8.29.2006,9:18 AM
Riders in the Storm
"Holy shit! I gotta get outa here. Talk to ya' later."

I snapped my cell phone closed, eyes wide on the lightening bolts and blue-black sky outside the Starbuck's window. Pulling in a huge last gulp of iced tea, I tossed it in the trash on the way out with my helmet, jacket and tank bag in hands. I beelined for the bike while mentally guaging a quick route home. I didn't catch the exact direction of the approaching storm, but I knew it was coming from due west.

I don't remember getting geared up so quickly before, literally throwing on my jacket, dewrag and helmet, swearing at my fumbling zipper and the cumbersome head protection and glasses. All I could think about was getting the hell out of there and beating the storm home. Starting the bike and sitting in the saddle, I mentally ticked off that all systems were 'go'. With my nervous system revving near light speed. Focused like a pinpointed laser beam, I pulled out onto the highway and carefully navigated towards the entrance to I-820. I quickly spotted a black truck in my peripheral vision ready to enter the road from the intersection's turnaround. Despite that I was already in the intersection and had the right of way, I quickly upshifted, lifted my left arm high and pointed at the ramp entrance to the left in front of both of us: 'I'm going over there, dude, in case you didn't notice my signal!'.

Snapping through the gears with quick acceleration I was up and on the skyward ramp, curving into one of the several veins of traffic that feed the highway. Several main highways and arterials converge and separate every which way at this point and it's commonly called a MasterMix; I call it a ClusterFuck.

Luckily traffic volume was much less on a Sunday afternoon than during the weekdays; I was able to maintain a constant 60-65 mph. My eyes and brain kept a watch on traffic from all sides except the left, which was monitoring the storm. Since I was in the inside lane and the concrete separators and median protected me from oncoming traffic, I could afford that luxury. My mind was a mental data processor of incoming visual cues for cars, road hazards, and storm conditions. The new helmet considerably eliminates traffic noise, replaced by wind noise when the face shield is open. Closing it 3/4s of the way, all noise was reduced to a level that didn't distract the churning brain processing.

I watched the ceiling of blue-black sky close in over me and the bolts of lightening threatened and teased me with adrenaline surges. Will I make it?

I was beginning to relax a bit as I neared my exit when suddenly I was slammed sideways by a wall of wind. Holy shit! This isn't a welcoming waggon wind asking for a slow dance. This one wants to stomp a Texas Two-step.

I layed down over my gas tank, my chin almost on the metal and steered through the windshield. I afforded a quick mental 'Thank goodness I washed the danged thing the other day'. Hugging the sides of the bike with my thighs and legs, I pushed my weight down through the pegs and relaxed my arms while maintaining firm grip on the handlebars. Let Whee move under me, but guide it to keep it going straight and upright. As it was, I had to push to lean the bike into the wind counteracting its pushy insistance at blowing me sideways into traffic on my left. At one point, I swear I was airborne; the tires felt as if they had left the road. The rush of adrenaline dried my mouth like cotton and my heart jumped into my throat. Keep the rubber on the pavement.

Suddenly my helmet felt and sounded like it was being peppered by bullets. Oh crap; Hail!! Pellets of cold hit and bounced off my visor and helmeted head and I slowly rolled off the throttle to avoid becoming road kill. A little rain and lightening I don't mind, but hail I do. I popped my head up to peer beyond the semi in front of me who also slowed down for an exit. My helmeted head was patted like a baseball by the wind and hail. Time to get off the ball bearings. A welcomed green exit sign appeared and I immediately signaled and slowed to enter the off-ramp.

Relieved to find myself off the hail-scattered highway, I carefully rode up the ramp only to be hit full face by a wall of water. The storms way of telling me I wasn't out of this situation yet! The wind and rain both pelting me I somehow maneuvered into the right lane to turn onto an intersection where I knew there was a strip mall offering shelter. I quickly examined oncoming cross traffic, slowing down with gradual pressure on both brakes and fed myself on the the intersecting road. By this time, less than 30 seconds after the wall of rain, I was soaked through all my gear. Thankfully the water ran off my face shield well enough for me to still see. Slowly approaching a right turn into the mall parking lot, I drove carefully through already pooling rain water at the curb.

