Laura and I hasten but fail to beat a storm as we head homeward, stopping twice for shelter, making memories sure to last a lifetime.
Birds began earnest song above my tent sometime before the sun rose. Experience from the prior morning taught me I wouldn’t be able to ignore them. It was likely hours before anyone else would be up so, quietly as I could, I took my first shower in days, brewed coffee, packed up for the ride home, clipped on my photo belt and set out walking through the town and hills.
After several returns to the hotel-gallery-school to refill my coffee cup while strolling with the rising sun, the students began to stir from their slumber. It was our third day in Tuscarora, Nevada, and time to get on the road home. With a foul weather forecast, I was eager to be on our way. I helped Laura pack up her things, we said our goodbyes, zipped on our gear and headed north without waiting for the group photo.
I spent some time the prior night with the GPS looking for a more interesting but still expedient return route. What I didn’t notice on the GPS screen is that Nevada State Route 11 is gravel, not highway. We stopped for a drink and headphone adjustment as we left asphalt.
Heavy clouds began to pile against the mountains skirted by SR-11. I hoped it was something just rolling through but a smattering of rain was reason to stop and batten down as quickly as we could. There was no shelter out there. If it came down hard, remaining in motion would be the best way to stay dry. If we stopped in a downpour to gear up, the battle would be lost.
I rolled on the throttle until we flew across the hills, trying to finish the thirty-five mile gravel cutoff before the sky broke open and turned the road to mud.
Coming close to Sheep Creek Reservoir, we saw a group of cowboys on horses, ropes in hand, herding cattle on the wide open land under ominous skies. It was a scene of quintessential west. I thought of recording the image but the camera was tucked away under waterproof covers while darkening clouds urged haste.
It was good we hurried. Only a mile after the gravel became pavement again, the sky unleashed a fury of hail like I only see about once in a year. It bounced loudly off our windshield and helmets. I expected to feel the sting of its impact as we continued at fifty or sixty miles per hour but we were safe within armored gear. It was like we were superheroes flying through a hail of bullets.
Our suits began to lose their effectiveness as the ice deluge gave way to sleet. Lacking wipers or a defroster, sleet and snow can be troublesome while riding, soaking through, piling up. We gritted our teeth and held our speed the last few miles to the one and only Owyhee gas station.
It looked like the snow might last a while so we found our way to the little café attached to the grocery store and wiped down our helmets while waiting for Wonder Bread sandwiches and fries in a red plastic basket.
As we finished our food, a trio of Harley riders returning to Meridian from somewhere south pulled in. We chatted a moment while they sat to order food.
Shortly after, another Harley rider, an older guy from back east, riding the opposite direction, also pulled in onto the sidewalk, under the eve. Beads of water filled his face and pony-tailed hair, making me think he’d been on the highway without a helmet. That would have been uncomfortable.
Laura and I continued to watch for a break in the weather. We didn’t need sunshine, just an end to the heavy snow. Even rain would be fine. Finally the temperature shifted a few degrees above freezing and the snow returned to a drizzle.
“We’re gonna go in a minute,” I told Laura. I figured even the rain would end when we lost the few thousand feet of elevation we had above Boise, as we continued north.
I was surprised when the older Harley rider, having heard our intentions, walked over to our table, fairly adamant, to tell us we shouldn’t go.
“I appreciate your concern,” I said. “We’ll take it slow.” He wasn’t satisfied with that. He kept after us, certain we were going to run into dangerous snow. It was kind of awkward. When I didn’t relent, he want after Laura.
She just said, “I trust my dad.”
I knew the highway north past Riddle and Grasmere was largely straight and flat with nothing to obstruct a view to the horizon. I also knew the temperature had gone from about 42 to 32° F in less than an hour while the squall blew in. The asphalt was still melting any snow that touched it. We had visibility and no ice.
While we were readying the motorcycle, the Harley guy came out and tried one last time to stop us from leaving. Maybe he’d seen some bad things in his time on the road. I don’t know. I worked to remain appreciative while he continued arguing. We said little.
With all his insistence, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was doing something stupid. It didn’t seem like it. I saw nothing inexorable about turning onto the highway. If things were bad, we’d slow down; really bad, and we’d stop. So what?
I couldn’t see my way to a different conclusion. We thanked our would-be guardian one last time and headed down the dark highway.
After just a few miles, one of his warnings came true. We gained a little elevation and the rain returned to snow — snow that piled on my visor until finally I had to leave it open. Every minute or so, a wet glob of ice would hit me squarely in an open eye. That stung. Wind whipped across the open landscape, forcing us to lean one way, then the other to compensate as we rode. I slowed way down and kept a close eye on the mirrors.
It was unpleasant but never seemed unsafe. I set my sights on Grasmere as a place to stop and warm our hands. It was a long fifteen miles. The arrow on the GPS hardly seemed to move.
We pulled into the old service bay and made a fire of the junk left by other road-trippers. Just getting out of the wind, even before we had the fire, felt much warmer. I had to let my hands thaw a few minutes before my fingers could work loose the helmet buckle.
Wind persisted but skies had cleared by the time we departed. It warmed up considerably as we descended to Boise’s elevation. None of the ride felt unsafe until we were on the busy Interstate between Mountain Home and Boise. It was tiring to constantly compensate for gusting winds.
The trip to Tuscarora was well worth the time. I wasn’t bored for a moment. I hope Laura invites me again next year. Hopefully by then she’ll have forgotten how cold her hands were when we pulled that last time into Grasmere.