While most Columbians took trains, planes or cars, Zoë Danner, CC ’17, rode her motorcycle to school. From Alaska. Bwog was fascinated and terrified. Zoë admits she’s a tad tired of being known as ‘motorcycle girl’ but was happy to share her experiences of the Road with motorcycle enthusiast Miranda Kantor. And of bison.
Bwog: When did you learn to ride?
Zoë: Everyone in my family drives motorcycles. My dad has a 1993 Harley Dyna and my mom has a Suzuki Hayabusa. When I was about 10 I got it into my head that I really, really wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle. So I started saving up money, making stuffed animals and selling them at local craft fairs, and by the time I was 12 I’d raised $1000 – and my dad said ‘Okay, we can get you…a Vespa’. At that time we were living in Girdwood, Alaska which is this little ski town full of aging hippies, so no one there really cares about legalities. I may or may not have I learned to drive two-wheeled things when I was 12.
(The legal age in Alaska for driving motorcycles with engines under 50cc – about the size of a stick of butter – is 14, which Zoë figures is not all that far from 12.)
Bwog: We don’t know much about motorcycles, but what do you drive now?
Zoë: Right now I have a Yamaha V Star 250, which is still a pretty small bike – my dad has a bike with an engine six times the size. But it did the job, and I like it a lot – it’s a little cruiser, pretty bare-bones, but it’s nice.
Bwog: Why did you decide to embark on this incredible journey?
Zoë: I was riding around one day when it struck me that there weren’t many things I’d rather do with my life than driving motorcycles. So I called up my dad with this existential crisis and said, ‘Hey, what if I told you that I didn’t want to go to Columbia and instead I want to drive motorcycles?’ The panic in his voice was palpable. We worked out a compromise which was that I could drive my motorcycle down to New York and hopefully that would satisfy my motorcycle-riding desires for the rest of my life.
Bwog: We heard it took you ten days to get to New York. Where did you sleep while you were on the road?
Zoë: When I was in rural Canada I camped a couple of times but when I started hitting major cities I could stop whenever I got tired and find a motel room. I could carry about 50 pounds of gear with me on the bike – I had a tent, clothes.
Bwog: Did you ever get scared on the trip?
Zoë: I think the one time I was scared was when I was driving on the Al-Can highway in British Columbia, and it’s a really curvy, steep road (which isn’t bad; curves are fun when you’re taking them at high speed). British Columbia is full of wildlife, so there were all these warning signs – ‘Warning: Moose!’, ‘Warning: Bison!’, ‘Warning: Foxes!’, ‘Warning: Wolves!’. And I was coming around a corner and there was just this herd of bison walking across the road – and you can’t stop on a road like that when you’re going at speed. So I was just swerving between bison – which was terrifying.
Bwog: Any other crazy or interesting moments?
Zoë: I had a bunch of crazy conversations with people in gas stations on the way down. People would wander up to me and say, ‘Hey, that’s a pretty well-loaded motorcycle you’ve got there, where are you headed?’ Often they would tell me to ‘stay out of the cities’, and to take all the gas out of my tank at night (which I wasn’t really sure how to do). And then the crash was a big moment of course.
Bwog: Tell us about the crash!
Zoë: I was in Alberta on my way to Winnipeg. It’s an incredibly flat area, with nothing to obscure your line of sight – aside from this one really unfortunate corner. I came around this corner and suddenly there was a semi carrying a portable house heading in the opposite direction! It was taking up all of both lanes. I had to swerve onto the shoulder which was five inches lower than the rest of the road. I wasn’t able to get my foot to the back brake in time, so all the braking power was coming from the front. The motorcycle did this tumbling, twisting motion – which was really fun actually. It flipped over me; the motor was still running so I just heard this roar moving over me.
Bwog: Definitely sounds like ‘really fun’. Any injuries?
Zoë: I lost all the skin on my knee. Luckily I was five miles from a tiny town that had a Yamaha shop – it didn’t even have chain restaurants but it had a Yamaha dealership! They fixed up my bike for free, which was great. I wish I knew that mechanic’s name.
Bwog: So what was the most positive part of the experience?
Zoë: Being on a bike is kind of a meditative experience. For most of the trip I didn’t have internet access. Not being a playlist person, I can’t really listen to music. So it was just me and my thoughts – that was really trance-like and great.
Bwog: Probably you were in a good spiritual place to deal with NSOP. So, now that you’re here, do you plan to ride your bike in the city?
Zoë: Definitely! I’ve already been doing a bit of riding. I don’t appreciate New York’s helmet laws – in Alaska there aren’t any, really. My bike’s parked under the bridge on 116th and Amsterdam. There’s tons of other bikes there; I guess lots of people in the neighbourhood like to ride!
Interview edited for brevity.
No bison were harmed.