Our lonely motorcycle at Diagnus Well in Wyoming’s Great Basin

Today’s itinerary was a tall order: crossing 200 miles of barren landscape on primitive roads with no services available.  The weather forecast called for afternoon thundershowers which, on a motorcycle, can be a major inconvenience.  To be caught in the open with no possible shelter gave us pause.  On the other hand, sitting around for a day in Pinedale sounded even less appealing so we opted to take our chances with a thunderstorm.

We got off to a good start.  The road, even though still a dirt road, had been recently graded and coated with a dust suppressant so we made good time.   By 9:30 we reached Little Sandy Crossing where we had camped on night number one last year.  By 12:30 we reached Diagnus Well where we camped on night number two.  Ominous clouds were beginning to form in the sky.  By 3:00 we could see dark clouds in every direction.  There was no escaping the obvious – we were going to get soaked.  Our destination, Rawlins, lay on the other side of the storm.  The only question was would the storm turn the road into a mire or would we be able to reach the asphalt road surface that began thirty miles outside of Rawlins.

Mary, sitting behind me on the motorcycle as we sped along, put the map on my back and studied the numbers.  Bad news: we had forty more miles before the relative safety of the asphalt road.  I throttled up the BMW to about forty MPH, all the faster I dared go because of the occasional sandy stretches of road that appeared without warning and caused the bike to wobble dangerously out of control.  As the first raindrops splattered on our face shields, we stopped and donned our rain gear and covered the panniers with rain covers – at least we wouldn’t have to scramble once the rain started for real.

First came the wind.  A violent headwind that blew up clouds of dust and drowned out the sound of the motorcycle engine.  Then the wind shifted to the side.  I had to slow down to keep the bike on the road.  The temperature, which had been comfortably in the 70s, dropped into the fifties.  

The road turned toward the east and we were now running before the wind.  Now we knew just how strong the wind was.  The speedometer registered 35 MPH yet the air through which we moved was calm.  We had a 35 MPH tailwind!  For a few minutes, I dared to hope we might outrun the storm but splatters on my face shield and pin pricks on my arms soon dispelled that hope.  The storm had us in its clutches and for the next thirty minutes we were pelted with successively larger drops and finally hail which created a deafening racket as it pinged off our helmets.  The thermometer on the bikes computer now read 48 degrees.  The wind chill factor had to be below freezing.  Because the temperature had been relatively warm before the rain started, we assumed that our rain gear alone would suffice.  We hadn’t bothered to put our down jackets under the rain coats.  Big mistake. 

Heading toward hypothermia, we could only tense up and grit our teeth.  Our pleasant ride of the morning had turned into a fight for survival.  Had we been almost anywhere else, we could have sought shelter under a roof or even a tree.  But there was literally nothing, nothing for a hundred miles in any direction that would offer shelter.  We could suffer the storm in place or we could suffer the storm on the run; there was no escaping it.


Robert

Through the rain ahead I saw a distant figure that I recognized as a bicyclist.  He was weaving to and fro against the ferocious headwind and rain, moving along at about five MPH.  So loud was the storm in his ears that he didn’t hear our motorcycle until we pulled alongside him which gave him quite a start.  He may have looked pitiful hunched against the rain in the barren expanse but I realized he actually had a preferable situation to ours.  His forward motion was so minimal that his wind chill was much less.  Plus he was generating considerable body heat by pedaling.

We stopped to encourage him.  We learned his name was Robert and he had ridden his bicycle from Canada and he was going to the Mexican border.  Despite the miserable conditions and his lonely predicament, he was feisty and talkative.  It would take more than a summer squall to dampen his spirits I realized.

Shortly after we left Robert, the rain stopped.  We pulled over and put our down coats under our rain gear and felt immediate relief.  After ten more miles, we reached the asphalt road and took off toward Rawlins at 60 MPH.  We had experienced enough of nature for one day.  There would be no tent camping tonight.  Our recent ordeal called for nothing les than the Holiday Inn Express.

Mary captured our ride through the storm best:  “Brutal” she said.  “Absolutely brutal.”

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