Reader Story: Celebrating 50 Years with a Solo Trip

One woman, a motorcycle and a birthday to remember

By Laurie Buchwald, Radford, Virginia
Want to share your story? Click here to find out how.
To some, the age of 50 is anticipated with dread. Me? I started planning my 50th birthday celebration a year or two before I even reached that age. I considered 50 a milestone to celebrate—a time to revel in the joy of feeling young and alive with endless possibilities!
A dear friend introduced me to the thrill of riding a motorcycle at the age of 48. I rode on the back of his bike for a year and loved every moment. I took the MSF class at 49 and bought a used Honda Rebel as my starter bike. Fifteen hundred miles later, I was ready to move onward and upward. My Harley-Davidson 2008 Sportster 883L is the perfect “intermediate” bike, and I have gained great experience and confidence from riding with friends and my local H.O.G. group. While riding through the mountains and hills on the back roads of southwest Virginia, I began to plan my “50th Birthday Solo Ride.”
celebrating 50 years with a solo trip riding
For Laurie, a 50th birthday is something to celebrate—and what better companion than a Harley-Davidson Sportster 883L?

I decided to simultaneously celebrate my 50th birthday and the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway by riding the North Carolina portion of “America’s Favorite Drive.” This route offered me the spontaneity I longed for while never putting me more than 400 miles from home—the perfect way for an intermediate rider to venture into solo riding. Yes, other women have gone farther and stayed out longer, but my 925-mile/five-day/three-state ride was perfect for me and is one that I think any woman would feel comfortable attempting.

I kept a journal of my ride to capture the spirit of it, and I’ve included it in the hopes that it will inspire other women riders who would like to attempt the same kind of journey.
T-minus one day til the 50th Birthday Solo Ride – July 25, 2010
Tomorrow morning I leave on my very first solo motorcycle trip (and only my second long-distance trip altogether). My plan is to tour many of the places along the North Carolina portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). I have no specific schedule nor do I have any hotel reservations. I’m looking for a bit of spontaneity! I do know that I want to ride a lot, eat some good local food, enjoy a cold beer in the evenings, hike and swim along the way, and end it all by riding the Tail of the Dragon on the North Carolina/Tennessee border…319 curves over 11 miles. Yikes! But no worries, I’ll be riding slowly for sure.
Day 1: The solo ride begins – July 26, 2010
I cant believe the first day of riding is done! How did that happen? Michael and I pulled out of Radford at 9 a.m. He rode behind me for quite a while to make sure things stayed tied down. I am so glad I had such a great friend to ride part of the first day with. We rode to Stations Inn in North Carolina, where I ate a “Harley Dog” (hot dog, bacon and cheese—no calories there, huh?). That is where we parted, and I have to confess to a few tears as I headed off on my own. But within five minutes I was fine and ready for my adventure.
I got caught in my first rainstorm and spent 20 minutes hanging out under an overpass. I guess Im a real biker now! I rode on to Blowing Rock, N.C. (200 miles the first day). What a cool place! There are lots of shops and restaurants in this mountain town. I found a cute little hotel where the owner said he would bring out towels so I could wipe off my bike in the morning. I just finished a couple of cold beers and some fish and chips at a local pub. I plan to read a bit on my little porch, and then I promise you, this woman will sleep well tonight.
Day 2: Exploring the BRP on bike and on foot – July 27, 2010
I slept better than I have in weeks, and started the day by enjoying scrambled eggs on the porch of a cute little coffee shop. I was on the BRP by 9 a.m. and rode back and forth several times across the Linn Cove Viaduct, a part of the parkway that swings out adjacent to the mountain.
From there I headed to Grandfather Mountain and walked over the mile-high swinging bridge. I followed that by hiking to Linville Falls. It was overcast all day, so the pictures wont be great, but my memories are wonderful. Next stop was at Mt. Mitchell, where the elevation is more than 6,500 feet. Even though I couldnt see far, it was neat to have the fog swirl around me as I walked around up there. From that point, it was a curvy ride back down out of the mountains. I checked into a hotel in Asheville (where I was able to talk down the price by telling the desk clerk about my 50th birthday solo ride). I enjoyed beer, fried pickles and bluegrass in a place called the Fiddlin’ Pig. Life is good!
celebrating 50 years with a solo trip laurie
Lauries five-day solo journey took her along the North Carolina portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Day 3: The end of the BRP, and folks along the way – July 28, 2010

