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Hinesburg, Vt. author recounts how she and her family embarked on a cross-country motorcycle road trip

Woman dressed in black riding armor holding white helmet stands on road. A motorcycle is to her right.
Katie Figura, Courtesy
Vermont author Jane Taylor's book "Spirit Traffic" tells the story of her 10,000-mile family trip across the country by motorcycle.

When Jane Taylor's son, Emmett, graduated from college, she and her husband opted for a kind of non-traditional celebration — seizing on an opportunity now that they as parents would become empty nesters. She wondered if there was something the three of them could share together in her son's post-college world.

In just a few months, Taylor, who was entering her 50s, learned how to ride a motorcycle and then planned a cross-country trip for her family of three.

Some 10,000 miles later, Taylor wrote about the road trip adventure in a book calledSpirit Traffic. Seven years after that, she once again hit the road by motorcycle, this time riding nearly 15,000 miles to read excerpts from the book in libraries, bookstores and bars.

Vermont Public's Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Taylor about her book and the journey that inspired it. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: You recently got back, as I understand it, from a 97-day, 15,000-mile national book tour, and you shared your adventures from your first cross-country motorcycle tour with your son and husband. And let's start right there. What was the inspiration behind all this?

Jane Taylor: Emmett my son. Whenever we were on a car trip, he looked out the window and said, "Oh, CBR you guys." He knew all the makes and models of motorcycles that passed us.

So when he graduated, my husband, John said, "Let's get bikes. What do you think? We'll drive across the country?" And I thought, "Well, that seems pretty good. We'll keep him with us a couple more weeks before he goes off to his adult life."

A selfie photo of three people, two older people and one younger person, wearing neon-yellow jackets and smiling in front of a snowy field and tall evergreen trees.
Just after her son, Emmett, graduated college, Jane Taylor, her husband and Emmett made a cross-country road trip by motorcycle.

Does that mean that your husband as well as your son, Emmett, had to learn how to ride a motorcycle like you did?

We were all new riders. And I'll give you a little caveat though. When I was a little girl, my mother had a motorcycle shop in Michigan. So I rode a mini bike when I was 6 and 7 and 8 and 9. And then I didn't ride again until I was 50.

What about the bikes themselves? Did you have to all buy motorcycles, new bikes? Did you have some old ones? How did you go about choosing which bike to ride?

We bought BMW 650s, and we got three of the same kind of bikes. They were fairly inexpensive, used. And they had such a great reputation — this particular bike. So we thought, "All right, people are riding this bike around the world, historically, so, I think we can make it to California and back."

OK, so now you've got the bikes, but what are you going to do? How are you going to do that? How long are you going to take? Where you're going to sleep and stay? There's so much that goes into a cross-country road trip like that.

We camped primarily on the first trip, that the book is about. But during the national tour, we were hosted by many people across the country. Strangers just brought us into their homes, and you know, feted us with beautiful dinners, and that's where I did these readings.

Cover of book showing motorcycle wheel on road.
John McConnell, Courtesy
Jane Taylor hit the road again after the release of her book for another cross-country motorcycle book tour.

I would read a few chapters from my book, and then turn the mic around and ask to share their own stories on the theme "adventure," as I see it. And that's the spark for the book tour that was really magical.

Inspiring people, and especially women over 50, to realize how much adventure they actually have in their lives, it was really so incredibly rewarding.

Were people surprised to find that you you were new to motorcycle riding as a woman in your 50s?

Oh, yeah. Whenever we went to a gas station or something, and I took off my helmet — my hair is gray, I look like I'm over 50 — and people would be like, "Wow." First of all, that I was a woman riding my own bike, and also that I'm someone my age.

I mean you must have felt like a rock star. You know, you're Easy Rider, but you're not Jack Nicholson. You're this woman from Hinesburg.

It's a great feeling to be out there on the road, and also to be embraced by the motorcycle community. You know, people would talk to us at gas stations and say, "Wow, you're from Vermont."

What about the — what I have to imagine was some bonding with your family during this trip. I mean, there must have also been some some moments that were a little scary, a little hairy. But did you bond with your son and husband in a way that you maybe didn't expect over this?

"Inspiring people, and especially women over 50, to realize how much adventure they actually have in their lives, it was really so incredibly rewarding."
Jane Taylor, author of "Spirit Traffic"

Oh, yeah. They took care of me in a way that was unexpected. Because, you know, as a mom, you take care of your kid, but the tables turned, and sometimes the road was a little too rough for me, and he'd ride my bike over the rough spots. So that sort of caretaking of one another was really emphasized on the road in a really great way.

So many highlights, I'm sure. Read the book to find out. But can you perhaps give us one or two moments that really stood out for you?

We were riding through Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, and we're riding along, and we think we're going to have a couple hours of this beautiful ride, and there is a herd of bison right in the middle of the road. And on a motorcycle, you're pretty exposed. So we turned around. So you know, there are things like that.

Also, we rode through the Mojave Desert. I was frightened for my life, actually, because it was so hot that, you know, you get to a point where you're not thinking clearly.

In Colorado, we were hit by a thunderstorm that was really ferocious, and there was lightning, and we're riding along, and in that part of the highway, there wasn't a lot of shelter. So we were lucky the storm passed. And after that sort of close call, we paid much closer attention to the weather radar. I downloaded an app after that on my phone and thought, "OK, I'm not doing that again."

How does it feel to be without a doubt the world's coolest mom?

It feels amazing. And the greatest thing about these two cross-country motorcycle trips I've done is — my confidence is so great now, that I just want to inspire this kind of confidence in other people, especially women.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet your thoughts to @mwertlieb.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Karen is Vermont Public's Director of Radio Programming, serving Vermonters by overseeing the sound of Vermont Public's radio broadcast service. Karen has a long history with public radio, beginning in the early 2000's with the launch of the weekly classical music program, Sunday Bach. Karen's undergraduate degree is in Broadcast Journalism, and she has worked for public radio in Vermont and St. Louis, MO, in areas of production, programming, traffic, operations and news. She has produced many projects for broadcast over the years, including the Vermont Public Choral Hour, with host Linda Radtke, and interviews with local newsmakers with Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb. In 2021 Karen worked with co-producer Betty Smith on a national collaboration with StoryCorps One Small Step, connecting Vermonters one conversation at a time.
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