Ridin’ the Storm Out

Ahead of me, to the south, the sky was black and punctuated with bolts of lightning. To my sides, distant dark gray clouds were rolling and tumbling forward into the blackness. And glimpsing back, over my left shoulder towards Burns, the sky was brilliant blue like a finely polished agate. 20 minutes and 20 miles ago it was 90 degrees and the wind was just picking up. Now, it dropped to 60 and I was riding into what felt like, the eye of the storm.

I set out on this last ride of the season a few days earlier, when Seattle was foggy and there was drizzle in the air. I made quick work of Snoqualmie Pass and was soon breathing the dry and warmer air on the other side, although it still didn’t feel like I’d quite broken free until getting off the interstate at Vantage. There, I crossed the bridge where the Columbia River runs north to south, and then followed it for 30 miles or so where we parted ways. It, lazily making an eastbound turn and I continuing south.

Crossing the Columbia again the next day I was well into North East Oregon. The Wallowa Mountains are dominant here as they watch over unassuming and serpentine roads that weave in and out of their shadows. My timing was perfect. I learned later I was an hour behind every rain shower. The only evidence was a residual puddle in a low spot, and dampened cobwebs in a tree that caught the sunlight just right as to glisten and surrender their camouflage.

It was never hot during this September ride like I knew it could be here. The sky teased and toyed with me and constantly changed from ominous to promising. The next couple of days I rode my way south by southwest, always missing the recent rains. Riding down OR 395 towards John Day, the highway alternated between forest and high desert and the roadside flora seemed confused whether to be pine trees or sage brush. At some elevations, right at that sweet spot, they were intermingled. Above, the hawks soared and the clouds turned less menacing. They were willowy and white now and revealed just a little blue sky. With the Strawberry Mountains as a backdrop, it looked like a picture from a glossy magazine.

I came into Burns from the north, and again missed their showers by an hour. I exited to the south and the desert outside of town hadn’t quite absorbed the downpour. It was odd to see muddy puddles alongside the road where I’ve only ever seen hard, dry and cracked earth in this area. The air was filled with that sweet aroma that only a summer shower in the desert can bring. A dozen miles later it was starting to get darker and clouds were filling in where just a short time ago, I had unlimited visibility. It seemed my run of luck was about to shift. Just as the temperature hit that 60 degree mark, the first drops began to fall and the normal highway wind turned unmistakably to gusts and began to buck me. The rain got heavier and the bolts of lightning were closer and lit up the sky as if Thor himself were at the helm, hammer in hand. I could feel the sharp drops through my Kevlar and my helmet became a kettle drum. Great thunderous booms exploded around me. It was exhilarating, it was breathtaking, it was intoxicating. I knew I should stop but I couldn’t, I was hooked on the fury like a joy junkie. I knew it would all be over in short order though, I could see that brilliant blue sky again straight ahead. Like coming out of a tunnel, I emerged from the storm into the light. The temperature rose, the sweet aroma returned and only those unnatural mud puddles remained.

I was dry and bug free but thirsty as I pulled into a little café for some cool water just a mile later. The owners and a couple of customers were out on the wooden porch under the overhang and had watched it all. Everyone noted how fast these can come and go, I nodded in agreement thinking of my fortunate timing these last few days on the road. A short time later with the blue sky reflecting in the puddles, I rode away. Of course I couldn’t know that my timing would be just as good over the next few days as I made my way home.

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