When Lucas turned 16 and I turned closer to 40, I decided we needed motorcycles. I claimed it was to celebrate his driver’s license and graduation from dirt to street riding, knowing full well that everyone recognized the beginning of a mid-life crisis. We stepped off the plane in Orlando with backpacks full of tents and underwear, wearing full leathers our helmets tucked under our arms. Not wanting to waste any time we went straight to the dealer to pick up the matching bikes we had purchased online. Supermotos, I found out, are just glorified dirt bikes with extra lights, street tires and a plank for a seat. Before we left, the three employees had called their buddies to come meet the crazy mom and her poor kid that were going to try and ride to New Mexico on “those things”.
We avoided the Interstate the entire way, taking small roads instead, adding miles and sores to our raw arses. With only 100 miles exactly between a full tank of gas and the orange light alerting us we were pushing our luck, navigation became an art form. We rode from dawn to dusk, never venturing into the night until we hit the Mexican Border. The sun was resting on the mountaintops as we pulled into Del Rio, Texas. The closest gas station was 112 miles away so we knew we would be running on fumes at the end of the next leg. The evening was perfect, the town was rough. We agreed that camping was dangerous and leaving the bikes outside of a motel was foolish so we decided to ride on.
I was feeling almost cocky, two days left, we had as good as done it. The air was refreshing, we had the road virtually to ourselves, with just a few headlights in our rearview mirrors.
Seventy five miles from Del Rio the road took a dramatic turn to the left until directly in front of us the sky was deep purple and lightning flashed incessantly. When we hit the wall of cold air, the electricity accosted our senses and it seemed as if the rest of the world must have been swallowed up whole by this apocalyptic storm. The comforting headlights that had been continuously growing bigger in our mirrors had suddenly disappeared. We couldn’t turn around because we didn’t have enough gas to get back to Del Rio, so we rode on….
The storm increased in fury, wind whipping, sky boiling, our hair standing on end with the electricity. We passed abandoned buildings, pausing briefly at each, weighing the danger of the storm with the unforeseen shadows lurking along the border and rode on. The sky was alive, lighting the landscape with an evil black glow while a war of dueling bolts raged amongst it. A small airport came and went on the left, the spinning tower light dark and motionless.
Lucas pulled ahead of me and stopped in the abandoned road. “An airport has to have a bathroom open for pilots 24/7. It’s the law,” he yelled over the thunder.
It had a bathroom alright but apparently that law doesn’t apply to the border. A single wide mobile home had a truck parked in front but no amount of pleading and banging on the door could persuade the occupants to open up, if indeed someone was there. So we rode on.
Finally, a crack of thunder roared around us preceding a bolt of lightning that blinded us with it’s brilliance and with that the sky opened up, huge rain drops showering down in sheets. I started shaking with relief knowing that the worst was soon behind us. Then the rain drops starting stinging and we were being bludgeoned by hail striking us from every direction, the noise of the ice hitting our helmets was deafening and as their size grew so did their power… Every so often with uncanny accuracy a sharp chunk of ice, baseball size would strike a nerve sending excruciating numbness through an arm, finger shoulder or leg. Even though I willed myself to charge bravely ahead my throttle hand eased up uncontrollably and our pace slowed. Luke pulled around me taking the lead on the treacherously slick ice covered road.
Then up ahead there were lights, a group of cars brought to a halt by the onslaught, huddling together for comfort. Seeing the lights ahead gave Luke courage and he led us skillfully through them to huddle against the closest of the semis which at last sheltered us from the direct blows of the driving ice. Seeing us protected by the huge trailers caused the cars to race ahead trying to find refuge from the deluge. A brand new Chrysler 300 pulled up next to us then, so close that the passenger door brushed Luke’s leg. I kept my head down, ears ringing from the noise, teeth chattering from the cold and body shaking violently with fear.
Luke turned, lifting his visor, eyes huge, “LOOK,” he mouthed and pointed to windshield of the Chrysler.
I looked at the back window and saw 6 holes punched through the glass.
“The windshield is shattered!” he yelled through the racket.
“Put your visor down!” I screamed at him, suddenly understanding the gravity of our position.
Eventually the power of the falling chunks eased and the semis slowly started to creep ahead. Through two inches of hail Luke rode hugging the trailer to extend our shelter as long as possible, I followed. When the hail had all but stopped the trucks sped up and we fell in behind them staying in the tracks they cleared through the ice. Ten miles later we arrived in the town where we had planned on staying and gassing up. Everything was black darkness, I pulled into the gas station with the orange gas light illuminating my chattering jaw and looked at Luke, defeated.
“It’s okay Mom, the power’s just out,” he calmly explained, reading my mind. He took the lead again and pulled into the parking lot of a pitch black Motel.
When we stripped out of our dripping leathers. Even with nothing but cell phone lights we could see purple welts raising like polka dots along our arms and legs. The bikes fared surprisingly well, Luke’s had two blinker lenses shatter and I had a hole punched through the plastic of the rear fender.
Our neighbors for the night were a group of experienced cross country motorcycle riders, 4 Harley Cruisers huddled together under the awning with old metal signs and wood scraps forming a protective shelter. One by one they came over and shook our hands, completely amazed that we had ridden through the storm and survived. Their combined acknowledgement managed to deter my mid-life crisis… Temporarily.