Adrenaline and Adventure: Interview with a Motorcyle Racer
After writing about the power of human connection it was time to live it. If I recall all my life journeys I was happiest when freed from societal convention and exploring other realities. I was also happiest when I walked out of the whirling mechanics of my own mind and entered another’s.
Though a writing group, I had heard mention of another woman writer that defied all norms of what a woman should do. Birgit was a German born motorcycle racer with a 2nd degree black belt in Taekwondo. She had traveled extensively, at times living out of her own car in pursuit of adventure. She gave up picket fences, domestic stability, and other prescribed sensibilities in order to maximize every square inch of her life. To me, Birgit’s life was one that a legend could be born of.
I got in touch with Birgit and asked if she would be willing to interview. She heartily agreed and we met up in a crowded Starbucks to talk non-convention.
A tall woman in a leather jacket eagerly found me among the caffeine needy. Birgit had far more energy than her 50 years suggested. We easily started talking, beginning with Birgit’s early affinity for motorcycles. Birgit said, “I first fell in love with motorcycles at age three when my father used to take me around the streets of Stuttgart on his moped.” She told me that she couldn’t wait until she was big enough to ride on her own. During her teen years she hung out with the biker crew, just waiting for the day she turned 18 and was allowed to ride her own full size bike. She remembered it with a nostalgia typically reserved for a first love. “It was a Honda 750,” she said dreamily.
Birgit told me that she spent every free moment on that piece of metal, madly in love with its rush of adrenaline and freedom it represented. “I had an obsession with adrenaline,” she said. “You know, I have never touched a drug in my life. Riding my motorcycle was my high.”
Much to her parents confusion she refused a normal life “with respectable furniture and coffee klatches.” She instead chose to race her bike in select race tracks across Germany, accepting the injuries that went along with the rush. A motorcycle accident may break a bone, but a desk job would have killed her. Birgit mentioned she didn’t want her script in life edited for her according to commonplace values. She wanted to chart her own life path; a path that was wild, free-spirited, and with with no specific destination.
After racing all over the country, Birgit left Germany at age 25 with no particular reason, except “for a new adventure.” Birgit shrugged her shoulders when I asked her what her plan was. “I didn’t have a clue! I had no plan, but planning wasn’t in my nature! I just wanted to explore the US! I sold everything and left.”
Birgit first arrived in Maryland in 1985 to stay with a friend. She soon found her way up to Detroit and bought a clunker car for $50. She named it Henry. “Then I decided to drive to Los Angeles. With no real plan,” she smiled. In LA Birgit took up odd jobs and bought a new motorcycle for racing. “I didn’t have a Visa, so I had to work illegally,” she said. “I did a lot of house painting. I also led motorcycle tour groups.”
With odd jobs that were only paid under the table, Birgit never had enough money for proper housing or food. In fact, while racing in LA, Birgit lived out of her car. “Then I kindof thought it was cool. All I had to do was close the door and I was home.”
Birgit used all her reserve cash to support motorcycle racing. She was the only female to race in one of the Southern California Racing Clubs. “It was such an ego-driven, male dominated sport,” she said. But gender didn’t stop her. In 1986 she won the club championship. She was 26 years old.
“It was hard as a woman,” she said. “ Men hate it when a girl is faster. There was all this prejudice and derogatory commentary. The only male biker that didn’t look down on me became my boyfriend!” However, the rest of the men continued to bully her. “They would say things like, ‘That bitch passed me.’ However back then I didn’t care. That’s the secret to success-to not care.”
Her attitude paid off. After her racing achievements, including placement in the Yamaha cup in Germany and multiple wins in the US, Birgit finally landed sponsors and a racing team. The days of living out of her car were over.
Unfortunately, Birgit had a major accident that tilted her world on its side. Racing as a woman isn’t just hard on the mind, it’s also hard on the body. Throughout her career Birgit had suffered twelve concussions. And in the late 80’s she had a massive accident where she needed to go back to Germany for a foot operation. “I didn’t want to go back but I was still illegal in the US. I didn’t have insurance or money. I had to go home for the procedure.”
Leaving the US proved to be detrimental. When she tried to come back after the operation, she was caught by immigration as an illegal. Birgit was sent to jail for ten days, and then back to Germany for a full year.
“It was all lost, ”she said. “This was the end of my racing career. Things happen so fast in that world and my team and sponsors were not going to wait for me. They were already onto the next thing.”
