Karen Allen is one amazing woman! This 50 year old mother, wife, daughter, sister works full time at the local school district in her town. She rides her own and lives everyday with Follicular Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
I had submitted my story to Garage Girls and Karen read it and posted a comment. Through correspondence via e-mail and Facebook we have become friends and have shared our thoughts and struggles dealing with our cancers. Karen is one strong woman and I'm so excited that she agreed to do this interview so that you can get to know her too. She is a huge inspiration and has helped me deal with my fears of moving to the front.
How long have you been riding a motorcycle?
What was your first motorcycle?
2006 Yamaha V-Star 1100 Custom, black on black, with really nice adds.
What do you ride now?
2008 Harley-Davidson Street Glide 96” with Stage 1. Dyno’d with Screamin' Eagle Pro EFI Super Tuner. That said, I wouldn’t mind more.
What made you decide to ride?
I remembered how much I enjoyed being a passenger. I like the wind in my face. I thought that I might enjoy riding, but never really thought I’d own my own bike.
How do you feel when you are riding?
I feel happy. Also, I feel free, plugged in, focused, and calm. I like the intensity. I get respite on my bike. I sort out a lot of stuff. My friend Jenn calls her bike Therapy and I get that.
I always want to ride and never want to get off the bike. I want to go. Luckily, I have a few friends that feel the same way.
Is there a motto that you live by?
No, I don’t know that I have a motto, but I recently heard Rene say that life isn’t like a savings account; the more you spend the more interest you gain. I like that idea. A positive, hopeful attitude is helpful in every aspect of my lfe.
You recently embarked on an amazing journey on your motorcycle. Can you tell me about your trip and why you took on this amazing journey?
It was an amazing journey! The Conga III Breast Cancer ride was envisioned by Flo Fuhr and members of the Delphi Forum, Women Who Ride met in Cheyenne, Wyoming, while fund raising for the National Breast Cancer Foundation. The National Breast Cancer Foundation's mission is to save lives by increasing awareness of breast cancer through education and by providing mammograms for those in need. Conga-lines came from Vancouver Island, Saskatchewan, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Idaho and many other places. I think we may have had around 40 riders. Memories were made as riders took time to see the sights as they rode to Cheyenne. Many of the riders had known each other for years, as online friends and were just meeting face-to-face for the first time. There was instant camaraderie and it was a really great reunion! We had a couple days to relax and enjoy ourselves. The local Harley-Davidson dealership sponsored a party that was really fun. They really support the cause well. We also had an excellent day ride to Estes Park, Nederland, Peak to Peak and then down into Denver. Our fundraising goal was $14,000, and I heard a few weeks ago it was up to $36,600.
I was in Flo’s group from Vancouver Island. We rode through Yellowstone National Park and spent a couple nights in Shell, Wyoming. Shell, a tiny town of 50, must be the “Heart-Home of the Conga”, as those who live there, poured their hearts into the Conga cause. The citizens of Shell rolled out the pink carpet and hosted a great afternoon gathering to raise awareness and money. Just about $4000 dollars was raised in this community. I love those I met and because of the people, one of my favorite parts of the Conga. I hope to go back soon!
I went on the ride to share time with my friends from Canada and for the experience. It was a trip of a lifetime and a true journey, as it encompassed more than riding a motorcycle from point A to point B. I rode with Flo’s group from Vancouver Island to Cheyenne and rode much of my trip home alone. The road time was very good. Lots of fun, but at every stop on the road, it soon became evident that people wanted to hear our story, share theirs’ and to participate by donating. The ride became much bigger than a simple trip to Cheyenne. We heard touching stories of survivorship, elation, grief, baldness, wigs, Locks of Love, mastectomy, prostrate, cure and so on. We were encouraged and thanked by so many people. I loved it when we’d hear from passing motorists, “Conga!” The ride was excellent, but it was the people I loved most.
I know that there were men that traveled on the Conga ride but the majority of the riders were women. Is there something special about riding with a group of windsisters?
