Speaking of Rain - Part II
Well, as fate would have it (and the fates, unbeknown to us, were about
to have a great old time at our expense), the storm appeared to be breaking
up, at least in the Prairie du Chien area, by about 8 p.m., so it was then
we decided to make a dash for La Crosse. The fates were waiting--about
three miles north of town on highway 35, when it started to rain. For the
next two hours, on a trip that normally would take a little more than
half of that, we rode through the rain, thunder and lightning at about 45
miles per hour, and were literally the only bike on the road. Traffic was light
(thankee, Lord, for small favors), but unfortunately most of it was
coming at us from the opposite direction. I was immediately reminded of two
things we had discussed last week on the list: don't ride in a lightning storm
because when you're soaking wet, you make an excellent conduit for an
electrical charge, and two, visibility gets tough when there's rain
on the windshield and headlights in your face, even when you've just done
your windscreen with a good coat of carnauba wax. We did have our rain
gear--which, I must say, kept us perfectly warm and dry, at least from
our necks down to our ankles. That kept us from getting sopped, thereby
(perhaps) holding the lightning at bay, but if you've ever been out in a
good lightning storm, try one some time while you're running exposed
between towering bluffs one side and the Mississippi River on the other.
Quite a rush. As for the headlights, that was a bitch. I had on my
goggles over my eye glasses, with the hood of the rain jacket on over a leather
baseball cap pulled down over my eyes, so that kept most of the rain out
of my peepers, but as for trying to see over the windshield, no such luck.
Instead, I took to peering around it whenever there were cars in my face,
which was all too often, much as I could tell.
Okay, so we finally pull into La Crosse and commence to look for the
motel, which, naturally, was not where the dumkopf who gave us directions had
placed it. Around 10:30, after circling back and forth and finally
getting a tip from a checkout girl who was closing down a supermarket in a mall,
we pulled up to the office to find nobody there. There was a message on the
wall, however, telling late arriving guests to call a number, which we
did, only to be told--and here's where it really gets good--that neither our
credit card nor our home phone number had checked out when they checked
them after we phoned in our reservation the day before, so they wrote our
call off as a hoax and instead rented the room to somebody else.
No shit. And no rooms, for that matter, anywhere else in La Crosse.
At this point, then, we really had two choices. I should have taken the
first, which would have been to head back down the river 60 miles into
the teeth of the storm, and call upon the good graces of friends we have who
live in Prairie du Chien. Actually, had I known earlier that our motel
room wasn't waiting, I never would have left Prairie du Chien in the first
place, opting instead for the hospitality of the friends.
But no. Instead I went for the second choice, which, in effect, was to
say to the little woman, "Screw it, let's go back to Madison."
This commenced the next leg of our harrowing ride--down 106 miles of
interstate through six counties lashed by windstorms and rain, making a
grand total of nine counties we'd covered since 11 a.m. that morning, all
of them under tornado and severe storm warnings some time or other during
the day. To this I would add (and those of you who have read my ramblings
before may remember in Wisconsin our intimate relationship with the
deer), we were traveling through the highest concentration of deer in the state,
the largest chunk of a 1.4 million herd. To the credit of the buggers, we
saw only two--one lying dead on the meridian grass, a fresh kill judging
from the color of the blood on the highway, still red, and a live one who
stood there on the other side and watched us cooly as we motored by, no
doubt another solid testimony to the effectiveness of my deer whistles
mounted 11 inches apart on either side of my headlight.
I hate riding I-94 at night, even under ideal weather conditions, because
of the goddamn deer. I always end up feeling like a fighter pilot, one
eye on the road, the other peeled tensely for Bandits and Zekes.
We pulled off the interstate briefly, still looking for a motel room, at
each of the first four burgs we passed--Sparta, Tomah, Camp Douglas and
Mauston--but at each stop, no such luck. It was around 12:30, 1 o'clock
when we pulled in to a truck stop near Mauston and sat down to have
coffee, soup and cherry pie, when in through the door walks this highway
patrolman and sits down in the booth behind me. That's when we heard about him and
his cruiser getting blown across two lanes of highway, with the tail-end
of the storm front hot on our trail and registering gusts of 60 mph wind.
The cop, by the way, had ridden bikes "until 1985--probably logged a
half-million miles," he claimed, and had "owned them all at one time or
another, including the Harleys." He wouldn't have a Harley today, he
said, and commenced to rattle off a list of characteristics that would no go
over well in Milwaukee, not in the least "the vibrations that leave your hands
numb after 50 or 60 miles." A Gold Wing, he said, was the best bike he'd
ever owned, and with that, he went back into the night. He never did come
right out and tell me we were crazy to be out on the highway; I think he
figured we knew that already but really didn't have much of a choice.
We didn't, actually, except maybe to stay there in the truck stop and
drink coffee for the next five hours until daylight, or whenever it got around
to stop raining, whichever came first.
Actually, back at Camp Douglas, sitting in the lot of another
fully-booked hotel, I had suggested to the little woman that we just leave the bike in
the parking lot, then crawl up under the branches of a big fir tree that
sat next to the place in the yard. With our rain gear on, I figured, plus
the leafy foliage, we could have copped a decent snooze, which at that
point we were beginning to desperately need. I was getting foggy, my
wrists and right arm were aching, I had a cramp in my right leg, and the little
woman had pains in her arthritic and surgically repaired shoulder and
Instead, though, I put some analgesic pain cream on my wrists and we each
popped an 800 mg Ibuprofen and went on from there.
We damn near made it home without further incident, following a short
stretch at one more rest stop, but about 10 miles north of Madison along
came the worst gusts of the entire trip. I can't tell you the mph, but
whatever it was, it started to blow us off to our left into the passing
lane, then drove us back toward the opposite shoulder and basically
picked us up and shook us like a terrier does to a rat. "Don't you think we
ought to get off?" advised the little woman, hanging over my shoulder while I
lay there over the tank. Yup, yup--no argument from me. So we copped a break,
because at that point we were within several hundred feet of the next
exit, which happened to be for Sun Prairie and Waunakee, Madison suburbs
connected by state highway 19. We waited out the worst of the gusts at
another truck stop, then sneaked the last few miles via 19 and 51 into