I winced as a particularly solid impact on my helmet rocked my head forward. My neck ached from keeping my head upright, and it seemed the darn hailstones were still getting bigger. This was a bad one.
I was sitting hunched on the lee side of my bike with flowing water up to the small of my back and my knees pulled up as close to my chest as my rather ample frame would allow. The hail and wind were slamming me with bone breaking force to a degree I had never previously experienced, and in that posture, with my heavy leather jacket and full-face helmet, I was able to minimize the injury. My position had been carefully but quickly crafted, as every incorrect movement was rewarded by a swift and painful crack of a large wind-propelled hailstone. Pain can be a very rapid teacher.
Both of my jacket-clad arms were slung over the tops of my knees to protect them, and my hands were tucked back between my calves. I tried to wiggle the fingers of my left hand, but could not at the moment feel anything. I was not sure if that was good or bad...I had taken a serious crack on the wrist with a hailstone before I had gotten completely covered, and I was fervently hoping there were no broken bones. That was my clutch hand after all!
I had to keep looking more or less upward to keep the impacts off the back of my neck, basically forced to look into the eyes of the maelstrom, and even through the slightly fogged face-shield it was a sight indeed. The large hail visibly swirling in the wind and the continuous displays of lightning were stunningly beautiful and truly awe inspiring. They were almost enough to take my mind off my current predicament.
I groaned as pieces of my cd/mp3 player spattered down on me and then washed away. The amazingly durable device had been in the top of one of my waterproof duffel bags. When the hail started I had taken the time to grab the bags off the back seat and toss them over the gauges and the tank on The Dragon, looping the long straps over the windshield to keep them in place and hoping to use their cover to minimize the damage to the bike. I tried to wiggle my hand again. Nothing. The extra time I took may have cost me dearly.
My padded camera case fell with a splat beside me and I groaned again. If any bag had to come apart/open, why did it have to be the one with all the expensive stuff in it? I could not even stick a hand out to grab the camera case, and watched as it floated about in eddies around me and the bike, occasionally getting popped solidly by a hailstone. If it floated out of the lee created by the bike, it would be rapidly gone. The current and the wind were amazingly powerful. Eventually I managed to put a boot on the strap and hook it...it wasn't bobbing about so much anymore as the case took on water. That was a bad sign, but maybe I could salvage it later.
The Dragon was starting to lean hard against me. Apparently the kick stand was beginning to sink into whatever ground we were on (I had lost sight of the road in the sudden deluge and was unsure where I had finally gotten stopped), and the wind was rocking the machine violently. I could not risk exposing a hand to steady her so instead I pressed my back harder against the big cruiser hoping to moderate her sway. If she went over I would lose even the meager shelter that I had.
The hailstones were beginning to pile up everywhere, floating in impressive drifts and pushing hard against me, making keeping my position difficult. Like a wedge they kept getting between me and the bike, me and the ground, and even between my legs, causing slips and painful bruises as I shifted posture. The water was ice cold now, and my strength was beginning to wane. Some of the stones were over 3" in diameter...picture baseballs...and don't forget the thousand angry pitchers throwing them at you, after the dump truck pours them over your head from ten-thousand feet up. The shattering ice and blowing water were making it difficult to breathe despite the full face helmet. By the foam and mist blowing horizontally I would guess the wind was blowing over 70 mph...but I had no real way of measuring. It seemed like hours had passed.
The constant slamming of hailstones on my helmet and my leather clad shoulders, as well as the roaring of the wind and constant thunder had a numbing effect on me. There was just too much sensory input to comprehend everything that was happening. "Stunned" would be an understatement, I was being beaten senseless.
The pressure of the hailstones and the leaning of the bike finally became too much to handle in my odd position, so I reluctantly extended a leg for additional leverage. Analytically I kind of twisted it sideways so that hail would hit in the meat and muscle instead of the bone. Dispassionately I knew the painful impacts on that leg would cause significant bruising at the least, but there were no other choices remaining. The hail drifts, wind, and the deep water were bad enough now that I realized that if I lost my position, and could not keep to my feet, I might very well be washed or blown into the sea...merely feet from the road. The water, wind, and hail were so bad that I could not see where the road was, much less the sea. It all looked the same and there was absolutely no cover out here. Clad in heavy motorcycle boots, a soaked leather jacket that weighs 30 pounds dry (and a whole bunch more when wet), jeans, and a full-face helmet, I would not survive long in the water. Grimly determined, I held my position and snarled my defiance. It could unleash its worst. I would hold. The very ferocity of these storms ensures that they are short-lived.
