ROAD SONG: Desert Wind
It’s raining at last here in N. California, and predicted to rain for at least another two, maybe three days, and that is A Good Thing…for the Earth. The drought is finally over. But for me, personally, caught up in the locked-down cocoon of my own lack of advance planning, it’s a royal pain in the arse. I’m out of nicotine, caffeine and eggs, and I no longer have a car so I can’t get to the store. I don’t ride my motorcycle in the rain unless I get caught in it out on the open road somewhere and have absolutely no other choice. That means I don’t go anywhere at all - Today and for the next couple of days, I’m stuck here at home.
That has me thinking about riding in bad weather, and weighing my need for nicotine, caffeine and eggs against the dangers of riding in the rain, as well as remembering the times I have been caught on my motorcycle out on the open road in less than ideal weather conditions with no other choice ... Some of the most memorable of these, in my mind, were while riding across American Southwest deserts in the Spring. I’ve been told (more than once) that “Nobody in their right mind tries to ride a motorcycle across the American Southwest desert in Spring!” which is probably why I find it so appealing.
APRIL 2007: I still had my beloved 2001 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Hugger, “Punkin” (see the photo) and I had just finished 3 days of exhausting desert riding in mighty, mighty winds that had me fighting every inch of the way just to stay on the road. Winds that had proven to be not only dangerous and tiring, but expensive to ride in as well - costing me an extra night at a motel in Gallup (after a short day of only 160 miles), and another extra night in a motel in Flagstaff (185 miles) which should have been my first day stop and where I had originally planned to camp and save some money. And which winds, after abating for almost a whole day (350 miles) had picked up again about 50 miles out of Barstow, and were about to cost me yet another, extra, night at a motel.
I was tired, road nasty grungy, on the edge of full-blown, wind- induced, sand in the face-up the nose-in the ears – inside my clothes - everywhere - insanity when I pulled into the motel in Barstow. I checked in and, after unloading the bike, fell on the nearest bed still fully-clothed and still wearing my leathers, boots, sand – everything except my helmet and gloves. I was too tired to eat, too tired to undress and shower, too tired to even turn on the TV, too tired to care and waaaaaay too tired to sleep. So I just lay there and stared at the ceiling. About an hour after I lay down, I heard a group of bikes (all sounding like full-size Big Twin Harleys) pull in. As they unloaded and went to their rooms, I could hear them complaining about the wind, and being late getting back home to San Diego (oh, wow, all of 200 miles one way), and so forth, and I had to laugh. Well, if even the Big Bikes were having trouble bucking the wind, then I shouldn’t feel bad about my little Sportster not …and that’s the last thing I remember about that night.
The next morning, after sleeping all night in my leathers, I woke up stiff and sore, sinuses and ears still packed full of sand and in one of those mean moods that motel coffee just can’t cure. But, I set the coffee pot to brew, dragged myself over to the office and got my free stale continental breakfast pastry anyway; nothing like piss water and stale cardboard with sugar icing to get you going in the morning. I took a shower, changed my clothes, checked the weather report on the TV while I choked down the last of a prehistoric bear claw, brushed my teeth, , leathered back up, double-checked that I had all my stuff and went out to the parking lot to pack my bike, eager to get in at least 100 miles before I stopped for a real breakfast. There were the ten riders in the group who’d pulled in after me all huddled on the leeward side of the motel, drinking Starbucks coffee. Unbelievably, the wind seemed even stronger than the day before. None of them appeared to be seriously thinking about loading up, much less trying to ride. Their gear was all strewn around in the parking lot and I could hear a couple of them discussing whether or not the wind was going to die down, or pick up, and should they try to ride in it again. Of the ten, eight looked to be between their late twenties to mid- thirties, and two were grizzled old hard-core biker doods, looking even older than myself, and mildly amused at the conversation going on around them. Those two weren’t saying anything, just leaning on their bikes smoking, with just the hint of smiles on their faces. The two old guys nodded in my direction, said Mornin' and nothing