Electrical Storms – How STUPID am I?

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Sunday September 11, 2016

An adventure turns into a nightmare…

What started off as a great adventure that included a crazy awesome motorcycle ride up to Gracefield Quebec to meet a group of Campers from the Canoe and Camping Club (RACCC) turned bad towards the end.

I had promised to bring up some home cooked ribs for a potluck dinner that was planned to start around 6:00 PM on Sunday night at the Gracefield Christian Camp & Retreat Center. The ride from Russell Ontario to Gracefield Quebec is about two hours but the last one and half include curvy roads specially designed for motorcycles.

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Russell to Gracefield

I took the ribs out of the oven at 3:15 and placed them into a large zip lock bag then wrapped them in news paper to help keep the hot and finally stuffed them into an insulated freezer bag and placed the bag into my top box on the BMW F700 GS. I left the

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Crazy Twisty Roads

house at 3:30 hoping to arrive by 5:30. It was my first time ever riding in that direction so I had no idea of what to expect.

Once I crossed the provincial line into Quebec on Highway 5 I started to smile. It was a beautiful highway snaking through some amazing mountains and through the Gatineau park lands.  However I really started to get turned on when I hit highway 105 that proved to be both challenging and interesting as it totally twisted its way through small towns and country roads nestled next to rivers and lakes. At that point I remembered telling myself that I would have to be careful when I am at the Potluck dinner to watch the time so that I do not leave in the dark because this was a challenging road during the day time and at night it would be dangerous on a motorcycle.

The last 4.8 kilometers of the ride took me off-road and through he woods much like one would imagine the trip Little Red Riding Hood made to visit her grandmother. The only difference was that it had rained solidly for three hours prior and parts of this tiny road were quite muddy. I did forget to mention the forecast. It was forecasted to be rain and storms but I seemed to have missed each and every one of them on my ride up. I either could see the rain coming down in a distance or I would be riding through wet roads with puddles displaying evidence that a formidable rain storm had passed.

The canoeists coming back from a white-water trip were a bit late and the Pot luck dinner didn’t start until 6:40 and at this time of year it gets dark between 7:30 and 8:00 but with clouds and storms it became darker really fast. I left around 7:45 and made my way through the wooded area road until I hit the 105 which at that time was dark. Additionally the weather continued to grant me rain free access but reminded me of her intentions with huge lightning appearing over the distant mountains as I rode by. The lightening was white and in other instances had a reddish pinkish color to it. The 105 twisted through the mountains in the dark and the lightening would light up the road to confirm the next snake in the road that my Garmin was warning me about.  My heart was beating, I felt totally alive.

I decided early on that I would not be white knuckled and instead I would attack the corners aggressively and be in total control.  An hour later of twisting through these corners in the dark proved to be exhausting. My front lighting system was worth every penny. I was scanning the sides of the road for deer, skunk, porcupine or other unwanted surprises while intermittently glancing down at the Garmin to get a heads up on the direction of the next curve.

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Highway 5

When I finally arrived at the end of the 105 and got on the major highway 5 through Gatineau park all I wanted was to be home in bed. But no, that was just not going to happen yet. Fog had appeared and because of the clouds it was pitch black. Although the highway 5 was not anywhere as snaky as the 105 it did have its unannounced surprise curves and descents through the mountains.  I just did not have good visibility at all. Then a white BMW X-3 came up from behind and passed me. She was well-lit up and her rear red lights were better than Rudolf’s nose to guide me through the mountain roads.  So I cranked on the throttle to keep up with this X-3 thinking that it would not only guide me through the roads but would be the first to hit an animal if one should appear. As I followed closely I began to hear that engine noise. It reminds me of what we called the coffin planes that I used to take in the 1980s when flying from Boston to Bangor Maine. It sat one person on each side and had about 10 rows. In other words there were no aisle seats. But when those two propeller engines would wind up for take-off they just made a unique sound. A roar that was so reminiscence of older biplanes. Well that is the roar that my F700-GS makes when it is revving over 5,500 RPM and when it is revving over 5,500 RPM in sixth gear I know that I am not legal with respect to the speed limit. How fats was I going? Are you kidding? I didn’t take my eyes off the road for a second, not even to look down and check my speed.  Nope, not me! I just followed Rudolf through the mountains while lightening was flashing over the distant mountains of the Gatineau parks until we approach Ottawa and the roads had lights.