Just when I thought it could not get any worse, the intensity of the hail felt like it doubled. The noise was absolutely mind-numbingly stunning, and I could feel the grating in my throat that told me I was adding my own yells to the chaos with every breath. I could hear nothing but the pounding of the storm however.
Belatedly I realized my helmet visor had vanished, smashed off its pivots by the large hail and whipped away by the blinding wind. I cried out and threw a leather-clad arm over my suddenly exposed face to protect it. I thought I was in time, but that telltale taste in my mouth and the warm stickiness running down my chin announced otherwise. Strange that I had not felt the impact, but I sure could feel the damage. My eyes watered up and involuntarily closed and I gasped in shock. Shortly I could not breathe through my nose anymore, and found myself spitting out blood between breaths. Crud.
I've had worse days.
It is times like these that I sometimes wonder. It is times like these I occasionally doubt. I am driven to ride, pushed on by a devastating and powerful need to see...to experience...to live...and my love for it extends far beyond rationalization or description. I know the risks, and moderate them when I can, but still I press on, even into adversity. There are very few things I fear, and even this situation was not one of them.
But still...every now and then...just once and a while...
I wonder...I question...I seek to understand why...
Beaten to the edge of rationality, stunned beyond the capability of comprehension, between racking sobs and painful gasps for breath I screamed into the chaos,
"What in the bloody hell am I doing out here?"
I was not really expecting an answer.
Picture the small whirlpool that forms when draining water from a bathtub or a sink. It begins within a gentle swirling, slowly elongates, and then, just briefly, becomes an interesting, stable, and predictable form centered over the drain.
Abruptly something changes. The whirlpool becomes unstable. It may gyrate a bit, or oscillate, but with little warning it rapidly collapses...spawning eddies, highly localized and violent stray currents, and possibly even other whirlpools scattering in the brief chaos it has left behind. Eventually the turbulent area calms and a new whirlpool begins to form...
Now, take the entire disturbance and expand it millions of times over. Scale it big enough to cover several states and set the entire thing spinning just for good measure. Add a few billion joules of energy from the sun, millions of tons of water vapor, unpredictable heating and cooling from land and water masses, unimaginable energy in the form of static electric charge, and then stuff it in among dozens of other similar disturbances. Call it all a weather system, add countless other variables, and plop the whole mess down over Texas to stew awhile.
It's a hell of a recipe. The scale is unimaginable, the features are glorious, and the power is absolutely terrifying.
All that is left is to sit back and watch the show...
...And just imagine the utter chaos when it collapses...
I grinned wryly as a few heavy drops of rain spattered on my gloved fingers. I looked up as more impacted on my t-shirt. Screaming down the highway on The Dragon at well over 80mph, the raindrops penetrated immediately through my shirt and chilled my skin. They were startlingly cold compared to the very hot, oppressive conditions I had been riding in. I would guess it was about 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and with every passing breath the heat intensified.
I popped open my face-shield. "Don't tease me." I grumbled to the sky. The words were carried away on the blast furnace winds. Rain would be a welcome relief right now, but there was no chance of more than those few drops. The only clouds were basically ripples radiating out from somewhere behind me...like the ripples from a stone dropped in a pond, except on an impossibly grand scale. Shockwaves essentially...compressions along the storm front, but they were not heavy enough or plentiful enough to break out into the full-fledged storm.
Meteorologists may disagree with my diagnoses or terminology, but my education in the field comes from a lifetime exposed to the weather in Texas. Weather does not get much more intimate or personal than experiencing it all from a motorcycle saddle. I have an innate sense for violent weather, and what is probably an unhealthy fascination with the power and beauty to be found in it. I have certainly seen far more than my share. The system I was pacing was huge, powerful, and outstandingly oppressive, and right now I only knew two things about it. First, it was not time yet, and second, when it was time, and this monster broke, it was going to be one hell of an event.
I wiped the sweat out of my eyes and closed my face shield again. I had been flirting with this weather system for days...it seemed to be pacing my admittedly erratic movements toward the south. Daily it had grown more humid and oppressive, and the heat was intense. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. There was no question that this system was going to erupt into utter chaos.
