First Gear: A Motorcycle Memoir


a memoir by Lorrie Jorgensen

Print: 978-1-77133-246-0
Accessible ePUB: 978-1-77133-245-3
PDF: 978-1-77133-248-4
256 Pages
September 30, 2015

A powerful story of childhood physical, emotional and sexual abuse unrolls as the author, at age 50 and living with Multiple Sclerosis, rides her 2009 Harley-Davidson — named Thelma D. — from Ottawa to Winnipeg and back, with detours to northern Ontario and a detour into Quebec. During her ride through the stunning landscape of the Canadian Shield, she shares stories of her childhood growing up in the 1970s in the Ottawa Valley with her three brothers, a violent father and an alcoholic mother. Told with a frank openness and humour, First Gear is ultimately a story of courage, survival, and recovery.

“A gritty and courageous story of one woman’s journey to make peace with her past. Powerfully written. A compelling read.”

—Helen Humphreys, author of The Evening Chorus

“Told with searing honesty and peppered with vivid imagery, First Gear is a memoir that will leave you marvelling at Lorrie Jorgensen’s intelligence, generosity, and resilience. When I was a teenager, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and learned much from it. And while Jorgensen’s tale is also a journey by bike, it goes far beyond the philosophical musings in Pirsig’s compelling work – because truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. Stranger. Fiercer. And ultimately, much more forceful. long after I turned the last page, this memoir has stayed with me. I often find myself musing about Lorrie’s teachings – about family, wisdom, friendship, self-reliance, and survival.”

Rena Upitis, Professor of Arts Education, Queen’s University and President, Wintergreen Studios

First Gear is the memoir of writer Lorrie Jorgensen and her companion Thema D, a Dyna Super Glide Custom Harley-Davidson. These are their trials together through small town Ontarioit is both bike-lover’s journey on asphalt and the three decades long retracing of tough youth spent in the Ottawa Valley. This is a fighter’s tale of survival against abuse, her debilitating muscular disease, addiction and depression. First Gear is studded with good humour, kindness, and remarkable resilience. Readers will cheer Jorgensen on and laugh out loud. She finds love, reclaims her integrity and discovers a disconcerting truth that is both unexpected and painful. You will marvel at the crisp lucid language andabove allthe honesty of this document of persistence, and the courage it took to write it down.”
Robin Collins
“This is a book about courage, about rising above circumstance and claiming your life as your own. First Gear is a first rate memoir about confronting the demons of the past and dealing with the vicissitudes of the present. At times, while reading the book, I wanted to rush in somehow and stop Lorrie from having to experience the nightmares that no one should have to go through. I really felt as if I got to know Lorrie, her wry humour, her skillful story telling and, as the story unfolded, so equally rose my respect and admiration. An inspiring read that tells you in no uncertain terms that it’s never too late to take charge of your life and travel down the road that you want to.”
 Lisa de Nikolits, author of A Glittering Chaos, The Witchdoctor’s Bones, and Between the Cracks She Fell


A tradeswoman, teacher and artist for over 30 years, Lorrie Jorgensen loves working with her hands and creating art with found objects. Her passion is the almost 20 year journey of building a home on a private lake that she shares with her partner, four dogs and a cat. First Gear: A Motorcyle Memoir is her first published book.

Chapter 1:

Lenny smiled up at me, turned and pulled a chair in beside him from another table. I hesitated and then sat down quickly, suddenly nervous, excited. It was Friday night at the Second Hotel in Swisha and I was home for the weekend from my new job in Ottawa. Bev looked at me across the cluster of tables, smiled quickly and then turned back to one of her drinking pals. I’d seen Lenny a few times with Bev, mostly hanging out in the bar she worked at, but this was the first time he’d paid any attention to me. He was in his mid thirties with long hair, a beard and drove a Harley. I was 17.

It was the long weekend in August and Kenny Roger’s Lucille was sharing time with Waylon Jennings recent hit, Luckenbach Texas on the jukebox. I looked around the bar and it felt like a family reunion with my mom Bev, my brothers, John and Craig, each with their own groups of friends, all in for a night of partying and drinking.

My brothers and I were dressed in the teenage uniforms of the day. I wore Howick 5-star, wide legged pants and a polyester blend blouse with short sleeves that Bev gave me to wear that night. John and Craig wore bell-bottom jeans with jean jackets over patterned shirts. Their hair was freshly washed and blown dry into mullets, proudly trying to imitate the shaggy look and style favoured by their musical idols from Led Zeppelin, Queen and the Doobie Brothers.

