As I sped northwest across Highway 16 just west of Minnedosa, my rear view mirrors were still reflecting clear blue skies behind me. I was riding my 750 Shadow from Toronto to Tofino, all the way to Vancouver Island’s west coast, and had just left Winnipeg a few hours ago. As I hummed along, my legs stretched out over the gleaming red cruiser’s highway bars, I felt quite proud of myself. I could write about this trip one day…a fifty-seven year old woman having a real adventure on a motorcycle…make a good story for my grandchildren when I had some.
The humid July air was sweet with the fragrance of prairie grass, and the sun was warm enough to have my jacket collar open, but on the horizon the sky had begun to darken.
White silos glowed as the sky darkened to indigo. A sea of fluorescent yellow canola flattened beneath the rising wind. I kept riding, hoping to find shelter. The distance between the ominous clouds and me, closed quickly though and just as I thought about stopping to at least put on my rain suit, I was out of time. A grey curtain the width of the Manitoba sky swept toward me and within a few minutes black clouds roiled overhead.
The churning clouds swirled with mustard, olive and black, as though a giant hand was stirring a pot of bilious gas. Headlights glowed on a huge white transport truck as it inched towards me out of the storm. Its hazard lights were flashing.
The wind and rain hit me hard and fast.
I stopped on the shoulder and tried to lower the bike’s kickstand. Boots planted firmly in the gravel, my arms and legs trembling, I struggled to hold up the three hundred kilogram machine as the careening wind forced my helmeted head painfully, helplessly from side to side. Stinging ice pellets beat against my bare throat and pinged off my visor and gas tank. A splintering flash of lightning split the sky and the thunder that followed shook me to my core. There was nowhere to hide, not even a ditch. I had to get off the bike and lie flat on the ground to avoid the lightning, but I could not move. The bike and I began to fall when someone grabbed me from behind, lowered the bike to the ground and shouted over the wind’s roar, “Leave it! Come on!”
It was the transport driver. He ran with me to his truck just as another bolt of lightning sheared the sky.
The storm passed as quickly as it had arrived and sitting in the cab of the truck I watched the skies clear to a pale blue. The trucker, also a motorcyclist, had understood the danger I was in and pulled his truck to the shoulder then run back to help me. He stood my bike up for me and wishing me a safe dry trip, resumed his journey east toward Winnipeg. I tightened my luggage, dried off the seat and continued west.
A few hours down the road, in a tiny motel diner, I devoured a huge plate of meat loaf and mashed potatoes and watched the news. A tornado had touched down only 45 km from where I’d been in the storm. Resolving to pay closer attention to weather reports, I pulled out my map and traced a line up the Yellowhead highway, north to Saskatoon, and marked it with an X. It was about 600 km. I hadn’t gone as far as I’d planned today but I was exhausted and needed sleep. I would make up some time tomorrow; the forecaster promised clear skies for the next few days.