Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Attack on the Mountain - Day 6

The darkening skies hurried towards us like pallbearers to a newly arrived hearse.  The temperature plummeted from over 90 F (35 degrees C) to 60 F (15 C) in 30 minutes.  It all foreshadowed events we could not predict.  We did not know what it would be or when it would choose to attack, but we knew the assault was likely.  Goosebumps stood out on my arms from the sudden coolness and the anticipation of the assault. 

We were high in the Big Horn Mountains, having made the ascent by roaring up perfectly graded switchbacks to the last lookout where we stopped to look back at Sheridan, Wyoming, now a miniature village in the valley 5000 feet below us.  We picked up our pace, hoping to make it through the pass and down the other side before the brooding beast struck.  But our effort was in vain as we encountered roadwork near the summit.  For several miles we doddled and detoured around the work on a freshly graded, gravel and sand surface, slipping and spinning as we followed a funeral-like procession  of vehicles.  There was nothing we could do except endure the temporary hold up and then pass the slow moving line up on the straight stretches ahead.  We were impatient to get over the mountains and down to the valley on the other side, stopping only for a photo of a grazing moose.

We were beginning to think we had escaped the anticipated fate as we started down the steep grade marked by repetitive signs, "Caution Steep 10% Grade".  You know, the yellow ones with the image of a car looking like it is driving down a boat ramp to a watery grave.  We learned later that 10% was the steepest incline sign that Wyoming had and our actual grade of descent was probably 15% or more in places.   Through  e could see and longed for the safety and sunshine of the valley floor through the gathering gloom but we knew it was too late.

The storm struck with the speed and desperation of a wounded mountain lion.  Its claws lashed out in the form of lightning that lit the darkness, momentarily slashing the dark clouds then retracting to some hidden sheath to wait.  A growling roar of thunder echoed across the face of the mountain, the road shaking in fear.   The wind joined the battle scene feinting and jabbing like a boxer, swooping from behind a rock outcropping then ramming its fist into our backs by surprise.  It whirled and punched with alarming variety, first pressing hard, then backing off suddenly, then slamming us from all sides at once.  We were defenceless.  Our bikes rocked and bucked like rodeo broncos out of control.   The gusts picked up hands full of sand from the rough roadway and threw the grit at our faces, stinging skin and getting in our eyes.

And then the rain began.  First dabbing our windshields it quickly progressed to wetting our motorcycle coats and helmets.  I began to dearly miss my wind-wrecked visor for the first time as the wind whipped the rain like small nails being thrown at my face.  Soon the rain was drenching us, too late to put the rain gear on.  Besides, where could we stop without endangering ourselves in the path of cars with wipers slapping at the flooded windshields.  We would be risk our bikes suffering serious damage by being blown over in the wind.

I pressed on down the 13 miles of mountain highway 14A that was treacherous beyond anything experienced.  I was drenched to the skin and wondering what was in front of my smeared and water-streaked glasses.  I was fearful of stopping yet afraid to keep going.  The latter seemed the lesser of the two mortality-testing choices.   I crept slowly as if blind down the descent, around each corner, rock wall on one side and cliff on the other.  I crawled down the face of the mountain like a wounded climber getting off the summit before any disaaster would result.   Finally, we all arrived at the first town in the valley and breathed in deeply, as if for the first time since leaving the top.  The adrenalin had amplified my Parkinson's tremor so much that I could only keep from totally losing control by gripping the right handlebar grip as if my life depended on it.  We were grateful to arrive soaked but unscathed.

Surprisingly, by the time we got to our destination, Cody, Wyoming, some 45 miles further, we were all dry and warm again, the mountain ordeal having already faded to more 'exciting' than frightening.  However, we all admitted it was the worst driving conditions we had ever encountered astride a motorcycle.  We had survived the attack on the mountain and were happy.

1 comment:

  1. So thankful that you made it safely through that! I well remember the terror of driving blind through a storm in Provence, definitely frightening, not my idea of exciting!!