Hello from Bryson City, N.C., located at the southern end of the BRP. I rode the last 78 miles of parkway today, and it took me a long time because I kept stopping to stare at the beautiful mountains. The section between milepost 400 and 425 is stunning. I have taken so many pictures, always thinking, “This is the best one.”
I havent said anything about the great people I have been meeting along the way. Two bikers from Indiana used brute strength to adjust my highway pegs (which got out of position when I dropped the bike yesterday—yeah, I didnt tell you that, did I?). I also loved the folks, about my parents’ age, who said, “If you were my daughter, Id kill you for riding alone.” To which I replied, “Why do you think I havent told my parents?” I met a guy who hauled his bike from Missouri so that he could ride the BRP while his wife went shopping in Asheville. Smart man!
Ive ridden about 500 miles so far. Not much compared to my friends who ride cross-country, but Im proud and happy.Tomorrow…the Dragon.
Day 4: Curves – July 29, 2010
Let me tell you, the curves on the BRP are nothing like the ones I have ridden all day today! The Tail of the Dragon is evidently known worldwide for its 318 curves in 11 miles. You get to put a sticker on your helmet and your bike if you finish (you have to ride it both ways), but your broken bike parts go on the Tree of Shame if you dont.
Well, I am proud to say I have a sticker on both the bike and the helmet. Woo-hoo! The road is a blast (even though I went at granny pace at 30 miles per hour), and I cant wait to go online to see the pictures. Just like when you raft a river, there are professional photographers posted along the way. What a hoot!
After eight hours on the bike, I checked into the Iron Horse Station in Hot Springs, N.C. The road to get here (Rt. 209) is just as curvy as the Dragon and runs for 30 miles, a lot of it through the Pisgah National Forest. Beautiful! As I was often entirely alone on that road, I am grateful I had no problems.
Hot Springs is a cool little (very little) historic train town. As always, I had a cold beer and a shower. Tonight, after that, I enjoyed a wonderful glass of red wine with some delicious white bean and chicken chili. Now? Time for bed. Almost 700 miles…supposed to come home tomorrow…we shall see!
Day 5: What a ride! – July 30, 2010
A huge storm woke me during the night, and I wondered how wet my bike would be. The sun was out this morning, though, and I thought all was well. I am not sure why I didn’t think about all the water that the seat had absorbed during the storm—I rode with a wet butt all day. Lesson learned!  
I rode 275 miles today (a record for me) and I spent almost all of it on back roads. I rode through parts of the Cherokee National Forest, the Jefferson National Forest and the Mt. Rogers Recreation Area. I rode on a long stretch of road that passed through multiple “no stoplight” towns in Tennessee. I’ve been really lucky in terms of weather on this trip, but today was the best yet. An “Idaho sky,” for sure!
I have loved the freedom of these past five days—no plan and the freedom to spontaneously pick my route. Today I literally went from one town to the next, choosing the roads as I went along. The folks I met and who helped to guide me were so great. I often hear bikers talk about the wind in the face and the freedom of the road. I feel like I finally get it. It has been such an amazing trip, and I really was not ready to come home. Nonetheless, I was glad to cross over the New River for the first time in five days.
What a ride! Five days, three states, and more than 925 miles. What a great way to celebrate my 50th birthday!  
Want to share your story? Click here to find out how. 

50 thoughts on Reader Story: Celebrating 50 Years with a Solo Trip

  1. I started riding as a kid on a mini bike, then a trail bike and as a young woman 650 Yamaha Special. Got married, kids, sold the bike for a car. For my 51st birthday I bought a Screaming Eagle Softail Deluxe, took my first solo ride to Corpus Chris, then to do the Three Twisted Sisters and went to Canada from Laconia, New Hampshire, and back last year.This year will be my first seriously long distance ride to Sturgis from McAllen Texas, and return. All these stories of women doing solo rides is so very inspirational. When I travel to various places with my job, my bike is always with me and wherever I am it is always a good day to ride. Cheers and safety to all of you.

