Even as I said it I knew I could still make it, but for some reason I didn't try. A strange sort of alert lethargy had crept over me.
I thought I recognized the voice. Shivers traveled up my spine. It's not one I normally hear in my waking hours.
There was just enough room to change lanes and there were no obstacles, but somehow it didn't seem worth the effort.
I was navigating the big interchanges in Kansas City, northbound on I-35. All the majors had come together in as I came into town, and as I was headed out, they were splitting apart again. The highways had separated, and I had ended up on the wrong one, forced off in a left exit only lane. It was a very odd feeling.
I couldn't believe I had gone the wrong way. It didn't catch me unaware, I had been following the signs since I got into town and changing lanes in plenty of time to stay with my road. The traffic was moving and for the first time in hundreds of miles the roads were dry and visibility was clear. Traffic was moderate, but fast and smooth. I was in the zone. Right turn, left merge, speed, merge again…watch the car...brake…change lanes…more throttle…fun! I even saw the sign, and still I went the wrong way. Odd.
I bid a silent farewell to the group I had been informally traveling with. A distinctive SUV, an 18-wheeler with more chrome than I've ever seen on one, and a stunning red-head in a yellow Mustang had been hanging more or less in group around me. I had picked them up a few dozen miles ago in the heavy rain. Sometimes it's a relief to have a competent and predictable cage driver in front during those conditions…it makes the limited visibility less of a handicap. Due to our respective speeds, driving habits, and traffic patterns, the group had held together without interfering with each other even after the rain cleared and we entered the city. They were gone now. Everybody but me had managed to go the right way.
I shook my head. I wondered why I had missed the split…why I had not been able to summon the motivation to just gas it and merge onto the correct fork. There had been plenty of room and power was never a problem with the instant response of the Valkyrie available at my fingertips. Normally I am very precise in my riding habits…keeping good situational awareness and solid control. As best as I could tell I had not let anything slip…I just seemed to lack the desire to make the turn.
Not knowing the city and too lazy to dig out a more detailed map, I elected to head for the next exit, turn around, and get back to the road I knew. It was a couple miles to the exit, and as I left the highway I figured I might as well gas up the bike and take a quick break. Yeah. A break was just the thing. As an accomplished distance rider I know that an 'off' decision can indicate sluggish thinking, over-tiredness, and possibly impending disaster. Something was just a tiny bit off. I needed to think.
As I sipped my drink I pondered the run so far today. It had been a challenging ride. Humid, oppressive, and hot when I left Dallas in the wee hours, the weather had rapidly changed to cold and driving rains. I had been splashing through standing water, torrential downpours, and impossible visibilities for hours. Despite keeping the speeds up I was falling behind my self-imposed schedule. It was an ambitious run…I was headed to see friends in Wisconsin tonight, and needed to make something over 1100 miles this day to do it. I was only about halfway.
I finished my drink no more enlightened than when I started. I felt fine and ready to ride. I have powerful instincts and potent guardians so the earlier odd feeling still bugged me. One of those guardians often manifests as a gorgeous translucent black dragon…at least in my dreams…and I have always regretted it when I have chosen to ignore her warnings. As strange as it may sound, it was her voice I had heard.
As weird as the method of the warning may sound to others, I just couldn't accept that it was without merit; I've had too much experience with this sort of thing. Something was wrong, I just didn't know what. Still, I felt the need to quantify it. Somehow, "A dragon made me miss my turn" just didn't seem right in the rational daylight.
I thoroughly checked out my machine, just in case some impending mechanical problem had been giving me enough subtle warning to cause the strange feeling. Nothing. Both the bike and I checked out great. Oh well. That was enough. I was out of here. There is only so much I can do and I had miles to burn. It was time to ride.
I flew back down the road, hit the main highway, and this time caught the correct fork. Northbound again, I looked at the ominously cloudy sky and wondered if the weather was going to give me a break. I expected not. The swirling shapes, dark purple colors, and intense lightning promised more wet riding just north of the city.
Almost immediately the traffic shut down, rapidly slowing to a crawl. Now what? It seemed I just couldn't get a break today. Annoyed, I flipped the CB to channel 19 and listened to the truckers. A couple miles ahead was a large accident, but once past that the highway was clear. CB's are handy on the road; in the brief exchange I also learned that only the right shoulder was getting through so I was able to merge over that way and make pretty good time.
It was serious accident scene. It looked like a small cargo trailer (sans truck) had crossed the median and had been hit head-on by an 18-wheeler. The resulting destruction had involved at least four other cars and another big truck on my side of the road and created a debris field that covered the entire highway. There were a large number of emergency vehicles on the scene and they were treating walking wounded and directing traffic. All the involved wreckage looked survivable, except the box trailer that apparently started it all, and I expect nobody was riding in there.
With a sudden chill I recognized the young lady standing next to a police car and talking to officials. The stunning redhead recognized me too, her head following my passage and her hand raised in a half wave as I slowly cruised by. I looked closer at the wreck and shivered, suddenly understanding my earlier behavior. Comprehending with crystal clarity the warning. Three of the vehicles involved were the pack I had been traveling in before I missed my turn. The overly chromed 18-wheeler was jackknifed across the road, the remains of a cargo trailer buried under its bow. The yellow Mustang and the distinctive SUV were crunched together against the semi-trailer and trapped by a second 18-wheeler.
Clear of the accident, the traffic broke and I flew northward. I shuddered again thinking about the wreck. It had been survivable for those involved…but it did not take much imagination to know that all it would have taken to make it a fatal accident scene would be to add a motorcycle to the mix. If I hadn't missed the turn…
I had thought I couldn't get a break. Hah! My irritation at the events so far today completely evaporated. Things often happen for a reason…and just because I can't see at the moment (or ever) what that reason is, doesn't make it any less important or valid. As I have been often in the past, again I had been warned. Guardians, luck, instinct, random chance, deities, or fate…the method was irrelevant. The result was what counted.
I looked toward the swirling clouds and winked, "Thanks babe."
Was that a wing I saw in the roiling sky? Or was it just an after-image from the intense lightning. I laughed as I twisted the throttle and the big cruiser leapt ahead. I didn't care, not one bit. Shortly the rain began to spatter down and I just looked to the sky, grinned, and shouted to the wind, "Bring it on…"
I had miles to burn.
I'll see you on the road.