I was hoping to reach my destination before it broke, but I was more than two hours out and I already knew better. This storm was coming, and it was coming for me.
The heat was the key. During the summer here, we occasionally get into a weather pattern where all the ingredients exist for intense storms, but due to a very hot and stable air mass, the storms just will not form and relieve the tension. Days can go by with increasing moisture coming in off the gulf, and with each day the heat and the storm potential increases, but it takes reaching a certain temperature to actually trigger the event. The atmosphere is inverted...a cap of hot and humid air is trapped below colder and dryer air. If it gets hot enough, the rising air penetrates the cap and then a chain reaction starts...basically like popping a bubble.
Massive thunderheads build and poke through the cap, sucking up more hot, humid air (water and energy), and producing extremely violent updrafts. That is until they basically collapse internally due to their own weight. Then the water, hail, and wind pour out like a waterfall. The water and hail hit the ground, but the wind turns and becomes ground hugging straight-line winds. They can easily reach 70 mph from this type of storm, and have been clocked much higher than that. Besides the very large hail, straight-line winds, and torrential rain, tornados are a common side effect.
When it happens, it happens fast. 40,000-foot thunderheads can form in a matter of minutes. The temperature can drop 30 degrees nearly instantly, and then climb right back up again, depending on the proximity of a growing or dumping thunderhead. Compression under the thunderhead, updrafts, the outflow, and violent mixing of the hot and cold air does very funny things to local temperatures and wind directions.
And if all that was not enough, the lightning is nearly continuous, with dozens of startlingly powerful strikes per second at the height of the storm.
Thunderstorms in Texas are an experience!
I was headed for Padre Island out of Corpus Christi. I had friends visiting the island and I had been working my way south for some days from New Mexico. Originally planning to rendezvous with them before they left the island, now I was just hoping to arrive before the storm broke.
I very nearly made it.
I hit Corpus Christi and headed for TX 358. The locals call this "SPID" for South Padre Island Drive. It runs southeast through the city, and eventually leads out across a causeway and then over a huge bridge to the island. The causeway is really just a sand spit topped by a road that is no more than 2 or 3 feet above sea level. In some places the ocean is just a few yards from the road.
When I stopped for gas about five miles from the causeway the sun was blistering and although the sky was a bit hazy, there were no clouds to be found. When I finished gassing up the big cruiser, there were some large white puffy clouds on my route. Oh boy. Here we go. This is the "developing" stage.
When I finished my drink, the puffy clouds had exploded in size and turned dark and threatening. Several of them already towered tens of thousands of feet into the sky above the causeway. They were growing so fast I could see the tops visibly swirling with unimaginable violence and piling ever higher. The sky was rapidly darkening and lightning was crackling between the towering monsters. The winds turned blustery and rushed toward the storm to help feed the relentless updrafts. This is the "building" stage.
The massive storm clouds would continue to build until the weight of the water droplets and forming hail suspended in the thunderheads overcame the lift of the updrafts. That's when all that stuff essentially just falls out of the sky, collapsing the whole mess and bringing all the winds back down with it. This is the "all friggen hell is breaking loose" stage.
I put my digital camera in its padded, waterproof case, and put that deep inside one of the waterproof duffels I was carrying on the back seat. I also made sure the duffel was situated so the flap on the zipper was facing the rear of the bike to keep blowing water out. If I was really, really lucky those precautions might even keep the camera dry.
"Waterproof" does not really mean "waterproof" when riding at high speed in a Texas downpour. It is not possible to get wetter than you can when riding in the rain. Even jumping butt-naked into a swimming pool will not do it!
I pulled my heavy leather jacket off the back seat and grimaced as I donned it despite the terrific heat. It was going to be needed shortly, but there was no hope at all that it would keep me dry.
I mounted the gleaming machine with a sigh. With the coming storm all the sparkling chrome would soon be covered with road grime again. I had just washed her yesterday while I was waiting for the only gas station in some small town in west Texas to open. Since it was a sleepy Texas town I even had time to polish the chrome a bit. Oh well. Motorcycles are meant to be in motion, and a machine in motion is a beautiful thing...even if it is dirty.
The building storm and the intense sun created a striking view. Vivid purples, fiery reds, and azure blues mingled and changed even as I watched. Fire and water, ice and inferno; each vivid element advancing and retreating while locked in some ancient titanic battle. Lightening crackled between the forces and armed the entire scene with a vastly intimidating aspect. Tendrils of cloud swirling below the storm illustrated the power contained within and hinted at possible tornado activity to come. Completely lost in the breathtaking saga I absently zipped up the comfortably familiar heavy jacket.
