“The secret of realizing the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius!”

—Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s late February in Southern Maryland and I’m trying to lay hands on our family supply of potassium iodide pills. I want to check their expiration dates.

Nietzsche would have approved of life here at Dismal Acres in late February I suspect. Late February in Southern Maryland is an ideal time to catch up on any number of soul-sucking tasks largely because anything remotely worth doing, namely riding or wrenching, is in the driveway blanketed by both bike covers and snow. That routine is broken up on occasion by severe thunderstorm watches and tornado warnings. Snow, possible tornadoes and dangerous thunderstorms – this is what passes for normal here in February. This house, interestingly enough, has been struck by lightning three times. One lightning strike seems dangerous, three starts to get annoyingly routine.

If Friedrich did not think that quite Vesuvian enough I’d be happy to point out to him our neighbors; the ever-growing liquid natural gas (LNG) plant, and the nuclear power facility. Both, I trust, run by highly competent professionals who routinely allay any fears of their respective plants blowing up, or leaking a toxic radioactive cloud, with lamentable results. If the citizens of Pompeii gave any thought at all to their volcano and its sulfurous plumes of doom I’d be surprised. The LNG plant’s, “Blast wall,” the nuke plant’s potassium iodide pills to prevent radioactive poisoning, and the respective evacuation routes marked on the streets we travel every day, just fade into the background after a while.

What Would Steve McQueen Do? Whether it be Nazis or nuke meltdowns, when the going gets tough, the tough grab a bike

What Would Steve McQueen Do? Whether it be Nazis or nuke meltdowns, when the going gets tough, the tough grab a bike

Events like volcanoes blowing their stack, nuke plants going sizzle-pop, or LNG plants going boom are all low probability, high risk affairs. More commonplace are the hurricanes with their tornadoes, tropical storms, and nor’easters that routinely visit us. They also often have their own ad hoc evacuation plans: Which brings me mercifully to my point.

When I think evacuation I think mobility in less than ideal conditions, and when I think mobility I think motorcycles. I can assure you if the citizens of Pompeii could have availed themselves of the twist-grip option of hauling arse with all due haste down the coast, or up the coast, or the proverbial “anywhere but here” destination rather than be preserved for eternity in the fetal position in their kitchens and rec rooms, they’d be down in Salerno tossing back Bellini shooters with a good story to tell. It is pretty hard to beat a single-track vehicle, depending upon weather conditions, for leaving impending doom behind. Short of a main battle tank, or an inbound Blackhawk, nothing beats a bike. I don’t have a Blackhawk, and Uncle took back his tank, but bikes? We have bikes.

After all, what is mobility in less than ideal conditions? Why it’s an enduro of course, or what used to be the daily grind of a motorcycle courier. Take your garden-variety hurricane, Hurricane Irene for example. In typical hurricane fashion we had the mass power outages, evacuation of low-lying areas due to coastal flooding, significant property damage, school shelters hastily established for the displaced, an enormous amount of downed trees due to high winds and the saturated ground, and in our case a community that was essentially on lockdown as the three primary ingress and egress points were all blocked by felled trees, utility poles, and littered with downed wires. This would take days, and in some cases weeks to rectify. We were stuck with approximately 11,500 residents essentially cut off from the outside world unless you channeled your inner John Penton.

The powers that be moved quickly to reopen a long unused back gate that consisted of a muddy dual track to an arterial road that would take you to civilization, if you call a Starbucks with power and free wifi civilization. That Starbucks by virtue of its ability to turn its lights on and make coffee became a local rally point catering to a good natured clientele that looked, and smelled, like it just came off an ISDE qualifier course.

You are responsible for your own wake. Please observe all navigational markers. Photo by Randall Hill/Reuters

You are responsible for your own wake. Please observe all navigational markers. Photo by Randall Hill/Reuters

As natural calamities go, hurricanes do have a lot to offer; you almost assuredly have adequate warning and time to prepare, forecast models these days are very accurate, and you can evacuate early if you are of that mind. People have hurricane parties, the same cannot be said about wildfires, mudslides, earthquakes, or flash floods. Nobody ever had a tsunami party. But in all these instances a single-track vehicle can offer advantages to getting around that our four-wheeled brethren could only hope for, up to and including making our own trail if need be on the proper bike.

And then we have our man-made Vesuvius, or in our particular case, two of them. It’s safe to say that most folks on a good portion of the eastern seaboard have weathered a few hurricanes in their time; the same cannot be said for LNG or nuke plant catastrophes. There are good reasons for the rarity of these events. The safety standards for both industries are stringent, their safety track records are exemplary – though not perfect – and the emergency plans to deal with incidents of this sort are thought out well ahead of time. They have to be, the costs of screwing up could be very high.

