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Ah, the days of yore. Do you remember 1995?

  • The excitement of Parliament being televised for the first time.
  • Chapters is officially incorporated and sets up shop in Burlington, Ont., and Burnaby.
  • The trial of Paul Bernardo begins, and ends with a guilty verdict.
  • Mike Harris begins his PC reign in Ontario.
  • Christine Silverberg is promoted and becomes Canada’s first female police chief.
  • Quebec holds its referendum, and is defeated by a very narrow margin of 49.42 per cent “Yes” to 50.58 per cent “No.”
  • The toonie replaces the two-dollar bill.
  • Britt Santowski successfully navigates a solo motorcycle trip from St. John’s, N.L., to Victoria.

A momentous year indeed.

What? That last point doesn’t belong in this list of notable Canadian moments, you say?

As other motorcycle enthusiasts will attest, an undertaking of this scope always invites tales of terror: Before my grand escapade, I was inundated with yarns of motorcycle incidents, accidents and deaths–to the point that I was (almost) convinced that I might be the first rider, ever, to successfully navigate the Trans-Canada highway from coast to coast.

The last thing that crossed my mind was the vulnerability presented by my gender. (Female, if you don’t yet know.)

Ah! Blissful is the ignorance that allows us to pursue our dreams!

Indeed, I never gave it a second thought until a couple of bikers at a gas station in Richford, Vt., (I was avoiding Quebec as my motorcycle had Ontario licence plates on it), commented on how brave I was, a woman travelling alone across the country.

That struck me as particularly funny. While riding on my trusted steed, the odds of being attacked because of my gender were nil. In fact, my gender was pretty much hidden by luggage, obscured by my gear, and blurred by my speed to anyone who might even deign to notice as I faded into their horizon. Even the cop who pulled me over was startled when the helmet came off and a woman’s face looked back at him. (And, no, my hair didn’t pouf out into a miraculously manicured mane; it was matted and slick, limp and tired.)

And since those were the olden days, in the same century where the horse-and-buggy were declared obsolete, the cellphone was not yet as readily available as it is today. Nonetheless, I did manage to maintain constant contact by way of the antiquated payphone, keeping friends and family abreast of my wayfaring progress.

It was my feeling then, and continues to be my feeling now, that women are perfectly safe to travel alone.

Sure, I was aware that my gender eliminated camping as an option. But honestly, I am a bit of a travelling princess and would sleep in a bed over an air-cushion cot on the cold ground any day, especially after a day of riding.

And again, any one seeing a motorcycle parked outside of a tent would be an idiot to try anything. Sometimes stereotypes can be put to good use, especially if they invoke fear that keeps us women safe.

If you want to worry about gender violence, knock your socks (or garters) off: there’s ample opportunity to fret. But let’s get realistic here. Statistically, most violence occurs in our own homes; 73 per cent of the assaults committed against us are by someone we know; 50 per cent of rapes happen within a one-mile radius of our homes , if not in our homes. And by the way, only 8.3 per cent happen in that perpetually feared parking lot, and then the perp is looking for a woman who projects fear and vulnerability — a stance we are encouraged to adopt every time someone perpetuates the old fear-of-the-stranger-in-the parking-lot story.

What you pack in your jeans becomes truly irrelevant when you’re on the road.

If you are a woman who wants to ride alone, I would encourage you to follow your dreams. If you know of a woman who wants to ride alone, give her all the facts, not just the ones that will scare her into docile domesticity, destined to knit tuques for the grandkids while maniacally swaying in that rocking chair on some rickety old porch.

As with any motorcycle trip, be you a she or a he, you need to be properly prepared.

Anticipate flat tires, running out of gas (mothers, do you know where your fuel cock is?), and any other mechanical failure.

Charge up your cellphone. Pre-trip your bike before you head out each morning, and know where the gas stations are along the way. Pack a plug kit, a first-aid kit and flares in case of total breakdown.

And, dammit, have fun. Statistically speaking, that’s what’s going to happen anyway. You may as well be present to enjoy it.

– Britt Santowski

Britt Santowski is a former chief instructor with the Vancouver Island Safety Council, where she trained instructors and taught riders for almost a decade. Santowski is also a keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, speaker, consultant and author.

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