Sunday, August 28, 2005

Hampton Inn, Memphis


NOAA satellite image from 11:15 CDT today showing weather bands in advance of Katrina

10:00 p.m.

Back at Grayson Lake this morning, I awoke to the sound of rain. Looked outside and found it was just the dew dripping from overhanging trees. A fog covered the land and everything appeared soaked. My boots and socks were still saturated from yesterday. I would just have to wear them that way.

This campground at Grayson Lake is a bit unusual, as it borders a golf course. Fellow campers departed on their golf carts to go play in the fog. That's dedication, or something. The landscape is carefully manicured. It's actually quite a nice facility, in all respects.

On the road at 9:30, cutting through the warm, heavy atmosphere. As described by my internal dialogue, "this sucks." I thought about Jeff. "He would definitely be hating this!"

On a motorcycle, you sometimes have to create your own entertainment. Today's playlist includes John Denver's "Take me home, country roads" (a carry-over from West Virginia), Paul Simon's "Graceland" (a preview of Tennessee) and Boz Scaggs's, "Just go" (not sure why that one's in there - I don't pick 'em; they come uninvited.)

And then I'm thinking about the Rolling Stones. Who writes their songs? I never thought about that before. And I recall a 9th-grade concert. A band from the nearby high school played a new Rolling Stones song, "Everybody needs somebody to love". Wow, that was a long time ago! And they're still out there performing. That's staying power.

70 to 80 mph all the way into Lexington, about a hundred miles. Noticed a Waffle House and decided to check it out. It's a Georgia-based chain, I learned. (I was searching for a Starbucks, but this doesn't seem the right demographic out here.)

This place was doing a brisk business. Here, they shout the orders to the kitchen, so it not only looks busy, it sounds busy! Had to try a waffle, some hashed browns and sausage. Not bad, and reasonably priced, though their tableside manners are a bit eye-opening. My waitress bussed a neighboring table, then she set the stack of dirty dishes in front of me and just started piling mine on top. After wiping down the next table, she flung the towel over diners to the kitchen area. Maybe that's part of the charm.

Too hot and humid for my riding suit, so I strapped it behind me. I have held pretty firm to wearing that suit at (almost) all times. This weather was just too much. So, today I was in jeans and a long-sleeved cotton shirt (and still too warm!)

Lexington bills itself as the "horse capital of the world." The ranches are everywhere, white-fenced and rolling grassy hills. They're crazy about their Kentucky bluegrass here. The economy runs on it. (Though that little distillery business contributes, I'm sure.)

Riding south, some clouds appeared through the haze. Up ahead, I could see vehicles engulfed in spray, a downpour. Figured I wouldn't get THAT wet going through one cloud. I got soaked. Emerging into the sun, my saturated shirt and jeans actually provided some welcome cooling.

Further on, more clouds. This time, I decided to put on the suit. It could handle a short downpour. I was amazed at how quickly the sky closed in and I was engulfed in torrential rain and lightning. Traffic slowed from 80 to about 20, or slower. Many cars and trucks pulled off onto the shoulder. Visibility was perhaps 100 feet. Lightning came fast and furious, every 15 seconds or so, and all around. My Aerostich suit was completely saturated, as were gloves and boots. I had to crack the helmet visor open, because it was fogging, so rain was coming in. It felt like going for a swim with the motorcycle.

I followed about 50 feet behind a truck creeping along with his flashers on. But I didn't know if was safer to be closer, or further away. If he was struck by lightning, would I be likely too?

For a long time, no exits or overpasses; absolutely no place to take shelter. We seemed to be on a ridge. When suddenly I saw an overpass come into view, it was crowded with vehicles taking refuge. I kept on going, the lightning and thunder was virtually simultaneous and we were in the center of it all. I was very concerned for my safety. I didn't know what action to take. Pulling over in the open would not lessen the risk of a lightning strike. (I kept watching for that rumored sense of static build-up before an imminent strike.)

Another overpass appeared and though it too was lined with stopped vehicles I pulled right in alongside the cars, barely outside the traffic lanes.

15 or 20 minutes beneath the bridge, water pouring from the pavement above, most vehicles were staying put. It sounded like one thunderhead was moving off to the right, but another one approaching from the left. (It was impossible to see what was happening). The rain was now steady, but not torrential. I decided to make a run for it. Only a few vehicles were moving down the formerly-busy interstate.

Within ten miles, I was coming out of the storm. Looking back, I wanted to see what had created such violent weather, but the atmosphere was too thick with rain, mists and cloud.

I was able now to settle down and enjoy the calm, assessing the damage as I rode. I just started to catch a glimpse of clouds towering behind, then noticed two more dark masses ahead, an area of light between, toward which the highway was tracking. Moved at fast as I could, hoping to break through between the two storms, but I was amazed as the sky just closed up into a solid wall of dark gray. I exited the highway and veered off in the direction I last observed clear sky.

A few miles on, lightning was dead ahead, and very active, but now also back in the direction of the interstate, so I was at a loss. Fortunately, I came to a crossroads with businesses. Took shelter under a gas station awning, next to the pumps.

Within minutes, the storm was on top on this town. I watched helplessly as rain poured down. A young man attending the station shouted to me from the door. I went over to see what he wanted.

"You can come in here if you would like. It's better than sitting out there."

I stepped inside, and asked if this weather was connected with the hurricane. He said that it was. The air conditioning sent a chill through me because of the wet clothes. I thanked him, but stood outside, where the air was actually warmer.

He came outside and we talked a bit. I learned that he's from Bombay and works with relatives in this business. I told him about my trip and he came back out with his uncle, who owns the business. "Shah" moved here about five years ago from Bombay. He wanted to live in a small town where "everyone knows each other." They said I need to visit India. "I hope to some day!"

The rain slowed, but wasn't stopping, so I decided it was time to move on toward Nashville, only about 45 minutes away. Pulled on my Gore-Tex jacket and pants (over my wet Aerostich), changed to some dry gloves, and said farewell to my hosts. They wished me luck.

Returned to the interstate, continuing southwest toward Nashville. Again, I was facing a solid wall of gray cloud and steady rainfall. From the lightning, I could tell another thunderstorm was approaching from the left, but this time I was able to out-run the worst of it.

Once through, there were traces of thinning cloud cover, brighter patches ahead. Approached Nashville and saw the skyline, but didn't stop or even slow; there were more thunderstorms still moving up from the south. Turned west toward Memphis. Rain turned to intermittent showers, and traffic picked up to 80 mph again. I kept up, eager to find some drier climate (hopefully) to the west.

Confident I wouldn't run into another deluge for a while, took off the rainsuit, to give my Aerostich a chance to dry out as I rode.

Not much sightseeing under these conditions, and it's with mixed emotions that I passed many historic places without stopping: Lincoln's birthplace, the Shiloh battlefield, Nashville, the Natchez Trace Parkway, Lexington, Fort Knox, the Loretta Lynn Kitchen and Dude Ranch! There is so much here!

Reaching the Memphis suburbs, I was eager to check into a motel and have a look at The Weather Channel to see what I had just been through and what the forecast would be for the ride ahead.

For days now, I've just been moving, with little social contact. Spoke to few people in West Virginia, fewer in Virginia. Mainly service people.

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