I was interrupted in my reverie and somewhat startled by a female voice, "You're not going in there are you?"
I had been unaware of her approach.
Still captivated by the scene in front of me I glanced briefly at the speaker and then returned my gaze to the storm. Then I did a double take. My immediate impression was that she was born of the storm itself. Five foot tall or so, well built, curvy, and fairly projecting energy, this sensual bombshell would not have looked out of place scantly dressed in iron and leather, and shooting lightning bolts as she rode a black Pegasus across the sky.
I shook my head and the revealing, and I must admit, mildly erotic vision vanished. I deliberately blinked twice and it did not return. Drat. The woman that stood before me made nearly as much impact though. Dressed in tight jeans, a purple tank top, and a simple silver belt, she was absolutely stunning. Her top's low neck line and sleeveless design showed off ample cleavage and well toned muscles, as well as plenty of lightly tanned skin. She wore no jewelry or makeup, they would have only distracted anyway. Straight, short, jet-black hair and a slightly pointed exotic face highlighted enormous clear green eyes. Once I caught sight of those, the rest faded from my awareness...despite her obvious other...qualities. There was magic in those eyes, though of what sort I was not sure.
Going in there? "Yes, I am." I said with a sigh.
"Why?" There was no scorn in her tone, rather genuine curiosity, and maybe a bit of a challenge.
I tore my gaze away from her eyes and looked toward the storm, "My destination is there."
"Where are you going that you have to risk that?" For emphasis she waved an arm toward the storm.
The resulting motions inevitably brought my attention directly back to her. Damn the male brain anyway!
The answer that sprang to my lips was the easy one. I was visiting friends. Simple, easy...but not quite correct. That was my excuse, not my destination. I looked into her eyes and did not quite voice those words. She was not making small-talk. She wanted the truth. She wanted to understand. Hypnotized, I felt as if I were falling into those eyes. The rest of the world faded from view. There were only pools of deep-green.
I spoke quietly, my stare locked with hers. Almost a whisper, "The journey is my destination. The experience is what drives me. My soul spurs me on. I have to go ride. I have to go see."
She nodded and suddenly I was aware of the world again. Her voice was as gentle as mine had been, "You have to go see do you?" she paused for effect, "even if it takes you in there?" There was some respect...and something else, maybe regret, in her eyes.
"Especially if it takes me in there." I looked back at the storm and shook my head, "Doesn't matter anyway."
That seemed to catch her by surprise, "Why not?"
I looked at her again and sighed. Once again only the truth would do...what I felt, not the meaningless banter usually exchanged between strangers. I was no longer sure she was a stranger anyway. "Because the storm is here for me, and it will come for me, no matter what direction I take."
At that she took a couple steps back from me, a trace of fear in the eyes. "How could you possibly know that!?" she nearly shouted.
I just knew. Without looking up I pointed directly above us. The storm was breaking in front of us, true, but thunderstorms are not constrained to one event or location. They typically break out along a line that can be hundreds of miles long and move at speeds that are hard to believe...or outrun. I was pointing to the massive thunderheads that were even now building directly over me, and indeed, even behind me, almost following the highway and cutting off my retreat. A strong and cool updraft seemed to punctuate my words and promised significantly more to come.
She looked up for a long moment, smiling almost affectionately, and then looked back at me.
"Ah. I see." She looked a bit sideways, smiling and looking at the station while peering at me out of the corner of one eye. "You could wait here, under the cover."
I could. I've even been known to. I am not stupid, but here in Texas at least, if you don't ride when there is a chance of storms, you just don't ride. Besides, a bit of my arrogance was showing. I could beat this one.
"No." I raised an eyebrow at her, "Unless perhaps you want to wait with me?" I was not expecting her to. It just seemed I had to ask. That expected male behavior thing.
"I cannot. I have things to attend. Wait here to miss the storm and I'll come back for you though." The words seemed to carry a bit of a threat and the smile was just a bit predatory. Odd.
She must be teasing me. Even if I were to take shelter, it would not be here. I barely gave a glance at the gas station with its large plate-glass windows, plentiful assortment of metal signs, and sheet metal canopy. You would think they would build stronger buildings out of less sharp stuff in a hurricane zone. The canopy shuddered and squeaked in a sudden gust as if to confirm my choice.
