Brent Allen, author of Motorcycles, Life, and… and The Elemental Motorcyclist and his wife, Julie, are on a road trip, two-up. They are heading to the AMA Superbike races in Elkhart Lake, WI, riding their Honda ST1300 from their home town of Nampa, ID (just southwest of Boise). They will be our guest bloggers while on the trip, and each will give their own impressions on their travels and give us a look into each of their own individual ways of looking at the same experience.
First, from Brent:
Tuesday June 03/Nauvoo IL/Local Miles only
Today was a relax day. Saw local sites. Meet a lot of very earnest people. Learned that 19th century Mormonism was chock full of symbolism and a neat belief in magic that is no longer common in the church (saw some great ideas for tattoos if you’re Mormon and the tattooing kind). I also spotted a frozen custard joint and when I stopped by after a short ride along the Mississippi with the better half I found that Nauvoo Illinois closes at 5pm. All of it. At the core it was a day of reflection and contemplation. Enjoyed that zip along the river to Keokuk, Iowa where I was shocked to see a hydroelectric plant. It had never crossed my mind to think of the Mississippi as anything but a highway of commerce. A large sign in Keokuk sorted that all out for me.
Been thinking about yesterday a great deal today. Yesterday was perhaps the most brutal day I’ve had on a motorcycle in a long, long time. Between the wind, rain, and the buffeting of a poor road surface I really go beat up. I’m not sure Mrs. Crash was aware of how on edge I was. I will be fully frank here: there were several times I was frightened. Not the scream, wave your hands over head and panic kind but the “if this goes wrong—and it very easily could--it’s going to go wrong big” kind of frightened. I was frightened not for myself but for the consequences for Julie if I did. There are folks out there who won’t take passengers simply because they don’t want the responsibility for another person’s life. That’s not a bad sentiment. When you have a rider you are responsible for everything about them and their safety. Add to that responsibility heightened risk like rain, wind or traffic and you’ve got a pretty big responsibility.
The two most common requests I get for videos are wind and rain. I believe rain boils down to the idea that most folks can’t seem to see the difference between water in a liquid state and water in a solid state. By this I mean riders seem to think that rain is ice; which it is not. Rain can cause you to hydroplane but rain doesn’t guarantee you’ll hydroplane. It’s a bit like going to the jungle; if you go to the jungle you can get malaria but going to the jungle doesn’t guarantee you’ll get malaria. Rain is simply liquid water and if you’re careful it isn’t going to kill you. In fact, if you go to any kind of motorcycle training you’ll find that rain don’t stop the show. Ice stops the show. Lightning stops the show. Tornadoes stop the show. Rain doesn’t stop the show. OH! There are no changes to the riding standards due to rain either. On the skills test you don’t get a couple extra feet or a few more seconds because it’s raining.
Rain doesn’t guarantee disaster it just increases the opportunities for you to create one.
The biggest issue for me yesterday was visibility. It was raining so hard while we were on the road that visibility dropped to about 100 yards. That meant in order to stay close enough to see the truck I was following and in whose wheel tracks I was riding I had to get closer to my pathfinder than I’d care to be. Trucks are great for pumping the water out from under their wheels and Mama Nature has to work dang hard to fill them back in which makes a fair distance behind a truck a pretty good place to be. The downside is trucks also generate a lot of spray and mist AND the closer you get the less visibility you have. Remember: rain reduces your visibility and it also means it’s harder for other users to see you as well. Here’s an idea with a qualifier: due to visibility issues and reduced traction slowing down in the rain can be a prudent behavior. Here’s the caveat: you may not want to place yourself in a situation where cars and other large vehicles are forced to pass you in the rain. Plainly said: if you are on the freeway and you slow down too much you can find yourself creating a second, larger hazard which is as vehicles pass you they can create an unholy amount of spray and mist. This can literally, physically zero out visibility for you. You can’t see due to road spray. Likewise you can disappear into that roadspray and then the person passing you and creating it cannot see you and could potentially come back into the lane on top of you. Be careful in the rain. Every situation is different so use your head.
As mentioned “wind” is the other big request. Wind is a tough business because it pushes you around in your lane, can speed you up or slow you down and can seriously mess with your miles per gallon. One particularly unsettling effect of wind is what feels like a temporary loss of control. You feel a hit from one side, the bike feels like it’s veering away from an invisible bump and there’s a real possibility of your own over-reaction to the bike’s movement. Let’s face it if you feel like you’re losing control of your ride things get pretty dang hinky. Wind can be a challenge to ride in because there’s very little that’s predictable about it. There are prevailing winds but prevailing means “overall” and there can be situations where the wind comes from other directions. A constant wind from the side is fixed by the bike leaning into it. Yup, pay attention and you’ll see that in a constant side wind the bike will lean in that direction. Generally you’ll actually solve this problem subconsciously simply with press on the grip on the side the wind is coming from. Odds are you won’t realize you’re doing it.
