Friday, September 25, 2009

Interview: ST.N's "Den Mother" DantesDame

Today we present an interview with the "Den Mother" of ST.N and Nikwax pusher, "DantesDame", aka Colleen. Colleen is an active member of the popular internet motorcycling site Sport-Touring.Net, contributing author to Sound Rider (http://www.soundrider.com) and an adventure-touring fanatic.

Some of these questions will be generic; some will be specific to you. Let's get going. Colleen, thanks so much for taking the time to participate.

[... say hi :) Hi!!]


Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself. General biography type stuff, and how you got interested in riding in the first place. What bikes or bike styles have you enjoyed and prefer?

A: This could be a very long answer, but suffice it to say that motorcycles came about purely by chance in my life. No one in my family rides, nor did any of my friends at the time (early college). But the scooter I bought to get to campus blew its piston, so with the "it’s too slow to keep up with traffic" concerns from my parents, I bought a motorcycle. Hadn’t a clue as to how to ride it, to the point where I had the seller ride it to my house for me. I didn’t know a thing about checking the chain, tires or mileage; I just knew that it ran. A friend of a friend came over and pointed out the workings of the bike (brakes, clutch, throttle, shifter) and then before I could even move it out of the driveway, he said "Oh! I have to go!" and there I stood, alone with my ’78 Yamaha 500. Needless to say, I signed up for the MSF course very soon after that.

Now that I have a few years of riding under my belt, I’ve reached a point where my riding would best be classified as "adventure touring". I’m happiest when I’m so far into the wilderness that I can’t even see telephone poles and the road (paved or dirt) is the only sign of civilization. It’s not about speed for me; it’s about what I can see and where I can go.


Q: You're a contributing author on the website / webzine Sound Rider, a site focused on riding in the Pacific Northwest. Can you tell us a bit about your writing? Do you stick to motorcycle-related content or are there other genres or interests where we might be able to read some of your work?

A: Right now I’m 100% moto-related only. I got to know Tom from SoundRider while living in Seattle and he was always very supportive of publishing my stuff, including asking me to do a small "Top Ten Alaska" piece for him. What I write, I usually do so purely for my family and myself. I tell myself my own stories so that I can enjoy them later. The fact that others enjoy reading them just makes it that much better. The fact that Tom will pay me for them is icing on the cake. The only other publication I have is a recent article in the September (’09) issue of BMW MOA, which I’m pretty stoked about. Seeing your pictures and words in big, glossy print is pretty awesome.


Q: I believe you spent time officially working with, or for, Nikwax and were acting as a spokesperson for their products. Do I have that right? Was that an official gig because of your active involvement with the motorcycling community, or did that all come about by happenstance? It seems like an interesting story.

A: Nikwax was an official job, where I worked the front lines of their customer service department. The landing of that job was truly amazing. Let’s see if I can sum it up quickly: I was laid off from a job of 7 years with 3 months severance pay. The first month was fun; the 2nd and 3rd months were a gradual increase in stress. By the end of month 3, I was applying for just about any job out there. Two of them interviewed me within a day of each other (Nikwax and Desteenation). Desteenation made me an offer first and I grabbed it (Nikwax called the next day, but I declined). Desteenation was a start up, however, that wasn’t quite ready to start up. After a month of doing nothing, my new boss wanted to cut my hours. "How about if I just don’t come in for a month?" I offered. He thought that was a great idea. I called up an acquaintance of mine whom I knew was heading to Mexico soon. "James, when are you leaving for Mexico?" "Tomorrow." "Can I come?" So off I went to Mexico on my KLR, spending just over a month there. But word from the job front was looking worse and worse, so somehow, I dredged up the email address of my Nikwax contact. I asked if there were any other openings and to my amazement, the original position I interviewed for was open. "When you can you start" he asked. I said, "I’m in southern Mexico. I’ll be there as soon as possible". With that, I said good-bye to my traveling companions and after 7 straight days of riding, I was back in Seattle. Whew - so much for keeping that short!


(I'd like to address the female motorcyclist aspect of your life a moment. If you would rather pass on this, that's fine. Some people find such discussions offensive, or too personal and such.)

You’d be hard-pressed to offend me, but thanks for being diplomatic about it!

Q: As a woman who is active not only as a motorcyclist, but in the motorcycle community as a spokesperson, event organizer, etc., what perspectives or guidance can you offer other women who may feel intimidated by what is still largely considered a "man's sport" or pastime?

A: This one’s hard, because the answer is dependent upon one’s personality. It’s easy for me to say, "Just get out there and do it!" But many women (and even men) don’t have the self-confidence to put themselves out there. But think about it: if you’re a woman and you want to ride, what’s to stop you? If anything, you’ll have more support and encouragement from the men in this sport then a guy would have. The guys will want you to succeed versus just egging you on to do stupid stuff on your bike. So I guess what I say to women is to embrace the unique status they have in the motorcycle world. Take advantage of the benefit it is to be a woman in a male-dominated sport.

Or, if you can, just do it without regard of what anyone else thinks or does. That’s what I’ve done.



Q: Continuing in that vein a moment, you do a lot of riding and touring, both in groups and solo. As a solo-touring rider, do you ever find yourself in a situation that worries you, or where you question your choices to ride alone? Not just as a solo female, but also as a solo RIDER...?

A: I’ve been very fortunate in my riding history to have never been made to feel afraid or even cautious due to my being female. Perhaps it’s due to my choosing of when and where to ride, but more likely, its just luck, because I’ve chosen to ride in some very sketchy places.

