The motorcycle gang sauntered out of a hotel on the Dual Highway, wearing eye shadow, rouge and, in at least one case, a hairnet. The bikers slugged down coffee from lipstick-stained cups, flaunting their sleeveless, baby-blue vests as they waited for the Big Run to begin.
North America's oldest motorcycle club for women, the Motor Maids, rolled into Maryland for its 65th anniversary convention this week -- a gang of young singles, mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers united by their love of chrome-splashed, loud but sensibly outfitted, two-wheeled roadsters.
Here among the sisterhood for the three-day event was Betty Noss, 87 years old and 5 feet 3 inches from the soles of her red shoes to the tip of her white-haired head. She came from Jackson, Mich., having tucked herself into the BMW sidecar attached to her 64-year-old daughter's motorcycle.
That's how Margaret Wilson came, too. Wilson, 85, had wanted to fire up her blue and silver Harley-Davidson FXRS and motor here on her own. But a broken hip from a fall on her basement stairs in January forced her to make the run from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in her husband's sidecar. She was the one in the hairnet, to keep her blond curls from getting mussed by the helmet.
"Everybody teases me about that," Wilson admitted.
There's no telling what can happen on these annual runs -- like the time Susan Kennedy, under cover of darkness, spun toilet paper around a pair of Harley Electra Glides that belonged to her club president and the president's husband. That was two years ago, and a whiff of possible retaliation hung over this year's convention.
"I was told yesterday afternoon by our president's husband that he had not forgotten me," Kennedy, a 48-year-old truck driver from College Grove, Tenn., said Wednesday. "I think he's laying in wait."
When Motor Maids go wild, they have been known to roam hotels all night long, singing. And, Kennedy said, there was the time the club's co-founder, Dot Robinson -- then in her sixties, a woman who prided herself on her lady-like demeanor, her pink riding leathers and her pink motorcycle's lipstick holder -- astounded everyone by jumping into a pool, fully clothed, hat, high-heels and all, during a convention in Panama City, Fla.
The club, chartered in 1940 with 50 members, was started by Robinson, of Detroit, and Linda Dugeau, of Providence, R.I. Both have died, but there are about 775 members in the United States and Canada. More than 200 attended the Hagerstown convention.
Some began riding when all motorcyclists seemed like outlaws, and many tell stories of men who sneered at their interest in motorcycles.
When Debbie Waltz, 49, a surgical technician from Monroe, Mich., bought her first road bike in the 1970s, the Honda salesman challenged her ability to handle it.
"He told me if I could lay the bike down and pick it back up again, he'd give me a helmet, a T-shirt and half off a jacket," Waltz said. So she did. "Every man stood outside that shop to make sure I could ride the bike out," she said.
Noss began riding well before Hollywood gave the world "The Wild One" or "Easy Rider" -- even before there was push-button ignition, and the only way to start a motorcycle was to rear back on the kick starter. When she stalled out her future husband's 1929 Harley in the flatlands of Iowa, she didn't know that she had to hold in the clutch to get it going again. But she figured it out, returned to her beau with the bike in one piece and never looked back. They eloped a year later.
"Married in my boots and britches," she said.
Their life was filled with adventure: skiing, hunting, flying, not to mention his and hers competition in 500-mile races in Michigan. Not so long ago, Noss had one of her closest brushes with disaster while piloting her motorcycle to a Motor Maid convention in Wisconsin: A concrete berm caught her by surprise, and she landed in a muddy cornfield.
"Being a gymnastic coach, I knew how to tuck and roll," Noss said. "So I just tucked and rolled." She was 77.
But at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Noss sat out as other women revved their bikes for the Dot Robinson Run, a timed road competition in which it is better to go too slow rather than too fast.
With directions taped to their gas tanks, the women headed out one by one on a 50-mile course through the back roads of Washington County and West Virginia. The object was to go about 30 miles an hour, to stay within the law.
Hugging the yellow line, the string of motorcyclists traveled roads fringed with blue chicory blossoms and yellow spikes of mullein; past Funkstown's statue of a charging World War I doughboy; along Antietam National Battlefield's zigzagging worm-rail fences; through pastures of horses, cows and even a few donkeys; past a farm where a woman with a baby in her arms waved hello; past Ernie's junkyard; past a carnival with a sign asking, "Where would you be if Jesus came back five minutes ago?"; past self-serve roadside stands offering homegrown tomatoes; and, finally, into Williamsport as the bells of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church peeled the hour at noon.
At Byron Memorial Park, a few husbands waited for stragglers while others feasted on two barbecued pigs, cole slaw and potato salad. Among the last was Waltz, who had lost her way several times, but to no effect on her high spirits.
"I would live on my bike if I could," she said. "I get bike fever so bad in the winter I can't stand myself."