Cross-country motorcycle trek leads writer through Brattleboro

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BRATTLEBORO -- Tamela Rich might not match your pre-conceived image of a southern biker chick.

The 52-year-old from Charlotte, N.C., is an accomplished author and on Wednesday showed up wearing a black dress to Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, where her smiling face lit up when she spoke about purchasing a shopping bag that had been converted from a feedsack. She learned to ride motorcycles in 2010, three months before starting a road trip she later chronicled in a book, and is now cruising around the Northeast section of the continent as part of a sporadic a journey of observation and self-discovery.

Rich arrived in Brattleboro from Providence, R.I., on Tuesday night and met with the Reformer at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, which now features an exhibit called "Road Trip: America Through the Windshield." She got a tour with employee Sam Kelley.

Rich said the happy coincidence must have been serendipity and seemed mesmerized by the art that detailed what she has been experiencing first-hand. She told the Reformer she loves Brattleboro.

"I think it's awesome. It's legendary," she said. "I mean, who hasn't heard about the culture here in Brattleboro?"

One of her favorite pieces on the museum's exhibit was a portfolio (by Jeff Brouws) of photographs of various storage unit facilities, which Rich has seen many of in her travels. She related to Brouws' underlying message of excessive consumerism.

"We live in more square footage than anybody in the world and, yet, it's never enough. It's amazing," Rich said, adding that she understands many people rent storage units for their small businesses. "I get that, but it is frightening, particularly when you're on a motorcycle and you've got nothing. Like, I've packed three T-shirts, three pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks -- I mean, it's just down to the skinny, skinny, skinny -- and you wash your stuff at night and wear it the next day and it's remarkable to me. I'll be on the road six weeks or longer sometimes and it is so liberating to only have to use so little."

Rich has logged 50,000 miles on her motorcycle since 2010. She and friend Jill Veverka planned to ride to Williamsburg, Mass., on Friday before going through New Hampshire to Maine and into New Brunswick, Canada. She and Veverka, an Ohio native, expect to part ways after hitting Hyde Park, N.Y.

Rich began getting better acquainted with the United States in 2010, when she decided to take a cross-country motorcycle trip. She wanted to do something charitable while on the road and found on Facebook a group of women who decorate their motorcycles with pink flags to raise money and awareness for the breast cancer cause. She then learned the group planned to rally in Cheyenne, Wyo., the same day she would be there. On her road trip, in a sign of solidarity, she strapped a pink brasserie to her BMW G 650 GS and soon was approached, in almost anyplace she stopped, by people who wanted to share a story about how cancer had affected their lives. She said she discovered there is something very therapeutic about "telling your story to a stranger."

She relayed her experiences in a book, "Live Full Throttle: Life Lessons From Friends Who Faced Cancer."

"When someone gets a scary diagnosis and they think they're going to die ... they think about their lives very differently. And the truth is, we're all going to die and there's a lot to learn from people who have faced it right up close," she told the Reformer. "I was very enriched by that whole experience and that's what I wrote about in the book."

Rich did additional motorcycle tours in 2011 and 2012 and now is doing her own exploration. She said her favorite part has been seeing the different things people are passionate about and the obscure little museums this country has to offer -- such as the International Towing and Recovery Museum in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Rich said she will soon head home to North Carolina and finish her journey by riding the Trail of Tears in the spring, making Oklahoma the 48th state she will have visited. The Trail of Tears is the route several Native American tribes took during their forced relocation from the southeastern United States via the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Many Native Americans died of disease, starvation and exposure to the elements before reaching their destination. Rich said she plans to spend the coming months diving into the Trail's history.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.


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