Beatrice “Bea” Rice, a balanced woman centered in the Magic City for almost 50 years, loves and follows the works of our own hometown artist Bill Raines. Enter her home on Billings’ west side and it’s a Raines’ signature print catching your eye in the entryway.
She also knows her West End church, Faith Evangelical, is counting on her making 200 cupcakes for an upcoming fundraiser. It’s an ASAP order, and don’t forget the frosting.
And there’s her husband, Terry, needing her meticulous office management knowhow more than ever as the family’s oil field lubrication products business booms with the Bakken bust out.
So, what does Mrs. Rice plan to do in a couple, three weeks?
Well, pitch aside the gathering of local art, and tell clergy she’s done Christian serving after the latest sweets order, at least for the time being. And despite oil dollars rolling in like no other time for the Rices’ Reliable Distributing Inc. franchise out on Second Avenue North on the east side, Rice is going to hop on her big, bad Harley and ride - get this now - approximately 5,000 miles in an 18-day stretch. A three-leg, almost circular, journey.
And, she’ll do it solo.
All by her lonesome for stretches. No hubby, who’s a touring guy also, or local fellow rider, but with some soon-to-be biker buddies on the country’s most famous, but pretty much non-existent, highway in a middle leg.
At age 67. No, make that 68, since she’ll start out on the sojourn from Billings on June 3. Her birthday’s the next day.
Sore heinies for most, for sunsetters perhaps more. But not Rice.
“A lot of riders do get sore after riding for long periods, but I never do, I never have,” Rice said, not knowing exactly why. “But, I have a good seat also.”
The cushy pad sits atop her sparkling jet black and chromed 2003 anniversary model Harley-Davidson Dyna Low Rider. The 656-pound, 1450 cc monster will first haul solitaire 5-feet-tall Rice and her saddle bags in early June some 1,200 miles from Billings to Willowbrook, Ill., a suburb west of Chicago.
There, the mother of two and grandmother of four will hook up with about 190 motorcycle club riders from all over the nation and abroad, as they get their kicks, and hot coffee, along old Historic Route 66 during nine cruising days, ending up at the world famous Santa Monica pier fronting the Pacific Ocean.
Rice will be part of the 19th annual Mother Road Rally from June 8-16, passing through eight states and covering 2,500 miles.
All brands of motorcycle riders can participate, each paying $350 for detailed maps of the journey, discounted $40 La Quinta Inn rates and a celebration dinner at the end of the tour. They’ll camaraderie ride about 350 miles a day passing Route 66 landmarks along the way, including the Chain of Rocks Bridge near St. Louis, the Red Round Barn in Edmond, Okla., that weird upside down Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, and the classic rock band Eagles’ corner, the fine sight, in take-it-easy Winslow, Ariz.
Will she find Hell’s Angels or Bandidos brands in the group? Or beer-swigging tattooed motorcycle mamas?
Probably not, Rice says, more like retired teachers, business folks, and lawyers who like wearing black leather, cruising and Denny’s breakfasts. Still, she a tad bit anxious, not knowing a soul, but certainly excited for what lies ahead on down the road. Actually, she can’t wait for June.
“I don’t know who will be there, maybe some 1 percenters (outlaw motorcycle clubs), or 2 percenters will be with us; that would be fine,” Rice said. “I’m just looking forward to meeting a lot of different people who enjoy riding bikes like I do. I’m also doing this so I can see parts of the United States, like Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, and northern Arizona, places that I have never been to before.”
Rice says most in the rally are couples or folks riding with others they know. She believes, like herself, there may be some solo citizens, maybe a few gals. She says organizers hook up single riders with a “buddy” if one so desires.
Either way, Rice isn’t concerned. She’s ridden the big bikes for about 14 years, been on many Poker run-type trips with Terry and her local Harley-Davidson owners motorcycle club. None this long though. And alone.
Being a single-riding female has its risks. There are little men who get their kiddie kicks, on Route 66, or anywhere, running female cyclists off the road. No joke, says Rice, who likes riding almost incognito, passing for a man, if possible.
But be forewarned, she says. Her father taught her young how to shoot a rifle on the family’s Idaho ranch. She’s an active member in her local gun club.
Once, while traveling in California, Rice encountered two men who seemed to have a greater interest in her than in conversing about the region’s fair weather. She firmly cautioned the dudes to back off and to take a good look at her license plates - that in her state people don’t hesitate to defend themselves – and she won’t. Most her age and gender don’t know the meaning of Ruger. She does, and leaves it at that.
Traveling in the congested Chicago area can be dicey. But Rice has run in big-city traffic solo. It was an emotional trip.
Last spring she went from Billings to Seattle, Wash., and back. It was her first long, long Low Rider junket (a few years prior she soloed from Sturgis, S.D., to Minneapolis, Minn., to visit family).
In 2007, Rice was diagnosed with breast cancer. She chose to have radiation treatment in Seattle. She beat it, and last year she visited her oncology doctor for an all-clear, positive checkup. How many patients does he see who come in with $900 Harley leathers?
“I just had to prove to myself that I could do it,” Rice said.
Cancer survivors get it – those bucket list-type quests – Rice jumping on her Harley, traveling hundreds of miles in the Washington rain, with fingers crossed for more than one reason. And the beaming elation that followed.
While in Seattle, Rice stayed with daughter April and her family. April thinks it’s wonderful to have a mother who rides the big bikes solo for miles and miles. And miles. Her other daughter, May, who lives in France, thinks Mom’s a bit crazy. Both support her wholeheartedly.
Once the Santa Monica pier feast concludes, Rice will still have a 1,200-mile return back to home. But not before a two-day stop in Las Vegas for a restful “veg out.” Tourists who come to Sin City go up and down the strip dropping coins in the one-armed bandits and vying for top seats to the Cirque du Soleil shows. Rice will seek and drop quarters in an adequate Vegas laundry mat after two weeks of washing undies in hotel room sinks each night after riding.
Just part of the adventure.
One highlight Route 66 attraction in New Mexico is the Madonna of the Trail monument near Albuquerque that honors the pioneer spirit of women in America. Rice may spend some extra moments at the site. While no pioneer, she admits having an independent side, a side seeking to fulfill some life aspirations – right now.
“My father worked hard all his life,” Rice said. “He always talked about wanting to do certain things after he retired. But when he retired, he passed away, and was never able to do any of those things he talked about.
“And, he died at age 67.”