Monday, January 07, 2008

Blowin' in the wind.

I had a variety of things on my list for Friday. There wasn't any rush. As long as Friday evening saw them checked off I'd be good to go for next week. The good news was that it gave me a lot of flexibility for riding. Routes and time spent were mine to pick. The bad news was that we're in the middle of yet more storms blowing in. Heavy rains and high winds are slamming the West Coast. Northern California's getting heavy snow. An 82 mile stretch of Interstate 84 in Eastern Oregon would end up being closed for hours on Friday. Seems the wind was blowing over the big truck trailers.

Trailers aren't all that are blowing over. Big trees in soggy ground are kissing the earth. Power lines get caught up in their branches and come down with them. Mud slides are becoming common in the Coast Range. Road crews gravelled their hearts out during last week's freezing temperatures. Every city intersection and rural curve is full of rocks. Gusts of 49 mph would be recorded this day. Was I going to ride anyway? Oh yeah, baby. Bring it on!

I started with a little trip to the local UPS depot. This new Givi trunk is proving valuable for increasing what I can haul. As I'm leaving UPS their sign at the gate caught my eye.

I laugh at the sign. I'm on a bike and I don't need no stinkin' seatbelt! By the end of the day I'd be eating my words. There will come a time in the afternoon that a seatbelt to help hold me on the bike would be welcome. It will be a day that tests the Ironman.

The next stop was at a music store. A blog post on riding skills is rambling around in my head. As an illustration I wanted a picture of the bike in front of a music store. That sort of describes my approach to photos. They're more of a tool than art. None of the great photographers have much to fear from me.

At the music store I met a really strange clerk and another rider who stopped to chat with me. This makes an interesting story all by itself. Look for it in a later post. It's time right now to go find some back roads on the way to cross off the next item on my list.

Up until now it's been a somewhat promising day weatherwise. Storms are forecast for later. Friday morning, though, saw light rain giving way to a little sunshine. The Weather Gods, ever vigilant for opportunities to mess with riders, were using the sun as bait. Winter sun like this warms the muscles of the right hand and wrist. Before you know it, you're far away from home. Beware!

This is a photo of what we call Snow Peak. You can see how low the snow level is. There's no snow down here, but the temperature stays in the thirties. By now the wind has picked up just a little. The skies are getting slightly darker. I'm parked on the edge of Lickskillet Road. Yes, this is an area settled by farm folks. My little point and shoot camera is sitting on the trunk of the bike. I'm zoomed in just as far as the camera will allow. It's hard enough to hold it still as it is, but the wind gusts are bumping the camera, too.

Have you ever ridden on the skirts of an incoming storm? I find it very invigorating. Maybe it's the way the electrical charge in the air changes. Wind gusts are still playful. They really haven't gotten down to business, yet. This storm is coming up from the South. Little by little I can feel the air temperature rising. Soon it will be in the low 40's. My riding is reflecting the playfulness of the wind. Tennessee School Road loosely follows the Santiam River. There's a series of 15 and 30 mph curves laid out like snakes resting nose to tail. I've ridden countless miles in all kinds of weather. Experience tells me I'll pay for this fun later. No matter. This is too sweet of a time to let impending doom ruin it.

Look straight up from the telephone pole. There's a bright spot covered by a dark cloud. Minutes ago I could clearly see the sun behind a gray haze. Now it's disappeared. There's no doubt this storm's planning a serious advance. I'm still not concerned. Like I say, I've ridden in all kinds of weather. Dark skies don't put me off. As I put the camera away, another aspect of the storm begins to make itself felt. Water drops are starting to fall. This isn't the main army, only the advance scouts. I'll feel the full effect of the liquid army soon enough.

Earlier the wind was playful. Now it's building strength. It reminds me of playing with a tiger cub. For a while it's fun. Eventually the cub grows up and realizes how strong it really is. There's still playful times but now you have to be really respectful of that power. My tiger cub was quickly growing into a full grown predator.

This was the beginning. I'm heading for Lebanon. It's more or less a bedroom community for the larger cities around. The rain's starting to come down much harder. I'm finally forced to lower my visor because the drops sting so badly on my face. There's no mistaking the increasing wind speed when I look at the flags in the VFW Hall parking lot.

It's sheltered in the parking lot. I'm on the North side of the building and the storm's coming from the South. I know this storm's getting very close. I can feel the intensity building. It's time for a decision. Part of me urges that we take the direct route towards home. The Ironman Road Warrior derides me for even thinking of capitulating. We've already agreed on a route that would take us farther South before we head for the hearth. Bravado won. I would come to briefly regret it within the next hour.

I spun the compass needle to Southwest and headed out of town. There's an old road that used to be the route to Brownsville. A newer road was built that was more conducive to car traffic. In other words, it's much straighter than the old road. For a while the old road heads uphill, providing some pleasant twisties along the way. Once over the top of the hill, though, I lost the protection the small butte provided. Suddenly, it felt like someone was pushing hard on the front of the bike. I'm riding at 50 mph and the winds were gusting at nearly the same speed. I expected to look at the fuel gauge needle and see it moving quickly towards empty. We were expending a lot of energy to make forward progress.