I laughed and waved at the storm. "No. I'll be safer out there."
She eyed me critically. "Well, you'd best be about it then."
I looked sharply at her. Her words had a bit of an accent that had not been present before. Something a bit strange, and like the smell of some long forgotten lover, something mildly familiar and inevitably haunting. Possibly I had met this woman before. Looking at her I could not imagine ever forgetting a previous encounter. My memory may not always be the best, but there is nothing wrong with my libido!
I tore my eyes away and cleared my throat. "Yes, I guess I'd better. It has been a pleasure talking to you." I turned and reached for my helmet.
As I slid it over my head I heard her quietly say by way of a parting, "Yes...it has..." a pause, then, "I'll see you again."
I finished fastening the helmet and turned in surprise. She had used my typical parting words (I usually do not say "goodbye" to friends, instead I'll say, "See you later." or more commonly, "See you again."). Now I was sure I must have met her before.
I had turned too late though. She was gone. It had never even occurred to me to get her name. I sat there for a moment, contemplating the storm. Yeah. I could beat it.
I slapped myself across the chest, the "thump" of the heavy leather somehow reassuring.
"Are you ready for this?" I mumbled to the massive cruiser as I thumbed the start button.
She instantly roared to life in answer.
"Thought so." I mumbled as I pulled out and rapidly accelerated up the ramp. I leaned into the bike and gave it all she had. Wow! I love that feeling. Flying down the highway, soaring into the wind, I was powerful, free, and ready for anything.
Or so I thought.
I did not quite make the bridge. On the open and low causeway, the point of most vulnerability and farthest from shelter, the storms above me dumped almost simultaneously. I went from unlimited visibility and dry roads to no visibility at all and standing water in a matter of seconds. If I did not know better I would have thought I had run off the road and straight into the ocean.
I had no choice but to stop. I could not see anything at all, not even if I looked straight down. I braked as hard as I dared and steered toward what I hoped was the side of the road. Long before I got stopped the bike bounced a bit and the steering became mushy. I must have left the paved surface.
I put the stand down and dismounted. I was already soaked, I would just have to wait out this deluge and be on my way. No problem.
That was when the first hailstone hit.
Hail in Texas is common and can be highly dangerous. Nearly any thunderstorm is capable of producing it, and in great quantity and size. Most storms produce smaller stuff, but a fair number of them yield very large hail. People caught out can die in these storms. Once recent festival near Fort Worth (Mayfest, 1995) was unexpectedly attacked by large hail and high winds. The outdoor event afforded little shelter for the thousands attending it, and the there were broken bones and critical injuries in the resulting chaos. 14 people died in that storm.
Another hailstone thumped into the water covered ground nearby, and by the sound of it, was substantially larger than our usual dime and quarter sized stuff. I heard it whistle through the air before impact. The winds rapidly began to climb, a gust nearly blowing me over. This was about to get dangerous. I eyeballed the tank and gauges on my beloved Dragon, and quickly pulled the bags off the back seat and arranged them to cover the hail-vulnerable parts. Just as I finished I was smashed in the left wrist by at least a three-inch stone. My hand instantly went numb, and I cursed and crouched on the left of the bike as the shooting impacts began raining down around me. This was going to be a bad one, and I would have given up protecting the cruiser with the bags and pulled them over me instead, but it was too late for that now.
Far too late.
Beaten bloody and senseless, it took quite some time before I was aware of the break in the storm. The first obvious sign was the cessation of noise. I had not realized just how loud the hail on my helmet and the roaring winds were until they stopped. Blessed relief!
Cautiously I dropped the arm from my face and looked around. The sky was amazing. Purple and black clouds were visibly roiling overhead, and I could see the white of hail falling like rain some miles away across the water. Everywhere that was not purple was a bright, deep, and somehow familiar green. A green sky...that was not a good sign.
The landscape was even more bizarre. Hail rivers and drifts were everywhere! They made bizarre patterns where they had flowed with the heavy runoff, and many could be measured in depths of feet! I could still hear some thunder in the distance, but everything was eerily silent except for the crunching of the settling and flowing hail. Carefully I pushed piles of ice back from my side of the bike and stood up. It took tremendous effort, as my exposed leg was not too keen on supporting my weight, and I had to be careful not to let The Dragon fall as I rose. She was none too steady on her stand.