  2. I’m 49. Just took the MSF course and bought my first bike. With my 50th birthday “just around the corner” your story was spot on for me! Living in Asheville, next to the Blue Ridge Parkway, I was inspired to ride. Like many other women, I got tired of waiting for a ride on the back of a guy’s bike to get on the Parkway. I’ve been trying to decide on a 50th birthday celebration event and I think now I know what it is, and it’s right in my backyard. My birthday is in February when many sections of the Parkway are closed so it will be a late spring/early summer party to look forward to! And it will be a solo ride, just as your was. Thanks for such an inspiring story!

  3. Very nice. I did the Parkway while doing a coast-to-coast solo ride. Maybe you can join me and a few of the guys to ride to Panama or if for some reason that trip to Panama is canceled, maybe you can join on my backup plan. Round trip coast to coast…….

  4. What a great inspiration. I so enjoyed reading this story. You go, girl!

  5. We just finished our ride (for our 10th anniversary) on the Tail of the Dragon last week and it was fabulous! We also rode part of the Moonshiner 28 and the Cherohala Skyway. What great curves those roads have! It’s the longest riding I’ve ever done, 1250 miles total, and was a wonderful way to celebrate with my husband. He was more proud of me for riding the Dragon than himself! I haven’t made a solo ride though… that is definitely something to look into now. Great article Sheryl!

  6. Congratulations on the ride and great write up. I suspect many people (male and female) will find it very inspirational. Keep it up and enjoy the Sporty.

  7. Loved these types of stories! I just purchased my first bike, a Harley-Davidson XL 883C. Never rode before. Going through the MSF class this weekend. Studying and reading everything and experiences I can get my hands on. I am looking forward to it all. I am a loner and a solo traveler by heart. I have back packed Europe, Great Britain, Italy and Spain, solo. I love to travel and I love the road. It just calls to me! Always wanted to ride but it wasn’t until recently that the sparks reignited. I think because I want to see America in a different way now. We have such beautiful country, especially on the West Coast.I am determined to answer the call that is coming from within…the freedom to ride with the wind in my face. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I know it won’t be tomorrow but that day will come for me.

  8. I turned 55 on Route 66, 2,000-mile trip solo and I have to tell you it was the best vacation! There is just something grand riding solo, I seemed to meet more people, ride when you want, stop when you want, sleep and eat where you want! It was great to call home every night sharing the adventure. Congrats on turning 50! Great story!

  9. Loved your article and can I relate! I am 50 and did the same thing on my Dyna Wide Glide. My solo trip went from Colorado to Hwy 1: The Pacific Highway along the beautiful Oregon/CA coast. I packed my tent, sleeping bag, and bare necessities and never looked back. Our stories and memories will be treasures for the rest of our lives. We rock!

  10. What an awesome story! Thanks for sharing. You have inspired me. I have been a passenger for five years and just purchased my motorcycle in November 2011. Riding solo is so exhilarating, I cant get enough of it. Barb you are right, if you can get there by car then you can get there by motorcycle. Black ribbon here I come.

  11. What a great story, great milestone birthday event! Congratulations on both! Lots of 50s comments…it’s a great life chapter of renewal for women, and motorcycling can add such a dimension to it. Always love reading about trips and cycling experiences. Never enough time to do it all, but I keep trying! Haven’t thought about doing an overnighter alone, but may, now that I’ve read your story and others’ comments. Being alone on a bike can provide such great thinking time, as well as that approachability someone mentioned. Thanks for sharing your story and congrats again on such an accomplishment.

  12. Loved your story! I’m 50 and have been riding for just a little over a year. I haven’t taken any long solo trips yet, but you certainly have inspired me to do so. I live in Tenn. not far from the Dragons Tail. This whole area is awesome! Safe travels, and thanks once again for sharing your story.

  13. I really enjoyed your very well written story. I took my first long, solo ride last summer and also ended up in NC, however was on my way to see family so I didn’t get much sightseeing in, but the “almost” thousand mile round trip was a great confidence builder. Happy trails for many more solo (and not so solo) trips!

