Those times the storms catch us, yet we throttle on
My friend Mike and I packed up, topped off, and rolled out of Amarillo, Texas on a windy, cold, rainy September morning. We had ridden the historic Route 66 through Oklahoma, panhandle Texas, and into New Mexico before a massive eastbound storm front had forced us to reverse course. We rode hard from Amarillo southeast on Hwy. 287 toward Wichita Falls, as the multi-state line of storms crashed down on us. We soon found ourselves slogging through heavy rains and driving winds for almost two hours, trying to outrun the torrent chasing us from the west. The road was mostly deserted save the occasional semi truck heaving waves of water across our bikes. At times our pace slowed to 25-30 mph, with water in these flat lands periodically up to our floorboards. We felt more like surfers than bikers. We dared not stop for too long in the small towns that dotted our route along the way, eager to make south Dallas and my brother’s home by nightfall. Yet at every stop we did make, Mike and I were met by kind locals who offered hot coffee, dry towels, and abundant prayers for our safe travels. I love small town America.
Mike, our bikes, and a much welcomed stop to dry out and phone home in Wichita Falls, TX.
If you ride motorcycles long enough, you’ll either find yourself caught in a storm, or you’ll find yourself with no choice but to ride through one. Either way, “riding the storm out” (props to REO Speedwagon’s classic tune) is a common experience we eventually all share. And as with many experiences out on the road, we often recall it with a smile we didn’t wear in the middle of it. Ted calls that, “Type II Fun.”
Storms find me, seeking me out like Sidewinder missiles, tracking me down whether I’m out for a day ride or on a multi-day road trip. There’s a cosmic determination to soak me at least once while I’m out two-wheeling, it seems, especially in the summer months. Here’s a few more of my wet tales, in no particular order other than how they come to mind. By the end, leave one or two of yours in the comments below! Let’s commiserate together.
The rains in the PNW can be sudden and fierce. Yes, that rain thickened. Yes, we rode right into it.
The sign at the starting point of Idaho’s Winchester Grade should have been a clue, should have served as an early warning that we were riding into a danger zone- “Closed To Thru Traffic. Locals Only.” We ignored the warning. “Aw, that sign’s been there for years,” one guy quipped. “Yeah, just a little bumpy pavement,” offered another. “The views are worth the ride,” chimed in a third. I was thinking, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”
As we rolled up the narrow, twisty road, the mist we began in turned to steady rain. We had pulled out in two groups, the “Wild Rose Squad” fast boys first, then the rest of the “Mild Hogs” group after. As it happened, I found myself the front bike in group 2, for the only reason that group 1 left me behind. So here I was, at the lead of group 2, on my second day riding the Pacific Northwest, on a still unfamiliar bike (2003 Honda ST1300), riding with a group of guys I’d just met the day before, and now on an unfamiliar, ascending road. In the rain. Oh, did I mention the temp was 44 degrees?
The rain thickened, the curves tightened, and we ascended into a low cloud bank, which meant fog limiting our view to barely 30 yards ahead, and to top it off, we crossed a county line. The new county apparently didn’t invest in roads so much as warning signs, as the pavement (if it can be called such) no longer had yellow center lines nor white outside lines, and was pocked with holes, cracks, open seams, and overlay patches. And I was leading group 2 over this. Nervous? Let’s just say I was squeezing the seat vinyl up into my sphincter most of the way.
Ted’s VFR800, the storms relentlessly stalking us.
Several days later on that same trip, we rolled out of Antelope, Oregon toward Shaniko, then north on State 97, upon the high plains. Across these vast vistas, we witnessed massive thunderstorms miles away, dumping rain in great dark sheets. Above Kent, we exited west onto 216, virtually deserted, making for the Deschutes River Canyon. Descending off the high plains, we ran into one of those storms, which proceeded to pelt us with small hail for the next several miles, even down the tight, twisting road into the canyon. I couldn’t see beyond my windshield, being battered with ice pellets as well as on my face shield. My pace slowed to a crawl on the wet, now slippery tarmac, with steep drops into the canyon below, being beaten mercilessly by the hail. We safely reached the bottom along the river, and then the rain/hail let up, of course. I was thinking, “Either Ted is crazy, fearless, or he’s trying to kill me.”
I have no photos of the following heavy rain/hail encounter, but it made this shot mild by comparison.
Speaking of hail, that was not the first time I’d found myself pelted by it while riding. Many years prior, while riding back from a meeting and dinner with friends the next town over, I called my wife to let her know I was headed for home. It was well after dark, and she informed me, “There’s a big storm out there, looks like a lot of wind and rain. Hurry, but be careful.” So I rain-suited up, fired up the ’93 Suzuki Intruder VS800 I owned then, and hustled east toward home. En route, I not surprisingly rode into heavy rain, but suddenly the winds picked up and the rain impacting me felt like mini marbles, stinging everywhere it hit. “What the heck?! I’m in a hailstorm!” it occurred to me. I hunched over and rode on, finally pulling into the open garage and Lisa waiting with a worried look on her pretty face. With the garage door closing behind me, she declared, “A tornado developed right after you called! It blew through several neighborhoods between Loganville and Snellville! Thank God you’re home safe!” When I watched its path on the news, I realized that twister had run about a mile north of me, headed eastward paralleling my trip home. That was unsettling.
Summer rains in the Southeast USA can come on suddenly, and blow past just as fast. Photo by Michelin.
I recall a trip with my childhood chum Lyle, the year we both turned 50, out on the Natchez Trace Parkway through Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. On one undulating section north of Tupelo, a storm we’d been mindful of to our west suddenly seemed to pounce on us with driving rain and intense lightning, and we were nowhere near an exit yet to duck into a gas station or something. Pulling off the side of the road near a large, overhanging white oak, Lyle and I weighed the risk and scrambled under the leafy canopy, quickly pulled on our rain gear, then proceeded down the Parkway, finding an exit with both gas and barbecue. Perfect. Once the worst of the storm raged past Tupelo, we ventured back out behind the trailing off rain storms, dry and full, continuing south toward Jackson. We had a good laugh about it later in the hotel, but it was unnerving at the time.
A turn-out up on GA State 75, after riding through dense morning fog and rain.
My most recent rain experience while road tripping a Yamaha Ténéré 700 reminded me of these and so many other encounters I’ve had with “the wild, wild wet” as Placa calls it. Through it all, preparation, an intrepid spirit, or just a desperate desire to reach safety, has driven me and my riding companions onward, “weathering” the elements and the storms. I guess that’s a lot like life- we all will face storms, will be pelted by unwelcome circumstances, sometimes will even have to pull over and find temporary shelter to ride it out before continuing. But continue we will. Being a Christ-follower myself, I find strength and courage to “ride life” with my faith, for which I’m very thankful.
So when the storms arise, out on the road and in this life, may you ride hard, ride safe, and ride life.