August 4, 2014, I found myself on a mission to ride my beloved Triumph Bonneville to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah (USA) from Worcester Massachusetts and back home. The ride offered various opportunities to be hosted by friends and kind people I met along the way. A friend hosted me in Grand Junction Colorado, we looked at the map, best route to the Bonneville Flats was via Interstate 70 (I-70) West, North to Salt Lake City then West to Wendover, Nevada where I might find lodging. 403 miles/648 kilometers, no problem, I could make it through the desert during daylight as long as I did not have a motorcycle malfunction. Storms were threatening the ride through Utah. Weather forecast was grim. Throughout this ride, my odometer cable broke in Omaha Nebraska. My GPS was only working on battery and determining fuel levels from station to station was a challenge, I felt as if I was riding blind.
77 miles/124 kilometers, riding on I-70, Utah's beautiful vast landscape of long stretches of desolate desert and lonely highway. This stretch of road gives a solo motorcyclist an eerie feeling of isolation. I've been on roads like this various times in past rides, always with the concern of getting stuck is present. Getting stuck in this stretch of road is not something you want. Even though there is vehicle traffic, the isolation is still a reality, people do not stop to help, why?
While still sitting on my bike, cautious, ready to ride away if the man tried to hurt me. I looked at my GPS, next fuel station was another 17 miles/27 kilometers. I carry 2 spare liters of fuel because my Triumph Bonneville has a small tank. I thought, "argh, if I offer my extra fuel, will I need it?" As usual, I put my needs aside to help others. I said to the man, "the next fuel station is 17 miles, I have extra fuel but it will not be enough for a car, here, take the fuel and I will follow you in case you run out of gas again." His apprehension of accepting my gift allowed me to relax and realize he had good intentions. He was so nice and unselfish. He offered money, I said no. He introduced himself as Ewan McGregor (here is how Wikipedia shares him, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ewan_McGregor). I did not recognize him as the famous actor, but knew his name from his motorcycle documentaries, "Long way round" and "Long way down". At the time, I had not seeing the documentaries. I looked up at the highway and thought about the great distances I had to travel on my low budget. I agreed and accepted his money, very thankful for his generosity. I thought, "$20 will get me another tank of fuel and much needed water."
As promised, I followed him. I knew that small amount of fuel would not last, 15 miles/24 kilometers later, he pulls over onto another exit ramp, out of fuel. The exit ramp was the visitor center I spotted many miles behind. He says, "keep riding, someone will help me here." I waited until he came back from the center, they would not help him. We looked at each other trying to figure out what to do, a large white pickup truck enters the ramp with gallons of fuel. We asked for help, the man driving the truck said that he needed to check on his crew as there was some construction work being done, maybe if he completed the task, he would come back to help. I asked how far would I have to ride back on the interstate to make a u-turn with more fuel. He mentioned an emergency exit near by that I could turn around to get back to the center. I said to Ewan, "I'll go get more fuel and come back. Continue asking for help. If someone is willing to help, you can leave, I will return, if you are gone, no problem." He said, "I will wait for you." When I returned, he was surrounded by people. Perhaps he introduced himself to them and suddenly, they all wanted to help, I will never know what happened. Why were they all there when I returned? By then, the storm that I read about was a reality. Someone in the crowd suggested we seek shelter because the storms in Utah are fierce.
The blue skies added a level of energy and concern wondering if I would make it through the vast state before nightfall. I-70 is a long desolate road in areas, there is no lodging and service stations are far in between. You can see great distances of road. The heat of strong summer sun gives an illusion of things moving in the distance. The road takes a 3 dimensional view, it is like watching a snake slithering through the sand. Visibility is sometimes over 10 miles/16 kilometers. In the distance, I see a man on the side of exit 204 ramp. A man dressed in a blue suit, "interesting, nice car", I thought. He was next to a small MG convertible, holding a tiny piece of white paper. I used to own a MG Midget, so I recognized the car style, perhaps that is what caught my attention. Speed limit is 70 miles per hour, everyone rides very fast, usually 80 to 90. I was riding very fast trying to put as many miles into the ride to reach my destination. I thought, "this man needs help, should I stop? What if he hurts me?" The fear of a solo female motorcyclist on the road, is always present. I wrote a blog post about this in the past - read it here: http://www.missrider.com/blog/life-on-the-road-for-a-female-solo-rider I always stop for stranded solo motorcyclists, never for motorists on 4 wheels. The little voice of adventure in me said, "stop, go for the adventure, help the man." I slow down, pull over, my stomach turns into knots of doubt if my decision to stop was wise. The man walks over with a very friendly Scottish voice, beautiful blue eyes matching his suit and said that he ran out of fuel.
