The seductions of motorcycling are many, but high among them is the sense of freedom that comes with being propelled in a highly exposed state through space, immersing you in the immediacy of your surroundings, the sights, the sounds, the smells, and, especially, the weather. Any and all weather. And since few beings are as vulnerable to the whims of the weather as bikers, it’s a reliable source of conversation, speculation, and storytelling anywhere bikers assemble. It’s also generally true that if you scratch an experienced rider you’ll find an avid amateur meteorologist. It just comes with the job description. You learn to keep an eye on the sky and get pretty good at gauging cloud formations and judging wind direction in the troposphere and just plain sniffing the breeze when you’re out on the road, making semi-educated guesses about conditions ahead and what you’re in for, good or bad.
Over the years I’ve dodged a couple of tornadoes; I’ve dashed between converging storm cells as they closed behind me and come away no worse than damp; I’ve holed up in roadhouses in the nick of time as all hell broke loose outside. And for every tale of evasion there’s another of getting caught flatfooted by the nastiness and taking the worst. That’s the yin and yang of the highway, thus I’ve been caught out in the open and punished by hailstorms, rode right smack into the teeth of sneaky mountain gales hiding behind a bend in the canyon, and just generally been soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone routinely. Nothing says “freedom” like a good case of frostbite.
In the end, though, it’s the rides in the rain you remember—also the rides in the hail and the dust storms. Each one is an adventure you didn’t ask for but experienced stoically because that’s what riding a bike is all about. Taking whatever the road and the heavens can throw at you. It’s those adventures that etch the deepest memories and make the best stories—tales of peril, misery and perseverance.
That’s important to keep in mind, because things are fixing to get a lot more memorable real damn soon.
The heat is on
“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” That quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, but that’s in dispute. It doesn’t really matter, though, since it’s no longer the case, it appears. No, it appears now that we’ve done a hell of a lot about the weather, and all it took was a few decades of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions; pumping megatons of CO2 into the atmosphere like blowing insulation into our attic. Things have thus heated up considerably, and with heat comes energy and with energy comes atmospheric chaos and mood swings of epic proportion.
That’s what we’re seeing this year, and according to the climate scientists, it offers an unblinking glimpse at the harrowing consequences of global warming, among them raging wildfires, intractable droughts, increased storm activity and increased severity of storms, greater lightning flash density, and hailstorms of devastating proportion—all the stuff they’ve been warning us about for years. In the last year—the hottest on record now—there have been a whopping 34,294 daily high temperature records broken in that time, and 233 all-time heat records. Wildfires have consumed more than 1.3 million acres even as Florida broke their record for the wettest June on record, and both Texas and Colorado suffered the worst hailstorm damage in their history. Meanwhile, fully 60 percent of the lower 48 are officially under moderate to critical drought conditions.
So it’s not all bad news. As a motorcyclist, I like droughts for the obviously selfish reason that I don’t have to ride in the rain. And those other predicted weather events are at least familiar, albeit fiercer and more frequent than we’re accustomed to. I’ll get accustomed to the new order of things if only because I have no choice and the love of motorcycling’s too deeply ingrained in me to do otherwise. There’s one new heat-related weather phenomenon, however, that I’ll have a real hard time getting accustomed to and which, frankly, scares the living crap out of me. It’s called a “super derecho.”
If you’re not familiar with the term, you’re not alone. As a headline in Scientific American put it, “‘Super derecho’s ambushed Mid-Atlantic before we knew what it was.” They were referring, of course, to the swarm of storms that rampaged across the middle of the country in early July, traveling 700 miles in 10 hours, gusting to over 100 mph and cutting a swath of destruction 700 miles wide.
In its simplest terms, a super derecho is a monster tornado unrolled, so instead of chasing its tail, it’s tearing like hell straight across the landscape, spreading out, spawning all manner of disastrous mischief and picking up intensity. It’s also been likened to a hurricane in destructive force, but unlike a hurricane, a super derecho can’t be predicted. It can pop up anywhere, at any time without so much as a kiss-my-ass. I like to think of it as a flash mob of the apocalypse.
That’s a tough thing to prepare for, but I have a plan. Henceforth I’ll pack an entrenching tool on the bike and at the first sign of a super derecho, I’ll dig a hole, crouch down in it, put my head between my knees and…
It’s all right here in the diaries.