Watching for moving cars, I found two parking places to pull into and carefully stopped with both brakes, able to execute a Zen stop and dismounted. After turning off the ignition, I quickly assessed what I needed to do before fleeing. Water running down my body inside my gear and filling my boots, I rolled each end of my sheepskin seat pad up towards the middle and tucked them in, hoping that would protect the wool surface from a soaking. There was nothing I could do about the tail and side bags at this point, so I just unsnapped the tank bag, grabbed my keys and made a beeline for a department store entrance.

Several people were already gathered under the front for shelter and I joined them with a big hop over the encroaching river of water in front. Only then did I remove my helmet, gloves and sunglasses. I saw the palms of my hands were blue-black from the dye of the leather glove palms. Cute. I look like I have gangrene.

The wind changed direction and drove the wall of rain horizontal into us. We all escaped into the store foyer for protection. Soaking wet, I felt like I had stepped naked into meatlocker freezer. I was cold and wet, dripping water forming a pool at my feet.

This sucks. But I couldn't help but giggle. I made it to shelter safely while emergency vehicles competed against the rain and wind to attend to accidents on the nearby highway and overpass intersection. I escaped that danger by a few minutes.

We watched as the lightening bolted around us, thunder shaking the windows of glass and the power went out twice. No one could even open the doors to exit the front of the store. We all joked about the river of muddy water trailing down the parking lot with floating 2x4's and trash. A car slowly creeped by with its wheels covered with water to the lower third of its hubs. I'm glad I had sense enough to seek shelter and not ride this out.

As the storm passed overhead and the rain and wind let up, people started to wade through the water to their cars. I waited until the rain was only a light shower. I really didn't want to get any wetter than I was, although I'm not sure I could have. I was thoroughly soaked. And cold.

Finally it let up enough for me to venture out and see how wet everything was. To my delight, the inside of the sheepskin cover was almost dry. After I wiped off the mirrors and windshield, it was time to head out for home.

The rain was welcomed after months of drought, but wearing it while riding home chilled me to the core. I was shivering by the time I pulled up on the gravel drive and was all too ready to shed this wet gear. After drying off and changing, I took the same towel outside and examined what else was soaked. The inside of the new side cases had water in them, the items inside not completely soaked but wet. My new issue of Bike suffered the worst. After emptying the side cases and tail bag, I absorbed what I could from the insides with the towel and left them open to air dry. I will try to weather proof the cases further by spraying with a water-repellent.

The clearing sky gave way again to another approaching storm. The reddish hues of the horizon were slowly pushed away by dark blue and black swollen clouds. The sunset was a delight to the eyes, as it often is from my view at home. As night approached, my nose started to feel stuffed up. By morning I couldn't breathe out my nostrils and my sinuses were chock full of mucus. I drove the truck to the train station in the rain that morning, and by lunch time I was fading quickly. I left early, picked up a decongestant on the way home and fed my pounding head and sinuses with drugs, hot tea and profuse cussing. I hate being sick and just recovered from a bacterial infection only to have this. So much for almost a full year of no illness.

So I'm home, enjoying the cool breeze, watching my buddy cattle egrets strut their stuff on the pasture outside, a tissue stuffed in one nostril hoping to unplug it, trying to focus through the sleep-deprived and drug-induced haze, typing this on my laptop, and wondering what it's like to be pampered when I'm sick. I'm not sure I know what that is like, but I can fantasize.

As long as I'm recovered by the weekend. Whee has a scheduled check-up while I pour over maps at the dealer, and I'm toying with the idea of a two-day ride somewhere, anywhere. It's time to do a trip and the opportunity is coming shortly.

Time for a nap; over and out.

posted by Macrobe
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