A Ride In Shenandoah Valley Rain

by Robert Hunt Gallatin , TN

A few years ago, my bride Mickey and I decided to take a vacation from our Lakewood , Washington home and visit our family in the Nashville , Tennessee area.  At that time, I had owned my ’88 Cavalcade LX for a couple of years but hadn’t taken any really long rides on it.  To me, “really long” means multi-state, far enough to overnight in motels along the way.   So, I decided to put the Cavalcade in my utility trailer and tow it to Tennessee .  Once there, we’d have many opportunities for nice Middle-Tennessee wiggle roads to ride, I hoped.

While planning the trip, we also planned a little motorcycle trip.  We arranged with our friend Mike (from my military service days) to visit him at his Vincentown, NJ home.  We’d ride the Cavalcade up from Nashville .  Our longest ride before that had been in ’77 with our 700 CC Moto Guzzi Ambassador, pushing a side hack to Vancouver BC and back with our two boys in it.  Given a choice, I’ll never push a hack again, but that Jawa sidecar on that ‘Guzzi enabled us to see and enjoy a large part of the Pacific NW.

The trip from Lakewood to Nashville was uneventful. We made it in my normal 4 days from Lakewood to Little America, WY, Little America, WY to Denver (actually, Loveland). Loveland to Kansas City , and KC to Nashville .

Then the time came to ride up to Vincentown.   It took two days to ride.   The Cavalcade performed normally, which means it rode like a dream, smooth, powerful, getting about 42 MPG.  I did learn how rapidly it will accelerate two-up from 85 to 125 when passing.  So much power could be scary.  The bike did go through some oil though.  It had never used oil before but that day running a steady freeway speed (my memory says 85 on the cruise control but that seems a trifle fast to me today) about a quart of Castrol 20W40 per thousand miles went out the exhaust.  Since then, I’ve used various “motorcycle oils” and now it doesn’t use a drop.  Other than unexpected oil consumption, the trip was uneventful.   We rode through a little rain, just enough to break out the rain gear.  We arrived in Vincentown where we visited our friend until it was time to come home.  Saturday night, I watched the Weather Channel in anticipation of Sunday’s ride.

Late Saturday night I began feeling a compulsion to “get home”.  It’s a bad feeling. I’ve had its sort before and normally it’s not to be ignored.  Usually, it means there’s something wrong.  I used a lot of cell phone time calling everyone I knew or cared about and all was well.  I made myself spend the night.  It’s stupid to start out on a long trip with no rest.

We left Vincentown , NJ Sunday morning at 7:00 AM .  We rode south, parallel with the NJ turn pike, West across Maryland , South across West Virginia . By the time we got well into Virginia , we could see a line of thunderstorms coming east toward us.  We’d seen this forecast on TV the night before and were expecting it.  Although we both were Middle Tennessee raised, we’d had been in the Pacific NW for over 30 years at that time and hadn’t really seen an Eastern style thunderstorm in all that time.  We had forgotten what they can be like.

We stopped, got on our rain gear, rubber boots, etc. and were ready when the rain began. I swear the rain drops were the size of quarters.  The Cavalcade windscreen has to have stopped a lot of it but did nothing to improve visibility.  Raindrops pretty nearly blinded me.   Spray from other vehicle tires didn’t help either.  I couldn’t see vehicles ahead of me, just their tail lights.  My front tire had a bow wave. I was afraid to slow down or even pull over to the shoulder because visibility was so poor that I was afraid we’d be hit by a car.   I was also afraid to go any faster because I was afraid of hydroplaning or running up on a car suddenly.  About all I could do was just ride steadily and take care not to do anything suddenly.  It was a bit like riding a flat, except I wasn’t slowing down.  My microphone got so wet Mickey and I could barely communicate.  Eventually, we came to a rest stop and got off the road.  We weren’t there 15 minutes before the rain stopped.

So, back on the road and there the traffic backed up and slowed down to a crawl.  Accident had happened on the other side of the highway.  It looked like a Toyota Camry (or similar size car) had apparently, hydroplaned and gone through the rose bushes in the median and into oncoming traffic backwards!  The back end was up against the front bumper of a big rig.  I didn’t see significant damage to the car so apparently the trucker saw it coming and was able to stop.  But the back door of the sedan was open and a child size figure was laying half in-half out of the car.  I didn’t want to see any more and we went on in the, now gentle rain.  All the while thinking that if we hadn’t gotten off the road when we did we’d have been just about there when that accident occurred.  We were grateful to those that watch over us.

We ran out of the rain not long after that and rode on into Nashville .   The only thing of interest that occurred is that as we passed Cookeville, TN on I-40 about 100 miles east of Nashville, I noticed that my vision was being forced down, down, down.  I couldn’t raise my head!  My helmet was being forced down! I yelled into the intercom, “MICKEY!” “WHA? WHAT?!”  She had gone to sleep and as her head went forward her helmet forced mine forward and my vision down.

I don’t know exactly how many miles it is from Vincentown , NY to Madison , TN , but we left Vincentown at 7 AM Eastern time and at 11:55 Central time we rolled the Cavalcade into my brother-in-law’s garage in Madison .


Lesson Learned:

Thunderstorms in the Shenandoah Valley are worth avoiding if at all possible.

Next day, we went to Cherokee NC.