After working for a motorcycle magazine in Germany, Birgit eventually came back to the United States and married her biker/entrepreneur boyfriend, Ralph. “I felt different about racing as a married woman,” she said. “I had different obligations. Plus Ralph supported me in everything I did financially, except racing.”
With the luxury of a resident visa, Birgit was able to get a ‘real job’ with an international logistics corporation. “At first it started out as a way to earn some money to get back into motorcycle racing. But then an amazing thing happened. I started to like my job! And because I liked it, I worked longer than planned. I finally had money to race, but I had no time.”
Birgit sighed and then looked at me. “I took this as a message from the universe. If I hadn’t stopped racing I probably would have killed myself. I knew I would just have to take a step back and look for the next opportunity.”
Birgit’s next opportunity was an amazing position with her company in Zurich, Switzerland. She and Ralph moved there. However, after suffering a harsh winter, Ralph promptly packed his bags and moved back to Los Angeles, abandoning Birgit. “He took his crap and left me with a job, a full apartment, and a car because he was unhappy in the cold winter.” Birgit was left with a decision to make.
“I had a choice,” she said. “I could choose my career and a path up the corporation or my marriage. I chose to save my marriage.”
Unfortunately the marriage was beyond repair. Brigit returned but the two had different visions of a future together. During a trial separation Ralph ran off with another woman and the two got a divorce. “But,” she said,” I have no regrets about choosing him over my job. If I would have stayed in Switzerland I’d be high on a corporate ladder, but probably very unhappy. Corporate life wasn’t for me anyway.”
After recovering from heartbreak that came with the divorce, Birgit felt the call of adventure again and moved to Mexico for her job. “This was the start of a spiritual transformation,” Birgit said, remembering Mexico fondly. “Mexico was hard but also one of the happiest times of my life. Sure, I was robbed and kidnapped. Every week something was stolen from my car antenna to my gym bag. But I was happy.” Birgit claims her happiness was due to two things that had nothing to do with materialistic pursuits. The first was the rigorous discipline of Taekwondo. “Since I was too tall for the other girls, I was paired to spar with the guys. But I was used to that from my days with motorcycles.” Birgit ‘trained like a horse’ for 2-3 hours a day, competed in tournaments, wrote a dissertation and received a second degree black belt by the time she was forty, proving that age is never a barrier to accomplishment or growth.
The second thing that kept Birgit’s soul alive was love. “I fell madly in love with a man named Juan,” she said. ”And through Juan I fell in love with Mexico.” Birgit told me that Juan was the exact opposite of her husband. “Ralph was born into money and opportunity. His 16th birthday present was a luxury car. Juan was different. He was poor, one of twelve children. He had nothing except one pair of shoes and one set of clothes. But,” she paused and looked me in the eye, “he had dignity.” And Birgit looked up at the sky, “Oh I was crazy about Juan!”
After seven years in Mexico, 9/11 happened and Birgit was called back to the US. Birgit had hoped Juan would come with her but he was too much a product of the macho culture. “Mexican men didn’t leave everything to follow a woman,” Birgit explained. As much as she loved Juan, she knew their spirits were not meant to continue life together. As the wise say, ‘Sometimes love isn’t enough, and true love is knowing when to let go.’
Thus Birgit finally decided to ‘settle down’ in her early 40’s in California. “California was like a second home to me. And my company had a job in San Francisco.”
After working for a few more years Birgit finally left her company. Once again she felt the universe telling her to ‘do something different with her life.’ She was burning out, felt 50 approaching and wanted to leave yet another mark on humanity. Birgit decided to write a memoir of her experiences. She also decided to turn once again back to motorcycles. “My next plan is to do a north to south trek of California on an electric motorcycle!“
I asked her why she felt she needed to do another trip in her 50’s. She looked at me like I had asked the stupidest question in the world. “Well, you need to read my book!” And she then points to a passage, “I want to reclaim the fearless spirit of my youth and combine it with the sophistication of my adult wisdom.”
She smiles, “Life is a constant adventure that age has nothing to do with. Settling down shouldn’t have to be boring.”
Human connection had never felt so good. Of course as we left the café we still agreed to friend each other on Facebook. I suppose social media will always have a place, even with the wild haired motorcycle racers!
For those that want to read more of Birgit’s story, you may find her recently released book, To Drink to the Wild Air, online at amazon.com.