I surveyed my situation and would have whistled long and low had I actually been able to whistle. It came out more as spitting blood and an agonized moan as flexing my lip caused my nose to throb in pain. I settled for a grunting, "Wow!" instead. I had stopped merely feet short of a line of large rocks and broken concrete separating the road from the water. I had traveled a number of feet down the shallow embankment from the road and I was within spitting distance of the water. There were drifts of hail against the bike and the rocks that had me pretty well bunched in.
I kicked a flat rock under the stand and let the Valkyrie take her own weight. I groaned as I gently removed my helmet. My wrist, forearms, shoulders, and nose were annoyingly painful and I had to move carefully. I took a few steps and was relieved that I could walk. I scooped some water from a rivulet and cleaned the blood off my face and rinsed my mouth and spat. My nose was still bleeding some, though not heavily, and it was clumping in my mustache and getting on my lips. Ugh. I hate that taste! I prodded my nose and found that it stung terribly, but I did not think it was broken. I might end up with a couple of black eyes though. The wrist was a bit numb and swollen, but I could bend it. Nothing too serious, but I would need to get some ice on it for a while. Idly I wondered where I would find some, and then laughed out loud at myself. I was surrounded with the stuff!
My smallest bag was open and full of hail and nothing else, its contents lost except for the waterlogged camera I had captured with my boot. Cell phone, checkbook, sunscreen, extra (emergency) cash, batteries, maps, a couple of books, heavy riding gloves, extra cd's, stamps, postcards, phone numbers, everything...gone. The zipper was completely destroyed.
"Crud." I murmured. Oh well. Might as well get some use out of it. I removed my glove and stuck my hand into the bag of ice up to the wrist while I surveyed the situation.
The Valkyrie was in sad shape. The bags had protected the gauges and there were only a couple dings in the tank. But the right-rear blinker lens was missing, and so was the right plastic side-cover. The right hand mirror was broken too, but all that stuff was cosmetic and easily repaired. The most expensive damage appeared to be the right valve-cover, with several prominent dents in the chromed part. Again, cosmetic. My cruise control switches had been torn off the right handlebar, but that did not have to work for me to ride. The plastic "stop" switch and the high-beam rocker switch were both broken, but the switch actions seemed to work ok. The only worry I could see was that all three of the spark-plug boots on the right side of the engine were torn. With all the water that could keep her from running if the ignition spark was grounding out.
Warily I eyed the clouds. The state of the sky made it seem unlikely that this was much of a reprieve, and I looked toward getting underway. The eerie quiet was making me nervous and seemed to promise that the main event was still to come. Whatever that was it would be bad. The causeway was too exposed and I was too close to the water for comfort.
The road was reasonably clear, the crown having caused most of the hail and water to run to the sides, but the drifts of ice on the shoulder and beyond were blocking me from reaching the road. I grinned though, as further examination showed that because of the patterns sliced though the drifts by the running water it looked like with just a little work I could kick my way through a few drifts and clear a twisty, indirect path to the pavement.
I dropped the now useless duffle, tied the others back on the rear seat, and began kicking my way through the piles of ice. It was time to get out of here.
I left my helmet stabbed on the backrest and mounted the big cruiser. A quick straightening of the spark plug boots was the best I could do for the moment. A turn of the key and she instantly started.
"Thank you babe." I mumbled to the faithful machine.
With lots of clutch and very little throttle I threaded my way through the hail-drift maze. Using the passages I had kicked through some of the flows I was able to get almost all the way to the road. I had miscalculated one passage and could not negotiate the last turn. No problem. I turned off the bike and dismounted, ready to kick my way through the last wall.
The thunder was getting much louder, so warily watching the sky I started smashing my way through the last drift. Due to the noise of the thunder and my divided attention I was slow to recognize that a small pick-up was approaching from the direction of the island. It was a state trooper.
A state trooper...
In a mini-pickup...
Only in Texas.
The most impressive thing about this cute little truck was how incredibly bashed up it was. The windshield looked like it had been shot about 30 times, the passenger window was missing (or down), the emergency light bar on the roof was smashed beyond recognition, and the hood was smushed partway down into the engine compartment. I could actually see the shape of the engine underneath. The doors and the rest of the sheet metal on the truck were heavily pocked with dents. Obviously he had been caught in the same hail outpouring I had been...probably just on the other side of the bridge. I was amazed the thing was running!
