At 1:07am on Tuesday 23 January 2007, I completed what should be my 16th IBA-certified ride, having met the Iron Butt Association’s SaddleSore 1000 requirements by covering 1,060 miles in 16 hours 27 minutes. My performance as indicated by an MTH (miles traveled per hour) of 64.43 was no personal best, but it was much better than I expected given weather conditions at the start.
I began the previous day by opening the curtains of my warm and cozy room at the Best Western in Falls Church, Virginia, hoping for sunshine, but instead finding snow-covered grounds and cloud-filled skies. And from a distance even my bike–which I had tried to protect by parking under the hotel’s covered entrance–appeared to be wrapped in a frosty white blanket. Beyond that, a snowplow was carving out access to an icy Arlington Boulevard, where hundreds of federal employees and other commuters were slipping and sliding their way to work in nearby Washington DC. Being in no rush to join them, I closed the curtains, strapped on my sandals, and made my way to the hotel restaurant for coffee and a breakfast that I knew would likely be my only meal for the day.
Having absorbed a hearty ration of caffeine and cholesterol, I went back to my room, soaked a bath towel in hot water, and took it outside to clear the snow off my bike. The hot towel got rid of the snow alright, but as the temperature was still below freezing, I had to follow up with a dry towel to avoid an icy residue. Then it was back to my room for one last look at the weather before I headed south to Miami Beach.
The Weather Channel told me pretty much exactly what I didn’t want to hear: No more snow was predicted for Virginia, but a huge front was expected to blanket the Southeast … from the Carolinas to Florida, basically my entire route … with rain and thunderstorms. In other words, I was about to ride over 1,000 miles through what was forecast to be some of the worst of all possible riding conditions: Snow, sleet, icy rain, thunderstorms … and not just freezing cold, but wet and cold. Ugh!
Oh well … when you gotta go, you gotta go, right? I turned off the heater and cracked open the outside door to my room. That way, I could gradually adjust to the frigid temperatures and avoid soaking myself in sweat as I girded for battle with “Old Man Winter”. First the lower half: socks, then leggings, then another pair of socks, then another pair of leggings, then jeans, waterproof riding boots, leather chaps, and waterproof outerpants. Then the upper half: undershirt, cold weather riding shirt, leather vest, neck bandanna, fleece balaclava, leather jacket, and waterproof outer jacket. Then it was out the door to strap my bag on my bike, put the key in the ignition, and hope for the best.
My bike usually fires right up in warm weather, but having sat out in sub-freezing temperatures for two days, it took several tries to get my Big Twin turning. But turn she did, and the next challenge was to get the bike off the sidewalk, into the parking lot, and out on the streets. The handicapped access ramp I’d used to ride up on the walk was also the only way down, as the curbs were too high to simply roll over. But the snowplow had pushed up a large pile of snow and ice right where the ramp was. I saw no alternative but to plow through what was plowed up, so I did. Once I made it to the parking lot, I realized that most of what looked like pavement was actually black, icy slush, so I eased my way towards the street very, very slowly and very, very carefully. Arlington Boulevard was likewise covered in slush, but I managed to keep my balance well enough to get to a nearby bank ATM. There, I logged my start of run at 9:15am, plugged my ears, donned my lid, put on my gloves, and then slipped and slid my way through a two mile sea of slush to get to the Capitol Beltway.
Thanks to an overnight salting and Monday morning’s rush hour traffic, road conditions improved dramatically once I finally made it onto the interstate, headed south on IH-495. And from there to Richmond, flying sheets of frozen snow and ice breaking off of car tops and trailer roofs in front of me left no time to worry about how frigging cold it was!
South of Richmond, the snow disappeared as the temperature eased upward, finally topping 40 degrees (24 degrees WCT) as I crossed the border into North Carolina. There, for a brief moment, I thought the sun was going to burn its way through and trump The Weather Channel. But soon a solid blanket of dark gray clouds indicated otherwise. I cringed at the thought of once again having to ride through hundreds of miles of rain, yet at the same time was resolved I had done all I could to be prepared for that eventuality.
Southward I rode through both Carolinas, with ominously gray skies the whole way, but no rain other than a light mist. Onward through Georgia and into Florida, I encountered more clouds and mist, but the temperature kept heading up, and the rain refrained from pouring down. In fact, I didn’t hit any serious showers until I was well south of Jacksonville. But by then, the temperature was near 70 and, with all my waterproof gear doing its job for once, I made it safely and comfortably home, never feeling a drop of the downpour.
Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!