On being afraid

We have all seen Star Wars more times than we would like to admit…hold up your hands…how many have seen it more than once? more than five times? have a Darth Vader costume ready for Halloween? The first step in recovery is admitting your problem, congratulations. Do remember the scene where Luke Skywalker is telling Yoda he’s not afraid then a very menacing Yoda says “You will be..You will be…” ?

In my over forty years and hundreds of thousands of miles of riding motorcycles, I have ridden in every condition imaginable and survived..inspite of some really stupid decisions. Rain doesn’t bother me,I have a rain suit; snow makes me wish I had warmer gear; nine million degree heat in the desert sends me looking for water…and ventilated riding gear; fog…well, fog makes me nervous…I can’t see all too well and drivers in cars can’t see me at all. I, like all of us, have had plenty of the “OH SH*T,…OH SH#T…OH SH^T…WHEW…saved that one moments, but I have never been afraid riding a motorcycle. Until yesterday.

I was on my home from a quick ride up the coast of California and back down through the desert…pretty normal for my friend Jeff and I. We came from Lake Tahoe over to Highway 395 above Walker, California. A very fun ride…if you have little regard for those signs that tell you how fast you can go…Nice weather, no traffic, great scenery…I think the yellow lines on the road at speed are great scenery, don’t you? A perfect start to a blast home.

A quick gas stop in Bridgeport…$4.09 a gallon for premium!!?? My Triumph and Jeff’s BMW have expensive tastes in petrol…those Europeans. After the gas stop our ride changed. A lot. From Bridgeport you head towards the Virginia Lakes and Conway Summit. The Conway Summit has a beautiful view of Mono Lake and one of the most fun sections of road along Highway 395 you’ll ever ride. Not today.

As we started up the summit the wind picked up. We have all ridden in windy conditions, headwinds wear you out and ruin your gas mileage, tailwinds help gas mileage and crosswinds…well, crosswinds make you ride at a funny angle and wear one side of your tyres out faster than the other. I had never experienced anything like the crosswinds we had that day. Coming down from the summit the gusts got so violent I was pushed across the road no matter how hard I tried to stay in my lane , or even the next lane, on coming traffic was getting way too close for comfort. Trying to navigate a long downhill right hand curve while you are being pushed across the road…not my idea of fun.

I made it to the bottom of the summit still on my side of the road, but the gusts were getting even more violent. At the bottom there is a sign saying “Subject To Strong Crosswinds”, all I could think of to say was “no sh*t”…attached to the sign is a bright orange windsock standing not just straight out but almost pointing upwards as well. I had slowed my speed down to about fifteen miles per hour for fear of losing control of my motorcycle. I was riding on the shoulder of the road trying to stay out of traffic’s way, while still getting blown all around. The gusts would hit so hard it felt like the handlebars were being ripped out of my hands. It got so bad I finally pulled off the road and stopped out of sheer fear.

After checking to see if I needed to change my underwear, telling my motorcycle how much I loved her and doing some serious praying, I continued on…albeit at a much slower pace. Jeff and I met up in the town of Lee Vining. These were hurricane velocity winds, eighty to one hundred miles per hour. We debated on whether to keep going or maybe wait it out, we both wanted to get home and we figured it had to ease up somewhere. We got a couple of breaks along the way but for nearly three hundred miles along the Sierra Mountains and the Mojave Desert we fought crosswinds like we had never experienced before. Even the strongest winds while racing at Willow Springs were mere breezes compared to this.

The last fifty miles home were thankfully wind free, but we were so beat up from the days ride it was hard to hang on to the handlebars. Every muscle in my body hurt, even my fanny hurt from being puckered up for hours. All I wanted to do was get home and sit in the hot tub.

For the first time ever I was actually afraid riding a motorcycle. I spent all the hours telling my trusty Triumph that between the two of us we would get home just fine and praying heavily. Both things worked and we arrived home safe and sound. My motorcycle and my faith in God never left me. Maybe a little riding skill and a whole lotta luck played a small part as well.

6 thoughts on “On being afraid

  1. chimpsgomoo

    I am glad you are safe! I really enjoyed reading your story though. And yes, to this day, that scene with Yoda still freaks me out.

  2. Jeff - The Other White Meat

    All true! That was the most worn out I have ever been on a trip. My respect for those “silly” signs and windsocks on 395 went way up after this last trip. The worst part was that there was nothing you could do to anticipate just how strong the wind gusts were going to be. First time I have seen rocks and gravel moving across the road as if summoned by Harry Potters Wizzarding wand!

  3. Liz Petersen

    Ooh, Paul, scary. Motorcycling teaches us so many lessons. My partner and I rode through 35 mph gusting crosswinds during a thunderstorm in Oregon this July. Sagebrush blowing into the wheels, dust obscuring vision, rain pelting down. I was sure my little two-cylinder Ninja was going down; I was terrified, and fighting the bike instead of moving with it. My partner made us stop, take a break behind a hedgerow and wait it out for a few minutes. He talked me through it, led the way, and we made it into Ontario, OR, just before the 60 mph winds hit the section of road we had been on an hour earlier.

    Very glad you both made it home safe. Interesting about your BMW… smart bike! 😉

    1. themotoworld Post author

      Hi Liz, Sounds like your trip was quite an adventure as well. It’s good that you had someone to help you along. A small light motorbike is tough in the wind. Good that you missed the ‘heavy’ winds later on. But now, you know you can handle wind. And yeah, I think the BMW is smarter than me.


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