Tightening down the nylon straps of my ruck sack, I ran through a mental checklist for the weekend; my wife had invited me to her Marine Corps Birthday Ball in Virginia. I accepted. Of course I accepted; I’m the type of nit wit to commit myself to things without a plan or any sort of idea how I might accomplish what I’ve just gotten myself into.
Okay it’s not that big of a deal; just about every Marine does this each year anyways. The situation was Meryl is 400 miles North, and I don’t have a car…just a sweet Harley, and it was winter…and I needed a way of transporting my dress blue uniform without wadding it into a ball and stuffing it into my ruck sack (which would then get strapped down on the back of my bike). This is going to be harder than I thought.
So I got to work. After doing some planning and talking to others I formulated a plan to have my uniform transported (my buddy could take it up and down but would be staying longer than I could so he couldn’t take me back to North Carolina) as well as getting all of my things packed and ready to go.
After doing some last second gear checks I grabbed my helmet and ran out the door to my bike. (Running everywhere is just a quirky little habit I’ve gotten myself into, sometimes it can be socially awkward, or perhaps people must think I’m late all the time.) I ride a blacked-out 2011 Harley 883 Iron, it’s a cool bike, but not exactly a first pick for long road trips.
Packed and Ready to Roll
The trip started off fine, I had realized that I forgot my North Face fleece that I planned to wear under my leather jacket when the sun went down and it got substantially colder out. It’s funny how you magically remember everything you forgot as soon as you hit the road. I didn’t even consider spending the extra 15 minutes to turn around and grab it…nobody has time for that.
Based off my previous two trips to Virginia I was expecting to take anywhere from seven to eight hours to make the journey. Because of my gas tank limiting me to 110 mile segments, I have to stop at least three times to fill up every trip, both ways. Leaving at 2 pm this meant I could expect to arrive at about 9 or 10 pm.
The sun quickly went down. As you could expect, the time of year getting close to mid-November the days are pretty short. Soon I found myself riding in the darkness…soon the night air was soaking the warmth out of my body. I had stopped at a Shell station to top-off my bike, give Meryl a call, and dig a hoodie and long underwear out of my ruck. After changing behind the gas station and finishing my cup of ashtray-flavored “house blend” coffee I fired up my bike and took off again.
I don’t know if it was because I was riding North, the hour growing later, or a combination of the both, but I was frozen. It would take me longer and longer to switch from throttle to brake as my hands got colder and colder. It didn’t help that I was wearing mesh-like Mechanix gloves designed for increased dexterity handling firearms. These gloves did nothing against the 80 mph wind chill slamming into my fingers. Especially my poor right hand that, because of it’s duty as the throttle hand, could never get a break from the wind. (I did ride a while using my left hand on the throttle and my right hand behind my back…this was a really stupid idea not only for all of the obvious reasons, but it also completely reverses the handling of the bike. Imagine driving a car and every time you try turning left, the car jumps right etc…)
My bike kindly reminded me that it required a re-fueling by displaying a glowing orange fuel pump symbol beneath the speedometer. I’ve never found out exactly how far I could push my luck with this warning before I’d find myself pushing my bike. After another five miles I stopped at another Shell station to juice up and rethink my strategy.
There’s no way I was going to make it, not like this. I was less than halfway and had already lost almost all feeling in my right hand as well as developing uncontrollable shivering in the rest of my body; it’s not the cold that sucks, it’s when warmth returns to your limbs and the nerves rebel from maltreatment. I walked in the store and felt a hot prickly sensation as warmth slowly returned to my hand.
Walking to the aisle of cheaply-made, over-priced tools and home-repair consumables I found exactly what I needed. For $5.00 I walked out with another small cup of horrible coffee, 10 large extra-thick lawn & garden trash bags, and a roll duct tape made in China. No matter how crappy duct tape is, it will never fail to stick to everything, stick everything together, and leave a sticky residue when removed. I chose the trash bags due to some unfortunate past experiences that exposed me to the potential warmth and insulation a bag or two could provide.
Already behind schedule, I quickly got to work duct-taping black trash bags all over my body. I started with my legs, first sealing off the potential airway from my boots to my pants then my torso as I put several layers of bags (with head and arm holes) over my chest and taped them to my trash bag pants. I soon had my entire body covered in at least three layers of trash bags and lots of duct tape. For some areas I created extra layers of duct tape to lock in additional warmth. I was satisfied with my new suit of armor.
Despite the questionable first-impression of the area, I was fully conscious of the fact that I was the only one at the gas station duct-taping trash bags all over my body. I had even took the time to wrap my gloved hands up like a cage fighter sponsored by 3M. Ridiculous. I lost a great deal of dexterity in my hands but didn’t have a problem operating the controls of my bike. (Later I had wrapped grocery bags around my hands to create plastic wind-proof mittens.)
There’s a certain satisfaction you get from overcoming adversity with improvisation. It worked great until I had to pee. For the last 20 or 30 miles I had been trying to convince my bladder it wasn’t so bad, but it was one of the “I gotta go’s” that you just don’t hold off with mental fortitude. It was more of a, “…omg that coffee, but so glad I don’t have to go number two…” types of “I gotta go’s”. Seeing that the next exit was 25 miles away, I made my move. After passing a bridge, I pulled off to the side of highway. Leaving my bike running with the flashers on so an unsuspecting car wouldn’t plow into it, I ran off into the trees. Shamelessly, I only went about a foot inside the tree line, but I had a problem.
There was four layers of trash bags and two layers of duct tape covering the one part of my body I desperately needed access to. Naturally, I reached for my knife and…it was covered too. Fortunately there was only plastic covering my right thigh where the knife was at. With my claw-like, duct-taped, frozen hands I ripped at the plastic covering the knife. After I got it free, I opened the blade and went to work on my crotch being careful not to cut into my pants…or anything else for that matter.
Mission accomplished, I emerged from the forest and got back on my bike. It was a relief to see that a state trooper didn’t decide to investigate my abandoned motorcycle on the side of the road. I really wasn’t in the mood for explaining things right now…nor would I expect anyone to take me seriously wearing a now “crotch-less” garbage bag suit.
I made it safely to Virginia and spent half an hour cutting bags and tape off my body. Since then I have used leather chaps and snowboarding mittens in place of bags and tape for a more “socially acceptable” riding experience. However, if it ever comes down to it, I will proudly don another suit of trash bag armor.
2011 HD 883 IRON
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