Karen Carroll started riding 14 years ago and hasn’t stopped. After being pillion twice, she knew if she and her date were going to be out motorcycling, she’d have to be piloting. She’s now clocked up over 187,000 km on her fourth bike, a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail. Add in the 135,000 kilometers on previous bikes and the miles she’s accumulated on rentals all over the world, and you begin to get a picture of her love of riding.
Even before Karen got her motorcycle license, she was a confirmed adventure traveller. She’s hiked, cruised, and bicycled in destinations including Tibet, China and Nepal, Peru, France, England, Scotland, Wales, Italy, and Ireland. Once the motorcycle arrived, the bicycle travel stopped.
Six weeks after earning her license, she went to Americade. Following that she was always on the bike for four-day weekends, or when time allowed, a few weeks. She’s ridden in every state and province except for Nunavut and Northwest Territories. Early on, she joined the Durham Divas, a local riding club, and the Motor Maids, (MM), the first women’s North American organization. Many of her miles have been with her sisters in the wind, including to annual MM conventions, which can be anywhere in Canada or the United States.
Some of those miles were on gravel, but it wasn’t planned. Like the 130 kilometres of construction in the Yukon on the way to Alaska.
So why did she and her partner Onil Brault sign up for the Victoria Falls to Cape Town safari on 25 percent gravel?
“We wanted a trip that was technically challenging, a mix of gravel and pavement, and where we could experience a foreign culture with someone who understood it.”
Just like getting used to a new time zone or location, she’d acclimatized to prepare for a different style of riding and motorcycle than she was used to.
Karen was part of 18 Motor Maids who went to Ireland in 2014 on BMW’s. “I felt very comfortable on that bike,” she said. “Last summer, I rode another factory lowered F700GS through Slovenia, Croatia and Italy in comfort and assurance.
Then last fall, a trip to Chile and Argentina rocked her confidence. She didn’t get the lowered bike she’d been promised and could hardly touch the ground. A few hasty suspension adjustments later, she was sent on her way.
“I went down twice doing about 60 kilometres per hour,” she said. “It was due to my skill level as well as an improper set up that made the bike unstable. I was fishtailing like crazy.”
She’d already signed up for the Africa trip. Rene assured her she’d be getting a factory lowered F700 and recommended she take an off-road course. She and Onil headed up to SMART Adventures for a day, then returned to ride BMW’s on gravel just before going to Africa.
“I was terrified that I’d have the same issues as I had in Chile. The first day, I started to have that swimming feel and foreboding that I’m going to go down. Piet and Rene gave us great coaching and reminded me to stand up, and I didn’t feel it. By the second day, my confidence was back.
“One time, another girl, a seasoned rider, had pulled over to the shoulder to regain her composure. She later told me one of the scariest things on the trip was seeing me passing her and waving.
”Other than tipping in sand when stopped, nobody fell.”
“On one of our free days, Onil and I headed out on our own, guided only by a hand-drawn, detailed five-page map of the six passes in the area. To do that in Africa is incredible.
“This trip stands out for the experience and the culture. I faced a challenge and did it well, while dodging ostriches and zebras running along side.
“I retired a year ago. For the next five years we’ll do adventure motorcycle travel while we have our energy and health. Of course, in 2018, I’ll be riding to the MM convention in Alabama. I just hope my daughter’s baby arrives in time. After that, we’re off to somewhere in Europe.”
Photo Credits: Karen Carroll