Not Dead Yet II: Still Not Dead!
September 10, 2000
The bike repair takes around half an hour. It goes well, except I can't see any obvious problems with the part I believe to be the problem. I put the bike back together with the new parts and ride for twenty minutes without any problems, so I feel comfortable with packing up and heading on around 11am. The campground I stayed at is southwest of StL. The interstate I need to get to is northwest of StL, so I have to ride for half an hour just to head out of town. StL is big.
The day's travel is uneventful, which is good news, considering that I had been considering canceling the trip and heading straight for San Diego. The bike is back to its usual strong and reliable self. The replacement of the fuel flow diaphragm has worked. I stop in Concordia, Missouri for a late lunch and am fascinated by the fly-overs from a Stealth bomber. I make Kansas late afternoon, after passing by the stadiums where the KC Royals in baseball and the KC Chiefs in the NFL play. That makes three cities that I have seen where the professional sports franchises play (New Orleans and StL are the other two). The heat is back, as the temperature is well into the upper 90's. While riding it is pleasant, as the air is quite dry, but stopping is most unpleasant, as the sun is quite fierce. I stop for the night in Junction City, KS, only 400 miles from StL, but at 8pm. It hit 103 here today, and will do so again the next day, but that night (the next night, not tonight), the temperature will plummet to 50.
September 11, 2000
The scariest day I have ever had traveling on a motorcycle started out well enough. I leave the motel by 9am and continue west. I plan on doing a high speed banzai run to Denver, some 500 miles to my west. The first hour is fine, and I knock down 80 or so miles and a tank of gas. The wind starts to pick up some, and my next tank of gas only takes me 60 miles, as opposed to the usual 100 miles. I decide to slow down, as I'm not gaining any time if I have to stop every 45 minutes. The trip is going fairly routinely, and trucks outnumber cars out here in this desolate land. It is farmland, but dry and harsh. Towns are well spaced apart, and not particularly large. The trucks are interesting obstacles, as they push a large amount of air sideways, and when they pass me (yes, they pass me), the surge of air can push me sideways two or three feet. Imagine, then, my shock and fright when as I am being passed on the left by a large eighteen wheeler some idiot decides to pass me on the right, half in the lane and half in the emergency lane. I do not see them until they are beside me. I have good left side visibility, essential so that I can see cars coming up on me to pass, but I have little right side visibility and no rear visibility. This driver endangered my life recklessly, and as soon as I gather my wits I speed up and blast after the car. It is traveling at a high rate of speed, but I am faster and more powerful. From my experience with knowing what tachometer reading is roughly what speed (my speedometer doesn't work), I exceed 100 catching up the driver. Me and him are going to have a discussion about driver etiquette on the side of the road.
Unfortunately, it is not a "him." It's a "her". Some middle aged rich bitch in her high dollar Audi sedan who feels the road is hers and can't be bothered by obeying traffic rules. Obviously I can't explain in detail how I feel about this person's actions to them, so I am left with making a point. I pull up along side of her on her left and match her speed. I stare over at her at length, and she is aware of this, reaching up to put her sunglasses on, and when that doesn't discourage me, placing her arm on the windowsill so that her hand is blocking the side of her face, ostensibly to shield her face from the sun. I ride beside her for a few miles, until we approach slower traffic. She accelerates to pull in front of me and move into the left lane, but I match her acceleration, preventing her from moving over. She slows down, to pull in behind me, and I slow as well. We pull up to the slower traffic and I remain on her left, boxing her in. We ride like this for several more miles, and I see the people ahead of her looking back at me. Finally a car comes up from behind me in the left lane and I accelerate to pass the group then move over to the right. The woman falls in behind the car behind me, and as she passes me I give her the finger. She speeds off quite rapidly.
I wish that was the extent of my excitement for the day, but it was not. Not long after this incident the wind picks up even more. It is now a steady crosswind from the north, a cold front responsible for the drastic drop in temperatures expected this evening. At first the gusts are merely an annoyance, with minor corrections sufficient to overcome the gentle pushes from right to left, but they intensify and they are no longer "gentle." There is a significant wind gradient, with the air speed along the ground significantly higher than three and four feet up. This is creating a tremendous push at my wheels, with little balancing push up around my body, with the result being a gutwrenching feeling of the wheels being pushed out from under me. Stability was non-existant. As soon as I gathered myself back up and inline, another blast would slam into me. I am forced to ride at the far right side of the right lane, as I am moving three or four feet to the left instantly and without any control. I try to slow down and the effect gets worse. I speed up and the effect diminishes but the weaving gets worse. I struggle to find a balance I can deal with, and I am tense and cramping. My heart is pounding and I wonder how long can this last. It lasts a very long time, at least 80 miles, maybe more. I am all over the road. I am passed by two other motorcyclists on touring bikes and I am frightened by the severe lean angles they are at in order to stay straight. They could easily be making very tight right hand turns, angled somewhere between one and two o'clock. Adding to the fear factor is the occasional contruction on the right side of the road. Once a truck was turning around on the side of the road and it kicked up so much dust that was blown across the road that I ran blind through it, visibility literally zero, a light brown wall with hopefully clear road on the other side.
