When hell freezes over...

by Donna
(Springfield Mass USA)

My most memorable experience riding 2Up is about 15 years ago we and a couple friends were hanging out in Chicopee and suddenly decided to head to New York on the spur of the moment. My best friend had a Goldwing 750cc she absolutely loved and would ride anywhere, anytime, any weather on that bike. She and I rode together for years - me as the passenger - because until last year I had never had the courage to learn to ride. I learned how to ride 2Up from her and as a result we had great trust in one another.

So, even though it was late in the season I felt comfortable with the ride ahead. The weather seemed ok when we left - but the decision was so split-second that we hadn't grabbed a backpack and packed anything to change into if things changed...just took off in the clothes that we were wearing: jeans, long-sleeved tee shirts and lightweight windbreakers. Everything we had was on us.

About 1/2 hour into the ride, the highway traffic was pretty light so we were making good time, when all of a sudden it started to get dark and colder. Before we knew it there were a few drops of rain, and then all heck broke loose. I had never ridden in the rain and never ridden in the rain at highway speed. Not only was the experience frightening - it hurt like heck! Both of us had 3 quarter open face helmets and were wearing sunglasses. There was nothing for protection on the bike - no windshield or anything - and every raindrop on the face felt like a nick from a razor blade. We pulled over under an underpass when we finally came to one, and we were soaked and shivering. Although the rain had let up a little bit, it had gotten even more colder and it was getting darker. Our friends had given us the directions and then had taken off at their own speed. We had lost sight of them within the first 10 minutes.

The two of us decided to get back on the road and try to get to our destination as quickly as possible. We were miserable and had nothing to change into - no gloves either. I took off my socks and put them on my hands, but my friend could put nothing on her hands because she'd not be able to properly control the bike.

We headed off and spent the next two hours hunched together as a single, cold, wet miserable unit being pinged and stung by thousands of tiny needles of ice-cold rain spray. I can't tell you to this day how we made it through. I will never forget how it felt to be exposed to the painful wind and pelting rain - and how amazed I was that my friend...with no gloves or face shield (and no one in front of her to hide behind!!) could maintain excellent control of the bike despite what had to be excruciating pain. The only small measure of relief she could get was to tuck her left hand in her windbreaker every few minutes in a valiant but altogether useless effort to restore some feeling to it. Her right hand had no choice but to stay exposed and curled around the throttle, and her face was exposed to the full force of the wind and rain. As bad as it was, as we got to the outer edges of New York City it actually started sleeting. The rain was tiny balls of ice that felt like they were drawing blood with every hit. We had been in hell before - and now hell had just frozen over.

We were soaked through, freezing, and locked in place on that bike. In my head I swore over and over that if we made it safety to the house that I would never, ever, ever make a trip like this again - on the fly, unprepared for changing weather - and I was near to swearing never to get on the back of a bike again - PERIOD.

Well we made it to the house after an eternity. The apartment had a small parking area in the back and we found enough room to slush our way to a stop. The most agonizing, and yet rewarding moment was when my friend set her feet on the ground, and somehow I managed to move my frozen, sodden legs over and off the back of the bike and get off. Then she set the kickstand, leaned the bike into it, and turned off the key. Her hands were so stiff from the cold that she couldn't unbend her right fingers or bend the left ones and twice she dropped the keys. Her face was cherry red with white spots from the painful beating it had taken over the 3 hour ride from hell. Slowly and gingerly she too managed to unwind herself from the bike.

We made our way to the apartment, and within a few hours after long hot showers, food and rest we were fine. The next day was beautiful - we had a great time in the City and a fantastic and uneventful ride home. We didn't suffer any long-term damage from the experience (except for having to put up with laughter and ribbing from our friends).

As it turns out, that was our last big ride together. A few times a year we'd find time to go for a short ride, but eventually our group drifted apart as we started our families. Time passed - and then a few years ago my friend unexpectedly and suddenly passed away. I had lost touch with her and hadn't ridden in years, but I was happy to find out from her family that she had never lost her love for riding. She had even upgraded to a newer Honda (and to one that had saddlebags!!)

I have always remembered that night with both a sense of wonder that we made it through unscathed and with the deepest sense of respect for the skill and strength that my friend had that got us through. I shared the story with her family, and they told me that she had told and retold the story many times - both for humor and as a lesson learned.

I never rode 2Up with anyone else, and after I stopped riding with my friend I stopped riding motorcycles at all for many years. But I had always dreamed of one day having my own motorcycle, a Harley, and having the courage to ride.

Last year I finally did it. I took the Pioneer Valley Riders course and got my license - and then my beautiful bike a brand new FXD Dyna. I think all bikes are beautiful actually - but this one spoke to me the second I sat down. I know you know what I mean.

Now that I'm the rider and not the passenger, I have even more respect for the incredible challenge my friend faced getting us safely to our destination after we made such a poor choice. Because of that experience I put a lot of thought into my rides and try to prepare for the most likely contingency. I will never forget that experience. Although I hope I'll never end up in the same situation, I don't regret the experience.

And today, when I ride, I feel like my friend is with me - and if the weather changes unexpectedly again... it'll be OK.

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