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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

A Slight Hiccup

Wednesday morning’s ride was the kind that makes it all worth it. I knew there was a chance of thunderstorms (in the 10-30% range) during the afternoon so I wanted to bite off as much as I could in the morning. The countryside didn’t disappoint — I can recall few places except Hill Country in Texas that are quite as idyllic as the gentle rolling hills dotted with farmsteads that I passed on my way south toward Gettysburg. In the early afternoon, though, it became apparent that the storms were coming and a quick radar check showed them strengthening in excess of previous forecasts. I could see the tendrils of the anvil-like cumulonimbus clouds reaching out from the West, piercing the valleys below with bursts of lightening.

The ride became a race. I thought that I could out-ride the storms to the south on the highways but they were scattered and stronger than expected. I gambled that I’d be able to make it on the farm roads — there are few things so beautiful as rolling acres of farmland in the shadows before a storm. To the east, blue skies and sun kissed the landscape while the west was dark with rain. I punched south on I-74, chasing the gaps between storms and racing them to the hills, where the pressure changes seemed to cause the rain to cut out. The wind kicked up little swirls of leaves over the road, giving the air a charge and energy that only fueled the excitement of the ride. I remember tearing down the side of a steep hill, high on the thrill of at last reaching clean skies, and looking in the mirror to see nothing but dark sheets of rain behind me.

Victory was short lived, however, as I gunned it towards Carlisle, PA. I crested a final hill and, out of nowhere, the sun was choked off and the sky darkened with rain. It took only half a mile before the stinging nettles of the drizzle became a steady downpour. The feint had caught me off guard and I was left searching for some kind of place to take shelter or, better yet, a few miles of clean asphalt to tear down and outrun the fury behind me.

Neither were in the cards, and in the moments it took for a red light to turn green, I was surrounded by swirling eddies of leaves and water that poured through my spokes. I managed to make the end of the block, searching for high ground, when the driving sheets of rain became a steady ‘ping’ of hailstones striking against my helmet and the frame. I started coasting to a gentle stop at the next intersection but the leafy, flooded pavement had become like black ice and the bike didn’t even hesitate as it continued slowly forward on its own and slid into the depression of the crosswalk. The front tire pulled out and the rig went over to the left with a roar, a hiss, and finally just silence as the headlight stared blankly through the foot of water that surrounded it.

Another motorist got out and helped me lift up the bike, complete with my formerly-a-GPS iPhone dangling dripping at its side. I rolled it into a parking spot under a tree as the hail stones grew to the size of grapes and began to pile up in the street. There was no real damage but the clutch handle was bent. I managed to start the engine and let it run for a few minutes to make sure everything was working fine. Then I shut it off and pulled the clutch handle back into place, something I’ve done with no issues before, but this time it snapped off cleanly in my hand. Great.

The hail faded to rain and that faded to merely an oppressive humidity. Since it’s quite difficult to ride a bike without a clutch, I spent a few hours bumming wifi and Skyping (my iPhone was *really* unhappy about being wet) until I’d gotten in touch with my parents and convinced them to graciously overnight my spare handle from Newport. With nothing to do but wait, I decided to make the most of my time in Carlisle. After the day’s adventures, I had a surprisingly pleasant evening in a downtown Bed and Breakfast (the only hotel I could walk to) and was joined late by my amazing/too-kind girlfriend, who was going to meet me in West Virginia a few days later but came straight in from Baltimore instead.

I snapped some night shots of the downtown and my (soon-to-be) nemesis, the post-office car:

The easy ending to the story would be if I showed up at the Post Office the next morning, got the part, and headed on my way. But my hubris of the day before had apparently yet to be absolved so of course the USPS Next Day Guarantee was worthless and by 3pm the part was nowhere to be found. Not willing to surrender yet, I located one in stock at a dealer 2 hours away in Coopersburg, PA and we drove out to retrieve it.

Another storm front was already pushing east and we expected to pass under it on the drive back to Carlisle. That was partially correct… it certainly started to rain heavily on the way back but the strength had hardly diminished by the time we got to the bike and began making the repairs. Another wet hour later, though, everything was in its place and we were ready to head out into the drizzly evening for a three and a half hour ride out to Morgantown, WV.

A few of the many takeaways from this whole experience:

  1. Don’t believe the hourly forecast for a second. They were still showing a 20% chance of precip during the hailstorm and over the following few days they were off by several hours on storm timing. My interpretation of the radar maps are far more effective at predicting the timing and severity of major storms than those jokers.
  2. Rain is okay. Downpour and/or thunder just isn’t worth it on the bike.
  3. I love my Triumph but my life would be much easier if I’d just gotten a Harley. You can service those things anywhere and there are always parts available.
  4. I don’t know how iPhones work, but they do really strange things when they’ve been wet. Despite my intuition that water should only be a hardware issue, I’ve had a series of circulating failures that appear to be software related. Alien technology if I’ve ever seen it.