He overshot and skidded to a halt on the other side of the road.
Frantically waving as he got out of the truck the officer shouted, "Come on! Let's go!"
I was almost free. I could be on the bike and gone in less time than I could reach his car. The thunder was getting louder though.
"I'm fine!" I shouted back.
"Fine? You should see yourself! You're a mess!"
That I did not doubt.
I waved an arm vaguely in the direction of my bike. "I've almost got her out. Go on! I'll be ok." The thunder was nearly continuous now.
He adopted that formal 'I'm in authority' tone, "Sir! You are going to have to come with me now!" Then he dropped the 'gusto'. "There are tornados. I am just trying to protect you!"
Behind him and a couple miles away, a heavy lightning bolt struck the water. The result was a massive explosion that looked like a depth charge going off. It was truly amazing, and the display of such raw power was awe inspiring. Water flew into the sky and the sea roiled. The thunderclap was deafening.
He spun to face this calamity, and just as the last of the water settled lightning struck again, this time only about a mile away. Before that eruption settled it struck again, this time only a few hundred feet away. The thunder pounded us with physical force, and the track of the strikes was straight toward us.
I just had time to mumble to myself, "But who's going to protect you?"
That was when all hell broke loose. Again. Seemed to be the theme of the day.
The next one struck the water behind me, and was close enough that I heard the snap and hum of the initial strike, was immediately showered in water, and the noise and flash drove me to my knees. One knee landed painfully on a hailstone and I fell over sideways. When I managed to stop cursing and regain my feet, the truck was gone.
Hurriedly I freed The Dragon and then slowly motored up the road toward the bridge, scrunching through the occasional remaining hail drift. The thunder was bone-shaking and continuous now and it was starting to rain again. Shortly I caught a brief impression of motion to my right and after a glance, and a gasp, stopped the bike to get a better look. A mile or so to the south there were two long and sinuous waterspouts. These tornados over the water extended thousands of feet from the sky to the sea, and they moved with a malevolent, predatory motion that was very much alive. They were moving north, toward the bay, toward the bridge, and toward me. One look, that single glance, and I was totally convinced they moved with a purpose, and that purpose was me.
I have seen a lot of nasty weather. Over the years I have been frequently caught out in storms of every type, and in an earlier career, it was my job to get in front of threatening weather systems and prepare to clean things up (electrically). I have endured hail, flooding rain, and tornados up close and personal on multiple occasions. I had never encountered anything quite like this.
Behind me the sky was beginning to clear over the city. By contrast the bridge was framed in darkness and starkly highlighted by intense streaks of lightning. I could see another hail-fall in the distance, the bright white streaks easily distinguished from the downpours of rain. Large and powerful works of man, overshadowed and completely dominated by large and powerful works of nature; the message was not lost on me. Time was of the essence. Once sighted it is impossible to lose awareness of something like the two waterspouts headed my way, and was I very conscious that they were moving rapidly.
I spoke quietly, "Enough. I'm done."
The super-cells, tornados, and other parts of the storm may move at will within the system, but they too are subject to certain forces. In the case of this storm, it was being pushed inexorably south and east. Behind me the storm was losing influence...losing power. That would be my direction.
I reluctantly tore my eyes away from the terrifyingly beautiful storm, and turned the bike around.
Two deep breaths and I was ready. As I twisted the throttle I murmured to the battered motorcycle, "Let's do this."
The small hail drifts simply splashed away like puddles at 70 mph, and they vanished completely as I reentered the city.
One fuel stop. 170 miles. 2 hours, 3 minutes. San Antonio is a pretty town, and for the moment, and more to the point for my purposes, hot and dry.
I arrived at dusk, and then had to try 4 different hotels before I found one with a hot-tub.
As it was a weekday, I pretty much had the run of the hotel, and given the vivid bruises all over my arms, shoulders, and legs, and the black eyes and purple, swollen nose, the very few other guests were giving me a very wide berth. Looking like a refugee from some sort of biker war does have certain advantages, as after I presented my credit card on check-in, the manager insisted that I park my machine on the walkway in front of the lobby entrance, and personally guaranteed me that it would be safe from molestation for the night. He even helped me carry my sodden duffels to my room. I quickly changed and headed for the hotel's hot-tub.
