I started my first multi-day ride last night. This ride is a test run visiting family about 200 miles away, sorta like camping in your backyard. I’ve tried to include a little of everything during the three or four days so I can find out how it would go for real if I was not in a family member’s home.
I left at 5:00 pm last night and headed to a nearby motel. After checking in, I took off for the beach for some sunset photography. Nothing inspired me but perhaps I was just tired. I had already ridden 110 miles earlier in the day. After 30 minutes or so, I headed back toward the parking lot and had trouble remembering where exactly I had parked my motorcycle. Clearly I was tired.
I went back to the motel, had dinner and watched an excellent documentary on Somali pirates. I had a good night sleep and awoke at 7:00 am. I can’t say I was looking forward to the day’s ride with three hours on an Interstate at a monotonous 75 mph. But it was part of the test conditions. After a full breakfast I got on the road at a leisurely 9:30 am. A quick stop to get an energy drink and before I knew it, I was traveling at a comfortable 75 mph. I assumed this would be a casual ride and I would be arriving tired at my destination. Assumptions are funny things in that you’d think by my age you’d stop making them.
Part of the ride included a stretch that cuts through The Everglades. There is a fifty mile section that has no services, so any gas you need should be gotten before entering it. And so I filled up and off I went into The Everglades, joking to myself that whatever happens in the next fifty miles will be between me and the road.
About 25 miles into the stretch, a light rain began. I was a little surprised since it was still morning and rain here in Florida tends to come in the afternoon. It was light rain and so I kept riding. I then noticed how dark the sky was in front of me and a distant lightning strike. As I approached the darkening clouds, the rain intensified and I began to slow down. The more I slowed down the more the rain intensified until sheets of rain are running across the road and my visibility drops to about 100 feet in front of me. What to do in the middle of nowhere with no shelter to be seen? With one eye on the lightning which is now pretty much overhead and another eye on the road conditions as I fruitlessly try to estimate the chances of hydroplaning I decide it is time to pull over and accept the circumstances. I’m gonna get soaked in The Everglades.
A few minutes later another motorcycle – a couple on a large bike – pulls up next to me. The rider shouts, “Do you believe this? I can’t see a thing!” I agree and ask has he ever ridden Alligator Alley (the common name for this stretch). “No, we’re coming from Alaska. We rented this bike here.” His passenger, a small woman in her late 20s, smiles at me and shakes her head in acknowledgment of the conditions. We stay there getting soaked in the warm rain as we see other motorcyclists still riding at 60 mph in what might as well be Noah’s Flood in the making. Ten minutes later, the rain has not let up and the couple decided to “just putter along here on the shoulder.” I hadn’t even considered that. I follow them in second gear at 25 mph, riding behind their emergency lights. About two miles later the rain lets up and the road starts to quickly dry. We both move on to the road and, just like that, with the wind whipping off the last of the rain from the windshield and helmet visor, we are off again at 70 mph.
The whole experience from first raindrops to a return to normal riding was about 25 minutes. When it started to drizzle again a few minutes later, I looked up and saw clear skies ahead so I knew this would not develop any further. I was not the same rider during this second drizzle. This time I knew I could negotiate something much more if necessary. Your attitude does change after experiencing Noah’s Flood on Alligator Alley while on a motorcycle.
And so, you may be wondering how was I feeling during all this? Here I was in the middle of The Everglades with a torrential downpour complete with thunder and lightning directly overhead and never having ridden a motorcycle in conditions remotely close to this. What I was feeling was not really a feeling per se; it was more a state of hyper alertness. I clearly knew that I was in an unexpectedly high risk situation I need to cope with. I was reminded of the documentary I watched the night before when one of the documentary directors was asked if he was scared the pirates might turn on him: “When you are in the middle of such situations, you come to realize that the world is a much more frightening place than you realize, and yet there is nothing to be sacred of.” A statement that even at the time stopped me cold. And so twelve hours later, how was I feeling? I can’t describe it better than that.
Earlier in the ride when the impeding storm was yet to happen, it crossed my mind that despite my best efforts anything could happen at highway speeds. While rare, crashes do happen on the freeway and I would likely instantly die and/or be decapitated in the process (head and helmet still intact of course, so the helmet would have indeed done its job). Morbid thoughts, you may be thinking. Honest thoughts are what I think. To never have such thoughts cross your mind means you are not willing to consider what risks you have taken on. My goal is to see my 85th birthday alive and hopefully in decent health. Such thoughts rarely cross my mind, but this time they just did. I was reminded of a movie, The Book According To Eli, starring Denzel Washington. In one scene a character in a car suffers a fatal wound and bleeds out rapidly. He uses his last ounce of strength to get out of the car to get on his knees to face the sun. Moments later he slumps into death in a frozen Buddhist repose. What better final image to have one’s life come to a close on than that huge nuclear furnace hanging in the sky which makes all life possible? What presence of mind to make that happen for himself.
It is very unlikely that any of us will get to choose the moment or manner of our death. When that time appears, who do you want to be? Do you hope you will be a person who faces the sun with equanimity and courage? Or do you see something else for yourself? Why are we so avoidant of such questions? Fear? A sense of needless morbidity? I truly do not know. What I can tell you is having considered how I might answer such questions played a role in my encounter in The Everglades. And least I become the least bit cocky about how it all turned out and just how cool it was — because it was freaking cool — my still painful rib reminds me that less than three weeks ago I dropped my bike at five miles per hour in a sandy parking lot.
May You Always Enjoy The Ride