Sunday, February 12, 2012

Winter Ride—Chapter 4 and Epilogue

I finally made it home around 5:30 after 8-and-a-half hours of “officially” being on the road. I spent the first hour-and-a-half searching for the Lubbock Harley, buying hand warmers, trying to find my way out of Lubbock, getting lost twice, and then finally getting back on HWY 84 heading to my first gas stop—Sweetwater, Texas. It was a helluva way to start the ride, given that all I was doing was wasting time and getting colder by the second.

Cold! Cold, cold, COLD! That’s the only way I can describe the first two hours of my trip back home. It was 23-degrees once I got on the road with a wind-chill of 7-degrees. Every part of my body was well protected except my hands and to a certain extent my face. Besides the helmet, I was wearing two nylon masks and my American Legion Riders knit cap. This had worked fine for all the miles previous, but as the temps got down to the 20’s it was apparent the wind was going to find every area that was not covered up. Face would survive the cold. Hands were the biggest problem for the first two hours.

Once the hands get cold, the ride is over. You must find a place to stop to warm them up. Unfortunately, the distance between stops on this trip seemed like 60 miles. The hand warmer packets I had wasted the first one-and-a-half hours of the trip on were useless. At times, I felt that my fingertips were going to fall off. At other times, I didn’t feel any cold on my hands at all (which seems to be a “bad” thing to me). Ironically, my hands got used to the cold. After the first hour on the road, and accidentally passing the first viable roadside stop in Snyder to warm up the hands, I felt “comfortable” enough to carry on to Sweetwater.

Did I also say it was windy? Between Lubbock and Sweetwater are literally thousands of windmills—part of the Texas green electricity project. On my way to Albuquerque these windmills were stationary except for the occasional one slowly turning. Coming home, all of these windmills were turning, and they were turning fast. I would look down at my road temperature gauge and see that it was below the 20-degree notch. Windy and Cold—wonderful!

I didn’t notice “many” bikes on the road this morning. In Lubbock, there were a few gathered at a restaurant and I speculated that they had gotten on their bikes, met up at the restaurant for a ride, and decided the better thing to do was get breakfast and then go back home. I did see two separate riders on BMW’s that looked as hugely weather protected as I was. We gave each other a high hand “thumbs up” (as opposed to the “peace sign” low wave) as we passed each other. Yes, we were the only motorcycle idiots on the road today. I sure hope they had places to go rather than just being out on a leisurely ride, but they were after all Beemer Riders and those folks can be down-right turned on by riding in inclement weather.

I gassed up in Sweetwater and parked the bike. I knew I was going to spend lots of time here to warm my hands up. My usual method to warm my hands up quickly is to go in the bathroom and turn on the hand dryer. Sure enough, the one in Sweetwater didn’t work. So I just meandered around the Travel Center store and did my best to warm them up on my own.

Truckers were coming up to me to say hello and that they had seen me on the road. That was really nice. The ones who own bikes were also reminiscing about their occasional rides either in distance or in cold conditions. Ones who knew the route I had taken to Albuquerque reminisced about that long stretch of highway between Fort Sumner and Santa Rosa and how great it felt to be on the open road like that. I had made a number of new friends at this Travel Center stop—all because they saw me on the road. That was very nice indeed.

I checked the temperature in Sweetwater and it was now 27 degrees. Wow, it had warmed up a whole 4 degrees in two hours. The temperature in Abilene, my next destination, was 27 degrees. But the temperature in Brownwood was now 33 degrees—at least I was riding towards warmer weather.

Perhaps I didn’t really notice it on the trip up to Albuquerque but the stretch of HWY 84 between Abilene and Coleman also has some incredible open road stretches. I am not prone to challenging the Texas roads too often as I am pretty aware of the Texas State Troopers and their radar guns and speed traps. But the temptation was too much, and perhaps I thought I could make up some time, so I found myself going a few miles over the speed limit on that road. I finally reached the 100mph level more than a few times over that stretch of road, and probably did a one-mile stretch at 100mph. I was very happy with the performance of my bike (who I have now named “Road Warrior”) as she pretty much perked up every time I accelerated from 80 to 100mph.

By the time I reached Brownwood, the temperature had warmed up to the 42 degrees. Summer-like conditions for me! I had been on the road for at least four hours, and had spent almost one-hour in two gas stations working to get my hands warm. Home was only two hours away, the temperatures were moderate, and I felt I had beat back Mother Nature on this trip. I was only one step ahead of her as I see this morning it’s snowing in Lubbock. But Mother Nature did kick my ass quite a bit on this last day, and all we can do as riders is compete with her knowing we can never beat her. When she beats us, we are in trouble.

I wouldn’t say that this trip marks one item checked off my bucket list. I really enjoy long rides on my bike and anticipate I’ll be making at least two more trips this year—one to Colorado Springs in June and one to New Orleans in August. What I can say is that I learned what not to do on long rides, how to be better prepared, and how my initial preparation helped me through 80% of my trip.

Things I learned from this trip:
1. I can ride in extreme cold weather for a short period of time. I ride my bike every single day unless its raining or below 35-degrees. I now have confidence that I can throw the temperature restriction out the door. I CAN ride to work even if the temps are below freezing. The only thing that will stop me from doing this is ice on the road.
2. Hand warmers are useless. I needed electric gloves or some glove insulation that would keep the cold off my hands.
3. I can never do an Iron-Butt. My maximum ride is probably 12 hours, weather permitting.
4. There are lots of beautiful places to see in this country. There is no better place to see them than on the seat of a bike.
5. There IS a fraternal order between bike riders and truck drivers.
6. I have a loving wife who more than tolerates my eccentricities!

This has been a great trip. I’m glad I was able to share a piece of it with all of you.

Now, when’s the next ride?

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