My Scariest Ride Ever

motorcycle in the snow

This is why we stayed three days in Lakin, Kansas.

After stopping in Coolidge, Kansas, the first night out on our proposed ride to Barber Motorsports Museum we awoke in the morning to snow and high winds, as I discussed a few days ago. After wavering all morning I finally decided it looked like we could continue safely so we geared up and left.

I started to regret that decision almost immediately. Although the road was only wet, and the snow had stopped at least for now, the wind was hellacious. We were headed due east and it was blasting down from due north, doing all it could to push us off the road. No matter. I’ve ridden in these conditions a number of times and while it’s no fun, I know I can do it. It was also cold, and while we both had our electric vests on, I had not brought my heated gloves because I had not expected this kind of cold.

Inevitably, when vehicles passed us going the other way they blocked the wind and our lean into the wind ran us toward the oncoming lane. I knew this and made ready to compensate each time. Fortunately there was not much traffic.

We made it the first 15 miles to Syracuse where we stopped for gas, as planned. So far we were a bit chilled but our vests were doing their jobs and my hands were not particularly cold. I had intended to see about getting some of those chemical heat packs at the gas stop but managed to forget. We pushed on.

The next town was Lakin, 27 miles further. Conditions were exactly the same: powerful wind, wet but clear road, and cold. By the time we were maybe a bit more than half-way there my hands were getting cold. I definitely planned to stop in Lakin for heat packs.

We were going 65 but the miles crawled by as my hands got colder and colder. And then the road surface changed. What had been wet was now becoming ice. And there was no way to skirt around the ice patches; this was ice across the entire lane. I had to go right over it.

I immediately slowed down to about 40. My entire focus now centered on keeping the bike as stable as possible so as not to go into a slide–not easy to do when you’re leaning into a powerful wind. Almost impossible when oncoming traffic momentarily blocks the wind and you swerve sharply to the left. And when it’s a truck, just when you’ve gotten stabilized again, it’s past and the wind blasts you and you swerve again.

Plus, now that we were going slower, people were passing us. And unlike oncoming traffic, which blasts by in a second or two, passing vehicles take a lot longer to get by. And then the truck passed us.

We were leaned into the wind, which he blocked, which made us swerve toward him. As he crept by in what seemed like slow motion we moved further and further to the left, toward him, as I worked desperately to angle more to the right. It may have been the physics of it all or it may be that I was target-fixated on him, but we just crept closer and closer–scary close–until finally he got past and wham! The wind hit us again, sending us toward the shoulder. All of this on ice, mind you.

It would have been one thing if it had just been me. But Judy was with me, and I have said many times that when she is riding with me I am carrying the most precious cargo in the world, and I will do absolutely everything in my power to deliver that cargo safely. But here I was in a situation where what happened might well be out of my control. I’ve never in my life been so scared on a motorcycle.

But apparently I wasn’t scared out of my wits; apparently I kept my wits about me. At the point the road got bad we were five miles or so from Lakin. I held on, fought with everything I could muster, and just prayed for Lakin to come into sight, and that there would be a motel there when we got there. We finally reached town and I spotted a motel and I didn’t even care that I had to plow through about eight inches of snow to get into their parking lot. I rode up to the office, parked the bike, and it didn’t move from that spot for three days. Safety!

In retrospect I do see one option I could have turned to, and if anything bad had happened I surely would be kicking myself for not thinking of this. When conditions turned horrid I could have just pulled off the road and parked the bike. We had cell phones and could have called 911 and asked for emergency services to be sent out to whisk us to warmth and safety, regardless of whether that included hauling the bike or meant leaving it there.

That thought never crossed my mind at the time; I was too focused on just keeping the bike upright. But if I ever find myself–us–in that situation again, I’m going to have to seriously consider it. But I suspect that if there is the possibility of getting into that situation again I’ll cut it short at the earlier phase, and not get on the road in the first place.

My whole body is quivering now from reliving this story in such detail.

Biker Quote for Today

I don’t always try to act cool when I ride, but when I do, I miss second gear.


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