It was a week where the world felt especially bad for women—the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh had just come to light, and it was becoming increasingly clear that his supporters and our elected representatives simply did not care about his alleged victims. I was feeling crushed and burned out from reading the news for a living, suffocated by a thick film of ennui and despair, when I escaped to rural Oregon and happened upon utopia. I was covered in dust, behind a row of roaring motorcycles, my ears numb to the thundering growls, amid hundreds of biker chicks, giddy and hollering, who had journeyed to this remote campground to celebrate one another.
I was at Dream Roll, an annual women’s motorcycle retreat, in La Pine, Oregon, where the air was nippy and the cell phone service was patchy. At this cloistered campground, I met a community of women, bonded together by a love of all things moto and unbridled tenderness.
“There’s no ego here,” Becky Goebel, who co-founded Dream Roll with Lanakila MacNaughton, aptly put it. Lanakila, who goes by Lana, dreamt up the idea of a women’s motorcycle retreat five years ago. She discovered motorcycles after she got sober at age 21. “I had so much fun. I was scared at first. Everyone told me not to do it because nobody in my family rode. I just did it. I wanted to meet other women who were riding in my area,” Lana explained.
She didn’t know many women who were into bikes, so she began reaching out to other women motorcyclists on Facebook, and later, when Instagram came out, she started an account, where she now has more than 100,000 followers, on which she posts her photographs of women motorcyclists.
Lana befriended Becky, who grew up in a family of bikers, on social media, and pitched her the idea for a women-only motorcycle retreat. “I love throwing parties and I love getting strangers together. I think it creates an environment where you’re out of your element and it brings out a more honest [version of yourself],” Lana told me.
When I first got to Dream Roll, I definitely felt out of my element—overwhelmed by the idea of meeting hundreds of new people, unsure if I had the energy to socialize with new people because I was utterly drained by the horrors of Trumpian political life. Plus, I don’t know how to ride a motorcycle. On the plane ride there, the sleepaway camp jitters I experienced as a kid came rushing back to me—teeming with that juvenile anxiety about being away from home for the weekend.
“You can’t understand what it is like at Dream Roll until you are here,” Becky said. “What other scenario [do you have] in your life where it’s women only and you know that there’s no men around? There’s this sisterhood and there’s no competition.”
No ego and no competition felt like the guiding principles of Dream Roll. The fragile and lonely feelings I was overwhelmed with on my journey to Oregon quickly dissipated when I arrived at the campground, and was immediately ushered into the hyperinclusive world of biker-women. “We ride with our dudes all the time and they never give us pointers, so it was nice to learn,” I overheard a woman tell her friend while we were in line waiting for coffee the next morning.
The sprawling campground was dusty; a glistening lake reflected the evergreens surrounding it, and trees clung onto the last twinkles of greenness before the winter turned them ocher. Surrounding the main square, which was full of shops selling Dream Roll merch and leatherware, a Red Bull–sponsored DJ booth, a java hut, and a convenience store, there were cabins, RVs, and tents. A big sign greeting participants read, we welcome all races, all religions, all sexual identities, all abilities, all sizes, all colors, all beliefs. hate has no home here.
I rode around in the back of a pickup truck with Lana and Meredith, who was filming the weekend, watching maybe one hundred women leave the campground to embark on a two-hour motorcycle ride to Crater Lake. Afterward, still in the pickup truck, Lana and Meredith handed out powdered raspberry donuts to women around the campground—stopping briefly to mete out treats, admire various bikes, and laugh about the wild joy of the weekend. “Dream Roll is where straight girls go to become gay,” one woman joked as she recalled watching various women make out with one another the night before. Later, she told me that while she always thought of herself as straight, the weekend was a space to “break down those barriers and get away from the male gaze.” Going to Dream Roll gave her a safe space to reconsider her heterosexual identity and explore her queerness without feeling “shamed by society.”
