Life Lessons with Kalen Thorien
Less than a year before I unknowingly changed my life by buying a 1993 Harley-Davidson FXR. Never having ridden a motorcycle, I stared at her in my garage for almost a month until I took her out. Fast forward to the following summer, I knew I wanted to do a solo cross-country trip. There was nothing challenging about it in my mind, but this was before I knew that predictability was not synonymous with motorcycles.
My route started undertaking over 2,000 miles in three days, a lofty goal that would quickly be shut down in Oklahoma City thanks to record rainfall. Luckily she broke down within a mile of Harley-Davidson World who graciously picked her up, got her on the lift, and drained her out.
“Okay just a slight delay, no big deal”. I knew I had some miles to make up that morning but it was still doable.
700 miles later with less than 30 to go, my dash started to flicker. I watched as my headlight started to dim and then slowly the bike shut down and I rolled to a stop. 10 pm on the side of the interstate, absolutely exhausted, and completely defeated.
“I really don’t want to die in Alabama”, I thought to myself.
And then, like some holy beacon of brotherhood, I caught an orange glimpse - a fucking Harley dealership. I called a tow truck and camped out in the parking lot until the next morning. My stator was the culprit, but they had me patched up and on the road by the afternoon. Delayed again, but not by much. Now it was time to head into the Appalachian Mountains.
I had heard of this road “Tail of the Dragon” and knew I had to ride it, but its reputation of being incredibly dangerous had me hesitant. I decided I’d get myself to Deals Gap, chat with some folks, and ease into it. Remember, I only had about seven months worth of actual riding under my belt. I got to the crossroad and went inside. Sipping on my cold beer I asked the lady at the desk about the Dragon and what it’s like.
“Where did you just come from?” she asked.
“Maryville,” I said.
“Maryville? As in you passed Deals Gap Harley?”
“Yeah! I stopped in and bought a t-shirt!”
(slight pause followed by laughter)
“Honey, you just RODE over the Tail of the Dragon”
Yup, that happened. I had unknowingly ridden over one of the most dangerous highways in the US, and while I had been riding I was thinking to myself, “Huh, this is kind of fun.”
With a new found sense of confidence I woke up that next morning motivated to tackle every technical road I could find. I was going to scrape my pegs on every turn. Pass all the dummies on their baggers. Ride faster than I’ve ever ridden before. Become the greatest female biker that’s ever liv….
“...what the hell is that sound?”
As I stared at my detached exhaust pipe I knew this couldn’t be good. No service and in the middle of nowhere. Nothing was in my favor - until a sweet old gentleman happened to be passing by and told me 20 minutes down the road was a small motorcycle repair shop. It wasn’t a guarantee but it was something.
“At least it’s downhill!” he chuckled as he kept walking.
So there I was, riding my bike as gently as possible to an unknown repair shop in the woods. I could tell they were holding in their laughter at my mild stupidity, but happily took her, replaced the studs, welded a few cracks, and once again - got me on my way.
The rest of my journey would still see plenty of mishaps. In South Carolina, I learned how to replace a throttle cable when mine broke. In Orlando, I learned all about primaries when my tensioner shattered and the chain seized. And in West Texas, I learned never to ride through West Texas.
Five weeks later I arrived home. As I cracked a beer on the cold November evening, I sat and smiled at my FXR. Her little 80” Evo had seen 25,000 miles that year with an owner who had no fucking clue what she was doing, and that was her gift (or sacrifice) to me. I was a professional athlete, my job was to successfully push things to the extreme. But my FXR quickly taught me to treat our travels less like an athlete and more like an artist. To slow down. To let go of control. To enjoy the intimacy that comes with repairs. The camaraderie that comes with every breakdown. And the confidence that comes with every mile. The definition of success no longer was the destination - it was the journey and the evolution that comes with each piston stroke.