  14. Absoultely love the fire in this gal! I spent years on the back and then in ’08 with no training bought a Harley-Davidson Deluxe and have never looked back. I love to hear how women are taking the long haul rides or even day trips on their own. I’m often called crazy for hopping on my bike and making drives through Patterson Pass (off I-5 in Nor Cal) or jumping on my bike from Monterey down Hwy 1 and 101 to San Diego. It’s a great feeling of freedom and joy. I hope other women also feel empowered to do the same. If I can get there by car, I can get there by motorcycle and have more fun.

  15. I considered 50 a milestone to celebrate—a time to revel in the joy of feeling young and alive with endless possibilities!Thank you. You said it best for all for us 50+ gals who ride. Your adventure is our inspiration…and a reminder that we are vibrant and alive! God Bless.

  16. Congrats Laurie! I’ve heard of some of the routes you took and how beautiful the area is. Hoping to one day make it out that direction. End of next month will be one year that I purchased my Brass Balls Bobber. I took my MRC and received my endorsement the week before I bought it. I’ve got a little over 4,000 miles on it to date and just last month took my first solo ride as well from my area of West Texas into San Antonio. It was breath-taking on some of the back roads through the hill country. In the past four weeks, I’ve clocked more than 600 miles just traveling back and forth around the same areas. Next month will be my 42nd birthday and I think a great solo ride would be the perfect gift to give myself. Who says you can’t travel on a rigid?!

  17. Impressive! And no guy would let on he dropped his bike. Thanks for keeping it real — we’ve all done it and it makes your story all the better. BRP is stunning, just rode that last August on a Honda ST1300. Highly recommend. You are brave. You will always remember your 50th. I’d ride with you anytime!One question…where to go for your 60th?

  18. What a great story and thank you for sharing! I was 54 before I took the MSF course and in the seven years since, I have put thousands of miles on my Harley. I can’t believe I waited so long to take the plunge and get on my own bike. Now I tell everyone “you are never too old” to try something new.

  19. Great job celebrating! Quite an adventure, quite an accomplishment! I turn 50 this June, and although a solo trip isn’t in the cards, I’m riding out with 24 of my nearest and dearest on a trip from New Hampshire to Lake George, NY. I think saddle sores are a great way to mark the half a century mark!

  20. WooHoo! You go girl. Sounds like a wonderful way to celebrate your birthday. I will be 50 in August and was trying to figure out how I wanted to celebrate mine. Your trip sounds like the perfect plan. Look out 50, here I come! Thanks for telling us about your trip and happy belated birthday.

  21. You’re my hero! After riding as a passenger behind my husband for 20 some years, I got a wild hair and got my motorcycle endorsement two years ago at age 45. In that time, I’ve had a Yamaha 650, then a year later, traded up to a Yamaha 1100, and just recently moved up to a big girl’s bike: a Harley Softail Deluxe. Even though I’ve got thousands of miles under my belt, I’ve always ridden with my husband or with a group, so I’m definitely envious of your solo ride! Maybe I’ll attempt something similar when I turn 50 in a few years! But, congrats and keep on riding!

  22. I’m planning a “baby” solo ride this summer. I’ve been riding for six years. I ride solo locally quite a bit but have never made the time to go on a long journey. Your article has allowed me to look at solo riding a bit differently. Now it’s “Hmmm,where to go, so many roads, so little time!”Thank you very much for sharing your voyage!

  23. Good for you. I just started riding myself at 5 and got a 2011 SuperLow as my second bike. What kind of saddlebags are those on the bike?

    1. I contacted Laurie and she said they are Black Canvas Saddlebags with Leather from Drag Specialties, part number: DS110950. She responds: “While the bags were $89.95, I had to have the saddlebag support kit installed as well ($80.95). This plus labor ($70/hr) was $240.00.

  24. That trip sound terrific! I’m headed out tomorrow for my first long distance solo ride. Unfortunately mine is because I need to be with family and we don’t have a second car to spare (good part for me!) I’m doing 500 miles from central Virginia to Hilton Head SC. Wish me luck, not a lot of planning is going into this! Here’s to an additional 1000 miles on my Softail. I hope that you make this an annual event with new rides and experiences!