Yes, we had a handful of Cabana Boys who served us sisters very well. They cheerfully granted our every wish to be all around great men. And they looked so hawt in pink!
It is pretty spectacular to ride with women. There is a sisterhood. I haven’t ridden very long and have ridden with just a few other women, but never in a mostly female group. I’d say I felt that the feelings of empowerment were intensified. At one point, we were a group of women and one man, zooming across the wide open flats of Wyoming in very strong, gusting winds. Each passing truck blew us around. It was uncomfortable and cold, yet all I could think of was how awesome life was! I was out there gritting my teeth, praying there’d be fewer trucks and no crazy antelope, and giving thanks. When we arrived at our destination, there were no sour words, only glee and celebration that we rode through some tough windy conditions. I was really impressed with these ladies, as all didn’t have full dressers; they were strong women.
What is the craziest thing that has ever happened to you on the road?
The morning we left Superior, I had two 8-inch long magnetic breast cancer ribbon decals on top of my gas tank. They were a little stiff from the cold. At about 75 mph, the one on the right started lifting up. I’d slap it down and all would be ok until I’d throttle up. I started playing with my speed and watching this magnet lift up. I wondered if it would fly off. The whole thing tickled me and I started to giggle. Throttle up, slow down. Repeat. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I realized Flo, who was right behind me, was probably wondering what the hell I was doing. That got me laughing. Then, I goosed the throttle and the magnet lifted up and the whole thing peeled off at about 85 mph. It flew right on up over my shoulder. Zing! All I could hope was that Flo saw it coming. OMG, I really started laughing, then I started laughing because I was laughing, and it was soooo creepy loud within my visor that I laughed even harder. At some point, I was sort of doubled-over the gas tank just howling. Tears were streaming and it was a huge release! Course, I had one more decal to go, so that made me laugh even harder. It was insane. Yep, I throttled up and let ‘er rip. I’ll never forget how wonderful it felt to be so in the moment, hysterically laughing at myself, riding at about 80 mph on a sunny Montana morning. It was beautiful! Crazy, I know! (Flo lived to tell the story of ducking and diving because pink shit was flying off my bike.)
Out of all the places you've ridden do you have a favorite?
I have two roads that I really enjoyed not only for the road, but for who I was with. On the Conga, I really enjoyed the ride from Three Forks to West Yellowstone, Montana. We had just spent a really wonderful afternoon with Robin and Lonnie of Helena, who treated us to a private opening of their store, The Leather Store (bliss) and then had us over to their home for a BBQ before sending us down the road. It was great. That area is my old stomping ground and I’ve been on that road quite a few times, but never before on a motorcycle. It was a sunny, stormy, dramatic vista sort of day. Beautiful. The other ride is in Washington from Colfax to Pasco, via Dusty and Dayton. A beautiful, warm, sunny day with big, huge, sweeping curves in wheat country. That day was spent with special and new friends.
Do you have any mentors or people that inspire you and if so who and why?
My dear friend Flo has mentored me well. She is a loving, matter of fact person who really wants the best for her friends. She helped me locate my first bike, then rode it to a parking lot so I could learn how to go from 100’ circles to 16’ slow cone weave in a couple hours. She has given me more than I can ever say, as my riding keeps giving to me. I love her lots!
Besides Flo, professional trainers have been instrumental in helping me develop skills for safer riding. They are Mike of MSF, and Ed, Curt and Zsolt of Northwest Motorcycle School. Also, the people who have helped me the most here in Wenatchee are Dave and Bob. All are superior riders and I learn from each and every ride. They are the best and yeah, I love those guys, too!
Do you have any advice for girls and women if they are thinking about moving to the front of the motorcycle?
