A long day with a underused rainsuit

I woke up fairly well rested and with no vestiges of the sinus headache that had plagued me the previous day. This was a good thing because I had 1300 miles (2092 km) to ride over the next two days. I also didn’t want to ride too late the night of the second day since I was going to be staying with friends and wanted to arrive early enough to be social.

I was able to snag a few donuts from the continential breakfast offered by the cheap hotel. They were a bit dry but softened up nicely after some time in the microwave in my room. After writing up the previous day’s events and posting them, I went through the normal checks before the day’s ride, including a scan of weather maps. There wasn’t anything on the radar but every town I checked along the way had an increasing chance of an isolated thunderstorm as the day progressed.

The weather forecast bore out in the conditions when I finally got on the road just before 11am. Low 70s F (21º C), mostly blue sky, with plenty of puffy white clouds. Of course, those puffy white clouds could grow as the day went on, becoming nasty thunderheads with murderous intent, but for the moment, they just added to an very pretty day.

One of the features of the Waze app that I’ve been using is that users can report where they saw police cars patrolling the road. This comes in very handy when you are travelling 10mph over the speed limit in a state where you’re unfamiliar with the enforcement tendencies of the local law enforcement officers. One feature that Waze doesn’t have is an overlay of the weather radar, which would have warned me that I was going to get wet around Iowa City.

Knowing that thunderstorms could pop up during the day, and knowing that my westward course coupled with the generally eastward track of the weather minimized my time in these storms, I reasoned that I could ride through this rain without getting completely soaked. Besides, it was early in the day and I had the rest of Iowa and all of Nebraska to cross; plenty of time to dry out. In retrospect, donning the rainsuit would have been a good idea; I got pretty wet in a short but heavy downpour. About an hour later, as I gassed up outside of Des Moines, IA, a few spots were still wet. I also found another smaller cell west of Des Moines, but it didn’t get me wet directly. It doused the road ahead of me and allowed the trucks to re-dampen my leathers with the spray of their passing.

Unlike the previous day, where a headache prevented me from enjoying any road tunes, I was jamming my way across Iowa. I’m sure that other drivers thought I as a bit off, air-drumming out the opening licks to Bang a Gong on my tank and mirrors while passing them on the highway. I was listening to Steve Miller Band’s Take the Money and Run when I noticed that the Iowa had pulled over truck hauling the corn dog and funnel cake trailer for a traveling carnival. Sacrilige! I bet that officer had a bad carny experience as a child.

By the time I made my second gas stop in Omaha, NE, it was mid afternoon and time for lunch. The convenience store where I fueled the Vector didn’t have actual seating, and sitting outside in 84º F (29º C) temps and no shade in leathers didn’t sound like much fun. My solution was to set my purchased food up on one of the several stacks of 24-packs of beer and used them as a table.

I’ve traveled across Nebraska several times over the years and it has a tendency to throw challenges at you. For one, the state is very long. This, coupled with a nearly flat landscape makes traversing the state seem to take forever. In an attempt to compensate for the otherwise boring ride, Nebraska likes to spice up your visit with weather, usually some combination of the following: high winds (somehow always in your face, regardless of your direction of travel), thunderstorms, and hot humid temperatures. Today, somehow, was an expection. The temperatures never got higher than when I had lunch in Omaha and it wasn’t very humid. The winds were mostly from the north, but occasionally turned to blow on my back(!). With the music playing to help pass the time, this was rapidly becoming my easiest crossing of Nebraska ever. The only hitch was a road closure (probably for a traffic accident investigation) that diverted us on a 15 minute detour; this was not a big deal.

One interesting trait of the great plains states is that you can see the weather coming from a long way away. Several hours away, in fact. And so it was that by the time I was gassing up in Grand Island, I could see the long trail of high-altitute clouds that were following a thunderhead. Over the next 2.5 hours I approached this storm, occasionally checking the weather radar to confirm that, yes, it was still north of my route (and hopefully staying there). Since you can see the storm from so far away, it seems to take forever to get to it. First you see the cloud formation. An hour later, as the sun sets beneath the storm clouds, still far in the distance, you can make out some of the areas of rain. (Note that this made for a spectacular sunset — I was tempted to try and capture it with the iPhone, which was mounted to the handlebars for the first time in my history of my motorcycle tours, but fiddling with a phone while riding down the highway at 85mph [137 kmh] is never a good idea.) Another hour later the darkening skies and closer vantage point reveal the lightning activity illuminating the thunderhead. Finally, as you get 20-30 miles away, you can see the occasional lightning ground strike. All of this coupled with the highway heading into, then away, then back into the storm, makes for some high (albeit glacial) drama.

Last year I had almost run out of gas along this stretch, so this year I decided to stop for gas in Sydney, NE because I knew that I could make my target destination of Cheyenne, WY from there with a full tank of gas. By this time the thunderstorm that I’d been watching for almost three hours filled half of the night sky with seemingly neverending flashes of (mostly) high-altitude lightning. One last look at the weather radar showed that it had finally wandered its way down to I80; I was going to get wet. However, using the same logic that had served me well half of the time earlier today, I left the rainsuit packed in the saddlebags. The storm had been slowly weakening, and in another 30 minutes, it may not get me very we at all.

This is where Murphy’s Law steps in.

Yes I got wet. The storm cell I’d seen back in Sydney was shaped like an upsidedown “T”. The top of the “T” (the wide part) was already at the highway and (surely) would be south of the highway by the time I got there. Wrong. Very, very wrong. Instead of a narrow band of rain, I was in East Indian monsoon conditions for nearly 10 miles (16km). I had to back off from passing a few trucks because the heavy rain coupled with their road spray reduced visibility to near zero.

After the storm, naturally, the temperature dropped down into the upper 50s F (13-4º C). This is usually quite comfy if you’re wearing leathers but not so much when they’re wet. I didn’t get hypothermic, but I was plenty glad when the lights of downtown Cheyenne, WY appeared on the horizon.

I ended up getting a room instead of camping, in part because it was after 10pm but more because I wanted a place to dry out some of my damp (no longer soaked) clothes. The Round Up Motel may not qualify as a four-star establishment, but it does provide a clean, comfortable room for a decent price.

A bit hungry, I ventured up the road to get two things.

  1. A small bite of food (I hadn’t eaten since Omaha).
  2. Batteries for my bluetooth keyboard.

The food came from Sonic, a selection largely based on the fact that they were close and still open this late on a Monday night. I discovered that the low workers on the totem pole get the night shift at Sonic. The place was staffed by two 15-year-olds, neither of which looking like they really knew what they were doing. When one of them came back to tell me that my credit card was declined (as always happens a few days into my longer journeys), he announed this news as if he were telling me that my dog just died. Still, after a short wait, I was able to munch through the completely-unhealthy late-night snack of popcorn chicken and tater tots.

While munching, I reflected on my perfectly servicable rainsuit that languished in my saddlebag while I got wet twice during the day. The first time was almost forgivable since I new that I still had several hours of warm and mostly sunny riding ahead of me. The second was just plain bad decision making, perhaps coupled with some wishful thinking. Maybe I’m getting lazy in my old age.

After returning to my bunk house (er, hotel room), I laid out the things that needed to dry and proceeded to call Karen, call the credit card company to free up the travel-lock on my card, and to write up the day’s events. The tally for the day was 798 miles (1285 km), which means I have just over 500 miles (805 km) to cover tomorrow to get to my friends in Idaho.

It should be easy, right? I mean, what could go wrong?

Stay tuned…

Posted from Cheyenne, Wyoming, United States.

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