Fair Weather Friends

Posted: April 19, 2012 in little Honda
Tags: , ,

I’ve only been on the highway for coming up on two months, and as I mentioned in my intro article, I’ve already spent some time in inclement weather. It’s raining and thundering today, so I thought I would throw down an article about the weather. My experience was only about 25 minutes and 15 miles of miserable Iowa weather. But it was enough to put me off riding in bad weather. The following is probably not the gospel truth, but it is how I remember it.

I was doing my final Annual Training for the Iowa National Guard. After ten long, stupid years as an infantryman, I was finally going to be out, and this alternate AT was my ticket out early. My armory of assignment is about 70 miles away over two-lane state highways, which on nice days are a really fun ride. But this morning was different. It was warm, but the wind was chilly. The last weather report on my Android phone said there was a 30% chance of rain. Taking those odds, I donned my CorTech jacket, Icon gloves, and GMAX helmet and headed for the garage. I rolled my Honda out the door and fired it up, giving it some choke to warm it up before hitting the road. As I sat on the bike waiting for the engine to warm, I saw low clouds blowing southwest to northeast at a good clip. Thinking this meant the storms would be well east of me (I was headed west), I kicked the bike into gear and rumbled onto the backroads.

The odd mix of hot and cold breezes put me on alert, but the wind seemed to be pushing the storms past me, so I told myself to grow a pair and rolled on some more throttle. I came to my first intersection and pulled off the road in time to see a massive streak of lightning strike a power pole or tree or something a few miles west of me. The flash illuminated the padding inside my full-face helmet, and gave me some pause. Briefly, an old aviation saying flashed through my mind: “There is no reason to fly through a thunderstorm in peacetime.”  I dug out my phone from my jacket pocket and called the unit full-timer to ask how weather was at my destination. He said it was party cloudy, but he was driving in and out of rain squalls on the way in. I figured I was a quarter of the way there, so I would tough it out and just go.

I got nearly 30 miles down the road before a rain drop finally crashed into my face shield. I was five miles from the town that marked the midpoint of my journey. The rain started slowly, then it was like someone broke the largest water balloon ever. A torrent flooded down from the heavens and I was instantly soaked. Well, at least parts of me. Turns out my jacket really is water resistant. I slowed from well over the posted speed limit down to about 50mph, sometimes down to 45 as my tires struggled for grip. As I putted through town, still well before dawn, I felt an impact on my left arm. Hail. Shit. I suffered through the hail at a meager 35mph and pulled over at a gas station, taking shelter under the pump awning. I killed the bike and reached for my phone again. I called ahead to say I stopped due to hail, and might be slightly late.

I waited under the awning for what felt like years as the hail continued. A group of farmers had gathered in the window of the gas station. They sipped hot coffee as they looked at me in awe. Surely that fool on the bike was going to turn around. Surely he would come inside and wait out the storm. But he wouldn’t. As soon as the hail stopped, I fired up the bike, kicked it into first, and set off again into a wall of water.  As I came to the city limits on the far side, I struggled to maintain 40mph as I felt my rear tire hydroplane a few times. Then the fun started. It was now nearly 7am and the 18-wheelers hauling pigs to market from the hog farm down the road would now be making their first runs of the day. I braced myself and closed the throttle as the first of three approached. He was going slow also, so the wind blast was minimal. However, there was a something new: a spray of rain and hog feces that coated my bike and I. At this point, I was miserable, but committed. The next two passed leaving the same film behind on my beautiful blue Honda.

I struggled against the rain for about 10 more miles when the clouds broke and the highway was dry. Wet, dirty, and tired, I pinned the throttle open and made it to work on time. Early even. I spent my extra time cleaning my bike and helmet with a kitchen sponge.

Things I learned:

1) Check more than one forecast, preferably from local sources.

2) “A weather forecast is essentially a horoscope with numbers.” –old Air Force saying.

3) Riding in heavy rain is not fun, and had I not spent years on a dirt bike, I probably would have ended up dropping the bike.

4) Water+hog shit+time=rust.

5) Don’t ride in the rain unless you are a sadist.

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