November in Nebraska ushers in the end of long motorcycle rides. Cold weather limits riding adventures. A cold front can create danger from exposure or accidents from ice and snow. Prudent bikers learn a little about meteorology, or at least the value of consulting several forecasters prior to putting up the kickstand.
All I needed to see was high temps in the 70’s and no rain. I am ready to go. Woohoo. The wind was supposed to be blowing out of the south, that just means the temps will stay warm. I plan to ride west across Kansas for 300 miles, then south to Dodge City to make a 522 mile day. Settling in at the Long Branch with Miss Kitty and Marshall Dillon awaits. Careful planning ensures a tail wind going home. How great.
The wind was substantial on the way out. I am riding west with a south wind, so I am getting buffeted from the side. I’m riding my Honda Goldwing 1800 and it is a marvel of engineering. When the bike gets hit with a blast of wind from the left, she leans into it on her own. You could almost ride this bike with no hands in gusty winds. That was in the dark.
As the sun comes up on the prairie of Nebraska, it brings the real wind. Residents of this state understand the wind. It blows all the time. In fact, the wind is only noticeable when it stops. Then people say, “wow, there’s no wind”.
So, as the day goes on, it seems the wind gets stronger. I reach the far west point on my trip around 10:30am. I had already covered 300 miles. This red Goldwing loves to run. Set the cruise and hang on. As I turn to ride directly south, I now get to switch from a stiff side wind of about 20 mph to a straight on head wind. I am headed for Colby, Kansas, made famous by John Denver. The wind now wants to stop the bike, or at least hold it up. No such luck. A Goldwing has a 6 cylinder engine that can pull a camper if you want. A piddly little 40 mph wind is no match. In fact, with the cruise set, you can’t really judge the wind at all.
I ride south and enjoy the scenery. I roll into Colby and marvel at small town Kansas. Many homes are well kept and the town looks nice. Shortly after I leave, the road angles back east and the wind gains an advantage. It starts to buffet the bike and I feel like I’m in a wrestling match. Yes, the bike leans into the wind, but I have to pull it back up again. This is done by either pushing on one side of the handlebars or pulling on the other side. Back and forth, I’m getting a physical upper body workout like I was on a TV infomercial.
Then, the road turns back straight east. I am tired now and the wind has gained strength. It must be 40 mph. Passing another vehicle really pushes the bike every which way. I can see the other vehicles swaying in the wind and wandering back and forth on the road. Now comes the test of resolve for the biker. You are miles from home and there’s nothing you can do but keep riding. Stopping only makes it harder and means you may end up riding in the dark. I stop for gas and the wind wants to tip over the bike. I have to hold on to the bike just to put gas in it.
Back on the road and I am blessed that the route goes back straight into the wind again. I am a little over an hour and a half from Dodge City and I need a break. I find a wonderful little town of Ness, Kansas. Right there on main street is the Mother Lode of comfort, the Cactus Club bar and grill, with a parking place right in front.
I had a great burger and fries, sat and relaxed. My strength and attitude replenished, I got back on the Wing. We seemed to fly the rest of the way and arrived in Dodge City. I got checked into my hotel and got on the bike to explore. Later, I found a really nice Italian restaurant. Not a pizza place, but a real Italian restaurant. When you see several choices of dishes with veal, you know you’re there. Great meal at the Bella Italia in the old street frontage of Dodge City.
I can’t remember being more tired after a day of riding. 522 miles in brutal winds had taken a toll on me and I still had to ride 380 miles home in the morning.
Part 2 of “The Danger of Planning an Overnight Ride”.
I had just ridden 522 miles in 20 to 40 mph winds on my Honda Goldwing. I had eaten a substantial dinner early and flopped into bed before 6pm.
I had 380 miles to go to get home and wanted a very early start. I did not sleep well, which is unusual for me.
I got up at 3am, started a pot of my famous rocket coffee, began getting ready and packing my stuff. The hotel had “grab and go” breakfast bags all ready, so I took one back to my room.
