Friday, June 19, 2009

Rider In The Storm - Inside the Helmet

Remember that great Doors classic, Riders On The Storm? Well today I was the rider IN the storm. Into the storm I was thrown. OK, it was a concisous choice...

Riding in the rain is no big deal to me. In fact, one of my favorite rides was during an evening thunderstorm; lightning all around. It was like the most amazing July 4th celebration I could imagine. I was in awe of beauty of the night and in some odd way I felt secure even though I was fully exposed to the elements on a two wheel journey.

This morning, however, was a bit tricky. Certainly exhilarating, still enjoyable, but definitely tricky. If you don't mind let me take you on a brief journey through the mind of a rider, I hope you enjoy it.

It's Friday morning on another muggy Ohio morning. I wake up to a weather report that included a severe thunderstorm watch, in our area, until noon today. As I'm making breakfast it's getting darker outside. It's 7:00am but you would think it was midnight. As I'm wondering if someone had played a dirty trick on me and changed the time on the clock I'm suddenly startled by a series of lightning strikes near our house. By this time, the thunderstorm watch has been changed to a warning and Madie, our nervous dog has already run to the closet in the master bedroom as she's afraid of thunder and most any sharp noise. Caleb feeds the dogs (part of his morning routine) and Madie, of course, comes out for a quick meal as eating IS her passion. Then its back to the closet.

Caleb comments that the thunder is "weird". It's loud, yet short and crisp; not echoing as it usually does.

Lemon water and a fruit shake, that's the typical weekday breakfast for Misty and I. We eat and continue our normal morning routine, all along catching the light show out of the corner of our eyes as the rain pounds on the kitchen skylight.

Misty and Caleb have dentist appointments this morning so they hit the road first. I finish some cleanup, start a load of laundry and start dressing for the ride. Rain suits are a must on a motorcycle and they do work most of the time. So I suit up attempting to cover any gaps in my clothing where rain could enter. The full faced helmet is in order today, I'd better pick the on without the tinted visor as it's still very dark outside. I open the garage door and Macie and Teagan, our brave dogs, follow me into the garage as the usually do. This time, however, they stop at the open garage door. They're not about to head out in the rain. I think I heard Macie ask "are you stupid?"

All bundled up in rain gear I roll the bike into the driveway and head to the office. I think, this isn't bad. As I weave through the neighborhood and make the final turn to I-270, I'm happy that I only had to stop once. I'm always leary of putting my foot down during a lightning storm. I guess it's that grounding thing, like that's really going to matter.

Entering the freeway is like hitting curtains of rain as the drops hit harder and the cars kick up a mist from the standing water on the road. The speedometer reads 45 the 50, 55. Looking through the windshield is futile as the water sticks to it like a clear gelatin. I sit up higher so I can see over it. Visibility is fair at best, but I trudge on. I slowly make my way over to the next lane to the left making sure as I look into my convex mirrors that no one is sneeking up in my blind spots. I look down, then up, then down, then up. You can concentrate on the mirror too long for fear that traffic ahead has stopped. Normally I'd ride in the far left lane, but today second from the left will do for if there is pooled water, it's deepest in the left lane. Last year a hit a pool of peg deep water going 60 mph. That's a thrill I care not to repeat.

As I approach the 315 interchange, traffic slows to 40mph. This area is tough to navigate in the best of weather. Too many drivers doing too many things, while trying to merge. I welcome the slowed speeds and make it through fine, but now it's uphill into an area with a 4 lane shift for construction. Traffic speeds up. With the faster traffic the spray gets thicker. There's an idiot ahead without his taillights on so I can barely see his him. I try to give myself a little room but when I do another car inserts itself into the space I created. Thankfully the cars behind me are being respectful and staying back. Ouch, what's that, hail? I guess not, apparently just another large rain drop at 55mph.

The weather's getting worse. Between the dark the wind and the rain I think, CRAP! Just hang in there, 5 miles to go. The lanes shift back to their normal position. I need to make my way over one lane to the right. Take your time, look up, look, down. I think it's ok, I'm going anyway. Just go slow and if you made a mistake hopefully someone will honk or at least let me in. I made it, good guess, I guess. The water thickens on the road surface. I can barely see the white lines. Cars ahead repeatedly hit their brakes like a red marquis on the theater sign. I can't tell if their really stopping or not. I tap my brakes from time to time just to light my taillights. I figure it's a good idea in case someone didn't see me ahead of them. Oh yeah, and that rainsuit you spent all of that money on, well it just sprang a leak, but that's the least of my worries at the moment. Temperature changes have now fogged up my visor. I open it up a little to let in some air, whoa that's too much - the rains pelting my face. By now I visibility is almost zero, no kidding. I'm guessing as to where the lane boundaries are but I've traveled this road many times so I think I'm ok. At least no one has complained yet. Finally I'm approaching my exit. One final curve and then a nasty merge to negotiate. As the speedlimit slows my merge is easier than I expected so I take the options of the 3 lane crossover and hit my first option to turn. Piece of cake... Yeah right!

A couple more turns and I'm in the parking garage, rain dripping from my gear like I just drove through the carwash. Looking like a sewer rat that just stepped out of the sewer I enter the elevator and head to my office, all along trying to decide if what I did was cool or just plain crazy.

Those who ride motorcycles certainly subject themselves to a greater level of risks than the 4 wheelers we share the roads with. Many think of riders as having a death wish. I prefer to see it as a life wish. A desire to experience the most out of life at all times. So the next time you see a biker, hopefully you know a little more about what's going on Inside the Helmet.

See you next time!

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