Friday, October 7, 2011

Windy Ride to Van Horn

I'm sitting here in my motel room.  I know I'm seated because I have several visual cues.  But my inner ears are still rockin' and rollin' me as if I were still on the motorcycle.  

I've ridden in lots of wind, much of it along east-west interstate corridors like I-10 or I-80.  Today was just about the worst cross-wind I've ever experienced in my significant motorcycle travel experience.  It started to pick up just west of Sonora, even though there were signs along the interstate corridor east of there, warning of strong crosswinds.  I'd checked the weather forecast the night before and it warned of this.  Weather on my XM service on the Zumo showed the same.  So it was no surprise, but unnerving nonetheless, as the gusts hit me, snapping my head to the right and blowing my already-leaning motorcycle nearly onto the shoulder of the highway.

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I got on the road, leaving the house at about 6:15 this morning.  I was just ahead of the worst of the rush hour traffic in Houston, though it did get a bit heavy and frantic on the west Beltway and for a little bit on I-10 going through Katy.  But it soon loosened up and I was underway in earnest. 

I stopped at my usual Valero station on the Anderson Loop, just a few miles north of I-10.  I resumed my travel west - fat, dumb and happy - and then hit a traffic wall.  Everything was stopped and nothing was moving for as far ahead of me as I could see.  Good thing I wasn't doing an IBA ride...I would have fallen seriously behind.  Traffic crept along one car length at a time, with short stops that weren't long enough for me to even put the bike in neutral.  Eventually the telltale smell of hot clutch reached my nostrils and the bike began idling rough, a sure sign that she was overheating.   Traffic wasn't coming to long enough stops to let me shut off the engine, as I've been able to do when encountering this problem during other serious traffic back-ups. We just continued to move that maddening one car length at a time, come to a stop for 15-20 seconds, then move forward another car length.

After about 3 miles of this, the traffic was being forced off onto the feeder road.  Two lanes' worth of bumper to bumper onto two feeder lanes that eventually merged down to one lane at the next exit ramp.   At this point my bike was at risk of stalling and not re-starting, since she was becoming very reluctant to take off in first gear from a stop.  There was no shoulder, just two lanes hemmed in by curbs, so when we came to an underpass I turned right in hopes there'd be something - a store, a gas station, anything - where I could pull over and turn the bike off. 

Alas!  There was nothing!  Only a sign just ahead said, "Road ends ahead" and another that said "No exit."  I was stuck!  It was a narrow road, with drop-offs onto gravel at the edges of the pavement on both sides.  There was some kind of  narrow private driveway to the right, so I pulled in and did a u-turn, stopped, and put the sidestand down.  Here I waited for a few minutes, let the clutch cool down, let my clutch hand recover, and assess the options.

Really, there were no options, but to get back into that traffic and hope we could get clear of whatever it was on the freeway so that we could get back on and get going.  A helicopter was circling overhead - probably a news copter - and it was just ahead of us, so I knew we were getting close.  But damn!  It was slow-going and very nervewracking. 

Finally!  Free of the major accident, back onto Anderson Loop and 8 miles 'til I-10.  I just cruised along with very little traffic to keep me company until my next gas stop at the Exxon station in Sonora.  This is one of my usual gas stops whenever I head west on this road.  it doesn't look like much from the outside, but has a surprisingly nice ladies' room and a good C-store.  It was a quick stop, just long enough to buy a bottle of water and use the restroom.  Then I was back up on I-10 and heading west.  And into the strong crosswinds between here and Fort Stockton.

As I rode along, alert and on guard for the occasional strong gusts, I caught up -slowly - with a mint-condition Aspencade.  I passed him, but a few miles later, he passed me when I slowed for a particularly unnerving stretch of road.   I didn't see him again until I got off in Fort Stockton for gas. 

Thankfully the winds backed off a bit from Fort Stockton to Van Horn and I could relax and pick up my speed.  100 miles to go.  

I stopped at the Love's Truck Stop where there is a Subway, and got off the bike to check my cellphone for messages.  I had put out the offer to buy Subway sandwiches for the riders, but they had to leave me a message before 5 PM to let me know.  There were no messages from any of the riders - though there was one from friend Steve - so I continued on the hotel and got checked in.

I had not had anything to eat all day.  Nothing but water, so I was looking forward to walking over to McDonalds to buy something and break this "fast."  I also stepped next door to the grocer's and bought bananas, Gatorade, and some deodorant (I forgot mine). 

Now I wait for the riders to show up so that I can sign their witness forms for their BBG's.   Tomorrow I hope to get a decently long run in...although I'm not too sure how long it will be, since the elevation is 4,000 feet here.  It could be a bit of a challenge for this sea-level flatlander.

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