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.
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.
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’.
Episode 24 Coming Home
So much of this hit close to home. I absolutely resonated with Valerie on where we are today. I thought so much about the conversation that I forwarded this podcast to a coworker who will be involving himself in Vet causes revolving around motorcycles, and to a Motorcycle Safety Instructor who is charged with teaching these very special souls. I’m a Desert Storm Vet, and deal with many of the same issues. It’s always good to remind ourselves that we’re not alone..
Thanks, George, and I’m so glad it was relevant. I thought it took a lot of guts for her to share her story like that, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that there are many like it. I’d be thrilled if this episode could do something good for those people.
I stumbled onto your podcast today and felt compelled to respond. I was hooked by the sensitivity of your line of questions and the poignancy and raw honesty of Valerie conveying her story. It’s apparent she’s had an interesting ride on life’s old road so far but she sure seems to be “good to go” forward with the rides ahead. In a feeble effort to promote the benefits of dual sport moto camping I’ll try to send along a pic from earlier this year.
Thank you for the kind words, Randy, and for sharing your story. I got your photos in good order this evening, and have passed them on to Valerie. Like you, I suspect she might love that kind of riding. And I totally share your respect for her “raw honesty” about what she’s been through. I feel very privileged to have been trusted with her story.
Thank you Valerie for this interview. It’s helped me understand my feelings about being a veteran and needing to be on a motorcycle. I wish I could give you a big hug.
Thank you, David. Of all the interviews I’ve done, a handful got under my skin and stayed there. This was one of them. An incredibly brave, authentic person who made me feel privileged to be a rider.