John was going to be 19 in September. He had just married Donna in June and they were expecting a baby. His father-in-law was a custodian at Mackenzie High School in Deep River and he helped John get a job there. He graduated from high school to work at the same school as a janitor. It didn’t last. Neither did the marriage.

It wasn’t a surprise. John always struggled with being held to others’ expectations. In school he took a year longer than normal to graduate, but he was able to make it through Grade 12 with me doing his homework. He’d either threaten me or bribe me and I’d sit in the basement and listen to Chris DeBurgh sing Patricia the Stripper, while answering math questions and writing poor, but passable English essays that he’d later re-copy in his scratchy writing.

Craig hadn’t been living at home ever since our father Eric had beaten him up and thrown him out. Craig was going to leave anyway, because he was afraid Eric would eventually kill him during one of his rages. His willingness to go didn’t stop Eric from picking him up by his jacket and throwing him out the side door of our house onto the driveway. The neighbours called the police. Bev hinted that Family Services were involved, but nothing ever came from it.

I followed Craig down our street the afternoon he left, crying and begging him not to leave me. He was beyond listening, intent only on getting away. It was three days before his 15th birthday. He was now 16 and could have moved back in with Bev after Eric left, but he preferred couch surfing with friends and girlfriends. I’d have gladly done his homework if it meant he’d be able to stay and graduate high school. Last week he came to visit me at my new apartment in Ottawa and I found him curled up, sleeping on the front porch.

Craig whiled away most of the night playing pool with his friends at the two tables in the back of the bar. It’s where I would have been if I hadn’t spent the entire evening sitting beside Lenny drinking beer, smoking and occasionally dancing when a good tune came up on the box. John spent as much time outside the hotel as in it, mostly with a group of stoners that always seemed to have a joint flared up at the side of the hotel.

I was drunk and happy when Lenny asked me if I wanted to go on a ride with him and his buddy Stan in the morning. They were headed to a swap meet across the border near Buffalo. I looked over at Bev. She nodded, and I said yes.

After last call we left the Second Hotel and Lenny drove me to my old house in Deep River on his ratted out ‘63 Harley chopper. He didn’t have a second helmet, so he gave me his and he wore an aviator’s leather hat and goggles. They made him look like some kind of bearded Snoopy freak. His helmet was loose and smelled of wet leather and stale sweat. What I remember most of the ride, was the sense that his headlights didn’t work very well. This was punctuated by my yelling into the wind several times over his shoulder. “Can you see … can you really see?”

It was later that morning, after only a few hours of sleep that Bev woke me up. “Get up, Lenny’s here,” she said as she shook me.

“I’m not going.” I turned over in bed.

“Oh yes you are. You said you’d go, you’re going.” Bev replied as she shook me harder.

“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are.”
“Fuck, okay. I’m getting up.” My mouth was sticky and dry and felt like I was chewing a swab of cotton. I got out of bed pushing down the sour taste of beery bile, and dressed myself in jeans, desert boots and a t-shirt. Anxiety pushed through my tiredness bringing with it a slight flitter of fear as I grabbed what other clothes I had brought for the weekend, filled my knapsack and went downstairs. No amount of blinking or squinting cleared up the grit in my eyes.

Lenny and Bev were sitting on the old brown couch in the living room, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. Bev still had her hair up and was wearing a once bright, green muumuu with washed out vertical yellow stripes in a zig-zag pattern. She had removed her false eyelashes, but remnants of black liner were smeared below her eyes.

When Lenny stood, the morning light showed me a scruffy looking thin guy about 6 feet tall. His hair was shoulder length, dishwater brown shot through with some grey. It blended in with his beard, which was also long, untrimmed. Worn and grease stained jeans ended at scuffed rebel biker boots. A faded, brown leather jacket covered a t-shirt that looked like it had been washed so many times without soap it was hard to tell its color.

“I don’t know if I can go, I don’t have a helmet.” I said.
“There’s my old snowmobile helmet downstairs on the shelf by the washer.” Bev replied.
“Well, it’s going to be cold.” I complained.
“Get your brother’s hockey jacket from the front closet.”
Minutes later, Lenny and I, with his friend Stan on an Electra Glide, took off to parts unknown to me. I knew we were going north and then south and we were camping.

Wrapped up in a black, red and dirty white Midget “C” hockey jacket I was sitting on a pillion pad the size of a small pencil case on the back fender of his rigid framed chopper. I’d find out later it was called a bitch pad. My helmet was bright yellow with black stripes bisecting its middle, a beacon marking my travel. A pair of Bev’s large plastic sunglasses nearly hid my face, but no matter how hard I rubbed them, they remained greasy with her makeup and sweat. With no backrest for support I had to hug Lenny’s waist.

During the first night on the road came the unspoken payment for the ride.