A banana, perfect for potassium, a muffin and a container of yogurt. Couldn’t be better for me. I relaxed and readied my body for combat with the wind.
When I carried my bag out to the bike, the wind was blowing hard and my heart sank. This is one of the main dangers of an overnight motorcycle ride–you are a full day’s (or more) ride away from home, you have to get home and the weather sucks.
Suck it up, cupcake, you are the one who wanted to take advantage of warm temperatures in November in Kansas. I put the bike in gear and rode out. I took a different way out of Dodge City and discovered an entire Casino District! Flashing lights, ringing bells. fortunes being lost and I’d missed the whole thing. Well, now I have another reason to ride again to Dodge City, Kansas.
I take the highway that will lead northeast out of town, to help me better deal with a strong south wind. This is similar to tacking a sailboat at an angle to the wind. I actually felt pushed at times. The aerodynamics of a Goldwing are very helpful in the wind.
I ride past the airport and a large manufacturing plant, probably food, human or animal. These are the last of the lights of the city. Traffic is absent, the sky is overcast and it is dark. I am very glad that I have great lighting and I always ride within the speed limit. I’m wary of deer or other wildlife. I love riding with music and at night, I put the music on the powerful speakers. The idea is that the racket will warn critters that humans are coming and they will remain still, so I don’t hit them. Does it work? I don’t know, but I gotta believe in something. 🙂
In the pitch black of the night, I can see red lights, lots of them, off in the distance. They are spread out along the horizon. It’s the airport, I tell myself. No, airports don’t use red lights. Airports are blue lights. Fair enough, it’s a very long freight train, then, I tell myself. After careful study, I realize that there are no side lights on trains of any sort. What on earth?
As I ride on, I don’t seem to be approaching them that fast, but they stretch as far as I can see in either direction. I focus on a group of lights and realized that some of them just went out. It wasn’t a blink, they just went off. Soon, I realize that others are coming on.
I’m pretty sure the Martians haven’t landed, but I can’t figure this out. Well, I finally broke the code when I had to ride through them. This was a Wind Farm and these were wind generators. Hundreds of them and each was required to have a solid red light on top. As I passed by them, one would disappear behind another, hence the lights going off and then back on as others appeared.
Mystery solved and the Goldwing hummed quietly on through the night. I was still wrestling the wind, but it was mostly manageable, except when the road turned straight east, putting the wind squarely at my side. The eastern sky began to turn pink to welcome another day. I had ridden this road many times in the past, as this was my route to Las Vegas. Every fall, I attended the second largest convention week in Vegas, Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week. I knew every little town and the country around it. I’d traveled by car, motorhome, travel trailer and motorcycle. I enjoyed my music collection and the picture man in my brain kept me entertained with images from previous trips. I love riding solo.
The bike has everything, including navigation. All I had to do at Dodge City was select “home” and away we go. Naturally, I had a route in mind and, as anyone who has ever used navigation before knows, the computer is clueless as to your own intentions.
Part 3 of “The Danger of Planning an Overnight Ride”.
The sunlight had now ramped up the strong south wind, which was whipping at over 40 mph. The route in my head was on the road(s) that took me diagonally with the wind in a northeasterly direction. In this part of Kansas, there are roads going everywhere and they are not always straight. Traveling back roads, as opposed to Interstates, involved making turns and connecting at junctions.
As I said before, I’d traveled all of these roads many times. The problem with that is pretty much everything I saw was familiar. At Great Bend, Kansas, my navigation told me to turn left on to Highway 281. The navigation was programmed for the fastest way, but the horrendous south winds were not part of the program. I turned left and the wind was right at my back. Oh, the relief. I was now rolling along being pushed by the wind. Great glory.
About 7 miles up the road, I came to a horrifying realization. Yes, I was traveling north, but that meant it was taking me many miles away from angling with the wind. What did this mean? I would eventually have to ride directly sideways to the wind for a long way. I was totally worn out at this point and the idea of having to expend more energy keeping the bike upright and out of the ditch was depressing. I had 3 choices; continue riding north and pay a heavy price when I had to turn back to the east, turn around and ride back into the wind or catch the next road that would put my back on to the northeasterly path.
