Sunday, June 19, 2011

An actual storm is actually scary.

I woke up on a sunny day and rode an easy 47 miles to Tribune Kansas. I was there before noon, but this is where I planned to stay. A group of 15 from Adventure Cycling's organized ride were also ending here today. They pay for a group leader, and they rotate chores like cooking. They have expensive bicycles. Paying for a ride leader is expensive. There were a dozen tents dotting the town park, and I felt nothing but aloof.

I drank weak beer out of a cup all day, and went off by myself to cook some food. I talked to a few people in the group, and a couple were nice. One guy thought he knew more about bicycles than me, and that kind of thing really drives me up the wall. Spending $3k and reading the manufacturer's website for your hub doesn't make you an expert. These contentious conversations can't be shut down fast enough.

By the time the sun was setting, I had decided that I could go further down the road. I made sure my lights were good and ready, and I cruised away from camp. The weather was supposed to be favorable, and headwinds were projected for the next day. I thought it would be smart to get going now.

It wasn't smart. The night ride wasn't as wonderful as I'd anticipated, and the moon was sadly non-existent. Thirty miles into my goal of sixty, I decided to set up a tent somewhere and wait for morning light. Lightning was visible on the horizon to the north, and I didn't know if that would be a problem. I found a high school that was out for the summer, and decided that was good enough. I'd just crossed the border into Colorado.

I set up my tent beside a line of trees and was ready to sleep. Five minutes later, it was apparent that I'd better stake everything down hard. The wind was picking up, and a storm was coming fast. If I'd waited another two minutes, getting stakes in the ground might have been impossible. I have good aftermarket stakes and I put a shoe back on to stomp them into the ground as far as I could make them go. Then I retreated inside the tent and got ready to weather the storm.

To say the winds picked up doesn't cover it. Within minutes, my tent was a sideways hammock clinging to my body. The fabric flapped loudly, and the poles bent to the side. I hoped this wouldn't last for too long, but the storm persisted.

I didn't sleep for a minute that night. The winds got stronger, and then abruptly changed directions by 180 degrees. In this moment, my tent flipped on its side and flattened on top of me. I was now in a sort of tarp setup; pressed to the ground. All I could hear was tornadoes. A low whumping sound convinced me that tornadoes were forming. Hail began to pelt me through the thin nylon of the rainfly. I was stung several times before managing to pull my air mattress over me. I laid face down on the ground with my air mattress on my back. I put my arms over my head, and laid in fear that the winds would pick me up tent and all, or a tree would fall on me and break my back. I laid face down shivering for hours; exhausted as I waited for the sun.

I was relieved when I felt able to crawl out of the nylon nest. A tree had been pulled up about a hundred yards away, and it leaned sideways on the school. Telephone poles had been snapped at the base a quarter mile down the road. I was experiencing a low grade of tired shock.

I prepared to continue, but one look at the horizon stopped me. The western horizon was black. The blackness was getting larger and blowing straight at me. I retreated to the weak cover of the entrance to the school, right next to the downed tree. Hundreds of tumbleweeds shot from behind the school, whipped by the high winds of yet another incoming storm. A pickup truck appeared in front of me. Within a half hour, I was in the refuge of a church nine miles down the road. I have seldom been so relieved to be inside of a building. I fell asleep on the floor almost immediately.

I woke up to a continuing storm, and decided right away that I wouldn't be leaving the church for at least 24 hours. The sound of the wind gave me chills as I remembered the previous night.

Some of the Adventure Cycling group made it to the church. By the end of the day, there were maybe ten or so people who had been able to make it by bicycle or motorized local citizen. The first person to show up was a guy who doesn't listen when you talk. He was amazing. He'd interrupt your sentence with a 'yup' every time. A poorly placed syllable that gave evidence to the suspicion that he couldn't hear a thing you were saying. This guy also doles out bossy instruction to others. Great guy, really.

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