I’m no trainer, but I think women may have an advantage when learning to ride over men, as we will learn to finesse rather than to muscle around our machines. We also learn differently. Typically we learn from a place of caution and are not out to prove anything except that we can learn to ride and will ride well. IMO, rank beginners should take the MSF course without their man. Go alone or with girlfriends. This stage of the ride is all about doing things at your own comfortable rate. Buy a bike that fits you, not a brand name or color, because you will most likely learn enough on this bike to know you want specific things in your next bike. You might consider getting a larger cc bike to start on. My 1100cc was a big first bike, but as Jenn suggested: I was in charge of the throttle and the brake. I felt the power offered by that bike was an added safety factor. It had power to get me out of a situation if I needed it. Everyone knows emergency braking is an important skill, but having enough power can also add to your list of evasive actions, but only if you have it available (in the correct gear, too). Be sure to get the Ride Like a Pro DVD and practice. Practice, practice, practice your slow speed drills and emergency braking. Learn how to correctly emergency brake. Take any and all advanced rider courses you can find. Every class will teach you one more excellent skill, for in an emergency, you’ll react according to your training. Last, ride at every opportunity.
What life lessons have you learned since you were diagnosed with Lymphoma?
I think the biggest change has been how I spend time with hopes that I don’t waste it. I’ve learned to talk to people that may have intimidated me before my diagnosis… I’m talking about those with full on tats, piercings, nasty looking bikes, etc. I didn’t realize how frequently I judged people before I knew what was in their hearts. I am more independent and stronger. I parent differently, as I talk more about what dreams are made of. I feel that I need to hurry up and live my life now that living is good, because God did give us the gift of life so we should be experiencing it and giving to others (not on the TV, etc). So, given the opportunity to ride or do just about anything else, and I go riding.
Do you feel like a stronger woman because of all you have been through?
Absolutely. Without cancer, I would not have gone on the Conga, because the idea of riding home alone would have been too much. That fear would have kept me home.
What does your family think of you riding?
I think it is probably a mixed bag of pride, fear, glee ... They don’t fully understand, but see what it does for me. My mom and my daughters probably are my biggest boosters, my spouse is still just shaking his head. I think he’s wondering what next? I have talked about learning to fly. Wouldn’t a jet be something awesome?
Tell me anything else that you would like to tell me about your life journey since being diagnosed with NHL.
Doctors say that you can live with cancer. I believe cancer can live with me, but it better behave. Some may have heard the adage “I have cancer, it doesn’t have me”, and that is true. Many scientists believe we can now start viewing and treating some cancers much like chronic health conditions such as hypertension or diabetes. Many people live well while they have cancer living with them.
When you are not riding what do you enjoy doing?
I lead a pretty quiet life these days. I enjoy cooking, reading, my family and friends, shopping for black leather and motorcycle things. What else is there?
Just for fun...
Do you have a favorite swear word?
Oh, nice try, girlie. You’ll have to ride with me to hear me use it. Let’s go!
What music are you listening to?
Lately, it has been Dave Matthew’s last CD, Gillian Welch’s Revival and Tom Waits. Lots of radio! Currently, I’m listening to The Rolling Stones, You Can't Always Get What U… want?! (irony) .
What are you reading?
Anam Cara by John O’Donohue, Ivan Doig’s latest, and a stack of magazines…
Cherry or Mango?
Last thoughts: When it comes to motorcycles, many women toy with the idea of learning to ride, yet shy off with thoughts that it's way too scary. I get it, but want to encourage women to step out of their comfort zone and try it out. Remember what it felt like to learn to drive a car? Was it scary and thrilling? Remember the first time you experienced horsepower, independence, and autonomy? Recapture the romance! Take the MSF course, get involved. The fastest growing demographic in the world of motorcycling is the numbers of female riders and it isn’t by accident; it’s by good training and desire to be strong, independent, and empowered,
Hey,….. check this out, this is what I’m talking about: Women Riders
A huge THANK YOU to Karen for sharing her story! I hope her words inspire you to live your life now!!
On October 9th I will be walking the Leukemia Lymphoma Light the Night walk. I'm not just walking for me but I'll be walking for Karen too! If you would like to donate to help to find a cure for Leukemia and Lymphoma please visit my team page, Ain't Buy'n What Hairy's Cell'n and make a donation!