5.02.2007,8:01 PM
Rider in the Storm: Unexpected Part Two
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I woke to a nice light mist this morning and decided to commute on the bike. The last two mornings I was woken either by very too-close lightening strikes or hail; I drove the truck.

It was a pleasant ride, so pleasant I typed and posted a quaint little musing on my blog site. Of course, I was then also sitting at my desk next to the window on the 13th floor gazing at the sun breaking through fluffy clouds and eating lunch. Reminiscing on how unusually pleasant that ride was this morning despite the light warm mist.

Little did I know.

Errand running on the way home qualified an excuse to myself to leave early, which I hardly ever do. I snoozed on the train ride to the station, stowed my commute 'stuff', warmed the bike and donned gear.

Then spent nearly half an hour for one mile in congested traffic. Ironically, this morning I was thirty miles down the highway in half an hour. To circumvent the ClusterMess of converging Hwys 121, 820 and 183, Grandview Rd is usually my YellowBrick Road. Accessing 820 from 377 is more tolerable, less congested and traffic on 820 dwindles down by then.

Entering the highway from the ramp, I noticed that ominous thick blue-gray, almost heavy appearance of the sky and thought "Can I make it home before I get dumped on?"

Then a flickering light on the southwestern horizon informed me that not only was rain on the way, but the one thing I dread riding on a bike: lightening. Although I love watching lightening storms roll in, and am known to stand outside until the very last minute watching those fast spears of electrons streak across the sky and down, riding a motorcycle in lightening storms is just not a good idea.

Shortly before reaching Saginaw the sky opened up and dropped its load. The rain was not too heavy nor was there really any wind driving it. Using more caution in bufffer space and stopping, I squeezed my front brake lever in rapid succession to communicate to those behind me that traffic was slowing, and so was I. Please slow down, too, and don't run over me.

Everyone was exercising caution and slowing down. Regardless, I pulled into the far right lane after signaling knowing that my exit was approaching and there was one less side to watch for traffic.

This evening seemed to be the antithesis of this morning: traffic was awful everywhere. And of course, instead of a nice warm mist, cold rain fell. Thankfully, after exiting the freeway the rain ceased. Negotiating rush hour traffic north on 199 to the FM1886 exit was slow and arduous. A lot of stop-and-go dancing: stop, put feet down, wait, move 50 feet, and repeat many times. With relief, I pulled off of 199 and proceeded on 1886 and the overpass.

Stopping at the frontage road, I saw a man on a tall brown horse leading another horse with a rope. This trio was on the shoulder of the road at the corner. Having ridden horses and trained Shadow myself, I know that horses can be unpredictable around traffic. Especially at a four-way intersection, near an overpass crossing a busy and currently very congested highway.

My first thought was "What the heck is this guy doing leading a horse at this intersection??" A quick look at the horses bodies and heads told me that although the horse being ridden was trusting his rider to keep him safe, the horse being led was skittish, wide eyed and ears twitching everywhere.

It was scared. And there is nothing more unpredictable than a scared horse.

I hoped that this rider knew what the heck he was doing. I watched the car entering the intersection nearest the trio and hoped that the driver had enough sense to slowly approach, stop and slowly accelerate. He or she did. Then I assessed if the horses were going to be spooked by me and the bike. I would have to pass right in front of them.

Other cars were pulling up behind me; I had to go forward. I did; in first gear, as quietly as possible and keeping a vigilant eye on the horses as I passed. The horse being ridden didn't seem concerned, but the horse being led began to pull away and do a little dance. I rolled off the throttle and coasted ahead, making as little noise as possible. About another 200 feet down the road, I saw that the three were still grouped tightly together and now unconcerned about the weird two-wheeled noise maker and the funny looking thing riding it.

Now on a country FM road, everything began to blend into a nice enjoyable ride. Until half a mile down the road.

I saw it before it hit. The canopies of the trees up ahead were bending over the road. And before I could even register the significance of that, I was hit by a blast of whirling wind. And the sky opened up again; this time with gigantic rain drops that pelted my helmet and my hands. And the storm hit.

Lightening all around, raining so hard and so much I could barely see anything except two or three pairs of faint red taillights somewhere in front of me. I felt I was suspended in the middle of a tremendous waterfall and unable to pass through it.

The wind........it was the worst wind I've ever experienced. Not for just its power, but it came from EVERY direction and slammed into me and the bike. I was slammed to the right, then the left, then it slammed into my face, then behind me. As if I was a play mouse for a gigantic cat and it was swatting me with its paws. There were a few times when I seriously thought we were going to be blown off the road. Literally; picked up and moved off the road by the wind. That's how ferocious it was.

I geared down to fifth gear; riding in sixth gear was suicide. Sometimes shifting down into fourth gear when I had to slow due to poor visibility. Invisibility is a more apt word. I hung onto the road, somehow. And thinking back now, I really wonder how the heck I did stay on the road. At one point I was slammed over so much I was leaning as if I were corning a tight twistie. I thought while trying to stay up and moving forward if I was going to end up a statistic on the side of the road. It was a real fight.

All this time the rain was pelting and lightening was having a hay day spearing the countryside around me. Nearing the turn for my road, I saw a line of traffic waiting to enter the intersection. I slowed further by gently braking both front and rear and gearing down. Usually taking the turn on my road in third gear, I erred on the side of caution and shifted to second. And I'm glad I did. As I made the turn my rear tire squiggled around. I let off the brakes before entering the turn which prevented my tires from sliding more. All while battling the wild wind.

I had a reprieve from the wind after turning; the roadside is thick with tall trees and dips down into a shallow valley with two creeks. I could finally relax my clenched body and breathe.

Approaching the second bridge, I noticed it was under water. Uh oh.
Shift down, stand on pegs, and hang on. We made it with no problem. Slowing down to fourth, we carefully maneuvered the notorious S-curve that I live on and approached my private gravel road.

Oh. No. There were two streams of gray water running down the length of the road. I suppressed a giggle thinking "Well, guys; here's my water crossing practice!!"

Remembering all the comments I heard from my fellow riders that ride dirt and water, I geared down into first, slowed way down and tried to stay on the gravel that was not under water. This gravel is mixed with limestone 'sludge' and turns into a whitish-gray paste when wet. It packs well, but it is slippery.

I was doing well, but then I saw that the road where my own driveway intersects was a big pool of whitish-gray water. Okay. Take the turn slow, steady throttle and......oh crap. My left boot is a pool of water again.

We rode through the water and gravel, navigating the turn, feeling the water splash up and over my pegs and boots. We slowly rode my winding gravel driveway, now mostly under water or with two streams washing away my gravel. I looked at the pond and it is now officially overflowing. The grass is lying flat from the wind as if all were brushed with a hair brush in one direction. The lightening was now rapid firing and I became more nervous about sitting on metal and a bowl of gas.

As I approached the gravel pad next to the house, I quickly assessed the best place to park. Not where I usually park; the sidestand would melt down into the limestone sludge like a warm knife dropped onto butter. So I carefully slowed, feathered the front brake and aimed for the higher graveled area. As I slowed, I dragged my now fully immersed left foot and boot on the gravel to catch us from popping off any large chunks of gravel.

Putting the side stand down and testing it's security, I realized I was soaked. Mostly my feet, hands and the lower part of my pants. The overpants kept most of my lower body dry and only a few spots on my arms were wet where water was driven through the vents in my touring jacket. Leaving my helmet on, I unhooked the now wet sheepskin pad, the tank bag and retrieved things from the side cases.

All while watching lightening dance around me.

I giggled as I ran for the door and let myself in.

We made it again.


posted by Macrobe
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