“Road construction next 28 miles”. I wondered was that even possible? “Lanes Narrow”. Okay, well I’m on a bike so that’s not too big of an issue as long as those semi’s stay in their lane. “Heavy grooves” That could be an issue. “Loose Gravel” Now we have problems.
But let me rewind, I had been staring at weather forecasts between New Orleans and Galveston for the past ten days nervous of whats to come. The transition from winter to spring is always fraught with inclement weather that can change at a moments notice. As I was awaiting my flight at the Minneapolis/St Paul airport, the forecast reminded me of just that. Thunderstorms, rain and high winds plagued the forecast with pockets of sun and calm. I had been riding around the US for five years now and never gotten caught in bad weather but my luck was about to run out.
The original route was 374 miles from the French Quarter in New Orleans to Galveston along I-10 for a total of six hours and twenty five minutes. I knew that with weather stops it would take much longer. Normally, I prefer to stay off main freeways as much as possible as they tend to look the same, with the same gas stations that have the same chain fast food but considering the weather and distance to travel, I opted to take the freeway. The evening prior to the ride I was imbibing at a local watering hole off St. Peter Street and was warned by a New Orleans local that Baton Rouge traffic was terrible and if I could, get off I-10 at Hwy 30 before Baton Rouge and I could hop the river on the Plaquemine Ferry for one dollar. It would only add a small amount of time to the trip, stay out of traffic and I had never taken a bike on a ferry before. Seeing that bad weather was pushed back a day, I was all about this.
Heading out of New Orleans, I-10 heads along the edge of Lake Pontchartrain and then turns over bayou giving you that real southern swap feel. Just as I was settling into the ride I saw a back up in the distance and signs stating “I-10 Closed – Use Alternative Route”. Unbeknownst to me, these orange road work signs were about to become the theme of the ride. This closure pushed me on to LA-22 which, thanks to the number one tool a biker carries with them in the 21st century, their smart phone with maps, I was able to connect with LA-75 which led me to the Plaquemine ferry with no problems. The ferry takes about 10 minutes to cross the river and is a great change of pace. A pretty unique experience sitting on a Harley on a boat watching tug boats and oil tankers all around you. Getting off on the other side of the river in Plaquemine, it’s a straight shot up LA-1 back to I-10.
From there, all one hundred and eighty some odd miles to Beaumont Texas it was on and off road construction. Everything from gravel, to no shoulder, narrow lanes, heavy grooves causing the front wheel to follow them, patchy bumps, lips, and of course down to two lanes from three that pushed all the semis into the right hand lane. The Heritage Classic was surprisingly nimble for a bike of its size and managed to navigate around all of it. After getting through the miles of construction on I-10, it was easy getting into Houston. I took TX-146 down to Nasa Rd 1 and popped over through Clear Lake to swing by Johnson Space Center for a quick photo op before tucking in for the night and giving the bike a tap for keeping it rubber side down.
Waking up the next morning, the first thing was check the weather. Luckily the storms held off enough to get from New Orleans into Texas but that was about the only favor it would do to me. The forecast stated heavy rain and thunderstorms were coming in early afternoon which gave me just enough time to get down to Galveston, ride up and down the seawall, take a quick zip down the Strand Historic District, skip lunch and jam back to Clear Lake where I was staying. The city of Galveston has done a great job preserving the history and architecture to give it an old town by the sea feel. At the end of 25th Street is the seawall and the Pier which is the epicenter of the beach life in Galveston. Surrounded by tons of bars and restaurants, one could spend days there parking the bike to soak up the sun during the day before heading to the Strand Historic District for the evening. However the weather had other plans and watching the clouds over land grow darker and darker I was already pushing my luck. Hopping on I-45, I barely made it back to the mainland before the storm hit and I was forced to pull over, don the rain suit and continue at much slower speeds. Eventually I made it back to Clear Lake, parked the bike, dried off all my gear and got everything ready for the long trip back to New Orleans the next morning.
I awoke the next day to only a 30% chance of rain but temps in the forties and gusting winds at thirty miles per hour. I had stuffed a thermal layer, a long sleeve top, a fleece, my leather jacket, and a rain suit into my saddlebag for this exact moment. I was also wearing the new Giddens boot from Harley Davidson Footwear that features a waterproof full grain leather upper and an inside zipper with velcro closure to keep all the wind out and the warmth in.
It was going to be the most mentally challenging ride of my life thus far battling the wind, cold, construction, and distance. I set up the camera and started off from Clear Lake but quickly realized the wind was too strong between the gusts and the travel speed of the bike for my mount which kept getting blown back. Rather than add another thing to manage and think about, I put the camera away and focused on staying alert and warm.
The trip back turned out to be fairly uneventful in the best way possible. There was minimal traffic and I stopped at truck stops every hour for a twenty minute break to warm up and refocus. I like to drink a lot of water when I ride to stay hydrated but obviously cold water in cold weather isn’t the best idea. At truck stops they usually have a hot water tap out the side of the coffee maker that you can warm up with as well as staying hydrated.
The return trip took over nine hours overall. It was the kind of ride that really reminds you that motorcycling is a way of life, and one that you love to keep living. Growing up I always heard “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance” and thats exactly what is needed when riding in less than perfect weather. Don’t cheap out on gear. Don’t skimp on layers. Push your limits when you are on roads you know at home so when you encounter long, windy, cold, unfamiliar rides, you know what your skills are and can ride within your limits in any situation. Its cliche to say this but we never know whats around the next corner. So until next time, ride safe, wrench safe, and we’ll see you on the road.