Today was by far the worst day of this ride. There are only a few stretches of road that are indelibly etched into my memory; the Pacific Coast Highway through California’s majestic Big Sur, a torrential and blinding thunderstorm along Route 183 into Fort Supply, Oklahoma, and Highway 190 into Zanatepec, Mexico – a section of road known locally as El Ventoso, The Windy. Winds rush out of the southern peaks of the Sierra Madres to sweep uninterrupted across an immense expanse of flat barren land before heading out to the Pacific Ocean. I learned later that these winds frequently become severe enough that they will actually roll trucks and buses. I rode through it just as a storm approached. I’ve ridden over 34,000 miles on my Triumph and under a myriad of conditions; I was, for the first time, barely able to keep the bike under control.
The winds were steady but managable at first – coming directly from the east as I rode north. When I turned 90 degrees east the winds seemed to follow suit. Soon, they intensified. With heavy crosswinds continually pushing the bike to the right, I had to keep it tilted ten degrees left just to stay upright and on the road. The tank bag holding some small items as well as my maps kept lifting off the tank and blowing into the crook of my right arm. I looked for someplace to pull over and take shelter but found nothing. The land was flat and empty; no houses, no garages, no sheds or outbuildings – nothing at all. Trucks approaching in the oncoming lane created a turbulent wake wherein for a few terrifying seconds the winds seemed to come from everywhere at once. Thinking I could no longer control the bike I stopped under a bridge which offered no real protection. This was when I was reminded that the bike was even less stable at slow speeds.
I continued on hoping to find somewhere to pull over and get out of the approaching storm. I crept along on the shoulder at a speed fast enough to create enough forward inertia to stay upright but slow enough that I could be “comfortably” blown off the road; 30-40 mph seemed the sweet-spot for this. The tank bag lifted again and blew into my arm; I couldn’t stop or even slow down to adjust it. I tucked my arms, chest, and legs into the bike as close as possible to reduce resistance. The unrelenting winds kept pushing the bike right to the edge of the road before I could lean left hard enough to bring it back. I knew that even at 30 mph I could be seriously injured if this bike left the pavement.
I rode like this for miles – crumpled up on a shaking motorcycle, all but certain that I was gonna find out what being literally blown off the road feels like. That’s when the rain started. It wasn’t heavy at all but still just enough to coat my windscreen and helmet visor. My visibility was now cut in half and the thin slip of rode I was on became increasing difficult to see. This is when the bus showed up.
I heard it coming from behind, braking and gearing down as it approached. I rolled off the throttle to let the bus pass. It didn’t. Instead, the driver turned on his hazard lights and slowed to keep pace with me. I looked up to seeing someone at the front of the bus waving at me. This is when I realized what they were doing; the driver had positioned the bus alongside me to create a rolling wind-block. I rode like this for about ten miles and was able to get the tank bag back to where it belonged and wipe my helmet clear of rain. I’m not one to look for or expect to find the hand of Providence in any human endeavors, but I know that a few reading this will make something of the fact that just before the bus showed up, a rich and vibrant rainbow arced beautifully across the road in front of me. By the time the bus exited, the rains had subsided and I was reaching the mountains.
Highway 190 was about to cross the Continental Divide. The mountains thankfully blocked much of the wind, but now the road became twisty with steep drop-offs to the right. “Yep Jimbo,” I thought to myself, “This is when you find out what it feels like to drop this bike.”
None of this was fun. It wasn’t exciting. It wasn’t thrilling. It wasn’t adventerous. It was frightening and maddening.
Oh yeah, “Jimbo?” I don’t know either.