else. But, the younger ones, as young Big Twin riders are fond of doing, began to tease me about the size of my bike, the size of my load (I had a full T-bag, tent, sleeping bag, etc. taking up the passenger seat and the back luggage rack), about the Teddy Bear on the back (Harley Beary I), and about me being a woman and riding at my age (I’m into my sixties) and tried hard to sound sage as they advised me NOT to try to ride that day. I told them that I had a business to get back to, bookkeeping clients waiting for my return, and was already running two days late, expected that to become three, maybe four, and, ya know, got to do whatcha got to do…or at least try. And for those reasons, but also because I have to challenge myself every chance I get, I fired up my brave little Sportster and headed out to see how far I could get. As I pulled away from the group, the younger ones were shaking their heads woefully, and the old guys just nodded their heads goodbye. As any seasoned biker can tell you: When you’re on the road and running late, ya do whatcha gotta do…
To the self-satisfied jeers of the younger riders, who were STILL drinking coffee and discussing the wind when I got back, it didn’t take me long at all to arrive back at the very same motel. I made it, oh, maybe, 10 miles West on I-15 before I realized that, this time, the Wind Spirits weren’t fooling around – they were actually trying to kill me! The wind was blowing so ferociously that it couldn’t have been anything other than personal. Crosswind gusts of 70++ mph were hitting me so hard that they were pushing me across two lanes of traffic and almost completely off the edge of the road - twice I was within mere centimerters of dropping off the pavement and into the gravel verge, and at 65 mph this can be very, very Not Fun. I finally found an exit, pulled off, took shelter under the freeway, called the motel and told them I wanted to keep the same room for another night, and then used every bit of strength I had to turn the bike around and head back to the motel - at 20 miles an hour on Armory Road. I picked up my key again, told the desk clerk not to bother having the room cleaned because I was going straight back to bed, and headed for the room I’d just vacated barely two hours before. All the young Big Twin riders were still huddled together in the parking lot, drinking coffee and trying to decide what to do. To ride, or not to ride? that is the question. And the two old guys were still leaning on their bikes with the same indulgent half-smiles on their faces, smoking and not saying nothin’.
They all (except the old farts, of course) had a grand time teasing me about not being able to make it on my girly bike. I listened good naturedly to their claims that you can’t tour on a Sportster, they’re too small… and so forth and, when I’d heard enough, I told them about my first solo ride, 5000+ miles round trip all the way up Highway 1/101 from the San Francisco Bay Area to British Columbia, around Vancouver Island, and blast back down I-5. And my 15,000 mile, 13 Western states, 25 day, solo tour on my “girly bike” a couple of years ago. I then informed them that, this trip was just a “short” one: I was on the final leg of only 3000 mile solo round trip to New Mexico. Not too bad fer someone old enuf to be yer Granny, hey? I also reminded them that, at least, I’d tried, while they were all still sitting there in the parking lot with their Big Bikes, and their Lattes, not having gone anywhere at all. So, who gets bragging rights on the day, so far? Nobody had an answer for that, except one dude who said something like You’ve got more balls than me, Lady… to which I replied Thank you, of course I do, I’m a woman…
Then I spun, regally, on my heel, head held high and stumbled toward my room and bed – praying that I wouldn’t trip and fall before I got there. I wasn’t in the room more than 10 minutes, when one of the two older bikers in the group knocked on the door, and when I opened it, handed me my T-Bag (motorcycle luggage) that I’d completely forgotten to take of the bike AND a steaming fresh Starbucks Café Latte with a couple of chocolate brownies balanced on top, and said, Good try! Sorry you had to turn around, but the wind just ain't right. Thought you might like these…Starbucks right next door…put 2 sugars in the coffee…and here’s a couple more if you need… then winked, nodded once, and walked away.
That’s the kind of reward you get from riding in the wind. Respect from someone who’s been there, done that (probably many, many times before and certainly many, many more times that you...)…and who appreciates that you gave it your best shot, but had enough sense to recognize that the wind just ain’t right for riding. Today…”