What is it about soldiers and motorcycles? The connection between military culture and the machines we love is deep and goes back decades, but it turns out there’s more to this affinity than ancient history. Meet Valerie Lower, a combat veteran whose passion for riding took on new meaning in the aftermath of war and her struggle with PTSD. Her inspiring story is a reminder of what motorcycles can do for all of us, if we let them… and that we should never take those gifts for granted.

Show Notes

Valerie Lower in 2005, during her first tour of duty. Here, she’s just replaced a hydraulic pump in an M88A1, an armoured recovery vehicle.

Fittingly, my conversation with Valerie Lower took place the week of Remembrance Day in Canada and other Commonwealth countries, and Veteran’s Day in the United States. This episode is dedicated to people everywhere who serve their countries in uniform.

Valerie’s battle with PTSD would eventually find her homeless before she was able to build a new life. She asked to acknowledge here the help of two organizations on that journey. The first is Blue Star Mothers of Pennsylvania, who gave her vital financial assistance when there was nowhere else to turn. The second is Equines for Freedom, who provided her with trauma therapy that the Veteran’s Administration c0uldn’t. Motorcyclists aren’t the only ones who rely on their communities, it seems, nor on the vital role volunteers play in creating and sustaining them.

Valerie also wanted to correct a detail regarding her time in Iraq: “I am pretty sure that at some point I said that when I was in Iraq for my first tour, that I was between Fallujah and Baghdad. That is not accurate. I was between Fallujah and Ramadi.”

Here’s the article I cited on the percentage of military personnel who ride motorcycles. The data isn’t fresh, I’m afraid, and the article actually deals primarily with the problem of safety, but I bet those numbers are still basically accurate, and I loved Valerie’s answer. And here is the article from which I quoted a veteran who, on the subject of overland motorcycling, talked about “controlling danger” and “[deciding] if you want to live.”

In our conversation, you may have caught our reference to something called ‘BDR’, which stands for Backcountry Discovery Routes. You can find out more about this amazing organization here. If this kind of riding is something you’d like to try, start by visiting adventure riding forums online… the people who ride these routes seem like a happy lot, and more than willing to share what they know.

Valerie’s beloved Suzuki VanVan has come up in two interviews over the last few months, which is probably because it’s awesome. Here’s the latest model, for those not familiar. Photo: Suzuki Canada

 

A photo of Geoff Hill’s new best friend in Pakistan, Saif, on tour with his daughter. Nice road. Nice bike, too.

This episode’s playlist recommendation, ‘Line of Fire’, is available on iTunes and elsewhere, and you can sample the whole track on SoundCloud. Many thanks to Junip and to YesKnow Management for letting me feature this track. You can find out more about Junip on their web site, which is here. Junip’s haunting vocals are by Jose Gonzalez, who also has an active solo career. You can find out more about him here. Bonus points if you recognized this tune from ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘The Blacklist’.