Near Brownsville I doubled back North, heading for Ridge Drive. Ridge is an East-West road that will connect me to Tangent. That's a very small place South of where I live. Heading North was a unique experience. Now that I had a Southern tailwind, things got much quieter on the bike. Have you ever been up in a hot air balloon? You're floating with the air curents so there's no wind noise as you move. With a tail wind of nearly the same speed I was travelling, the same kind of thing happened. I could hear the tires splashing the water off the road. I could hear the front tire scrubbing as I stopped. The brake discs made their own music on the rotors. It was entertaining. Until I turned on Ridge Drive and headed West, that is.

Now I'm in almost the worst possible position to manage the wind gusts and rain. Due to my earlier decision to stick to the route, I'm facing miles and miles of this. Since I'm riding West the wind's hitting me full on my left side. These are gusts of nearly 50 mph. What's really bad is the way they're hitting me. It seems like a hundred years ago since I went through law enforcement training. I still remember, though, the sessions dealing with hand to hand combat. We were trained to throw a punch but pull it at the end. It delivers a harder blow. This wind had probably gone through the same training. Instead of just pushing me, it would land hammer blows.

Gusts are so close together as to be almost continuous. It's like being in a ring with a boxer who has fast hands. Brutal and effective. All around me is open farm country. There's nothing to stop the wind. All this space lets it build up speed as it rushes to attack me. I have no choice but to absorb the hits and keep riding.

It's about now I'm thinking about seat belts. Actually, I'm wondering why I chose to be out here in the first place. There haven't been too many times when I've come to the conclusion I really shouldn't be here. This was one of those times.

The photo doesn't really do the situation justice. Just before this stretch I'd crossed up onto an overpass. Winds always change on bridges and overpasses. Mostly for the worse. A rider has to expect it and prepare accordingly. Take a firmer grip on the bars and leave as much space cushion as possible. The guardrail and cement barrier to my right kept looming closer and closer. No matter what, don't look there. Keep looking where you need the bike to go.

When you ride in any windy situation you need to keep a firm grip on the bars. If there's a steady wind, lean into it. Remember that buildings, overpasses, and the like, will block the wind for a bit. Adjust as needed. Look at things around you for clues as to what the wind's doing. Stay alert and be ready to hold on.

I almost didn't stop the bike to take the picture. In the photo you can see a stretch where the rain is being driven across the road. What you can't see is the way the bike shudders with each gust. The bike's leaned into the wind and I'm standing on the right side, just in case. You can't hear the wind howling in the big tree to the left. You can see a few branches in the top left of the picture. This is a huge oak tree. I know, dumb place to park the bike. You take what shelter you can get. Be prepared to move quickly if the tree starts over. The photo gives no sensation of the rain being flung against your body. After I got back onto the bike I encountered a mailman coming at me from the opposite direction. He was in one of those small Jeep rigs they drive. I received a small wave. The expression on his face was a puzzled one. You can imagine what he was puzzled about!

After what seems like forever I'm able to turn back North for a while. What a relief! One more run towards the West will be coming. This one should be better. The South side of this road has a lot of closely packed houses lining it. You can see the road turning to the left just ahead of the bike in this picture. That will take me onto my last run at right angles to the wind. Judging by the sign, though, it's a corner I might not want to take. It seems to be telling me, "Turn this corner and you're going down, Son!"

I arrived home a little battered but still grinning. I told Katie it was an awesome ride. There was a moment of dismay as I noticed the Clinton had come to get his bike. He's starting to show some of my traits when it comes to riding. That may be good or bad. Turns out Clinton stayed in town. I was happy about that. He got to gain some experience in bad weather but was a little more protected. When Clinton arrived back at my house I invited him to stay for supper. After all, bench racing over a lasagna dinner's a great way to end a riding day. Wet gear hangs up to dry as we tell our tales of adventure. How cool is that?

Miles and smiles,



Bill Sommers said...

I like the feeling at the end of a trying ride when you know that at times it was pretty rough, but you end up so relieved and energized at the same time for having made it home safely.

I had the Sportster out as the storm was first being felt around here, and actually laughed when the first rain filled gust slapped me square in the face. I was having fun. As soon as I parked the Sporty, the sky cut loose and dumped horizontal rain, and I was still grinning.

Have fun,

Biker Betty said...

Just this Saturday we had very high winds and I believe they came from the west (your direction). Any rider who has riden long enough can definitely relate to having to lean into the wind. We have a few spots in our state that I can always depend on having to battle bike over high winds.

There is one spot spot in particular. Miles and miles of prairie fields between two mountain ranges and the wind is a formidble foe. When I get to the end of either end of this road, it's a nice calm feeling and loads of fun twisties, too :)

irondad said...

I agree. There's both triumph and relief after times like these. I laughed at the first few blasts but the humor wore sort of thin after a while!

Biker Betty,
I read about the wind in your blog. I can't remember if the wind blown hair picture of the gal was in your blog or one you linked to, but that told the story.

Sorry to send you our wind. If I could only get rid of the rain, too. :)

Take care,

Steve Williams said...

Nothing like a little wind to get the blood pumping and bring on the warm glow of "I'm alive!".

The wind has made it to Pennsylvania and all night I could hear it blowing hard. The weather forecast called for 20 to 30 sustained winds with gusts to 50 today. As I sit here typing I see our 65 foot spruce trees swaying. Unfortunately they are on 50 feet away. I think I worry more about one of those coming down and killing me than I do about something happening on the scooter.

The Vespa is ok in the wind and will take me to work today. Since it is considerably lighter than Sophie is does get knocked around in a more pronounced way. Leaning into the wind is just a must. It reminds me of sailing.

Anyways, another great post Dan. Love the picture of the sign pointing down.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

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