The Road Taken: Men, Motorcycles, and Me – Linda Dodwell
By BJ Blanchard
In most lives, somewhere around halfway, one looks back and thinks: What the heck have I done with my life? It turns out that Linda Dodwell of Glen Ellen has done a bunch.
Following in the tradition of numerous Glen Ellen writers, Dodwell has taken a stab at her memoirs and can now add “author” to the list of her accomplishments. Dodwell chronicles the uncertain route from 1944 Hackensack, New Jersey, to rural Glen Ellen some 70 years later, and in writing her tale, seems to enjoy the twists and surprises of the adventure all over again.
In her memoir, The Road Taken: Men, Motorcycles, and Me (Galah Press, 2022), Dodwell marvels at the serendipity that drove the course of her rich and wide-ranging life, from babyhood back East, early marriage, sudden wealth, divorce, loving motherhood, and then exploits and capers in her cherished Australia, where she fell in love by motorcycle.
Married to a gentleman who had risen quickly through the financial ranks from Yale college student to president and chief operating officer at Charles Schwab, Dodwell and other American women were thinking it wasn’t quite enough to be homebodies while their successful husbands were blasting through the stratosphere of business and opportunities. She returned to a love of art and attended the San Francisco Art Institute in the 1980s, and after a bonfire at a New Age Women’s workshop in the Sierra, she discovered her love of motorcycles. Soon after, with daughter Maida Lynn out of the house and her marriage collapsed, Dodwell was off to see Australia by motorbike.
As described in a New York Times article about her, “Dividing her time between Melbourne and San Francisco for nearly two decades, Linda explored all four corners of that island continent, starting with a round-trip solo ride across the southern boundary between Melbourne and Perth.” The “men” relationships in these Australian escapades are explored, but are for Dodwell to share in the book with readers.
Later, in 1997, Dodwell drove with her friend Genny Obert for 43 straight days in the “Peking to Paris Motor Challenge,” taking the duo through 12 countries, across 22 rivers, traversing two continents, and including the occasional disaster, in a 1968 Hillman Hunter sedan. This race, from Beijing up to the Mount Everest basecamp, through many wild days, ended at last with a martini celebration in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Glen Ellen people may have noticed Dodwell’s “Australia house,” on the right just after the turn on Warm Springs Road toward Bennett Valley Road. It is big and evocative of the expansive Aussie Outback. Inside, you can almost feel the hot wind coming in off the land and blowing the curtains aside. Note the cylindrical corrugated iron vats which support the wide surrounding porch, and which preserve gallons of water for the next fire emergency.
What is enjoyed by this reader, is the astonishment Dodwell seems to have in looking back. Adventure came her way, and she relished it. It is an entertaining read about a fun frolic through the past half-century that any baby boomer can appreciate.
As an aside, that swath of land where the Australia house stands, at the confluence of Sonoma Creek and Graham Creek just where Warm Springs Road meets Sonoma Mountain Road, was all “Redwood” Thompson’s property (and where several Thompsons still live in 2022). When the Thompson land became available for purchase around 2000, Dodwell decided to build.
Dodwell valued this historical property and decided to blend two treasured aesthetics in the house she built there. She loved the wide verandahs on homes of the Outback and planned to marry that vision with the nineteenth-century American West. She wrote, with Arthur Dawson, a book about the history of that specific land called What a Place to Call Home, proceeds from which are donated to the Glen Ellen Historical Society.
Are there adventures yet to come? Fair dinkum, mate, you better bl**dy believe it.
Meet Linda Dodwell at Readers’ Books in Sonoma on May 29, at 2 p.m., for a reading and signing and general get-to-know-ya session.