Where did my breaking point come close to meeting my insistence for continuing on? When I had an eighteen wheeler come up to pass me on the left at the same time I came up on another eighteen wheeler in the right lane that I needed to pass. I was noticing that behind large trucks the cross winds were not as bad. The penalty was the severe buffeting by the physics of a brick being shoved through the air at 70 miles an hour. I try to use this to my advantage, and as the truck on the left passes me I fall in behind it, right into the slipstream, a pocket of air that gets pulled along at the same velocity as the truck, where it is calm and quiet, but dangerously close to the back of the truck. I am not expecting to fall into the slipstream, and I have to roll off the throttle quickly as my wind resistance has suddenly gone away. The truck is running fast, and rapidly moves to the front of the other truck. It is caught by a cross blast at the same time it gets pushed by the air off the front of the slower truck and skitters to the left, forcing me to roll off the throttle again, and I drop back too far, back into the buffeting. Now I am trapped, and in a bad place. I can't get enough power out of the bike to catch up to the slipstream quickly enough, and the wind coming off the slower truck is pushing me left, toward the edge of the road. The truck ahead of me is buffeting me hard enough to be picking my backpack up off the seat, shoving me back and forth and side to side on the seat. The difference in speeds means inevitably the truck ahead will break clear of the slower truck, but as soon as it does that means the air being shoved aside by the slower truck will get funneled back to me. I accelerate more, gaining speed, but when the air slams into me it is like hitting a brick wall. My helmet is being slung around on my head, bouncing my glasses on and off my nose. I am running out of road on the left, and out of time. I am getting nowhere trying to pass, and as I am down to my last six inches of road I downshift, open the throttle as wide as it will go, and throw my weight to the right, cranking the bike over at an angle that should have turned me straight right but instead moves me over enough to squeeze in front of the slower truck. Once clear of the air blast I gain speed and distance myself from the truck behind me. The other truck is long gone, and I can't catch it for the air shield it provided, so I am forced to ride out the cross winds again. Once contributing factor is that along the interstate in Kansas there are no wind breaks, small walls such as fences or berms to break up the flat surface of the ground. I am appalled at this oversight. I'm sure the owner of the trailer that flipped and burned to the ground on the other side feels the same. When did the winds stop? When I hit the Colorado border, where the state had installed wind breaks. When I stop at the welcome center, I talk with a couple motorcycling as well and the woman had her visor ripped off her helmet from the wind. Everyone is talking about the wind.
I get directions to the hostels in Denver I hope to stay at while gathering myself for the next leg. I hope to take a few days off to look around Denver, and maybe even take in an exhibition NHL game. Denver is a very pretty city, and I arrive around 6:00pm, with a map in hand and in good spirits. Unfortunately, the map was wrong, and no one mentioned that the streets in Denver are one way. In the course of the next two hours, I did find two hostels that I had on my list, but one looked flat out dangerous and the other looked more like a derelict lodge. The problem with the map is that it is incorrectly showing the location of a street. I drive by the adjacent streets several times and never find the street I am looking for. Compounding the problems is that the streets run in three directions, two being the usual 90 degrees relative to each other, but one section runs at 45 degrees to the other, and these streets are named the same as streets in the other sections, BUT DO NOT INTERSECT WITH THOSE STREETS. I finally decide to start at one end of the street where I know it intersects with another and wind my way up it until I find the hostel. After two and a half hours of getting to know downtown Denver very well, I find the hostel.
It looks great. It is in a nice neighborhood, and a couple of people are outside listening to a third person play acoustic guitar. Just what I need to regroup for a day or two. Too bad they are by reservation only and they were all full. Reservations? Since when has backpacking through the country been done on a schedule? I also run into the same attitude that I saw in New Orleans, what I can describe as "tolerated but not welcomed", as I do not meet the normal criteria for hostel occupants. I am not a foreigner, and I am not a student, both obvious conclusions based on my appearance. The fact that I'm traveling across the country on a motorcycle and not a rental car or Greyhound bus seems irrelevant, as I do not feel welcomed here by the management or the current occupants. Something in the way they look at me, and the reserved responses to my greetings. I don't think I'll pursue getting shelter at other hostels along the way, and I can't recommend them to citizens of this country hoping to see this country inexpensively.
There is one more hostel on the list, and with my newly gained knowledge of the city, I hed for it. Unfortunately, the going brings me toward an unpleasant part of town, and I say, the hell with it, let's get back on the interstate and head west toward Dinosaur, mayeb I'll find a motel or campground. Amazingly, only a few miles out, I do indeed find a motel that I can afford, a $19.95 special for individuals only, and I end one of the hardest, scariest days of traveling I have ever experienced.
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