Digital Exhibition: Leticia Cline
Name: Leticia Cline (@leticiacline)
I fell in love with motorcycles through my father, David “Smiley” Passmore, who would build them in the living room of our house. Before I could sit up on my own, I was on my dad’s lap sitting on his bike while we pretended to ride. Before I could ride a bicycle, I was riding a Honda 50 around our yard in Kentucky. Motorcycling is the only language I’ve ever been fluent in, and I would be lost in translation without it. There was a time when I gave up on it though when, in 2008, my father died unexpectedly. I rode his 87’ Heritage Softtail to the funeral and never rode again for eight years. To me, the word motorcycle was synonymous with the word dad, and everything about it reminded me of him. That was a thought too painful to deal with at the time until a magazine reached out to me and asked if I could write about a supercross race. It would be the first time I had been to the track since the last time I went to with my dad. That day, standing on the starting line and smelling the dirt and fuel transcended me back to where I belonged. I went home, sold my car, bought a bike, quit my job and went on the road. I traveled to all the places my dad, and I had said we would go but never got to. I went to the places he went without me and sent me postcards from. I rode to places that would inspire my own son to do the same one day
To make a living at it, I wrote for whoever would buy a story from me and finally I was lucky enough to get hired by Harley-Davidson to be the first female Harley Hooligan sponsored racer. It didn’t come without a price though. I had just been diagnosed with cervical cancer and had many procedures during the time I was training and racing. At first I didn’t say anything to anyone because the point of my race team was to be about women in the industry, not me and my illness, which is why I had a different female teammate for every race, but after having to have a surgery that took me out of commission for almost three months I decided to use it as a message of strength and inspire everyone to overcome challenges for the things they love. It was one of the hardest and most rewarding times of my life an if I did end up inspiring just one person then it was all worth it because for years women have been told we were the weaker sex or if we did anything that was masculine then we lose our femininity and after a while we believe that. I think our biggest set back is ourselves. We have to overcome this thought that we were spoon-fed and start believing that we can do what we set our minds to. I use my motorcycle to do that, but my bike can be a symbol for anything that you want to achieve. Every time I did something on my bike that I thought I couldn’t do, like the first Iron Butt Challenge (1000 miles in 24 hours), I would think “What else in life can I achieve”? Every mile gave me more confidence in myself.
Some months later after beating cancer, I would prove my strength once again when I was in South Dakota, and a bison charged and hit me while I was riding my bike. Thanks to the rangers I survived but left with a very shredded knee. For circumstances I’d rather not mention, I had no other choice but to ride back home. I wanted to use this as another opportunity to inspire others, so I wrapped my knee with two braces and rode 3,000 miles. I got a cane, strapped to my bike and used it as a way to push my bike off the kickstand and to get on and off my bike since I couldn’t put weight on my leg. During that ride, I went to nine national parks. I was determined not to let anything stop me from riding again.
The chapter I’m in right now in my life is one that no one saw coming. I moved back to my hometown, Cave City, Kentucky, started a free community motorcycle garage with my sister, Shannon Burke, called “Smiley’s” in honor of our dad. It was his old motorcycle garage that we bought and rebuilt. I also got involved in politics and started working as a community developer for my town. I went from the spotlight to a place so small that if you blink, you’d miss it. I wanted to bring hope to a place that needed a lot of it, and in fact, I want to do that for more small towns. All those years on my bike I would travel the back roads and main streets and gather the stories and history of what this country was founded on. I was surrounded by nature and the beauty of untouched and unfiltered originality. I believe that these places are the heartbeat of America and the roads that lead to them are the arteries that pump life into this land. If we don’t protect them then so much more then a town dies, the history of us goes with it. The fact that we use our bikes to get there means we need to protect them even more or the simple act of riding a bike will be filled with one monotonous building after another along the way. The impact I have made for the 2400 people of Cave City has had greater effects than any I did online. Everything has come full circle too, this summer I bought my dad’s 87’ Softtail back, and I finally took the first ride on it since his death. It is parked in his garage with his tools and his daughters working on it.
To me, I never want to do things so I can say I was the only one or the one that did it better. I push myself to do those things so someone can come and break my record or do something new that no one thought of. How I measure success is by how many people measure their lives by yours and I can only hope that when things are said and done, and I’m long gone I made an impact in some small way. I know that I will die trying.
Motorcycling gave me my voice and an outlet to use it. It gave me my father back, and it gave strength when I didn’t know I had it. My world will never exist without it, so when people ask what motorcycling means to me, I say it means the same as breath means to you.