Dark Highway

(Source: dislexicpalindrome, DeviantArt)

By the time I got on the road (around 6pm) the streetlights had come on and I was all out of daylight. Sweet, there went the only part of the trip I had planned for. A five and a half hour ride–plus gas stops and breaks–this trip should have taken me under seven hours, but plans were made to be ruined.

I knew I was running low on fuel, so I decided to hop on the freeway and find the first exit with an accessible gas station. At the first exit marked with that oh-so-useful fuel sign, I pulled off and made a beeline for the pumps. About 20 feet from an open pump my engine lurched and died, so I pulled in the clutch and coasted in. Fearing the worst, I tried the starter again and it fired right up, only to die a couple seconds later. I looked in the gas tank and saw nothing, but I figured I must still have something left if my gas light hadn’t come on yet. Turning the key illuminates my fuel warning light, so I figured it must work. I filled up and the bike ran again as if nothing had happened, so I knew that my fuel sensor must be faulty. Well, I guess the mechanic didn’t catch everything.

Back on the road again and much more watchful of my now-reset Trip A meter, I decided to follow my plan of stopping every hundred miles by making my way through the grapevine in one go, a feat that seemed trivial at the time. What my (admittedly) brief review of the weather forecast had told me was that I could expect clear skies, but apparently the grapevine had other plans. Ten minutes into my climb the fog became very noticeable, five minutes after that and I couldn’t see more than fifty feet ahead. Traffic, myself included, had slowed to a crawl. This stretch of road that should have taken under an hour became a slow, winding march at school-zone speeds. I would not be arriving home on time.

After what felt like a 90-minute lesson in hazardous condition training, the descent had ended and the road finally looked clear. This is where I would have cracked open the throttle and made up for lost time, but my hands were so numb from the vibrations in the handlebars that I had to pull off and take a break. There would be a lot of these stops along the way as it turns out.

Clear skies were what I was promised, but 15 minutes down the road a single drop of water hit my visor. One drop was enough to act as a harbinger of coming doom. There was a storm ahead, and I wasn’t wearing waterproof gear. One of the benefits of a fully-faired sportbike is that, at speed, the rider can tuck behind the windscreen and the wind will simply go around him. As long as you don’t slow down, you can ride through the rain without getting much water on you, so I hunkered down and let ‘er rip. The only reason to slow down would be if I needed gas, and my trip meter read only about 30 miles, giving me another hour of high speed, dry riding. I figured I could ride out the storm and stop for gas then, but at 100 miles on the meter the storm showed no signs of letting up. I had to stop, meaning I’d get rained on without my aerodynamic umbrella. Luckily, the amount of time I would spend slowing down before getting to the gas station oasis was minimal, and I stayed dry enough for comfort. Ripping out of there I got up to speed fast enough to stay dry, too. Thank you, horsepower.

The thing about the Central Valley is that it’s essentially a desert with really good plumbing. As most deserts are, it’s sweltering during the day and freezing at night. Once I made it through the storm the temperatures dipped into the low 30s, and somehow stray gusts of wind kept finding their way into my jacket and helmet. I was miserable and only about halfway there, so I made one, two, three stops just to get my core temperature up and quit shivering. No matter how I arranged my jacket and weather-proofing, small gaps kept developing letting nature suck away my precious body heat. The lesson I learned? Cold always finds a way in.

The Shining

I feel ya, Jack. (Source: Warner Bros.)

As a brief respite from the high speed cold, a traffic jam had developed ahead that allowed me to slow down and recover. Thing is, the traffic got worse and worse to the point where I was splitting between cars at 10 mph. Something was wrong up ahead, but the traffic jam was so long I couldn’t see the end. An hour of splitting later I caught up to the culprit, an overturned semi and its recovery operations blocking the right lane. What should have taken me under 10 minutes to cover was now an hour long ordeal, and midnight had come and gone.

Thankfully, the rest of the ride was uneventful, save for the occasional scare that a parked car was a traffic cop waiting to nab me. By the time I got home it was nearly 3am, and I was wrecked from the nine hour ride. My throat, nose and chest were sore from breathing in a few hundred miles’ worth of dust and freezing wind, and the mental exhaustion and loneliness had taken their toll.

The next morning I woke up feeling like I got hit by a Mack truck. Every part of my body was sore and stiff, and my ears wouldn’t stop ringing. No earplug could protect your hearing from that type of abuse for so many hours. Sleep deprived and feeling a cold coming on, I made my way to work, mission accomplished. I wouldn’t wish this ride on anybody.

At least I didn’t get a ticket.