Monday, June 24, 2013

Welcome to Tornado Alley...

Continued from my last blog post: It was a few miles after lunch and we were on the road about 25 miles out from our destination: Mendota, IL. We had just received word that a huge storm was rapidly approaching. We decided to try to make it to the water stop, about 7 miles away.

It didn’t take long for the skies to look extremely threatening. The winds were picking up even more, and in all directions in front of us, the sky was a very, very dark gray, with visible fuzzy patches where it was obviously pouring. Though it wasn’t raining on us yet, the storm seemed to be approaching so quickly that we decided to seek cover immediately.  There wasn’t much around in rural Illinois, and we didn’t want to be out on the road when the storm hit.

Pulling up to an old farm shop, we found that another group was stopped there as well. Yet another group had the same idea and joined us just about 5 minutes later. The farm shop seemed abandoned, and all the doors were locked, but there was a large area under a roof with a few picnic tables. We gathered underneath, filled our water bottles from a hose we found, and waited for the storm to hit. Nah let’s be real we were taking pictures the whole time.

When the storm hit, it was really scary. I don’t think I’ve ever been caught outside in a storm that bad before. The winds were ridiculous and actually blew a couple of bikes over. We raced around grabbing our bikes and belongings, and gathered in the part of the shelter that was most shielded from the wind and rain. There was a lot of lightning, and deafening thunder claps scarily close to us. There was nothing to do but wait!

High winds!!
Our shelter started to flood!
We kept a close eye on the weather forecast and the radar from our phones, and kept in contact with the other groups. One other group had taken shelter at a house, while another held up at a gas station. My group (now triple group) was the furthest out.

When the storm finally died down, the forecast was still all over the place and called for scattered T-storms for the rest of the evening. We wanted to get on the road before another one hit, but the scattered lightning we kept seeing kept us from getting back on our bikes. We aren’t supposed to bike in any lightning/thunder, and are supposed to wait 15 minutes from the last thunderclap before riding. But we were so close to the host (yes 20 miles is close in 4K proportions) and really wanted to make it in.

We attempted to get on the road twice, and both times we were met by a huge lightning strike right above our heads that sent us running back to the shelter. Finally it was clear that the lightning was not going to stop, so we called the vans to come pick us up. While we were waiting, we hadn’t heard nearby thunder in 10 or so minutes so we decided to see how far we could get before meeting up with the vans. We got back on the road.

Being on the road was scary. First, the road was slick, and it was pretty dark due to the heavy cloud cover. Everyone was riding really fast to try and get in as soon as possible. There was lightning in the distance, but it did seem like the storm had passed. That was until a huge lightning bolt ripped across the sky right above us. It scared half of us out of our wits. I held my breath for the next few minutes until we saw a beacon of hope up ahead: our vans!!

4 other riders and I tumbled into the vans, relieved. The rest decided to keep riding. I really wanted to finish the ride and was super bummed that I didn’t, but I was terrified out on the road with that lightning. Luckily, everyone that stayed on the road made it in perfectly safely.

Mendota, IL was a very small town with limited resources. We had a very hard time finding a host here because everyone said they didn’t have room for us. We ended up staying at the Mendota firehouse due to a connection one of our riders had with a firefighter elsewhere in Illinois. We had a unique dinner: Chinese buffet, all paid for by the fire chief! It was so generous of him to cover that for us and we all got to eat as much as we wanted.

Our sleeping neighbor

Always on the go? ...Pretty relevant
We had our first group shower experience (same gender), heard a train going by approximately every half hour during the night, and slept on a concrete floor. It was very different from our previous accommodations at UIC, but as usual, we were just happy to have a roof over our heads after a long day of riding.

…Especially considering the storms that had not finished messing with our ride. It continued to storm off and on throughout the night. At 6 am wakeup, it was pouring steadily and the forecast did not look pretty. It was calling for scattered thunderstorms the entire day, for our entire route. Our ride directors made the call to unfortunately cancel the ride for the day and van us to the host.

We were all bummed we wouldn’t be riding across the Mississippi River and into Iowa. However, the nature of our trip is that we have everything planned out ahead of time and therefore can’t adjust our schedule due to weather. The positive is that we always know that we have a place to stay and food to eat once we get in at night, but the flip side is that we might have a few days like this, and that’s just how it is.

With the decision being made, we set about planning how to transport 25 bikes, 25 duffels, 25 backpacks, and 25 people the 90 miles in the most efficient way possible. After much deliberation, we decided that both vans would make two trips and started loading up the vans in the rain. I was lucky enough to make the first trip, so I got to Davenport around 10 am. I spent the day relaxing, watching Argo with the team, and catching up on these blog posts ;) Also, 8 of us walked a half mile up the road to Applebee’s for lunch.

We had just made it back from lunch when it started pouring outside. The rain and wind got progressively worse, and soon the tornado sirens in Davenport were going off and we were alerted that there was a tornado warning… welcome to Tornado Alley! Our first day in the area and we were faced with ridiculously strong storms. No one else was very worried about the warning, but I take tornadoes very seriously because when I lived in Texas we actually had a tornado touch down and do damage in Sugar Land, and it was a very scary experience. I watched out the window until the danger had passed. The storm had crazy high winds, rain, and thunder. It looked like the hurricanes we see on the East Coast.

View of the storm from safely inside the church.
We turned on the Weather Channel and the entire area was red on the radar with storms. The meteorologist was saying, “what you don’t want to be doing is driving west on I-80 right now.” Well, the second van trip was still on the road… driving west on I-80. So we called them and alerted them of the danger. They got off the road and waited out the worst of the storm at a gas station.

As I write right now, the other half of the team arrived about 30 minutes ago, and we are all safe and sound at the Vineyard Church of Davenport. Church members are about to feed us a delicious dinner, and tonight we will be sleeping in comfortable (and tornado-safe!) rooms in the church.

So, while we didn’t make it to Iowa in the way we quite intended… we made it nonetheless. Unfortunately, though the worst of it was today, these nasty storms are supposed to last two more days. We are hoping we are able to ride tomorrow, when we only have 50ish miles to Iowa City.  Here’s to hoping that Iowa shows us a more friendly side of itself in the next few days!!

1 comment: