Severe Thunderstorms and Tornadoes: Day 40

It was time to make a choice. Outrun the storm coming my way with a tornado watch in effect or take refuge in the barn that lay in front of me…

05/29 (Day 40)

The severe thunderstorms that were predicted to slam my tent with rain and hail during the night never came. When I awoke at 6:00 I was surprised that I hadn’t been awoken during the night to a good pummeling by Mother Nature. Still tired I was glad to be up early to go online and catch my story on the news. First I checked my phone though and had already gotten a text from Alissa saying that the SD card had malfunctioned and nothing was recorded. No big deal though because she said she’d drive over to Hastings to do the piece again. I was glad she was coming to reshoot because I think it will be an interesting piece for the people here in Nebraska. I don’t think they get overly exposed to content about making the earth a happier healthier place.

The city park was such a pleasant place to spend the morning. I had set up my tent right next to the kiddy pool, which wasn’t filled the for the season yet, but did however fill with some water from the morning rain and made for a good spot to wash off. I packed up and Alissa was at my camp before 9:00 to redo the piece. It went better then the first time and it was a good excuse to see her again. She’s really pretty. She brought a big smile to my face this morning.

Brent was in the McDonalds across the street so I went over there to join him and I connected to the free wifi. Here I learned that some serious storms were in the forecast for the area but I could also see them through the shiny windows. I stayed tight plugging away at my Gmail inbox and was happy I did when the Nebraska sky dumped an Olympic swimming pool worth of water onto Hastings. I would not have wanted to be out biking in that. I checked the weather often in between emails and although it was calling for more severe storms later in the day I decided to hit the road. For the most part it looked like I would be safe until late afternoon but tornadoes were looking like a possibility.

Off I went into the east and the southern winds had returned. The twenty mph steady winds at my side did not push me backwards but they did still take a toll on my fatigued legs. The last two days of intense pedaling has got these bad boys a little worn out. I pushed on and for the first ten miles saw no immediate signs of inclement weather. As I passed by all the freshly planted cornfields it began to sprinkle on me. The rains picked up a bit at mile twenty and the skies to the south and west were holding some heavy gray clouds. I wasn’t worried and continued on until the rain was coming down just hard enough to force me to tighten up my gear to keep it dry. At this point as I stood under the shelter of a pine tree I stepped out into the road where I had a clear view of the storm coming my way. It was a big one and I the weather app on my phone confirmed it was coming straight for me. Lighting lit up the sky and it was time to make a choice.

A home with a barn sat in front of me and I could either ask to take refuge within or race on eastwards to outrun the storm. The next town, Sutton, was 10 miles ahead and the radar made it appear as if this storm would not quite make it that far east. The heavy part of the storm was heading right at me but in a northern direction so I thought I could miss it if I scurried on east. Lighting and possible tornadoes worried me but my gut told me I could dodge the storm. I stepped towards the barn to take refuge and stopped and looked east. Again I stepped forward and stopped in my tracks and then again a third time. And then I decided, I’m going for it! I pedaled hard knowing that I only had ten miles to reach safety and I would likely be forced to call it a day there. The storm lurked behind me and I kept a close eye in every direction for lighting and tornadoes. Surely enough I was making miles in good time and the worst of the storm was still behind me. The edge caught up and I found myself in a downpour. That I could enjoy though. Some good pure rainwater will do the body good. On I pedaled through the rain sometimes just a drizzle and other times a drenching. My fatigued legs yearned for Sutton and I could see the water tower in the distance. Just a few miles to go…

The water tower grew closer and as I got to the edge of town I could see a gas station ahead. It looked like I made the right call. A car pulled over and the driver got out to take photos in my direction. I wondered if he thought a biker with a storm in the background was a good photo but when I turned around I realized what he wasn’t shooting me. He was shooting the tornado behind me! I approximated it was five miles to the west and along the path where I had just came from. I was in a safe spot and I stood there next to my bike and watched the twister travel north for a minute before sucking itself back into the clouds. It wasn’t large but it was the first tornado I’ve ever seen. I’d been hoping for the last month that I’d have a run in while I was in this region and here it was before me. I felt no danger where I stood and took the opportunity to soak in the storms brewing around me. This is the earth at it’s finest. I exposed myself to the elements and let the raw life soak into me.

Not wanting to let myself get stuck in the middle of the storm I pedaled the last half-mile into Sutton, population 1,500, and pulled up to the Subway restaurant at the gas station. Within minutes the skies opened up and hail the size of dimes and nickels came down at speeds around forty miles per hour. A few pieces ricocheted off the ground into my legs and one caught me in the ear as I stood under cover. Had I been out there exposed I would have certainly taken quite the beating. I imagine they would cause some pretty good bruises.

The forecast called for an evening of huge storms and all the locals coming through the gas station told me to stay off the road. I took there advice and sat there in the Subway letting the weather do it’s thing. I had been invited to call into the University of Arizona radio show Sex and Drugs and Stuff (www.kamp.arizona.edu) and spent some time chatting live on air with them in Arizona. We talked more about stuff than sex and drugs but there was a little of that in there too. I am 100% alcohol and drug free for the entire 103 days of this trip. That means not even a drop of beer. I also have been completely abstinent on this trip including with my own doings if you know what I mean. I am practicing self-control via restraining from sex, drugs, and alcohol (although I don’t do drugs in my home life anyway and I drink extremely moderately). I’ve always found myself to be much successful without these distractions in my life. Sex and alcohol both serve a great purpose and there is without a doubt a time and a place for both of them but I like to take breaks from both of them at times. I find it a very good practice of self control and delayed gratification and I found myself extremely productive during these times. (For my younger audience I’d like to share with you that I graduated from high school before having sex. I was 19 my first time and I encourage you to wait until you are emotionally ready and with a caring partner). 

Coincidentally Kris Moody the news editor for the Clay County News happened into the Subway and we spoke for close to an hour about my experiences so far on the trip and my time here in Nebraska and Kansas. He will be publishing an article in next weeks paper and online at The Clay County News. The paper goes out to the 2,500 residence of Clay County. The meeting brought me another fortune as he connected me with the pastor of a church down the street who opened the doors for me to stay the night safe from the storms. I wandered over there at 7:00 and had a very pleasant evening in the church filled with coffins. I guess they were running a side business out of there and it seemed to be quite lucrative judging by the price of the cradles for the dead. I found a comfy couch where I spent some time writing and finally made it an early night when my computer ran out of juice. With a short day of just thirty miles on the road plus going to sleep at 9:30 I expected to feel quite refreshed in the morning.

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This adventure is now a book! Dude Making a Difference is the exciting and inspirational story of my bike ride across the USA on a bamboo bike. Go to www.RobGreenfield.tv/Dude to get a copy or learn more about it. 100% of my proceeds are donated to environmental grassroots nonprofits!