Attack of the Gargantuan Tumbleweeds

It was a bit like being in a B movie.

We were on our way north from Baja, California and had just broken free from our bypass of Los Angeles via the LA freeways.

LA has serious freeways.

In Mexico, Dainius and I had adopted the habit of him leading and me following. This was practical in Mexico. It did wonders for my confidence because I knew if he’d managed to get through a sketchy bit of road, odds were I had at least a 70 per cent chance of doing the same.

The habit continued as we motored back to civilization.

It was only once we got onto the freeway in LA that I realized that we should have switched places.

We don’t wear bike-to-bike radios. We’ve talked about it, but somehow the thought of having someone yakking away in my ear while I’m navigating busy highways on a two-wheeled, out there for anyone to hit vehicle, makes me nervous.

Combine that with the fact that we both love our own space when we are riding and the decision is easy.

No radios, however, means that if you get out of line of site you are lost, from each other at least, so we stick pretty close, especially in cities and on freeways.

The problem with Dainius leading on freeways is that he can’t read the overhead signs until he is almost on top of them. It can make for some stressful, last-minute lane changes, especially in Los Angeles where there is no one freeway that takes you past the city. It is instead a series of interconnected sections. One has to be vigilant.

It was inevitable that as we broke out of this maze into the countryside and the highway narrowed down to just four lanes, we relaxed to the point where we missed our exit to get back onto Highway 1 and the coast.

So that’s how we ended up, after a quick roadside consultation with the map, coming over a pass and riding down onto a wide, windy agricultural plain populated by a small number of human residents and a gazillion tumbleweeds.

The wind was a cross wind. It was of a force that when a good gust came up we would have to lean our bikes into it at about a 20-degree angle and then be on guard for when the gust ended, to bring it back quickly to the two- or three-degree angle that accommodated the unrelenting portion of wind that remained.

All this was happening at the same time we were dodging the several dozen tumbleweeds that had chosen, at that very moment, to sprint across the road.

The little ones were not a problem – just as when driving a car, you know that sometimes it’s more dangerous to try to avoid small obstacles (mostly critters, but in this case tumbleweeds) than it is to play the odds that they will get out of the way before you reach them.

Some of these tumbleweeds, however, were bigger than we were: 6-8 feet in circumference. The fact that the wind could uproot something of that size gives you an idea of its power as well.

Now imagine that wind powering the purposeful advance of a herd of gargantuan tumbleweeds!

Speed up, slow down, swerve in a big arc to the left – no traffic, thank goodness – lean into the wind, slow down some more, straighten up, speed up … you get the picture.

We survived, of course. Though there is still some debate as to which is more difficult to navigate, the tumbleweeds or the LA freeways.

I am sorry I don’t have any pictures for you. We were afraid to stop and get off our bikes.

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