I should have terrified, but I felt nothing. Even though I was just a few feet from the oncoming car, barreling towards a head-on collision at 80 mph, my emotions never kicked in.
That morning, filled with anticipation for a beautiful day's ride, we pulled out of Dodge City, KS. The sun was shining, there was a slight breeze and the locals seemed unhurried as they went about their day this Saturday morning. We headed south on US 283 towards Minneola on our way to Meade, KS.
The ride was spectacular in it's modesty. Sorrowful, abandoned farmhouses and barren, open farmland lay all around with fields of past crops dry from the relentless prairie winds. As soon as our tires grabbed the blacktop of US283 the winds picked up. We drove headlong into it as it blew northward into our visors. It was hard to judge how hard the wind was blowing towards us, but I determined it must have been rather strong as I had Katie Scarlet at full throttle at only 70 mph. If I lay on the tank I gained a little speed, but she was pouring her all into the great resistance.
Hitting Minneola KS, we turned onto US 54 behind a couple of semis heading west towards Meade. The short jaunt of 20 miles turned into a rougher ride as the headwind we had been riding into was now blowing across us. Following Highway, I watched his motorcycle Blackbird tilt sideways as he plowed ahead. Leaning into the unforgiving Kansas prairie gusts, I focused on my husband and relaxed my shoulders. I've learned that I hold the handlebars too tightly when the wind blows and I wear myself out quickly. Relaxing my upper body and resting on the tank and handlebars, I was able to control Katie without clenching the bars.
The oncoming semis tossed us about with a down draft as they passed. I always could tell when one was coming as Highway would move to the outside of the lane to get his distance from them. We tooled along behind the two semis heading west for about 5 miles, plodding along at 50 mph. Finally, I realized Highway was planning to pass when he stopped moving away from the broken yellow lines with the onslaught of passing semis. He hugged the line, waiting for our chance.
I pulled Katie up tight behind him so he would know I was ready. He peered around the two westbound semis until he saw the right opening. For a moment I wondered if I could get enough speed out of Katie to get past them. Then Highway pulled away to pass.
I swung into the open eastbound lane behind Highway and Blackbird, pulling Katie's throttle all the way back. I lay on the tank to gain speed, but unlike the dozens of other times we've passed these monsters, she seemed lackluster in her attempt. Highway pulled far and away from me, passing with little effort.
Nearly passed the first semi.
There lay no space between them, so I must pass both.
The second semi tapped his brake lights.
The broken yellow line turned solid.
Pulling the throttle, moving it nowhere, as it was already maxxed.
Katie's heart pumped with all she had; mine stood still.
Headlights were coming towards me in the same lane.
"C'MON KATE!! C'MON KATIE GIRL!!! C'MON HONEY!! WE CAN DO THIS!!!" I screamed.
Pressing my chest upon the tank, I glared at the oncoming sedan just over the windshield.
The gap began to close between the front of the semi and the oncoming car.
I'm so close to the oncoming sedan I see the driver's shocked expression.
I slip into the gap, into the westbound lane, ahead of the semi.
Highway gave me a thumbs up.
I had made it, barely.
I didn't want to cut the semi off, as I knew he was doing his best to let me around, but with the other semi hugging his ass, he was limited in what he could do. When Highway had pulled into the lane to pass we could see for a mile, easily, and saw no oncoming vehicles. As Katie struggled in the wind to pass the two trucks, passing took much longer and much more effort than expected.
It never occurred to me to be frightened until after it happened. I was entirely intellectual, gauging the distance, looking for an escape, deciding moment to moment how to proceed. There seemed to be just enough room to share the lane with the oncoming car, if need be, for only a split second. This was not my first choice, but a last resort. It wasn't until we rolled into Meade, 12 miles later, that I wondered if Highway was scared.
A calm rolled over me as we drifted into the sleepy town of Meade around noon. I didn't feel proud of myself, nor brave, nor stupid. I rode my best, given the circumstances. I learned a lesson, as I seem to do each day we ride. I hadn't chosen to be reckless, quite the contrary. We had waited for a good opportunity, a clear path. My mistake was overestimating Katie's ability.
Delivered by chance, or fate, or luck, or providence, I breathed a sigh of relief. Next time I would know. I'm just grateful there's a next time.