Thursday, April 14, 2011


Part 4 of a 3-part series.

Sometimes the road just gets to be an obnoxious partner. And no matter how hard you try, you simply can’t seem to find harmony. It happens. And when it does, it doesn’t make sense to push things.

Eric Trow
“Riding Well” column in Rider Magazine, May 2011.

THE SECOND WEEK IN APRIL is considered a pretty “sure thing” as far as riding weather goes. But this year, abundant rains fell in January and March pushing the beginning of spring back a few weeks. As mentioned earlier, the weather gods fooled with our original plan to explore the Redwood country up north. And, Thursday, riding from Monterey to San Francisco seemed like a giant game of cat and mouse, one where the cat came armed with thunder, lightning and huge pellets of rain.

It wasn’t until after my riding partner and I parted north of San Rafael that my luck ran out. Heading east from Napa over the familiar route 121/128 toward Winters, the climb out of the valley carried me under a cloud that was blacker than Simon Legree’s hat.

(c) Missouri University of Science and Technology

Oragraphic precipitation occurs when moist air is pushed up and over ridges of mountains. Figure that for every 1000 feet in elevation gain, the temperature drops about three degrees. Water droplets form around dust particles. Gravity pulls them earthward. But an uplift within the cloud grabs these tiny droplets and yanks them back skyward.
On their journey, more droplets attach. They gain weight and begin to fall until again captured by the uplift. As the physics intensify, the drop rises higher into the atmosphere where super-cold air turns it to ice. It falls and rises, gains layers, falls and rises, falls and rises until its mass becomes too great for the rising column of air. At this point, it is a pellet-like hailstone. It breaches the bottom of the cloud mass and falls to earth.

ABOUT THIS TIME, I come tooling along on the BMW. I’m wearing the proper gear for wet weather, but my thick, waterproof gloves fail to keep my digits nimble. And the layer of slushy ball bearings tends to counteract any tractable qualities of my relatively fresh Metzler Tourance tires.

In moments, the landscape turns white and the inside of my helmet fogs up. I crack the Shoei’s face shield a bit and the fog disappears, but I have to use the index finger of my clutch hand to wipe the sleet off the outside. I slow. The fellow in the Ford pickup I’d raced by only a mile or two back, is now just behind me. At the slightest wide spot, I let him pass. He must be laughing. The day before yesterday, I’d taken this at forty-five miles per hour in fourth; today I’m doing fifteen in first and second. There is no place to pull over and wait this thing out; no shelter from the squall. Twenty-five miles ahead is the Putah Creek Café which harbors hot coffee and closed about thirty minutes ago. I press on-ward thinking about the hot-buttered rum I shall concoct once I arrive home. If I arrive home.

As quickly as I entered it, I passed under and through it. The road turns from icy pebbles to wet pavement, then to dry. I’d outrun - well, out-crept - the storm.

Google Images
Just as I start to grin and congratulate myself on the steeliness of my resolve (read: cojones), a young man on a sport-style “rice rocket” blasts toward me. He is wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a full-face helmet. No leather. No mesh. No insulation. No brains? He gives me the requisite low-five – the signature wave of sport bikers – and races into the storm.

Either I’ll read about him in tomorrow’s paper or his resolve is a hell of a lot steelier than my own.



Eric Trow’s Motorcycle Safety website:

Rider Magazine is published for folks who tend to keep both wheels on the ground. It is available at newsstands and by subscription:

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Any ride that ends at home with a hot-buttered rum is probably overall a good ride.

  2. Wow, I thought those storms were reserved for us over here in the eastern part of the country! Nicely written account; a delight to read. I will have to tune in for more! Thanks for the nod to the Riding Well column. ET