by bj max
My wife and I plus three other couples are chowing down at Denny’s on old Route 66 in Williams, Arizona. The sun hasn’t come up yet and most likely we’ll be several miles down the road before it does. The acrid aroma of smoke from the raging wildfires to the south permeates the mountain air. We got a good look at the fires yesterday and fortunately for us they are burning in the opposite direction. We’re finishing up an extended vacation that has taken us from Boot Hill in Dodge City to Royal Gorge, the Colorado Monument, Durango, the Four Corners area, Monument Valley, where John Wayne made all those great old cavalry movies and yesterday, we rode the Grand Canyon Railway to the South Rim. As planned, we spent the whole day off the bikes, giving our tired old bones a much needed rest before tackling the 1400 mile trip home.. When we cross the Mighty Mississippi into Tennessee three days from now, we will have ridden a combined total of 15,000 miles and burned roughly $550.00 worth of fuel.
Our riding pardners on this trip are as varied in personality as occupation and it shows in the variety of motorcycles. David and Brenda ride a two tone blue Valkrie Interstate and pull a Cycle Mate trailer. Floyd and Dorothy ride a red GL1800 Wing and pull a rare one-wheel trailer. Designed and manufactured in Mississippi, the fit and finish on Floyd’s trailer is superb even though it seems to have been designed by a refugee from a wheel barrel factory. Charley and Darnel ride a green Royal Star Venture and my wife and I ride a red GL1500 Wing hooked to a Bushtec Turbo II. With the exception of a blown wheel bearing in Oklahoma, our vacation has been mechanically perfect.
By daylight, we were well on our way and already thinkin’ about where we were gonna’ eat lunch. The weather channel has predicted crystal clear skies and ninety-degree temps today and other than a few low clouds off to the south it looked as though the weatherman had hit the nail on the head. Cruising at seventy-five miles and eighty miles an hour the odometers were spinning like nickel slots and before we know it we are nearing the Painted Desert, a planned stop.
During our tour of the Painted Desert, which I think should be called the tinted desert, there were a few sprinkles of rain. Off to the south clouds were still building but nothing serious enough for us to suit up. We took our time and lollygagged for over an hour. That’s about the length of my attention span when it comes to rocks and gullies. I think they call ’em arroyos out here but a gully is a gully is a gully. By the time we finally pulled back onto I-40 it was almost dinnertime and we were getting hungry.
Approaching Gallup, we spot a Cracker Barrel sign. First Cracker Barrel we had seen since Arkansas. We were thrilled. Y’all probably didn’t know it but us red necks can’t survive without red neck food for more than a few days. If we don’t get regular helpings of fried okra, boiled chitlins and fat back we keel over into a shivering, kickin’ fit, an event similar to the DT’s. Now we like chili peppers and tamales as much as the next feller, but not every day and certainly not every meal. We banked into the cracker Barrel, drooling at the thought of corn bread and turnip greens. We were so focused on food that we didn’t pay any attention to the clouds in the south that began to take on a sickly green tint.
When we emerged from the Cracker Barrel, the weather had become a major concern. It not only looked like rain, it was beginning to look like a full blown storm was brewing. Back home in Tennessee, due to the dense foliage and hills, you can’t see much of an approaching storm. You only get a glimpse through the trees and a storms true scope and magnitude is hidden. But out here in the wide open spaces, you can see the whole monstrous thing and it was a kind of a shock to our system. And like the blob, it was visibly creeping towards us. Run for your lives.
And that’s just what we did. We saddled up and hit the Interstate in hyper drive. I first thought we could out run this monster but we were traveling parallel to the storm and it appeared to be, and this is a conservative estimate, a hundred miles wide. My motorcycle, according to magazine tests, has a computer chip that shuts it down at 130 MPH. Well, that’s just to bad ’cause that ain’t near ’bout enough muscle to outrun the blob. God have mercy.
A sudden direction change in I-40 suddenly placed the front edge of the storm directly overhead and rain began peppering my face. It was time to look for a safe place to suit up. We ducked into a truck stop and headed for the covered fuel island. As we pulled under the canopy the bottom fell out and it began to rain like I had never seen it rain before. Everything out west seems to be bigger, meaner, faster, dirtier and smellier than anywhere else. And this rain was no exception. It came down in sheets and felt like a sandblaster against my bare skin. After an hour we realized that this frog strangler wasn’t going to stop anytime soon so we suited up, saddled up, cowboyed up and hit the road.
Then came the wind.
Crosswinds out west are murderous and this may have been their finest hour. I would estimate gusts of at least fifty MPH and we were being blown around like dust in a hurricane. I glanced in the mirror to see if the rest of the group still followed. The gale was whipping the heavy rain with such fury that I could scarcely make out the first two bikes much less Charlie’s Yamaha Venture bringing up the rear.
We checked the map before leaving the truck stop and figured the nearest town fit to spend the night was Grants, fifty miles down the road. In this downpour it seemed like we had already ridden a hundred. The wind gusts grew stronger and more violent. Once it pushed us from the shoulder to the middle of road and my heart skipped several beats as I wrestled to keep the motorcycle upright. I hugged the right side fog line putting as much distance between us and the median as possible. I was scared stiff and, without thinking, recited a long forgotten childhood plea for comfort in time of peril. I want my Mommy.
My arms ached and my shoulders began to cramp up from the death grip I had on the handlebars. Will this ever end? Lightning split the sky, thunder boomed and the wind wailed like a banshee. A mile marker whizzed by and I quickly calculated that we still had thirty miles to go. I don’t think I can make it. We need a break but there was no shelter of any kind. Not a tree nor a building anywhere.
Up ahead the Interstate cut through a mountain just before diving off into a wide valley below. Maybe we’ll get a break from the wind in the cut I thought. But no, it actually picked up and then, just as we were about to emerge from the man made channel, I saw something that chilled me to the bone. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, on the side of the road just as you clear the cut was a sign that read
“Caution: Dangerous Cross Winds Ahead”
My heart leaped. What have we been riding through for the past three-quarters of an hour, I wondered? But even more chilling was the windsock affixed atop the sign. A windsock on a road sign? Man Oh Man. This is serious. And the windsock, trembling in the blustering gusts, pointed straight out. It was like deaths accusing finger warning us that it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature. I really did want my Mommy now and I wanted to go home.
Fortunately we survived the valley of death. A few miles later the city of Grants appeared in the distance. And naturally, at the moment we exited the Interstate and cruised into the city it quit raining and the wind died to nothing more than a gentle breeze. Mother Nature and her uncanny sense of timing. We coasted under the awning of one of the many motels’ available. After checking in we stumbled to our room. Once inside I threw the bags on the floor and fell across the bed thanking the Good Lord for sticking with us during the storm and promised never to sin again.