But it’s those big heavy hits by gusts and created by opposing traffic that can really mess with you. I found that on a two lane highway if the wind is right a truck passing the other way can hit you like Ray Lewis hits a rookie on fourth and goal at the Superbowl. Then the wind shifts a tad and the next truck goes by and POOF! Softer than a kiss from Tinkerbell. Wind is frightening because it’s predictable and chaotic at the same time and all you can really do is roll with it or park up and wait it out, which can take days.
Yesterday I knew the wind was going to be an issue. I also knew weather with rain in particular was going to be an issue. However taking a day off wasn’t an option. I also knew that the weather was going to be good where I was in the morning and bad in the afternoon. I knew that if I got out in the morning I could be the afternoon thunderstorms and potential tornadoes. I was well aware that I might have to pass through bad weather and would eventually come out on its backside and only deal with wind for the rest of the day. In the end I wound up with wind all day and getting caught in one of the worst downpours I’ve ever been in. To make it all the more interesting I have the lovely and kind Mrs. Crash on the back. So if you want to ask for a video about riding in wind and rain with a passenger then hey, I’ve been there and done that. How did I handle it? I rode when I had too and when things got super-duper crappy the best answer was a Hardee’s for hot French fries. Yup, sometimes the best answer is to stop and wait out the worst of it. I got to chat with some wonderful Illinois union guys who were supposed to be out in front of the restaurant picketing about the owners using non-union guys for a refit of the drive thru. Not surprisingly even picketing can get rained out. Sometimes the best answer is to get out of the rain.
About 15 minutes after stopping the skies were blue in Illinois and the rain was beating on the Wisconsin side of the border.
And, from Julie:
So today was a down day, probably more down than any day we've had. We spent the day in Nauvoo, Illinois (Nauvoo means beautiful place in Hebrew and it truly is.). It's a quiet, peaceful little town next to the Mississippi River. Our day started really early as we both fell to sleep last night around 6pm. The sun was up and at 8:00 in the morning it was already humid. We walked down the street towards the river, birds chirping, the smell of clover and honeysuckle hung in the morning air. Not a soul on the streets but us. We had a long walk, visited some local historical sites after they opened, did a little souvenir shopping then went back to our motel room for a rest.
Later, we walked over to the post office to ship a box home, unneeded items, trinkets, gifts. While I waited for the postal worker to return from lunch, Crash went around the corner and down the street to a little grocery store and returned shortly to surprise me with some lunch and a much needed cold drink. By then the lady who worked at post office was back and turned out to be one of the friendliest, most helpful people I have ever come across. She joked with us, helped me pack our things into the box, found us the most reasonable prices on postage andeven convinced Crash to buy a pack of the "Upside down Jenny" $2 stamps.
With things on their way to Idaho we headed back to the motel to eat a tasty pulled pork sandwich and a delicious taco salad made by a large knife wielding man behind the counter. Sitting around was nice but by 4 in the afternoon we were both a little fidgety so Crash suggested a pleasure ride. One of the Senior missionaries had suggested a nice ride along the river earlier in the morning so Crash figured what the heck.
As we climbed onto the bike on our down day, I couldn't help but think we must be nuts. Was I wrong! It was amazing! A lovely paved road that snaked through tree lined hills and river banks. The Big Muddy living up to it name, lily pad patches appearing periodically. Small, scenic turn a rounds complete with picnic tables and shade trees were abundant and lined both sides of the road.
As we approached Keokuk, IA we saw a huge buliding which looked like a power plant in the middle of the Mississippi. Sure enough, a large light up sign that read "Keokuk Power" answered the question. As we passed over the bridge I was impressed by the turbulent chocolate brown water coming from the spillways. It was so uncharacteristic of what we have seen of the Mighty Mississip'.
Our stay across the river was short as it was hot, late and honestly pavement and brick weren't as pleasant to look at as the beauty of the river. We turned around and headed back enjoying the return trip as much or more than the trip down the river. It was wonderful and I was excited to sit down and put words on a page.
A quiet evening, a little light laundry, some preliminary packing for tomorrow morning and by
tomorrow night we should be somewhere in Kansas.