Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rain Man

Monday morning, we left the luxurious Hilton Garden and walked across the street to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. A sharp contrast to the rustic patina of Wheels Through Time, the NHOF is a sparkling $190-million showpiece packed with all sorts of high-tech interactive wizardry. Yes, the past is prominently displayed with the reverence due it. (And, yes, there is a functioning moonshine still.) But it is very much a grand showpiece, and worth more than the 3 hours we afforded it. We stopped by the equally modern racetrack outside of town, and hit the spit-polished race shop of Roush Fenway before pointing the bikes north for the ride home. We did catch some of the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way up, convenient as both the shortest route to I-81, and the smoothest, fastest section of the 469-mile road. We made good time clipping along at 55, until it started to...

Yep. At least it was almost the end of the day when we ended up suiting up. By this time, Bryan should have been about home having headed his own way when we left the Hall. The downside was that it was dusk, and the deer were getting restless. We ended up riding the last miles in the dark in the rain, which sucks as badly as you might imagine. We went to bed with one day to get 400 miles, and a forecast that couldn't be much worse.

We opted immediately for the direct route, and set out with the rainsuits on in a light drizzle. Well before we ran out the first tank (only 125 miles or so on my bike, which is the weak link) we found ourselves in a steady downpour. The kind of rain that defeats even the best rainsuit. Parts were getting wet and cold, and it was looking like a long, long day.

Then it got worse.

About 80 miles out, it started coming down in torrents. So hard, in fact that we were actually passing cars that were pulling onto the shoulder and stopping. And they are the ones with windshield wipers. The sky started to flash. Not looking good for the home team.It was time for even stubborn people to let discretion prevail.
On bikes, however, stopping on the shoulder when visibility is zero is generally a bad, bad idea. You lose track of where you are in your car, and we don't have crumple zones. Lightning is also a very good motivator to get off the road and to shelter. We reached the next exit a few miles up the road and found that shelter in a travel center / Burger King.

We got off the bikes and sloshed our way in, through the quickie mart and over to the BK. All eyes were on us as we stripped off all our gear and revealed ourselves basically soaked from head to toe. We took over two tables, and soon the manager sent out a kid with a mop and a yellow wet floor sign. We sat down with a cup of hot coffee, surveyed our sorry scene, and laughed uncontrollably for a good 5 minutes. It was hysterical.

We contemplated what time Judge Judy came on, and if there was a liquor store near the closest hotel, and then eventually got about the business of getting back out there. The frightening part of the storm had passed, and we were back to your garden-variety downpour.

When we stopped again for gas 2 hours later, we were in Pennsylvania, and the rain was finally starting to give us a break. From there we were a couple miles short of making it home on gas, and I dug out a dry shirt and sweater from the bag. We never did get completely out of the rain, but it was light and intermittent enough that the dry shirt stayed that way. One more gas stop, and we were home free.

Looking back, the weather ended up pretty much as advertised: wet every day. We were grateful that the two days we spent down there were the drier ones, and in fact got a glimpse of blue sky there on Sunday night. I guess it could have turned out to be 4 days of slogging through the rain, which would have made it a total loss, but in my experience that never really happens. Look out your window the next time there's a rainy week and you'll see what I mean. It just doesn't pour for 96 hours straight.

So we got it about as bad as it gets, survived, and proved that age-old maxim yet again: the worst day on the bikes is better than the best day at work.

See you next time.

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