By the middle of January in New England, all the smart birds and retirees have migrated south, escaping the frozen world of winter.
As I typically spend the winter months riding to indoor motorcycle shows in places like Illinois, Wisconsin and Minneapolis, it has been nice not having to watch the weather channel for days on end looking for just the right time to leave, finding a path to circumvent the bad weather.
Cold doesn’t bother me. I do have all the right gear for winter riding, heated jacket, pants, gloves and socks that get toasty as well as heated hand grips. I have ridden all day long, hundreds and hundreds of miles in temperatures way below freezing and survived to tell about it.
Snow, ice and freezing rain, are a different story. A motorcycle stays upright by balancing on two wheels; specifically, the two center rubber strips of it’s tires. When the road gets slippery, it’s pretty hard to keep the bike from sliding and well, losing control. Paying attention to changing temperatures as well as understanding the traction available are even more important in colder climates.
This year was going to be the first year I didn’t have a snow storm story because between the middle of November and March, I only had one speaking engagement. It was just a three day trip, but It was going to add 2600 miles to my million mile goal of chasing the cure for MS. I was invited to speak at the 40th Winter Rally for a BMW Motorcycle Owners of America chapter. I thought Winter Rally was a funny thing to call it considering the campout was being held in the Sunshine State!
Florida, you know, where the beaches never close and the locals have never heard of The Burlington Coat Factory. Florida, where my greatly missed hummingbirds hang out with my snowbird elderly neighbors!
Those of us holding down the fort in New Hampshire had been having a mild winter, a few cold mornings but warming up during the day. In fact, my lawn hasn’t even frozen solid yet and any snow we did get turned to rain or melted in a day or so. My snowblower was primed and ready, but by mid-January, we hadn’t had enough snow to use anything but a shovel.
A week before my ride south, the forecast showed my trip would be more of the same pattern, dry with temperatures starting in the low 30’s for the first 600 miles of my ride. Perfect!
The day before leaving, it was a whole different story. It was in the teens, and with a few inches of snow expected. However, they said the temperatures would rise by 30 degrees overnight and the snow would turn to rain by the time I had to leave, around 4:00am. I don’t know if you have ever watched 4 or 5 inches of snow accumulate on the road as you were packing saddlebags of a motorcycle for a 1300 mile ride 12 hours later, but trusting a weather forecast that seemed unbelievable, was a bit unnerving! Had I left a day earlier, I would’ve hit cold and the heavy rain the entire ride south, so I reluctantly trusted the meteorologists.
4:00am came and as I opened the garage door, it appeared they were right! It was pouring rain, but the snow was gone and it was 51 degrees! I couldn’t have left happier. The rain stopped after the first three hours, but it slowly got colder the further I rode south. I repeatedly double checked my GPS to make sure I was headed south. I spent the night in South Carolina and it wasn’t any warmer the next day!
I arrived in Lake City Florida about noon and it was barely 45 degrees! 6 degrees colder than when I left home! I felt like I got screwed!
My presentation went well, there were about two hundred hearty campers in attendance and hot adult beverages were being served. They passed the hat afterwards and collected about $1500 for MS Views and News, the charity I work with that helps provide educational programs for people living with Multiple Sclerosis.
Originally clear and dry, my wife sent a text that I might want to check the weather for my ride home. She was right. It was going to be cold all the way from Florida to New Hampshire, AND the North East was getting sleet and snow with accumulation after midnight. If I split the ride into two days, I would be stuck somewhere in Pennsylvania with a chance that I could not get home until the roads were cleaned up, possibly two more days before getting back home. I didn’t have the time or want the added expense of extra hotel nights and food for this trip, and I had promised my dog I would be home after two sleeps!
I hung out some great folks, packed up my bike and finally got to sleep about midnight. Trying not to rouse or defrost the other campers, I snuck out of Florida at 4:00am when it was dark and… 24°F! I even put on my heated socks! I rode nonstop straight up the East Coast, through Jacksonville, Savanna, Raleigh, Richmond, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark and New York City without a single traffic issue. It even got above freezing for a few hours! I made it to Hartford Connecticut before the premature wet snow started and the last 150 miles home were interesting. I was getting tired, but because I know my bike’s capabilities and my own, I decided to race the winter weather to make it home.
I made great time despite the wet, cold and snow. I was home by 10:00pm, riding 1260 miles in just 18 hours! As I pulled into my driveway, I glanced at my thermometer. It was a seasonal 31 degrees;
SEVEN DEGREES WARMER THAN WHEN I LEFT FLORIDA!