In the fast lane of an interstate highway, very bad things were about to happen. I was helplessly drifting in what seemed like slow motion, across the single yellow line that marked the median, and I could see the rumble strips just inches away. I had ridden on rumble strips before, but at maybe 40mph tops while going down the shoulder to avoid an accident, or at the direction of the local constabulary. This was not that. It was 75mph, and I had no idea what kind of traction or control would remain once I hit the strips. The assumption was that there would be none. Even if I survived the rumble strips somehow, the concrete barrier was another 12 inches away. In that 12 inches was the collective refuse and detritus of a typical American interstate. Rubber marbles, candy and gum wrappers, pieces of retread truck tires, cigarette butts, etc. And momentarily, me and a perfectly good motorcycle…..
The last time I had been in a situation like this, I was in Wyoming. There were no clues, as the road stretched arrow-straight across the mid-western plains where there were no trees to let you know visually that the wind was picking up. In fact, the first indication was a tractor trailer which veered toward me as I passed it in the fast lane. Once I passed the nose of the truck, I felt the crosswind as well. Then it gradually increased in intensity from a mild sensation of pressure on the right side, to a force that required me to lean into it. Not good. It was buffeting my helmet from the side, and moving cars around in their lanes. Very not good. The GPS said next exit 17 miles. I slowed down hoping the reduction in gyroscopic effect from the wheels would lessen the impact. It did. A little. I am not sure what I looked like from behind, but I thought that I was leaning enough in compensation to be close to touching down the luggage.
And then it seemed to ease a bit for about a mile. There was very light rain, and I felt glad to have survived. That is when the gusts started. They came without warning and blew me right across my lane. Fortunately, there was no one in the fast lane. Everyone with sense (and a few thousand pounds of weight) had probably pulled over. I am not sure how adrenalin works throughout the body in a fraction of a second, but I am glad it does. I weighted the right peg and leaned once more to the right like a Moto GP rider about to scrape knee pucks. I wrestled the bike back into the slow lane, and rode the very right edge. And then it was gone, and the bike almost veered off the road. @@##$!!&$%! Surely this is a tornado. Just about any motorcycle training tells you to avoid a death grip on the handlebars. My grip was such that I probably deformed them. This is dangerous. The next gust hit, and I leaned hard again. Speed was down to about 40mph. The light rain blew sideways with the gusts, as if someone was alongside me turning a power washer on and off. All the while, the plains looked perfectly calm on either side of the highway. All the while, the mountains ahead in the distance promised rays of sun and warmth.
It stopped 4 miles later. It stopped, but I refused to trust the calm, bracing for the next gust that never came. In another 5 miles I took the next exit and went straight to the nearest solid building. It was among the most terrifying miles I have ridden. Until now…..
Slow motion ended. The shoulder rumble strips introduced a sudden noise and vibration that scared the stuffing out of me, even though I knew it was coming! I instinctively weighted the right peg hard, and pushed on the bar. The bike moved back into the lane, and I quickly got over to the right lane and reduced speed. This cross wind was more constant once it started, but I was in Pennsylvania this time, not Wyoming. Regardless, I was not taking any chances. Next exit 2 miles.