My choices could be summed up as, bad, worse and terrible. I chose bad, take the next right turn and suck it up with a side wind until I could get back on my planned course. I finally got to the turn and almost got to practice my motocross skills. I thought the first gust of wind was going to put me in the ditch. A Goldwing is an amazing bike in the wind. When a side wind hits it, it leans immediately into the wind. That lean causes it to steer in that direction. All the rider has to do is push on the handlebars to countersteer the bike back upright.
The leaning of the bike and the physical effort to countersteer was taking a toll on the muscles in my lower back and the upper body and arms. I’m an old lady, well past retirement age and this is no spring time in the garden ride. This is more of a full workout supervised by Helga, the head mistress of pain. Fortunately, there was very little traffic and few curves. It was just hilly central Kansas.
I finally arrived back on course and it was heaven. I paid close attention to my route this time and filled up with gas. The trip was far easier and less eventful until I turned on to Interstate 70 headed straight east. The wind was brutal and now I have encountered my first bout with a tractor trailer rig. The air directly behind the big trucks was super turbulent. It was like going a few rounds with Mike Tyson. The wind was buffeting me hard from every direction all at once. I rolled off the throttle to try to ease up the effects and it didn’t seem to help. There was another truck gaining on me.
OK, we’re going to pass the truck. The left lane was on the downwind side of the truck and it wasn’t too bad until I hit the wave of wind pressure off the front of the truck. I was steering the bike to counter the wind and after I got past the truck, it wasn’t too bad. Now, I was just back to dealing with a very strong side wind. I finally got to my exit, which would take me straight north for over a hundred miles.
I got on that road and could have ridden right into Canada. It was smooth and silky riding. As I rode 80 mph, I was passing the shadows of the clouds above, but I wasn’t passing them by much. Near as I could tell the winds aloft were over 60 mph. There were curves that refreshed my memory of riding with punishing side winds, but each challenge was short and then I was back headed north.
I stopped for gas with about 140 miles to go, 50 of that would be straight east on Interstate 80 with heavy traffic. I took a break, ate a banana for potassium and drank a large bottle of water. My body was hurting. This was the very essence of the danger of an overnight motorcycle ride. It was Sunday morning and I had to be at work the next day, no excuses, no sick days, no time off. Had to be there. I was being challenged by the Goddess of Motorcycling.
This was not the first time I’ve ridden in these conditions. On the Women’s Freedom Ride (WFR) of 2017, we rode down a canyon on Interstate 80 in Wyoming. The wind was exactly the same, pummeling us from every which way, seemingly all at once. There were 35 of us women bikers all in formation, all fighting the wind with every bit of our strength and riding skills. I’ve been on 4 WFR rides and they can challenge you to the breaking point.
I rested a bit, then fired up the bike and got on for my last segment of the trip. The next 90 miles was easy and pleasant. I wished there was some time warp or that Scotty could just beam me home. Soon, I was at the I-80 interchange and made my turn for the final segment. 50 miles to go and the bell for round 15 of the heavyweight fight had just rung.
I was no sooner on the Interstate than I was fighting it out with the truckers. I love truckers and always treat them with respect. They seem to reply in kind. The wind turbulence was unbelievable. Passing a truck pushed my bike all over the road. This was like wrestling with an anaconda.
I was not afraid, but I was challenged to about my limit. I never went off the road or crossed lanes, but this really wasn’t where I wanted to be right about now. I rode 30 miles this way, then I turned off on to Highway 6 for the final 20 miles in to town. There were a lot of trees next to the old road that gave me a lot of relief. In addition, there were no trucks. This last segment allowed me to relax some and just ride.
I arrived home shortly after noon. I was physically beaten to a pulp, but I was safe. I’d ridden 922 miles in two days in awful conditions. Well, the weather was warm. 🙂
Would I ever do this again? In a heart beat. I was on a bike. Nothing more to say. Ride safe, friends.