Every biker I spoke to had slightly different reasons for riding—some took up the hobby because they had a boyfriend with a motorcycle, others came from families of bikers, and some were just looking for thrills. Kiki, who grew up in Pakistan, told me that BMX and hip-hop culture always appealed to her as a kid. As an adult, she rode her bike in her home country. “It was a very big deal. You see these women who are side-saddling still on the back of their men’s bikes,” she explained. “They look at you and then they look away. Then they look at you and are like, ‘Ooh, you’re a girl. You’re a girl.’ And their whole faces light up.”
For the women at Dream Roll, riding is about more than just transportation. “You can travel without any boundaries,” Leslie, a biker chick from Brooklyn, explained to me. She told me that she did a motorcycle trip with other women in Guatemala and India, which was “one of those self-fulfilling experiences where you push yourself mentally, physically, emotionally. There’s this universal language of motorcycles.”
“It’s like a meditation,” Brenna, one attendee from Portland, explained when I asked her why she liked to ride. “It’s confidence-building. I like getting dressed up to ride, even if you’re going to the mini-market, it still feels like a journey.” We were at the Dirt Bike Clinic, an event where professional motocross instructors taught women how to do wheelies and turns. Tarah Gieger, one of the top women motocross racers, circled around me, popping wheelies and flying in the air. Despite the dust and the loud roars of the bike, it felt serene. Whenever someone fell off her bike while attempting a new trick, there was someone else there, helping her get back up.
It’s different riding with women, a redheaded dirt biker named Nicole, who is also a licensed pilot, told me. Most of the women at Dream Roll were used to riding alone or with men. “It’s a completely empowering feeling to know that there are so many strong, independent women that get together and create something like this. It just means so much,” she said. “I have two daughters. They’re four and seven. I love that they’re seeing all these women getting together. [They tell me,] ‘I want to be like that one day. I want to ride a bike. Why can’t I ride a bike?’” Seated next to Nicole was Tricia, a mother of five boys, who was decked out in all black biker gear, her face youthful and cheery.
“I sold my street bike when I had my kids,” Tricia said. “And then I missed it so much. I never missed anything so much. Then I bought another one last year. It was the best thing ever. A sunny day. There’s nothing better than getting on that bike. My son sees me in leather and a helmet every time I go to work. And it’s fun. It’s spiritual and empowering.” She’s now teaching her kids how to ride.
On the second night of the retreat, there were the annual biker games. A row of women gathered for a pageant of sorts, revving the engines of their motorcycles, beautiful golden Harleys and hardcore Hondas, to see whose bike could roar the loudest. The winners received various prizes, and the square was astir with the hoots and hollers of women from all over North America, celebrating what they loved the most. I was covered in dirt and my ears were pounding and yet I was beaming, totally engrossed in the vibrant glee of the moment. It was a much needed reminder that despite the raw nastiness and ugly fear governing the American psyche, there is goodness everywhere.
On the last day of Dream Roll, as the sun was about to set, I knew what I needed to do. Margueritte De Laurier, a Red Bull employee who found out about Dream Roll on Instagram and along with some colleagues convinced her employer to sponsor the event, kindly lent me her dirt bike. “Have you ever driven stick?” her friend Hana asked me as she explained how to switch gears on the bike.
I laughed and admitted that I had barely ever driven a car at all, but Hana and Margueritte were unfazed by my lack of experience. I straddled the dirt bike, pounding my foot to kick-start the engine, and began slowly cruising between the trees. I felt free.
“You got it!” Margueritte yelled when I briefly lost my balance.
“You’re good! You’re doing it!” Hana shouted.
I was on the bike for maybe five to ten minutes. Afterward, I was hit with a wave of euphoria that took my breath away. I did it! “I get this,” I scribbled down in my notebook. “This should be my life.” The next morning, I flew back to New York, and was immediately pummeled by the world I had escaped from for the weekend. “I wish I was as fun as the girls here,” I had written in my journal on my first night there. Talking to them reminded me that outside of the insanity of the news and big-city living, there are millions of people who have lives unburdened by the terror of political hyperawareness. Born and bred in New York City, I sometimes forget how outwardly kind and charitable people can be. With Trump in power, the world often feels like an inherently nasty place—but it doesn’t have to be that way. Dream Roll offered me an important reminder—there are pockets of goodness in our hell world, and there is always a way out.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.