  25. Sweet! Congrats on a what is a big deal! Ya done good. I am nervous about just riding a long way with a group for the first time. One day I may go solo… there are lots of great places in the Pacific Northwest that would be wonderful. Thanks for the upbeat ride and report!

  26. Wow! Congratulations. I’m starting my third year of riding (Sportster 1200) and I don’t know if I have the courage to do a ride like that by myself. Another great story through WRN. Thanks so much for sharing. P.S. Can I go with you next time?

  27. What a great story! Congratulations on a big first.I always tell people who ask that it is a wonderful, inspirational experience to travel alone, especially on a bike. Motorcycles (and women on motorcycles in particular) are a real ice breaker. Because you are alone, you reach out and are open to communication and connection with other people at the same time appearing more approachable to them. When was the last time you struck up a conversation with another car driver?Keep up the riding. You are off to a great start. Your ambitious first solo trip will be an inspiration for many riders.My 50th birthday gift to myself was to take my husband with me on one of my European motorcycle tours. I now have close too 300,000 miles under my belt.

  28. Awesome, awesome, awesome! What a great way to celebrate a milestone birthday! I first rode as a passenger at 49, learned to ride at 52 (a breakup left me without a passenger pillion–what’s a girl to do?), and went from class right to my 2004 HD 1200XL Sportie. Big learning curve there, but so worth it. I love to read about other women doing the same thing, and your solo trip really sounds fabulous. Congratulations to you on your birthday, and on your solo trip. You rock!

  29. Congrats to you for a trip done right. My helmet off to you for being so brave in taking this trip solo. Happy late birthday to you and I’m happy you made it home safe.

  30. What a great article! Brought back memories of my trip there in ’92. Mostly good, though I broke my hand in Cherokee and had to ride to Sylva, NC, to get it fixed up…but the views! Congrats on the Dragon. It’s fun!

  31. This is what riding is all about. Way to go! If I were to win the lottery today, tomorrow I’d be saddled up and just head west and keep going until I ended up back east. Then do it all over again. Great adventure. May we all have such stories to tell.

  32. You are a true inspriation to me. I didn’t learn to ride until I was 52 (three years ago) and just took my first solo ride last year. I didn’t ride near as far as you did nor did I have the adventure you had. My first solo ride was about 120 miles round trip but I did get caught in my first rain storm (road through it). I have always ridden behind someone else, either on his bike or my own so it was great to get out on my own. Great story.

  33. That is the way to live. Mine long solo ride was at 63 I took a little longer ride. I started out and did the four corners tour in 17 days. Total was 37 states in 39 days. That is one that I want to do again. This year at 66, I think I will go coast to coast. Start east and go west. Then I don’t know where I will end up. This is what I dream for all winter. You all keep it safe.

  34. You have now done what I have been trying to think through doing ever since my last group ride to Ocala National Forest and back. I became a new rider last June right after I turned 72. Started with the 1200cc Sportster but recently moved up into a new BMW K 1300 GT. I have soloed and group ridden more than 9,000 miles since I started out. And the Tail of the Dragon I think is where I would like to run to, and probably make it a trip somewhat like yours, with the help of some mapping and guidance from some of my more seasoned riding friends. Thanks for that story and reinvigorating my interest in making that great solo ride to where I want to go. You’re great!

  35. Wow, how envious I was while reading your journal! I’ve been riding a little over a year and hadn’t even considered riding long distance…until now. Very happy that you had a great trip and wonderful birthday that you’ll never forget.

  36. I am 52 now and have been riding for almost 15 years — Dyna Low Rider and Heritage Softail. I broke the solo long distance thing about seven years ago and reading your article reminded of how empowered I felt the first time I completed a 600-mile round trip through New England. Great article and I wish you many more safe miles to come!