As for being a solo RIDER, there are times that I’m cautious about my riding style simply because I’m in the middle of nowhere, and if something were to happen (deer, cliff, a mis-judged corner) then I’d be in serious trouble. At those times I take a step back and realize my situation. I’m not out to win any races, so I take it down a notch and enjoy the scenery.

I guess the scariest moment was during my trip to Mexico last March. On a lonely stretch of road, someone tried to flag me down. I decided not to stop, but he didn’t appear to notice that I wasn’t slowing down. His (waving) hand hit me hard, knocking back my mirror and bruising my upper arm. That’s the closest I’ve ever come to someone personally making me feel uncomfortable.



Q: You appeared on Prubert's MotoCast podcast during your Nikwax promotional days. Have you appeared on other radio shows, podcasts, tv shows, etc?

A: Nope.


Q: I believe you're married, or involved, and he rides, too. Did you two meet as a result of your motorcycling, or is that something you found out you had in common later?

A: "Involved with" is a good way of putting it. Dan and I met through a rather unique situation. He was living in Colorado and I was in Seattle. He didn’t ride at all but kept seeing a KLR on his way to work. He thought it was an awesome-looking bike and wanted to know more about it, including if it would make a good "first bike". He did some internet research to find out more and that’s when he stumbled upon my website. He sent me an email asking me about the KLR and I responded. Weeks later we stumbled upon each other on MSN’s IM and continued the conversation. He moved to California and bought his KLR and after that it was just a matter of time before I moved down there to be with him. He confesses that he’s not into riding as much as I am, but he’s a good sport and will do long-distance trips with me.


Q: Sport-Touring.Net's members have often referred to you as "the Den Mother". Can you talk a little bit about your involvement with ST.N in particular? How did that title come about? What duties, official or unofficial, do you take on at ST.N?

A: HeeHee - The "Den Mother". That nickname came about one night at a local (Seattle) STN dinner. One of the members was contemplating his third beer when I reminded him that he was on his bike and probably shouldn’t have it. He rolled his eyes and said "Ok, Den Mother". It stuck.

I joined STN in October of ’03 at the behest of one of the members before joining an STN ride. I didn’t think much of it at the time, although I found STN a fun place to hang out. Pretty soon I was more heavily involved than I ever would have thought. I planned a few National Meets, most of the WCRMs (although those are pretty much self-planning these days), produced the STN calendar and made arrangements for t-shirts to be designed/printed. Those are all unofficial duties. Officially, I’m a moderator. That’s all.



Q: Last year you put together and excellent calendar for ST.N. (Thanks for picking my picture for the cover - I felt very honored!) Was that the first time you had done that type of promotional work for ST.N? I know you're doing a calendar again this year (and I'm reviewing my submissions). Can we look forward to other events from you?

A: I’ve made an STN calendar every year since ’05. Some years there’s just one calendar, some times there are multiple. It depends on the number and quality of photos I get from the members.

As for other events, I’ve begun to take a backseat to STN planning and events. Others are coming in and taking the lead, such as with the STN hats and the 2010 National. I’ll always be there for advice or support, of course, but I guess you could say I’m passing the torch.



Q: You just moved back East after a number of years in the PNW. Was that a career-driven move? How's the adjustment going? Climate? People? Traffic? I know you're setting up the garage in the new house for bike work, how's that going?

A: Dan’s job was the impetus for this move. I thought that I’d spend the rest of my life on the West coast, and hopefully back up in the PNW, but things are ok on the East coast. After all, I spent the first 25 years of life in the northeast, so it’s not a big surprise. The people I’ve met have been very nice and the drivers are bad (but the ones I’ve met are lazy more so than "road raged"). I haven’t been too far out of my new town and I don’t have a job yet, so I don’t have a good grasp on what traffic is really like around here. I do miss lane splitting and filtering, though.

The garage is just about ready. I’m sure there are a few last-minute things to figure out, and I’m still working on organizing some items, but for the most part, the ‘garage is open’.



Let's change gears a bit, here. I always wonder about other riders' perspectives on several of the more controversial topics in the motorcycling world. Let's do a few "10 words or fewer" topics. Just rattle off what comes to mind in a few short words. Feel free to "pass" on any you don't wish to talk about, or expand on if you so choose. Let's go...

Q: Helmet laws
A: I always wear mine, but it should be a choice.

Q: Headlight modulators
A: Annoying as sin!

Q: ABS
A: Probably great, but I’ve yet to use mine.

Q: ATGATT
A: Yes.

Q: "The Pace"
A: Always

Q: Track days
A: I’m afraid I’d become addicted, so I’ve avoided them.

Q: "Tail of the Dragon", Rock Store and other hyped-up roads
A: All talk. I prefer to be where no one else is.

Q: Auto-clutches or shiftless riding like the FJR/AE or the Mana 800
A: Pansy stuff. But if it gets more people on two wheels, then it’s worth it.

Q: Women in motorcycling, in general?
A: I kind of like being a minority in this sport. But like everything else in life, there shouldn’t be male/female discrimination.


Q: Tell us three facts about yourself that we might not otherwise know from our interaction with you on ST.N or from reading you on Sound Rider.

1: I was a certified Life Guard
2: I’m afraid of drowning
3: I’m not afraid of much else


Colleen, thanks so much for taking the time today. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope the readers get a little something out of it.

Is there anything you're currently working on that you'd like to talk about? How can people reach you? Thanks again.


The only thing I’m working on - and not very hard, at that - is getting a job. Maybe someday I’ll write a book. Meanwhile, I can always be reached at DantesDame@gmail.com. Thanks for having me, Chris!

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