Like anyone who’s ridden more than a few thousand miles, I’ve come across my share of bad weather. It used to be, if you wanted to have an idea what the weather gods had in store, you stepped outside to feel the air, and looked up at the sky to see whether there were storm clouds. Weather forecasts were usually not an option. Either you were at a campground or in a cheap motel where there was no local weather channel.
The ancients did their weather forecasting without modern technology. The old adage “Red at night, sailor’s delight; red in the morning, sailor’s warning” still holds true, and if I were so inclined, I could probably learn how to do some primitive predicting by studying cloud types and movement, wind direction, rainbows, moon color and even how the smoke from a campfire rises. But if I want to get on the road, unless I’m hearing and seeing thunder and lightning strikes close together, I’m gonna go.
My denial has gotten me into some sticky situations. I might reason that the rain clouds to the west won’t touch me because I’m heading north… until the road curves to the left and I find myself heading directly into a deluge. Or, I might notice a few rain drops spattered on my windshield, and I figure I can outrun the storm or convince myself that it won’t get any worse. Mother Nature frequently breaks through that denial by stepping up the rain and sending that first little droplet trickling down the back of my neck. Then I know I’m in trouble because all its comrades are about to follow.
Some years ago, my friends and I were riding the Blue Ridge Parkway where the weather can change quite dramatically. One afternoon, sunny skies turned dark and the wind and rain reached a ferocity I hadn’t experienced before. Cars were pulling over to avoid the tree branches that were strewn across the road. We couldn’t see so we exited the parkway and waited at an abandoned gas station, standing under the overhang for an hour or so until the rain stopped. Our arrival at the campground was, for me, the first of many nights involving ropes strung between bikes to get the drench and stench out of my clothes. The next morning I learned about wrapping my feet in plastic bags before slipping them into my still-soaked boots.
One year, I was attending a Vintage Riders Reunion in downtown Laconia. I knew it was going to rain cats and dogs that evening, but I was so transfixed by the old racers’ stories that I stayed way longer than was prudent. I made it only about a mile and a half when torrents of rain started hammering down. I pulled under the drive-in overhang of a bank to wait out the storm. The drive started filling up with water that rose near the bike’s axles, but there was no moving anywhere. Luckily, the rain stopped, the water began to drain and I was able to head back to the motel where I set up makeshift drying racks for my dripping-wet gear.
Early on, I began to get a reputation for bringing bad weather with me. My riding buddies joked that they weren’t sure they wanted to ride with me anymore. Or maybe they weren’t joking. But in the past few years, my bad-weather bouts have been fewer and farther between.
Once while in Sturgis, there was a terrible mid-day hail storm. My bike was getting work done at the J&P Cycle service department on Lazelle Street. We missed the entire episode, and the bike was clean and dry when I went to pick it up later that afternoon. I thanked my lucky stars because the storm resulted in many thousands of dollars in damages to bikes, cars and other property.
Last summer, I rode from my home in New Jersey over to Brooklyn for the Indian Larry Block Party. Some horrible weather was forecast for later that night. By early evening, I was back on the road to New Jersey, and less than a half hour after I got home, a nasty storm began, bringing with it a bitter cold front.
My most recent experience of dodging the bad-weather bullet happened on the way back from Daytona Bike Week this year. While on the Amtrak Auto Train, I got a frantic text from my sister who warned me about the winter storm coming to the Mid-Atlantic coast. She urged me to stay at her home in Maryland instead of trying to make it the 270 miles home.
When we arrive in Lorton, it was drizzly and cold and I decided to chance the ride home. My bike was one of the first to be unloaded, and I headed onto I-95 North without further adieu. It was a nasty, wet, bone-chilling 30 degrees or so, and the rain followed me for half an hour, finally ending just north of D.C. I stopped only for gas and to gulp down an energy bar and some water. I was driven.
The roads were dry the rest of the way home. I pulled into my garage, and as Steve was helping me unload my gear, he exclaimed, “Look at the sleet!” A barrage of icy spears was forming ice ponds on the road. Visibility turned to near zero, and cars were getting stuck on the street’s slight incline across from my house. There was no way I could’ve stayed upright on two wheels. I’d gotten home just in the nick of time.
Maybe I’ve gotten better at paying attention to the signs, or maybe it’s the easy availability of instant weather reports on my smartphone. Or it could be the luck of the draw. I prefer to believe that someone or something is watching out for me. You know what they say about drunks and fools.