The old saying goes; to be older and wiser, you must first be young and stupid. This is the story of my life. I’m older, but still waiting to be wiser.
While everyone has a story of the dumbest thing they have done, I have a book. Hopefully the point of this and other tales I share here, will not only be to entertain, but on a certain level, make you feel better about stupid things you have done.
This is a tale of 20 year-old W. Christian Ward stationed at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi two weeks after basic training. Behavior during technical training is slightly less regimented. Freedoms were granted in a phased system. Characteristically, I broke all of them. Travel was limited to a radius of 30 miles, so naturally the first weekend I was allowed off base, I went to Atlanta to get my 250 Ninja.
A challenge of my youth is a lack of foresight. I knew was it was spring, I was near a beach and I wanted my motorcycle. Saturday I hopped a plane, Sunday I packed some civilian clothes, strapped the bags to the bike and left early in the afternoon. I had afforded eight hours for the 400 mile ride over mostly interstate, curfew was 10 PM.
I should have checked the weather, especially springtime in the south.
Hide from the hurricane? Sure. Tornadoes..meh
10 miles outside of Atlanta, the rain started. I thought it would stop, but I had painted myself into a corner; a dark, stormy, tornado-spawning corner. I knew I was in real trouble when the semi-trucks started pulling over. I distinctly remember the sight of my front tire in 6 inches of water while I limped along in 1st gear. Within the hour I was soaked to my undies. On an overpass outside of Montgomery, a gust of wind moved my bike from the right lane to the left. Around 5:30, my water resistant Timex stopped working.
Side-bar, a 1989 Ninja 250R holds about 4.5 gallons and has a range of around 220 miles without 20 mph head wind. This trip should take at most, two gas stops. With that information, imagine being surrounded by the sound of pouring water, moisture all around you. Add a constant buzzing between your legs and being bumped on a tiny bike with overloaded suspension. Not enough yet? It was cold. Yeah, I made a lot of stops.
Around 7:30, it let up. I’m guessing about the time, my watch was still kaput. I leaned into the throttle to cover some distance. When I hit the outskirts of Mobile it finally stopped raining. West of the city, my watch recovered, it was 9:05. I had to be in Biloxi by 10:00 or my shenanigans would come to light, and my fledgling military career would be kneecapped before it started. It was just over 60 miles.
I-10 on the gulf is characterized by tall bridges to accommodate shipping. The top expanses are metal one-inch squares of re-enforced jagged grate. They offer no traction and they were still wet. This would have been wonderful information to have before I passed that Greyhound bus close to the state line. Approaching the peak of the bridge, I was on the bike hard. The rear tire hit the grate under load and immediately stepped out. I over-corrected and entered a “tank slapper.”
I would love to tell you my skill, ability and cat-like reflexes saved me, but that would make me a liar.
No, I stared straight into the abyss and the Grim Reaper had pity; I was simply too stupid to perish right then.
I stopped at the Mississippi Welcome Center until the urge to vomit subsided.
The Ninja parked in front of my squadron at 10:05. I tried to get off the bike, but couldn’t walk. I had been shivering for hours and my legs had cramped on the tank. I hobbled across the courtyard to the Charge of Quarters, signed in and begged her not to report me. Perhaps it was my plea, my bloodshot eyes, or the puddle forming under me (after the bridge, probably mostly rainwater); but she permitted me to slip in unreported.
Those grates are now filled with asphalt, but I avoid them like the plague. I now dress properly for a ride, and have a gear fetish. Eventually I would learn to pad my travel times and check the weather. I am a dedicated rider and don’t mind getting wet, but my equipment is better.
I also know when to drive.
Oh yeah, I had a car, but chose my bike. I got the car later…but that is another story.
W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is a graduate of Panoz Racing School, loves cartoons and once exceeded the speed of sound. Married to the most patient woman in the world; he has three dogs, five motorcycles and still rides every chance he gets.