Looks As If It Might Rain: A Motorcycle Ride Comedy of Errors


I took off early from Washington, N.C. yesterday and decided to get a few miles under my wheels before breakfast. I headed south on Highway 17 and after about 40 miles the sky wasn’t looking that great. Over the years riding motorcycles I’ve gotten to be pretty good at reading the weather in the sky. Okay, well there was that time last year when I got caught in that dust storm in New Mexico, when the sky was blackening to the north and I thought I could outrun it. I ended up being consumed by it, not being able to see more than 10 feet ahead of me. I had to pull onto the shoulder of the road, put my head onto the tank and steady Big Red so she wouldn’t blow over. But that was then. Okay, there was also the year before that when I got caught up in a dust devil on my way to the Grand Canyon. I did completely miss a tornado once in Alabama the year before that but I guess I have to chalk that up to my buddy Jeff seeing it on his radar. But now I was more seasoned.
As soon as I saw the veil of gray lines in the distance I could tell the rain was falling. It also grew increasingly dark which is never a good sign at 10 in the morning. I pulled off into the town of New Bern and went looking for breakfast. Two things surprised me. One, for some reason there seemed to be a yoga mat convention. Everywhere I rode around in the downtown area there were women toting yoga mats. The other thing was the smell of bacon in the air (I apologize to the vegetarians). I could smell it I just couldn’t see the damn restaurant. After circling the town and seeing more yoga mats I finally parked and asked a grey haired man who was changing a light bulb outside his bookstore who gave me directions to a place I’d ridden by twice.
Just as I got inside and ordered some coffee the rain began falling. When I left the café the sky was looking less apocalyptic and I hopped back on 17 again. After about 95 miles, just outside Wilmington N.C the dark bruised purple clouds were staring down at me like an angry woman with her hands on her hips. I ducked into a McDonald’s. I got an iced tea and watched the rain just flood from the sky. It took about an hour before it let up. By then I’d made friends with two other bikers heading up to Michigan, a baby I was making funny faces at, and the lady at the counter who refilled my tea. Being fairly good at reading the weather I knew it was now pretty safe to ride. And I only had 76 miles to go to get to Myrtle Beach. What could go wrong? I put my rain jacket on just in case. I couldn’t wait to see the ocean!
After about 15 miles, with no sky warning signs whatsoever, it started pouring. I tried to find a gas station but couldn’t. I finally found refuge under the shelter of a church called Crosswinds with the apt slogan – “where faith and life collide”. It began looking like a hurricane – crazy winds, heavy downpour. I expected Noah to show up at any moment.
Finally, it cleared and I got back on the bike. Twenty miles later it hit again. Cars were pulling over because of the lack of visibility, the roads were flooding, even tire gators were swimming for safety. I made a U turn in the middle of the highway to get over to a Shell station. By then my socks, boots and nether regions were completely soaked. I filled Big Red up with gas and let her sit under the canopy while I went inside, bought a drink and dawdled outside. There was a thin female employee from the station outside smoking a cigarette and looking angry about something. First one, then two, then three other employees came out to console her about something. After they left she finished her cigarette and accidentally blew some smoke on me. “Sorry.” She said. I laughed: “It’s okay.” I replied. “Like a little smoke is going to kill me.” She laughed, waded through the ankle deep puddle I’d made and went inside.
Once again I read the sky and it looked pretty good so I headed out, only to be caught one more time by the rain. That sucker was going to teach me a lesson and it wasn’t going to give up until it had. This time a car stopped suddenly at a light that was just changing and I had to put on the brakes. The rear end of the bike shimmied a few times before I could get her to stop. Just in time.
Big Red and I somehow managed the last few miles to the motel.
I climbed off the bike and laughed. The woman behind the check-in countered laughed when I came inside. I got a room, picked up my gear and headed toward my room when I felt the sole on my Harley boot come off. I limped the rest of the way.
Okay, I surrender. I am terrible at reading the weather in the sky. I will never make this claim ever again!
I managed to get into some dry clothes and walked the few hundred yards down to the beach. It was windy and the tide was coming in, waves high, tumbling and crashing. I closed my eyes and just listened to the sounds and gave thanks.
When I opened my eyes I watched folks playing in the surf, children ambling with their parents along the shoreline looking for shells, lovers walking hand in hand. I just didn’t like the look of that sky. I got up and hurried back to the motel, but not before the heavens let loose one more time.

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