by Megan Barritt
This year I had the privilege of becoming a participant, a fundraiser and rider for a very important cause, sponsored by the Women’s Motocyclist Foundation. Women and men from every part of the country, riding all brands and types of motorcycles, united under one banner in order to help conquer one enemy: breast cancer.
Four Pony Express 2000 teams left the four corners of the U.S. (Seattle, Los Angeles, Daytona Beach, and Portland, Maine) on July 1, following four planned "trails”. Each team consisted of six or so riders on BMW motorcycles supplied by BMW of North America, and a specially outfitted Ryder truck which team members would take turns driving each day. Non-official team members (like me) who had raised funds rode ahead of or behind the team on their own bikes. Each day the team would ride through several cities. At previously planned stops, usually motorcycle dealers, cancer clinics or college campuses, there would be a chance to talk with local people and the press, to disseminate information to raise breast cancer awareness, and to have a medallion ceremony, which is discussed later in this article. The goal was one million dollars raised for breast cancer research, the final destination was Peoria, IL, the birthplace of Susan G.Komen. Fundraisers rode whatever portion of the trail they had time to do, whether it was one day, two days or all ten. There were four other fundraisers beside myself from the WSBMWR: Jana Roney, Mercedes Zweigle, Anita Hufnagel, and Kathy Gill. Two of us were lucky enough to have the chance to ride to the end of the trail: Kathy on her Ducati Monster, and me on my R1100RS. Oh, yes, my husband Doug was along on his K1100LT every step of the way, riding east into that blazing sun low on the horizon every morning, sweating through temperatures as high as 107 degrees with 100% humidity along with the rest of us, and paying the bills besides. All of the riders paid their own expenses to participate, and he made it possible for me to end up in Peoria! (below - Kathy Gill on left, Megan in middle and Tina Bond on the right. All three women were in "honor guard" raising over $2000 each, Megan and Kathy raised over $4000).
I’m grateful I had the opportunity to be part of this very impressive and heartfelt effort, and to have been able to meet and ride with so many dedicated and interesting people from all over the country. The leaders of the Northwest team, Denise and Gary Parkinson, both Honda Shadow riders from the Arlington area, worked for two years putting together the 2800 mile (one way) Ruthie Kidd Trail. (Each of the four trails was named for a deceased woman rider. The others were Dottie Bratcher, Dot Robinson, and Fran Crane.) The others on the Northwest team were Ken Conrad and Ann Faber from Montana, Carrie Lawson from Berkeley and Doris Lippo from Michigan. It was an honor to have Doris riding with the Northwest team. A nurse and an R1100R rider, she was the top fundraiser for the entire country at $15,000 plus. It was particularly special for me when the team included my Mom in their ceremony in Denver, and to have Doris be the one to present her with a "survivor” bandanna.
Each of the teams carried one quarter of a beautiful medallion, which later would be joined together again in St. Joseph , MO, the home of the original Pony Express. St. Joe was the first city where all of us from every part of the U.S. finally came together. The medallion consisted of two horseshoes (one representing breast cancer survivors and those currently battling the disease, and the other for those we want to protect in the future), a Ring of Memory representing those we have lost to breast cancer, and the Heart of the medallion, a one breasted woman archer aiming for the cure. On each leg of the journey four riders were chosen to each carry one part of the medallion. At a ceremony in each city, the parts were reunited, then again handed off to four new riders who would carry on the next leg. I was taken by surprise in Hannibal, MO when I was chosen to carry the next day to Springfield, IL. I was allowed to decide which part I would carry, and chose the survivor horseshoe because of my Mom, who had a double mastectomy five years ago. It was an honor to be able to carry this piece and to hand it off at the ceremony in Springfield to Bill Bratcher of Oregon, himself a breast cancer survivor, to be carried on the final leg.
One of the highlights of our planned stops each day was the opportunity to meet and talk with the breast cancer survivors who had come out to greet us. It made me realize just how strong and hopeful they are, and how much they value and believe in what we were doing. A number of riders were also survivors, including a woman from Nebraska who had just finished her last chemo treatment less than one week before. She was able to ride one of the R1200Cs, supplied by BMW North America, from Omaha to St. Joseph. The determination and positive attitude of the women and men who have fought this disease and those continuing to fight it continued to be an inspiration to us as we rode. A little bit of heat and humidity are nothing to complain about when you’re in good health and able to enjoy your favorite mode of transportation. Another highlight was meeting and traveling with the two women who are the souls of this endeavor, the founders of the Women’s Motorcyclist Foundation from Leroy, NY, Sue Slate and Gin Shear. In 1993, they and two other women rode their bikes from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic Ocean, 12,339 miles including 1,500 miles on dirt roads, and raised $25,000 for breast cancer research. They then formed the WMF specifically to raise money for the Komen Foundation, and Pony Express national relay rides followed in 1996 and 1998, raising a total of $954,805. They work tirelessly organizing the zillions of details it takes to put this together, then they and the team members ride and do interviews with the press and lead meetings every day until they lose their voices. The energy of hundreds of riders brought together by these two amazing women was overwhelming, and there’s no doubt this group is not going to give up until breast cancer is a thing of the past.
I want to thank all the WSBMWR members who donated money to the Susan G. Komen Foundation through me, and to all those who donated through Mercedes, Anita, Jana, and Kathy. A big thanks to our three BMW Motorcycle dealers in Puget Sound area for their donations: Cascade, Ride West and Tacoma BMW, and to my fellow WSBMWR Board of Directors members for their decision to do a Club donation which was divided among our member fundraisers. Let’s not forget all those individual donors, clubs and dealers of any and all brands, who supported any of the Pony Express Riders from the Northwest who worked so hard for this cause,. Every bit of the money we collected is being used solely for breast cancer research, and that is made possible by the support of sponsors such as BMW North America, Boeing, the American Motorcyclist Association, Edelweiss Tours and others. The goal of one million dollars for this ride was not reached, however the Pony Express 2000 riders have brought in over half a million so far, and the figure will continue to rise until the end of the year. You can still donate! This was the fourth such ride planned by the Women’s Motorcyclist Foundation, with a grand total of over $1,500,000 raised, and the next one will be launched in two years, unless a cure is found before then. We hope it won’t be necessary.
Megan Barritt is Co-President of the Washington State BMW Riders.