Rounding a bend between towering vertical rock faces on a road through the canyon lands south of Grand Junction, Colorado, I hit a curtain of cold air, smelled the ozone and watched the first fat slugs of rain hit the windscreen. And so it begins… I thought dramatically, and pulled to the shoulder to don my new high-tech lightweight rainsuit. And there on the shoulder in a stiff wind beneath an evil black cloud I hopped around comically and bent double jamming my size 14 boots through the pant legs and then tugging on the top and fiddling with the small stubborn zipper to the point of exasperation. The effort cost me a leg cramp, a bout of hyperventilation and, I fear, a dislocated testicle, but once completed I was well and truly girded for the blow.
I mounted up and headed into the teeth of the gale, taking the worst the storm cell could throw at me—hard gusts and pelting rain that lasted all of about four or five minutes. I rode out of it just like that and shortly thereafter, as the temperature rose rapidly, I found myself sweating profusely inside my sauna of outerwear. But I remained somewhat dry on the outside, so there.
Two days later I repeated that performance in Idaho Springs, donning my awesome new rain suit just as awkwardly and injuriously at the first telltale signs of a mountain downpour in the offing. And once again I weathered the wind and rain in short order, and rode on into the humid heat and another stifling sweat bath. And that’s when I realized I had become absurd; I had ceased to be a Real Biker and had become, instead, a True Buffoon.
For that I blame weather.com.
See, the way this caper was shaping up, I’d be riding for two days in Southwest Colorado and then journeying to Sturgis to spend the week, and as part of my planning I’d compulsively consulted the weather.com oracle to see exactly what lay in store for me. The forecast was grim pretty much everywhere I was going: isolated thunderstorms, scattered thunderstorms, severe thunderstorms, hail, pestilence, locusts, frogs and meatballs. Oh, my. Only a fool, it seemed, would even consider venturing out of doors in Colorado, Wyoming or South Dakota for the next week without redoubtable foul weather gear. I vowed I would not be that fool. So I acquired the aforementioned rain suit and as I traveled I kept it at the ready for the meteorologic horrors that surely awaited.
On the other hand, however, only a fool would dismiss long years of experience in riding the summer highways of the West, and with it the sure knowledge that, yes, there would be storms and rain and hail, but that ultimately it was just part of the adventure and no big deal. That fool would be me.
In all those years dating back to 1977 when I first rode to the Black Hills, I’d never packed an actual rain suit before, but I’d always had rain gear that consisted of a leather jacket, chaps, boots and gloves all of which had been massaged with waterproof leather dressing. That had served me well enough, and will going forward, and after my cartoonish roadside suiting up in Idaho Springs I stowed my fancy rain suit for the remainder of my Sturgis trip.
Feeling buffoonish for having bought, packed, and periodically struggled into the rain suit that ended up providing no real benefit, I should have liked to console myself and justify the purchase price by observing that just one state east, in Iowa, daily deluges were causing the worst flooding since 1993, and had I encountered that weather system I’d be smug and dry in my new duds, but I couldn’t. The reason I couldn’t is that, in fact, I’d been riding there with My Personal Nurse at the height of the Great Flood of 1993; riding through the wicked weather in Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, getting thoroughly buffeted and doused each afternoon like clockwork and wearing naught but leathers. Yet to this day I have nothing but grand memories of the trip. I don’t recall ever having been miserable. Soggy, yes… but miserable, no.
Since there was no solace there, I had to man-up and admit my idiocy. I was an idiot to forget everything I knew about the reality of riding in the stormy summertime. I was also an idiot for letting my weather.com compulsion get totally out of hand, but it was oh-so-easy. The notion that you can actually go to a website and know what the weather is going to be wherever you’re going is a seductive one, and I’d been seduced. It’s also a notion that’s ludicrous on its face. Weather is a vast, volatile and chaotic swarm of variables. It remains largely unpredictable—except for the part that’s staring you right in the windscreen. Still, there it is, confidently simplified and summarized on a computer screen as, say, a little dark cloud with a lightning bolt and blue streaks of rain, and in the Information Age where just that type of simplicity has insidiously supplanted experiential understanding, it’s an easy sell. I really need to get out more.
It’s all right here in the diaries.