Lying in the soothing, steaming, bubbling water, head back and an ice-bag over my eyes, I was surprised to hear the door squeak open and somebody enter the hot-tub room.
I was even more surprised when the newcomer pressed an ice cold drink bottle into my hand and a weary but familiar female voice said, "Here, you need this."
I removed the ice bag and blinked as I focused my tired eyes on the speaker. It was the black-haired, green-eyed beauty from the gas station. My heart skipped a beat. She was wearing a deep green silky bikini that did more to accent her features than it did to hide them. Perfectly formed, with just the hint of well toned muscle rippling beneath the lightly tanned skin, she knelt beside my head waiting for an answer.
"Yes, I do. Thanks." I took the drink and motioned to the hot-tub. "Care to join me?"
I could not take my eyes off her as she strolled over to the step and entered the pool. She moved like a cat, smooth and graceful, with just the hint of a hidden strength...and subtle evidence of the predator underneath.
I shook my head and immediately regretted it as the jolt of pain reminded me of my injuries. Jheeze the male brain...and the female form...Wow!
She lay back across from me and stretched luxuriously. She still had that aura of energy, that electric air, but she looked tired. Pleased, but tired.
We lay there soaking up the heat for some time, me sipping my drink, before she finally spoke. "Looks like you lost."
There was no point in pretending I did not know what she meant.
"It turned me...yes." I took another sip of my drink. "Lost?" The thought had never occurred to me and I savored it for a moment. "No. I really don't think so."
She sat up and looked intently at me with eagerness and hunger in her eyes. She almost growled, "I think you are beaten."
I sighed and slowly sat up to meet her eyes. Despite our conversation at the gas station, she really did not understand after all. Pity. In order to be beaten, I would have to be dissuaded from my purpose, turned from my experience, convinced of something I do not believe. None of those had happened today. Not even close.
"You think I have lost something? That I did not reach my destination?" Her deep-green eyes betrayed her answer. I sighed again. I was starting to comprehend the nature of the magic in those amazing eyes, and the familiar taste of her very presence. I did not need her as an enemy, but the truth was all that would do.
I spoke low, gruffly, and earnestly, "Experience is my purpose. The journey itself is my destination. Visiting the island was just an excuse to see what is out there." I waved my arms to indicate the world, not just the island, "It was a reason to go see."
A line from an old poem of mine popped into my head, and I murmured it under my breath.
Is the prey, really the prey?
I lay back down, wearily resting my head on the edge of the tub. "That storm was amazing...unlike any I have ever seen." I am sure the passion shone in my eyes despite my quiet tone as she seemed taken aback. "The storm turned me from the island, true, but in a sense, fulfilled my purpose...my destination...my experience, far beyond anything I could have hoped for."
I would never have chosen to endure what I had today, but that is what life is about. Life is experience, not survival. I have chosen my path, and what I have to endure along the way is not completely known to me. But I will live it, experience it, and integrate it to make me what I am, and use it to guide what I can become.
I would remember this storm as vivid as the day it happened, forever. It is an experience that cannot be taken from me. I had answered my own question, cried into the chaos earlier that day. What was I doing out there?
I was living. That's what I was doing out there.
She looked thoughtful for a moment, nodded at me, and in one swift and sensuous flowing motion crossed the tub and embraced me. She had a remarkably strong hold, and her smooth curves and perfect shape pressed hard against me in the hot water were highly erotic despite the pain from my injuries. Gruffly she spoke hotly into my ear, her lips brushing it and sending waves of pleasure down my spine.
"You interest me Storm Rider."
Abruptly she released me and I gasped in pleasure and pain. Her eyes betrayed amusement and something else...something I could not identify. Fear? Challenge? Lust? Hate? Maybe some combination...I could not be sure. She grinned, stood up, glided up the steps, and headed for the door. No towel, no bag, no purse, nothing. Just her.
I watched her move across the room, my thoughts darkly male and completely predictable. As she reached the door I again mumbled under my breath, "Is the prey, really the prey?"
She stopped, turned, smiled. Her eyes were troubled, and she spoke so softly I barely heard, "Indeed."
As she left the room she looked back over her shoulder. "Another time, Storm Rider...I will see you again." The door squeaked shut behind her.
I settled back into the tub and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Then another. I was trembling, almost violently. I looked at the door, then closed my eyes and said softly, "I don't doubt that...I don't doubt that at all."
Not at all.