So far an adventure, right? I agree. But it is at this point where my story really begins. On the other side of Ottawa towards my home town is flat farm land and that was where the lightning was flashing from. As I rode down highway 417 towards the exit for Boundary road I could see lightening like I had never seen before in front of me and around me. The music playing in my helmet began to get squirrely with funky space sounds so I immediately turned of the Senna in fear of shorting it out.

My mind started to race. Am I grounded if I am on rubber tires? Should I stop? Am I safer sitting on a flat road? What to do was my major concern while the whole time I just wanted to be home in my bed. I took the exit to Boundary which is really flat country roads through farms land. At this point the lightning became my major concern. It was stretching ac cross the sky’s in front and over head while I could see direct strikes into the farm land on the sides of the road while I ride by. I was afraid to stop[ yet afraid to continue. They say getting strike by lightening is a chance in a million as I thought about how I had never won a lottery. The lightening became worse as I was riding into the eye of the storm. Still no rain! The streets were wet but I remained dry.

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Free Lightening Picture Provided by Garth Brooks’ “The Thunder Rolls” covered by Mike

At one point there were three cars that pulled off to the side of the country road and I thought that they were stopping until the lightning would pass so I slowed down thinking that I would ask them to sit in their car but as I got closer they all had out their cameras to take pictures of the amazing lightening strikes. I would have stopped for pictures too if I was in a car, but instead I found this picture online that was similar to what was going on around me.

At that point I could care less about a speeding ticket so I hauled it home while my motorcycle made that old propeller sound that I am certain echoed throughout the country and into the farmer’s homes.

I arrived home at 9:30 and pressed the garage door opener button on my bike and road into the garage and took a very deep breath. I had never being so happy to be home.

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Click The Picture to Read to Complete Story

Then I felt stupid. At that point I realized how lucky I was. I promised myself that I would research what to do for the future. Worse off I have a good friend named Gary Ehrlick who told me the next day that his brother in Toronto just got hit by lightning in a similar instance (story below).

Since my business is in Quality Management I decided I would post a corrective action for me and my readers of what to do in such a case. My friends brother decided to take cover under a tree. Obviously that did not work. So this is what I had found on the internet.

Electrical Storms Riding out from under them could be a big mistake

By: James R. Davis

You are out in the country and an electrical storm blows in. There is no civilization (read: shelter) for a hundred miles. Should you ride out the storm? If not, what should you do?

No doubt you have heard that because your tires are made of rubber, and because rubber is not a good electrical conductor, so long as you keep your feet on the pegs lightning will not hit you since it cannot find a path to ground through you and the bike. WRONG!!!

Though rubber is a pretty good insulator at the normal voltage levels we mere humans deal with, it is not very effective against the voltage in a lightning bolt.

On the other hand, you may also have heard that if a lightning bolt hits a car the occupants are safe because the car is riding on rubber tires, etc. Actually, this is almost true! So long as the occupants stay away from anything metal they will more than likely survive a lightning hit without any injury whatever.

What protects occupants of a cage is not their rubber tires, but the fact that they are enclosed in a metal container. If a lightning bolt hits the surface of the car it spreads around the occupants, NOT THROUGH THEM, and goes to ground.

A lightning bolt that hits you or your motorcycle is a different matter entirely.

Let me give you an idea of magnitudes we are dealing with here. The master fuse on your bike handles about 30 amps before it blows. An average lightning bolt produces a current of about 20,000 amps. Even 30 amps can easily kill you because it disrupts your heart’s electrical system and the heart then simply stops working. Your heart doesn’t stand a chance against a lightning bolt.

Anyway, if you are out in the open on your bike when lightning flashes begin, and if you can hear the thunder caused by those flashes in less than three seconds from when you see the flash, it’s time to stop your bike and get off it.

  • Immediately find low ground, but NOT under a single or small group of trees.
  • Squat on the ground with your legs together, head lower than back, but NOT touching the ground. Do NOT lay on the ground.
  • LET YOUR CLOTHES GET WET!!! (In this way, if you are hit the majority of the electricity will follow the moisture of your wet clothes around your body.)
  • Do not get up until thunder following a lightning flash is AT LEAST five seconds after the flash. (Which means the lightning struck more than 1 mile away.)

Incidentally, lightning can, and DOES, hit the same place twice – frequently.

If there are more than 5 seconds between the lightning flashes and your hearing that thunder, head for shelter. This is the only time trying to ride out from under an electrical storm makes any sense. B

est shelter, of course, is a hard covered surface connected to ground with metal. Get under it and wait out the storm.

Copyright © 1992 – 2016 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved. http://www.msgroup.org (James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

Final Words

I was STUPID but will never be STUPID (with respect to electrical storms) AGAIN!