Blue beautiful skies, I was stoked, thinking about finally visiting the famous Bonneville Salt Flats on my beloved Triumph Bonneville. Since I've owned this bike, that dream has been present, never a reality. How sexy, "a woman, solo riding her Triumph Bonneville to the Salt Flats from the east coast". Thoughts in my mind were, "Madeleine, just get through this desert, without incident". I noticed a tourist center sign, another 40 miles/65 kilometers, thought, "will stop for water break". Read on, I discovered that welcome centers do not provide help for stranded motorists. Surprise, surprise!!
We took photos of each other. I gave him the URL to my site. He said he would post the photos on Instagram. I said to him, "I was hosted and helped last night by a kind man I had never met. He shared his home and food to help me. I am sharing his kindness with you today by helping with fuel and my time. Continue sharing your kindness with others."
I am a teacher at Abby Kelley Charter Public School in Worcester Massachusetts. We teach our students the following character values: responsibility, truth, citizenship, fairness, respect, true friendship, kindness, perseverance, self-discipline and courage. On this day, it was my turn to share one of those values with a man in Utah's desert asking for help. It does not matter who we help. My last words to Ewan when we departed that day, "continue sharing your kindness with others". Read on as you will realize how my words of wisdom were accepted by Ewan. This experience has provided teachable moments with my students. I continue to teach them the values that makes us better people at the end of the day.
My goal to ride my beloved Triumph Bonneville to the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah was never realized. My journey had started late that day and adding an extra hour helping Ewan delayed me. However, meeting and helping Ewan, was all worth it as you will understand while you read my story. In addition, after I departed from Ewan, the monstrous storm that we saw followed me though highway 6 near the beautiful Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. The cold mountain rains slowed my riding progress. The comment someone made at the visitor center about storms being fierce in Utah was true. The mountain passes became cold wind tunnels with every 18 wheel truck passing me making it worse forcing my light bike to the right of the highway. Low visibility, fog, hard cold rain in those mountain passes are a tremendous challenge when exposed to the elements on a motorcycle. I managed to get through the passes, but I could not find shelter that late night. I was advised by a few locals outside of Salt Lake City that the ride in the dark on Highway 80 west would be about a hundred miles of possible danger with no lodging. Camping was not an option as the torrential rain storm continued to pour on me and my bike. My inner voice of wisdom convinced me to continue riding north through Salt Lake City and find affordable lodging outside the city. My next blog post will share that adventure.
My new goal is to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats on my return from Alaska, June 20, 2015. Stay tuned for more adventures that this ride will offer.
Ewan's kindness - shared back
The nice man, Ewan McGregor, who I met in the desert in Utah has more than shared his kindness by saying thank you for helping him in the desert. He shared the photo on his Instagram account as promised. He shared our story with a link to my site to his millions of fans. Since we met in Utah, we have maintained a friendship. I went to see his first Broadway performance, "The Real Thing". His performance in this play is phenomenal. My students tell me he sings beautiful in the movie "Moulin Rouge". "The Real Thing" performance allowed him to sing a little. I was delighted to hear him sing during a live performance. It was my first Broadway experience watching a play. I am so happy that it was Ewan who finally got me to go to see a Broadway play. After the performance, he made arrangements for my sister and I to go backstage and see him. He also brought us to meet the cast at the restaurant. What a lovely experience that was for my sister and I. We were quickly escorted to the SUV through the mobs of crowds, camera lights and arms reaching to touch Ewan. From the safety of the SUV, we watched him sign autographs and speak with the media. To me, that experience was like watching a live movie -- except, I was in it, a real dream!
His driver took us to a restaurant where the cast was hanging out. The cast welcomed us with open arms. They were wonderful, shared their small space so we could sit and treated us with love and respect. They shared stories and how they felt during the performance. They commented on each others onstage acting. What an incredible experience. I was delighted to meet them all. I also met Scott Fifer, Founder and Executive Director of GO Campaign... Giving Opportunity to children around the world, https://gocampaign.org/. Scott touched my heart as his cause is helping children as I do on a daily basis.
That evening Ewan and I spoke about my future motorcycle plans to ride the world starting 2017. I extended an invitation to ride South America with his wife Eve, during my world tour. Or, maybe she and I can ride South America, we can call it, "Girls ride down". Since then, Ewan has sent me the "Long way down" movie and books about the documentaries. He has done a world tour and has tremendous knowledge and experience on the subject. I love the documentaries, specifically Ewan's respect for female motorcyclists. It is a pleasure to see how he supported Eve's wish to join him while riding her own motorcycle in Africa. The documentary shows that Ewan is a man with a big heart. He has treated me with the upmost respect as a female motorcyclist adventure rider.
In addition, he shared the story on the Jimmy Fallon show. The photo Ewan took of me at the desert was shown on the show. I continue to be delighted by Ewan's method of saying thank you to my small act of kindness by helping him on that day. Thank you Ewan for sharing with the world our story.