The “Other” Ms. Wilsen

Ms. Wilsen is a motorcycle-riding and world-curious mathematician.

Erica Wilsen

Ms. Wilsen is a motorcycle-riding and world-curious mathematician.

Most students think of their teachers as people who go to school in the morning, teach, go back home, grade work, and then do it all over again, throughout the week. Ms. Wilsen, a math teacher at Lincoln Sudbury Regional High school, isn’t just a teacher. She’s a motorcycle-riding and world-curious mathematician. 

“When I was in my 20s I was in the peace-corps and I was a math teacher for two years,” Wilsen said. “Then in the third year I got put in charge of twenty five volunteers who were in one region of the country where I was serving, which was in Cameroon, West Africa. So I was given a motorcycle and I was told, ‘you need to learn how to ride this.’ So I learned how to ride it and it was a little one. It was a 250 or a 125 and I really really liked it.” 

The peace-corps has a purpose to help other countries with education, health, house building, technology, women’s economic empowerment, and so much more. Wilsen was given a motorcycle to ride and it influenced her decision to eventually buy one for herself. 

“When I got back to the states I got married and my husband and I bought a motorcycle,” she said. “Then when I became pregnant I stopped riding, so it’s been like 15 or 18 years at this point since I’ve ridden a motorcycle. So in the fall my family decided to get one, and my older son and I took the motorcycle safety class again together which was fun. We both got our licenses and I’ve wanted one for a long time, and now that my children are older, if something were to happen they’d be fine.” 

Ms. Wilsen recently purchased a new motorcycle and took the motorcycle safety class again so she would be ready to ride once more. The safety courses are not mandatory in some states but can be useful as a refresher to those who haven’t ridden a motorcycle in a while. 

“It’s a Harley 883 and I’m actually getting it re-painted because I think there’s so much negative connotation with a Harley that I don’t want to be associated with,” Wilsen said. “I wanted a different color as well but I’m not going to put any logo on it. I don’t care if people know it’s a Harley but I don’t want that to be the first thing they see or the first impression that they make about me if I don’t know them.” While there is a male-dominated and misogynistic aspect to some groups of Harley riders, Ms. Wilsen hopes that people are judged individually and on their own merits. She hopes she can challenge the stereotypes associated with motorcycle riding. Most motorcyclists like her ride for the freedom and the feeling of the wind in their hair.

Prior to teaching, when Ms. Wilsen was in the peace corps, she rode through many different roads in Africa.

Wilsen in 1990, first learning to ride in northern Cameroon, just south of the Sahara, in the Peace Corps. (Erica Wilsen)

 “When I was in the peace corps a lot of the riding I did was on dirt roads and most of the roads in the country weren’t paved,” she said. “But we were supposed to be home or somewhere by nightfall and there were bandits on the roads so you wouldn’t want to get caught out at night. Also on some roads there was really really deep sand so in order to make it through the sand you would have to gun it and get through the sand as fast as you could to keep from actually having the bike fall over because as soon as you started to slow down then you were lost.” Riding a bike can be tricky, especially when the roads aren’t paved, but there are ways to move around it and keep riding freely. 

“The first time I ever rode a motorcycle was in Cameroon in Africa and I was with somebody else who was teaching me to ride and we had gone to a village to visit somebody,” Wilsen said. “When we were coming back it was getting dark so we were a little nervous because we were supposed to be home by dark and it was a little hard to see and I ran into a cow. There was a herd of cattle that were crossing the road and the cow was fine but I went down. After the cow, I was okay because I kind of slid.” 

Ms. Wilsen only has been in a few accidents when driving a motorcycle, but she didn’t get too badly hurt, just a little sore. Her experience on a bike has definitely impacted her ability to ride freely without getting into many injuries. Ms. Wilsen has definitely done many things in her life that are considered to be interesting and fun. 

“The big love of my life has been the time I’ve spent in Africa. I’ve spent about eight years of my adult life there. So a lot of the music I listen to and a lot of the literature that I read is African,” she said. Ms. Wilsen’s other love is, of course, motorcycles. 

“There’s a freedom to it that I enjoy,” she said. “It keeps you much more engaged than just driving a car. With a motorcycle I just like the feeling of being able to go a lot of places that you can’t go to in a car and it’s a lot of fun to explore.”