Friedrich wanted danger. Well, there you have it, in spades. Housebound for days because of a storm with no power is one thing; radioactive exposure or a potentially catastrophic explosion is another. The evacuation plans and emergency response procedures reflect the gravity of either of these possible situations. In the case of our nuclear plant the evacuation would involve multiple counties in the, “Plume Exposure Zone – a 10 mile radius from the plant,” and the, “Ingestion Pathway Zone, less than 50 miles from the plant.”

On any given day the county’s primary evacuation route can become a parking lot. A calamitous nuclear event would not be just “any given day,” and sitting in harm’s way is not evacuating.

On any given day the county’s primary evacuation route can become a parking lot. A calamitous nuclear event would not be just “any given day,” and sitting in harm’s way is not evacuating.

Suffice it to say we are of course in the Plume Exposure Zone (Friedrich would be proud) and our main avenue for getting out of the Plume Exposure Zone upon being told to do so – the option being to “Shelter in Place” if so directed – would be State Route 4. Route 4 on a normal day can become a parking lot if so much as two imbeciles try to occupy the same piece of asphalt at the same time. It does not take much to shut 4 down. Now imagine the ensuing panic from a fleeing populace trying to get off this giant peninsula to avoid an invisible threat they do not completely understand, and you can imagine the chaos. I’d rather have zombies – you can shoot zombies.

If ever there was a time to be on a single-track vehicle it is on just such an occasion. If I want to glow in the dark I’ll go to the beach without sunscreen. I won’t go into the obvious advantages and illegal nature (in Maryland) of responsible lane splitting, shoulder use, or roosting in the median strips if necessary but to say do so with caution. Emergency responders, those who show up, will have their own concerns, mobility problems, and their families to take care of as well. They are going to be tasked to the limit. If you hurt yourself you may very well be on your own for a while. Lying injured in an, “Ingestion Pathway Zone,” would probably not bode well for your next physical. The point is to get out, not set a new lap record.

The United States Marine Corps has a proud tradition of both getting into and getting out of trouble in a timely fashion. One of their tools of the trade? You guessed it.

The United States Marine Corps has a proud tradition of both getting into and getting out of trouble in a timely fashion. One of their tools of the trade? You guessed it.

And cheer up, the likelihood of anything like some nuclear nightmare or an explosion to rival the thousand-plane raids of WWII is very slim to, uh, very slim. And besides, as ol’ Friedrich was fond of saying:

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I never was much of a nihilist; I would amend that to read: “That which does not kill you will beat the snotbubbles out of you.”

But that’s my experience. Ride hard, look where you want to go, be safe, and keep the tank topped off.


About the Author: Chris Kallfelz is an orphaned Irish Catholic German Jew from a broken home with distinctly Buddhist tendencies. He hasn’t got the sense God gave seafood. Nice women seem to like him on occasion, for which he is eternally thankful, and he wrecks cars, badly, which is why bikes make sense. He doesn’t wreck bikes, unless they are on a track in closed course competition, and then all bets are off. He can hold a reasonable dinner conversation, eats with his mouth closed, and quotes Blaise Pascal when he’s not trying to high-side something for a five-dollar trophy. He’s been educated everywhere, and can ride bikes, commercial airliners and main battle tanks.

  • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

    Now I want a disaster, just so I have an excuse to hop medians.

    • Chris Kallfelz

      Sean Alexander, storm chaser, roost master…

    • throwedoff

      No LNG plants or nuclear reactors in my area. However, we are in Tornado Alley. We are also home to Pantex. The nations nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly plant with enough weapons grade nuclear material to probably destroy the country. That’s why I hang on to my DR650!

  • Sayyed Bashir

    I thought you said “keep the tank top off”. That would be distracting in a disaster.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    Wait, aren’t drivers officially qualified as zombies? Woops…

  • Glen

    Article title is about Head Shake. WTF?

    • Chris Kallfelz

      No, the column has been titled Head Shake for over a couple years now…

      But I can see the misunderstanding…This column is not about a tank slapper, it’s not about loose steering head bearings, the name of the column is Head Shake, like in today’s nomenclature: SMH…Sorry for the misunderstanding…

      Here’s an old one…Head Shake…No tank slappers occurred in this column…

      http://www.motorcycle.com/features/head-shake-start.html

      • Glen

        Well, all righty then.

  • howard kelly

    Dude… You need much more coffee when you think this way. Think about the aggressive off-road riding Ice Cube did in the movie Torque. He turned a triumph sport bike into a a Triumph Tiger just to race through the woods and jump on a train. In dire times, aggression will get you through :)

  • Sayyed Bashir

    A KTM 1190 R would be the perfect vehicle to get away in case of a disaster, as long as you can find gas. Otherwise find a horse.

  • SRMark

    Just spent three days in Solomons. Rt. 4 would indeed be a mess in an evacuation, as would Rt. 50 on the eastern side of the bay. Stay safe down there. I reside on the mountain side of Maryland. Snow is a bit different here. Thankfully, tornadoes are rare here and hurricanes just bring us heavy rain.