Evel Knievel Ride Day 1: A Close Call

A few miles outside of Glendive, Montana, I raced west on Interstate 94 trying to outrun a thunderstorm coming from the north. A cold, gusty, wind pushed from the right, but the bike handled it just fine. The storm had changed direction and moved out ahead me as I rode on.

Suddenly, a sharp wind gust pushed me into the left lane. With no traffic around, I simply steered back to the right side of the road. Then a "sledgehammer" gust slammed me from the right and the bike swerved sharply to the left. There was no correcting this time, I was being blown off the road. What happened next seemed in slow motion.

The bike leaned sharply toward the wind and I knew it would dump on the loose gravel shoulder. To avoid this, I steered sharply to the left, straightened up the bike and rode it off the pavement and into the median at over 60mph. As the front wheel dropped off the pavement I had two very clear thoughts. The first was "This is it, I'm going to die right here."  Then, as I plowed down into the deep grass between the east and west lanes of the interstate, I thought, "Dump it here."

But, instead of dumping, I hit the brakes. The back wheel locked and fish tailed slightly, but was very controlled. I was on the front brake, but did not lock it. As I crossed the median, my eyes were glued on two semi trucks barreling side-by-side toward me on the east side of the interstate. They were gonna smear me all over the road.

Then suddenly, the front tire slammed into the raised edge of the east side pavement and the bike jolted to a stop. Two seconds later the trucks blasted past me. I had both feet down, the bike was upright, and I was still alive. Suddenly, my heart felt like it would pound out of my chest and I was breathing very hard. I slowly released the front brake and turned the key off. I don't know how long I sat there waiting to calm down, but several cars passed before I turned the bike around, restarted it and rode back on to the west side of the interstate. I needed to move before the worst of the storm hit.

An overpass was about a quarter mile away and I slowly nursed the KLR under it and off of the highway. Just beyond my shelter, white flower petals were blowing across the road. How strange - then I realized it was hail blowing sideways in the wind. I killed the bike and sat next to a support pillar under the bridge to avoid the blasting wind, rain, and hail.

An hour passed before the storm blew over and I was ready to ride again. Maybe I was in shock from my close call, but the remaining ride to Miles City seems like a dream. I rode slowly with no other traffic around and it was nearly dark when I reached town.

In McDonalds parking lot, an older man approached from the restaurant patio and stuck out his hand, "I am a Gold Wing rider," he said as an introduction, "you're getting in late, aren't you?" I shook his hand and told him about my close call. "You are lucky to be here telling about it." he said. I agreed.

He (I never got his name) told me another severe thunderstorm with high winds and large hail was expected to hit Miles City very shortly - not what I wanted to hear, I planned to tent camp that night. Instead, I checked into the Econolodge and found shelter for the bike before the powerful thunderstorm slammed Miles City with strong winds, pouring rain, and pea sized hail. By 1am the night sky was clear and I was ready for some sleep. This had been a memorable first day on the road. Tomorrow I would head on to Butte.