Bad Weather

The majority of bad weather stories have a common element. That common element is people who were unprepared for the weather, whatever it might have been. I rarely hear stories about people who were completely prepared for a storm, and survived it high and dry.

A favored bad weather story in my riding group is the Donner Pass story. We rode up from So. Cal. the day before at the end of September. We were all packing winter riding gear, but expected the usual moderate September temperatures as summer transitioned into fall. That night in Carson City, Nevada, the sky opened up and coated our motorcycles with rain and the temperature dropped below freezing, encasing them in full sheets of ice.

It was an omen.

We planned on riding north for another 200 miles, but due to the unseasonable cold, quickly made a left onto I-80, riding west over the Sierra Nevadas through the Donner Pass, seeking the warmth of the San Joaquin Valley. The stretch of I-80 over the Sierra Nevadas is around eighty miles. It took us around two and a half hours to get over the mountains because of the cold. We’d stop after eight to twelve miles and warm up for fifteen minutes or so.

This is the stop where Brandon McKee discovered that we could put our hands directly on the exhaust pipes to warm them up. What would normally instantly burn skin, was now merely warm to the touch, and did much to quickly restore our frozen fingers.

This was a bad weather story only because we weren’t prepared. Sure, we had our winter gear, but we weren’t prepared for arctic conditions. Our half-helmets and gloves were the biggest problems. Three-quarters helmets would have covered our ears and kept us a bit warmer longer than the scarves and watch caps we had.

Leather gloves and high-tech glove liners were simply not enough, given the combination of sub-freezing temperatures and the wind chill factor of 60mph on the interstate (60 mph was all we could stand since the faster we rode the colder it became). I had the ’06 Road Star wired for heated grips, which did nothing for me when I was riding, but served as hand warmers when we stopped. With the three-quarters helmets and electric gloves all around, we could have gone over the mountains with minimal discomfort.

But we’d have no story.