Today was to be about 90 miles from Hutchinson to Northfield, MN. The forecast was for two rounds of severe weather, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. High winds, hail, up to two inches of rain, and possible tornadoes were included.
We had a briefing Friday night to talk about what to do in case of bad weather. At 4:25 AM I awoke to the sound of raindrops. I checked the forecast and it called for rain from 5-6. I didn’t want to pack up in the rain, so I pulled up the tent stakes and dragged the tent under an overhang. There were no more raindrops and by then I decided to get up anyway.
We had a great church breakfast with pancakes and hit the road. After 30 miles we stopped for coffee and pastries. The sky was darkening behind us. There was a headwind from the southeast, due to the wind circling the low pressure system to the west. The dark was chasing us. When the wind subsided, I figured the storm was catching up, so I sped up and got back into headwinds. I decided a headwind was a good thing today despite my usual strong aversion to headwinds.
I began chasing the light sky in front of me while the dark sky chased from behind. Thunder rumbled in the distance at picnic. I did not linger. There were still nearly 45 miles to go.
Lightning struck very close by, but only once. I continued to chase the light. I lost the official route, but knew that highway 19 would take me all the way to Northfield. The only disadvantage would be that I would miss the last water stop (I had plenty) and there would be no sag or mechanic service available until I got back on the route.
It got darker. The wind got stronger. It began to rain. It was still hot, so I decided the ventilation was more important than a rain jacket and kept riding. It got darker. My headlight battery died. It was a light to be seen, not to see with. It got dark enough to need a light to see with.
The rain came harder and I stopped to put on a rain jacket. I also scarfed a bar, figuring I needed all the calories I could stuff into me for the final push. I figure that when 80% of the ride is behind me, I’ve got it made. Just past that point, the crosswind became too strong to ride safely. I feared I would be pushed into traffic. I got off and walked. A few more seconds and it was no longer safe to walk. Another few seconds and I could no longer stand. I crouched at the roadside and the wind picked up my bike. I was holding it by the top tube and it was standing out horizontally away from me at shoulder height, wheels toward the highway. If I let go, it would fly away. I would likely not see it again. I held on and got as low as possible to try to keep myself from becoming airborne along with the bike.
An SUV going the other direction stopped and called to me. I assumed she was offering a ride but I could hear nothing. The tailgate opened. I could not move for fear of becoming airborne, so I remained crouched at the side of the road. The tailgate closed but the SUV remained where it was.
When the wind let up enough that I could dash across the highway, low to the ground, the SUV opened again. I stuffed the bike in the back, closed the door, and climbed in. The driver explained that she had closed the door because she feared it would be ripped from the back of the vehicle.
She said she had just taken her daughter to a friend’s house and her daughter wanted her to pick me up. She didn’t, but then came back for me.
I had completed 73 of 90 miles. She asked if she should drop me at a store in the next town or take me to my destination. I told her where I was headed and that I would accept whatever she offered. She took me to St Olaf and I had a short ride on campus to my dorm.
Now we wait for everyone else to make it in and be sure we all survived.