others, but yourself.

  9. Awesome story! Great ride and report. I’m sending good “juju” your way in your battle. Keep on riding and meeting new folks on the road—it really is the best therapy.

  10. Very inspiring. I need your confidence and strength. You go woman. Ride with strength, spirit, and soul.

  11. Thanks for sharing your story. I ride and after walking away from a relationship and having my right shoulder replaced with a hard plastic socket and titanium rod and ball put in. I wasn’t allowed to ride for a year. When I was told I could ride, the vibration on my bone graft hurt like hell. I was finally riding again when my back tire blew out (I thought someone had shot at me). I was towed home and with COVID restrictions the shop was on limited hours and down to only two guys working. When I got my bike back the fear gripped me. I’ve only taken two rides since. I was supposed to do the Rolling Thunder ride to the wall to D.C. in 2020 but it was canceled. I am a veteran. I know F.E.A.R. stands for “future events already ruined.” I am hoping to get some rides in this year 2021.

  12. I enjoyed reading the author’s experience. I would like to congratulate her. Her courage can be an inspiration.

  13. What a very inspiring story! Congratulations! I don’t believe I would have had the courage to set out alone.

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