Every grunt and thrust pushes my head farther into the nylon side of the tent. I press my heels into the soft ground beneath the floor and grip the sleeping bag as tight as I can, but it doesn’t help. I match Lenny’s grunts with sharp squeaks of my own. He has a really long dick and every thrust he makes, drives it into my cervix, making me pull back in pain. I moan loudly, but that only seems to excite him and he goes quicker, thrusting, grunting. It hurts, but I don’t know what to do, I’m paralyzed. By the time Lenny finishes, my chin is pressed painfully into my chest, and I don’t think he’s noticed that he’s fucked me across the floor of the tent and we’re straining its sides.


I ran up nearly a thousand miles riding the back fender of Lenny’s Harley that weekend. I spent time drinking and playing pool with a group of bikers from Sudbury. Some guys wanted my company for their own bitch pads until Lenny said otherwise. We got stopped and interrogated twice by the Ontario Provincial Police, detained at customs, coming and going, while the authorities asked questions and searched the bikes. My I.D. was taken from me and I waited in a small, cement block room wondering what was going to happen to me. There was no response from the U.S. Customs Officer when I told him, “My mom knows I’m here.”

Throughout all that, my only real concern was my sore, numb ass and on the second morning I asked Lenny if he’d donate his pillow for me to sit on. I folded it in half, end to end, so it wouldn’t get caught up in the back wheel of the bike. The extra softness didn’t take care of my cervix, but my butt was a little less tender. Still, when Lenny dropped me off on Monday I was stiff, sore and chafed. Bev met us in the driveway and offered to pay my bus fare home to Ottawa. I never saw Lenny again.


1 review for First Gear: A Motorcycle Memoir

  1. inannaadmin

    A Ride in the Dark – excerpts from the review
    A motorcyclist takes us on a trip to her painful past.
    reviewed by Ted Bishop
    Literary Review of Canada – April 2016

    “Lorrie Jorgensen’s First Gear: A Motorcycle Memoir takes the reader on lonely roads like Ontario’s Highway 11 as it arcs north over Lake Superior, and in memory through incest, rape, alcoholism and, perhaps worst of all, the court process of confronting her
    childhood abuser.

    Jorgensen writes passionately about motorcycling, and she puts the reader on the bike. “The centre dashed lines rip by like newspapers coming off a printing press,” she says. “My boots are inches away from asphalt that races past like the belt on a sander.” These are images any rider will have, but would not have formulated, and she or he will nod in recognition with “its abrasiveness always waiting to scrape the best off of you, leaving your body bleeding and broken. The gap is the difference between exhilaration and death.” It is not all exhilaration. She renders the strain of backing a loaded bike up an incline, the hassle of getting in and out of rain gear, the problem of peeing in parking lots (you get backsplash from asphalt; ditches are better). Jorgensen knows the ride.

    She celebrates the spirit of Northern Ontario, a quirky combination of humour and perseverance embodied in the giant flying saucer at Moonbeam, the huge raptor in Mattice, and the three-storey high snowman, wearing sunglasses and holding a fishing pole, in Beardmore. And the emptiness, the wonder of being able to travel for 200 kilometres in Canada’s most populous province and see nothing, no town, no settlements, scarcely another vehicle. Jorgensen also renders the mental ride, the movement in and out from reverie to the road. There is a meditative aspect to motorcycling that is not at all like sitting on a yoga mat. Slippery tar strips suddenly yank your mind back to the road. The buffeting from big trucks shakes even a big Harley. Yet this empties your thoughts. Then the solitude and the rhythm of the engine return you to reflection, and you get deeper by moving in and out, each time a little further out, beyond the superficial hurt, or hate, or love to explore the deeper, subtler aspects of your own responses, your exchanges with others.

    Jorgensen captures the backandforth process we all experience in working through our turmoil. She has nailed the ride.”

    Reading from the Good Book – excerpts from the review
    reviewed by Nancy Irwin
    Canadian Biker Magazine – April 2016

    “Many people enjoy impressive international adventures on bikes with knobby tires, but this is different. Lorrie starts in the Ottawa Valley. She’s 50 years old and looking back. Her solo trip deseribes places as they were in the 1970s-how they got their names and what they have become now, layered with stories from her childhood and youth. She and her Harley, Thelma D, make their way to Winnipeg, and loop back touring Ouebec and Ontario.

    The official reason for the journey? She needed to clear the cobwebs out of her head. lt’s that story, and an impressive one.

    Her life story is filled with so much emotion and insight. lt’s a brilliant biker tale. I want to thank her for being so brave. l’m sorry when the story ends but then I realize that it doesn’t. Only the book ends.”

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