Our Motorcycle Mistake – All Storms Are Not Created Equal
Have you ever gotten where you are pretty comfortable with your motorcycle riding ability? Where just a bit of your vigilance may have slipped away to be replace with a somewhat cocky attitude? Unfortunately that is a place where Rich and I found ourselves on a fantastic motorcycle road trip out west.
As avid adventure motorcyclists we have encountered numerous storms and thought ourselves to be experts on how best to ride through them. Why, just last summer we had experienced a rather unusual rainstorm somewhere in upper Arizona which only reinforced our confidence. Heading straight towards us was a wall of water! With no overpass to hide under we made a quick stop on the side of the highway, slapped on rain gear and took off, moving on with nary a thought. Feeling indestructible, we navigated our way through the harshness of a very dangerous thunder, lightning, and hailstorm.
With plenty of survival experience under our belts, we honestly and quite arrogantly believed that we could handle anything Mother Nature threw our way.
But guess what? Mother Nature doesn’t like to stay put in her box, and that lady has quite a temper!
So here we were again, riding down highway 40 heading towards Albuquerque, New Mexico. Up ahead and to the right of us were livid, dark, broiling clouds extending far across the wide prairie. And here is where we made an almost fatal mistake. We were under an overpass – safe and secure (well as safe and secure as you can be with 18 wheelers roaring by at 70 mpr).
We made some incorrect assumptions:
- We assumed the bulk of the storm had already passed over the prairie and would be gone by the time we got there.
- We assumed that whatever strength the storm may possess, we’d been there and done that.
- We assumed that we would be safer not sitting on the side of the highway.
As Lemony Snicket, from the Austere Academy ever so eloquently stated: “Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make -- bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake -- if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble.”
So we grabbed our assumptions up tight, donned our rain gear and raced away, not knowing that we were heading into a motorcyclist’s worst nightmare. And it didn’t take long to find out that our rashness was intersecting with a more powerful reality. Shortly after leaving the overpass, we encountered the slow pitter-pattering of rain, followed almost immediately by a thunderous deluge of pouring rain. The noon daylight raced away and visibility went with it. The wind howled, with its surly strength driving the rain sideways.
We hadn’t missed the storm at all! Rather than having already passed over the highway and raced away across the plains, the storm was sweeping in the opposite direction, the bulk of it hitting the highway just as we're making our mad dash to miss it.
The Storm to End All Storms
As the wind tossed and pitched my motorcycle all over the place and I battled with maintaining my lane, I lost sight of Richard riding ahead of me. I could barely make out that cars were starting to pull off the road. Not knowing if Rich had pulled off or was still trying to power through, I knew my personal best option was getting off the road immediately. I angled for the side of the road, having to lean heavily to the right because of the driving wind and quickly slammed the kickstand down before the force of the wind could knock me and my motorcycle over.
I could barely discern the hazards flashing on a car in front of me, and then to my immense relief I saw that Richard had pulled his motorcycle over as well. He had dismounted and turned to face the storm head on, standing there as a lone sentinel, leaning forward to counter balance the force of the wind with shoulders hunched in a vain attempt to keep the rain from traveling down his neck.
Was this a bad situation? Absolutely! Could it have gotten any worse? Yes!!! Because right then the hail hit – hail that hammered, driving down a salvo of bullets upon us. And my only option was to sit there on my bike and take it.
This was a Mother Nature I had never experienced before. My awe at the immense force of the storm vanished into sheer unadulterated terror. There is a sense of petrifying amazement by being in the midst of something so big, so powerful, so audaciously upfront and in your face that makes you realize your utter powerlessness – it’s like facing a herd of wild, stampeding buffalos in a narrow canyon with no way out.
Minutes went by like this and slowly - ever so slowly - the storm passed over us and raced away leaving behind two very grateful and not so arrogant motorcyclists in its wake.
Observations vs. Assumptions:
What could we have done differently? Well, we could have assessed our surroundings and made the best decision based on our observations, not just our assumptions. Had we stayed just a few more minutes under the overpass and observed the storm, we probably could have correctly determined its direction. We needed to slow down just a bit and make sure that we were addressing all the variables in the situation, not just one or two – like our uncomfortableness in sitting on the side of the highway.
Our physical strength is no match for a storm of that magnitude, but our minds are fully capable of making safe decisions if we will simply slow down and take appropriate inventory.
Till next time. Ride safe!
I think everyone that rides cross country has experienced the strength of the flat land storms. We were riding from Raton tp Clayton New Mexico one year and a storm rolled in on us that sounds like about the same magnitude. There were no overpasses or cover to get under for safety on this stretch of road. First the 40 -50 mph side wind, then the big fat rain then the hail that brought whelps on any part of the uncovered skin. I have ask myself many times what I could have done differently. The answer is; sometimes Mother nature sneaks up on you and just shows you who the boss is. Glad we both made it through the storm to ride another day.
Been in that scenario in Utah no fun