  37. Every woman rider should do this! I took mine last summer down the coast of California from Eureka to Long Beach. I was on my Honda VTX 1300R and have since “graduated” to a Gold Wing GL1800. This summer I’m riding to Washington, DC, with my fiance on our Gold Wings. If I could tour on bikes full time I would be the happiest woman on earth! Oh, and I started riding at 50 as well! What a great mid-life “crisis,” huh?

  38. Congratulations on your 50th. You’re a brave girl to go out on your bike alone for five days. At age 55 I was thinking that maybe I’m getting too old to ride but after reading your journal above I think I have only just begun. Take care and happy riding.

  39. Excellent article. I printed it so my bride can read it too. Thank you for writing it. Keep riding and stay safe. Maybe we’ll see you on the road as we love to take trips throughout our beautiful country, especially out west.

  40. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story. I did that route, by car, over a year ago and thought I need to return and do it by motorcycle. I turned 50 in February and am taking a trip to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, with two other motorcyclist. My goal is to do a long distance solo trip, but for now I’m always happy to have company! I am always amazed at the number of women between 40-50 who are getting their license. I love it! Thanks for sharing.

  41. What a great inspiration! I turn 50 next year and have been tossing several ideas around in my head. Taking a motorcycle trip was one of those ideas. It has now been moved to the top of the list. Now the only question would be where?

  42. OMG – what a wonderful experience – you are very brave and indeed an inspiration. I’m a late bloomer as far as riding goes, started when I was 55 years old and I could kick myself that I waited so long. Like you, I started on a Rebel and just bought a 2004 Sportster 883C which I an eager to get on and ride and ride! Next year-the big 60! Your story has given me the courage to celebrate my milestone with a solo ride through the New England states and maybe beyond. I’m already mapping it out! Thank you so much for sharing your story. God bless and safe riding!Thanks to WRN for all their contributions and information!

  43. That is so cool. Lady, you have got a lot of nerve, going that trip alone. Good for you.

  44. Congratulations on your solo ride! I am hoping to do something similar for my 50th in a few years. I went on my first long distance ride at 41 with my brother and a group of guys, 10 bikes total and I was the only woman with her own bike. We went from Chicago area to North Carolina and Virginia. We did the Dragon too! I was so scared but what a rush that was. I loved it! The pictures and video they take are amazing. If anyone hasn’t done that ride on the Tail of the Dragon – you have to do it. Not only is it beautiful to ride on the mountain, but the thrill of the curves is unreal. I envy you that you did your solo ride. I hope I can do one for my 50th too. Congratulations again – what an accomplishment.

  45. I give you a lot of credit. You made your dream happen. I too started riding at 50 and have been riding four years almost. I’m not much of a mileage buff. I don’t care how many miles I rack up, and a solo trip was never my dream or goal. I’m just thrilled that I’m riding. That was my dream. I like company, and perhaps I’m a “chicken” to travel as a woman alone. So, my husband really wants me to see the Blue Ridge Parkway, and this summer we’ll travel together on our own bikes.

  46. Very cool and good for you! I will be 50 on April 23rd of this year and although I ride very chance I get, I opted to go to New Orleans and spend my 50th Birthday (early) and me and my husband’s 30th wedding anniversary at Mardi Gras! It was a great time and someday, I would love to ride my bike to New Orleans and see it from two wheels. I truly loved that you did it alone. What a sense of empowerment that must have been for you. I wish you 50 more years of great riding!

  47. So glad you got to do this. I turned 50 this past year and had planned a week long trip to celebrate but it wasn’t to be. So I’ll just think that you rode yours for me too! Way to go girl, and a belated Happy Birthday!

  48. I’m doing just what you did. My Sportie is in my garage and class starts next week! Not sure I’d be brave enough to go solo, but I would love to take a trip for my 50th, which is next March, instead of pining away for my younger days. Thanks for sharing your adventure and inspiring me!

  49. You go girl! What a fantastic trip to celebrate a milestone birthday! I’ll be 50 this July and I hope to be able to do something similar in the near future. As a brand new rider (took the MSF last summer, got my license six months ago and bought my own bike a month ago), I’m working on being a better solo rider and improving my skills on each trip. Stories like this are very inspirational and this site is a great source of information and support. Thanks!

Scroll to Top