Friday, November 13, 2009

The Strangest Things on I-10!

Okay, I've ridden this stretch of Interstate between Houston TX and points in eastern Florida many, many times. I've seen some pretty strange things, too. Like 18-wheelers down in the median, cars pointing the wrong way, a car crushed up underneath the back-end of an 18-wheeler. Like odd loads on trailers being pulled by pick-ups and cars, animals dodging traffic across multiple lanes, truck fires, cars on fire, and a strange-looking, possibly not street-legal dune buggy going 45 mph in the left lane.

But yesterday's incident really took the cake. It happened just east of the MS-AL state line, and just after I returned to the interstate after a gas fill-up. When I'm in the left lane, I always ride the right-hand track so that I can see well down the road and keep my eye on what the traffic in both lanes in front of me is doing. I also do it so that I'm visible in the side-mirrors of the vehicles in the right lane. So anyway, as I'm going along I see the most improbable thing happen.

About 5 or 6 cars ahead, in the right lane, there is a white pickup truck pulling an open trailer. On that open trailer is an old car, gray with Bond-o and primer paint, a major project car if I've ever seen one. One minute everything is normal, the next minute I see a wheel leave the axle of the trailer and start rolling along the middle of road between the lanes. I can't believe my eyes! It just backed its way off the lugs and parted the trailer, like a ghost had decided to grab the wheel and pull it off.

Somehow, magically, the wheel crossed the left lane without any cars hitting it, and proceeded to roll down the left shoulder for a bit before it took off across the deep gully in the median and then up the far side toward the oncoming traffic. Improbably, the tire was still rolling across that rough and grassy ditch. Not only that, it seemed to gain momentum from the downhill incline and was making good speed up the far side.

Now bear in mind, this wheel, with perfectly good tire attached, was rolling along under its own power. The power of gyroscopic effects in action. And it was heading generally in the same direction as our side of traffic, only at a diagonal, to possibly meet its head-on demise on the other side of the interstate.

But unbelievably, when it hit the pavement on the far side the "edge trap" effect turned that wheel more than 90-degrees so that it was now rolling in the SAME DIRECTION as the cars and trucks on the other side of the interstate. Now it was rolling along the left shoulder of the interstate heading west. As I came up even with it, I watched it as a rain gutter grabbed that wheel and once again the wheel took a more-than-90-degree turn to follow the rain gutter down in the gully in the median. Only now it's heading diagonally east, back toward our side of the interstate.

The downhill slope and the smooth rain gutter gave the wheel some added momentum and I watched it as it flew down the median gully and back up towards us. I did a quick visual calculation and determined that the wheel would make it back up into my lane and that it and I would cross paths in just a few moments.

A quick glance over my right shoulder showed a space in the right lane so I moved over and then applied the brakes to slow down because, meanwhile, up ahead, the truck pulling the trailer noticed that something was very much amiss with his load and he'd been slowing down, enough to pull onto the right shoulder.

I still kept my eye on that wayward wheel and, sure enough, it bounced up into the left lane, right in front of the pick-up truck that was immediately behind me. This truck was pulling a small U-haul trailer and I'm sure he was panic-stricken. I doubt that anyone behind me was watching this saga as intently as I was, because I doubt that anyone behind me had seen the initial parting of wheel from trailer.

The truck-with-U-haul did a quick maneuver onto the left shoulder to avoid hitting the wheel, which looked like it had finally lost enough momentum to flop over and stop rolling. He managed to avoid it, but I'm not too sure about the pickup truck that was behind him. The driver of the pickup and trailer that lost the wheel were now safely on the right shoulder and I'm sure he was a little more than surprised at what had just happened. It was the rear wheel of a tandem pair on the left side of the trailer. It looked like the one wheel was still able to hold the trailer upright but at an angle.

I continued to watch the saga in my rear-view mirrors as it disappeared in the distance behind me. The lack of any vehicles coming up behind me for the next few miles tells me that there was most likely a multi-car wreck as a result of that wheel.

That was the most bizarre thing I've ever seen!

7 comments:

  1. Glad you were ever vigilant and rode through and past the event to write about it. Sounds like that tire was channeling a deer, the way it was playing in traffic!

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  2. That reminds me of the day that my wife and I were on the bike, headed west on I-10 right here in Houston, just west of 610. Traffic was heavy and slow. The pickup trup directly in front of me lost his ENTIRE TRAILER as we went up one of the overpasses. The trailer was rolling straight down the lane toward us. There was nowhere to go. I stopped, ordered my wife off the bike, shut it down, put it on the sidestand and jumped off in record time. Fortunately, the trailer veered, whipped sideways, and twisted into a gap in the adjacent lane ahead, coming to a stop before clobbering my bike. It was a close one.

    I can only imagine what it must have been like watching that tire while traveling at speed in traffic.

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  3. When Tater and I were riding down to Chattanooga a few years ago, there was a trailer a few cars lengths in front of me that lost a tire & wheel in the same manner .... it rolled and then started bouncing (like someone had picked it up and dribbled it) it scared the $#%& out of me!

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  4. Crazy story!!!Glad to hear that your safe.

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  5. Some years ago, had just gotten on I-80/94 westbound at Michigan City when a semi-trailer in front of me lost a pair of tandem tires -- on fire no less. I fully expected them to jump the center concrete barrier into the eastbound lanes but they veered back to the outside of the expressway. Remarkably no accidents even though they probably rolled 1/2 mile or so. By hindsight I had a warning: I could smell rubber burning but quite honestly, never expected, or thought, wheels could separate from a trail like that. Live and learn. And be aware. Always.

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  6. Good visuals...I watched the whole thing through your eyes. Glad you're OK.

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