- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

DARBY, Mont. (AP) - There’s been a lot of life that’s gone by since she parked her very first motorcycle - a 1949 Indian Scout - at the gas station where her boyfriend worked.

Pauline “Frankie” Birnn can still remember its metallic blue and silver paint job.

She was 18 and living in New Jersey.

It was a different time and most folks frowned on the idea of a woman riding a motorcycle back then. Her father sat firmly in that camp.

“My dad didn’t want me to ride,” she remembers. “If he knew I had that motorcycle, he would have told me to get rid of it or get out. So I hid my bike at Bob’s place.”

Her father couldn’t have known that Birnn’s life was already set to revolve around two-wheeled travel, a face full of wind and the joy that comes with the freedom of the open road.

“I was almost out of high school when I first realized that a girl could ride too,” Birnn said. “I was riding one day behind Bob and we came to a stop at a corner.”

Another motorcycle came by and Birnn noticed the driver was female.

“I started banging on the back of Bob’s head,” she said, with a smile. “I said: ‘You see that? You see that? That was a girl.’ I decided I was going to ride a motorcycle too, right then.”

For almost 70 years, that’s exactly what she’s done.

On almost any day when the temperatures rise into comfortable digits, the 86-year-old Birnn will fire up her Suzuki Savage and go for a spin around the southern reaches of the Bitterroot Valley.

“I do love being able to say I ride a Savage,” Birnn said. “Most of the time, I just go ride by myself. I suppose if I had a sidecar, I’d probably take Jugs along.”

Jugs is her oversized German shepherd who seems content with all four paws firmly on the ground.

“Most of the time, I ride somewhere between 36 and 40 miles a day,” she said. “My goal now is to ride 500 miles a year. It used to be 1,000, but I guess I’m slowing down a little. So far I’ve ridden 638 miles this year.

“Those extra miles might have to go toward next year’s goal. Or maybe they’ll end up being just a little extra.”

Riding the quiet lanes in the Bitterroot is a long ways from her days as a member of the Pink Pussycats.

“There were five of us girls who rode together back then. We called ourselves the Pink Pussycats. I really don’t know why,” she said. “One called herself Witch Hazel. We all put pink caps on our gas tanks to let people know who we were.”

These days, Birnn lives just south of Darby in the place she and her now deceased husband found in 1975 following a three-year adventure of living at 7,000 feet in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

“We moved to Colorado on the same year that John Denver’s ‘Rocky Mountain High’ was a popular song,” Birnn said. “I made sure I had the record.”

But that was about all she liked about Colorado. The house her husband found was on a long and windy stretch of dirt road that wasn’t at all good for riding a motorcycle.

“I remember just walking into that house and bawling,” she said. “Montana never looked so good when we ended up here.”

Her house now is at the end of Motorcycle Boulevard. You know you’ve arrived when you spot the big poster of a black leather jacket-clad Marlon Brando leaning on his motorcycle on the shed door. Right next to that, there’s a bumper sticker that depicts a can of “Whoop Ass” and an accompanying saying: “When opened may be hazardous to your health!”

Around here, most people know the energetic Birnn by her nickname, Frankie.

“I was absolutely crazy about Frank Sinatra,” Birnn said. “I got to see him at the Paramount Theater in New York City. I was one of many screaming teenagers.”

But her most memorable evening came when she ended up sitting in the back seat of a car next to her favorite country-western singer, Wanda Jackson.

“After one of her shows, I asked Wanda if she would eat out with us and she accepted,” Birnn said. She sat next to Jackson as they ate in the backseat of the car at a drive-in restaurant. “I felt like I died and went to heaven. For sure, it was my most memorable evening.”

These days, her memories are made much closer to home.

She got her last speeding ticket in her 75th year. Birnn said that was probably her husband’s fault.

“Bob told me that my bike’s not riding right and I needed to crank it up and blow out some carbon,” she said. “I was a little ways south of Darby and had a stretch of road all to myself. I opened it up.

“It was my birthday. I decided I wanted to ride 75 mph.”

The Montana Highway patrolman who came along wasn’t amused.

“He was a long, big drink of water,” Birnn remembered. “He was dead serious when he looked at me and asked for my license and registration.

“Just before he left, he looked at me and said: ‘I used to ride one of those. You be careful.’ “

Birnn’s face lights up when she remembers hearing that.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d still be riding at this age,” she said. “I still love the feel of the highway. I just love to ride. And, when it really comes down to it, I just don’t feel that old.”

___

Information from: Ravalli Republic, http://www.ravallirepublic.com

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