Seeing the Light…

It’s an early summer Sunday night, warm and rather humid. I’m heading out of London, in mellow mood, just watching the miles slide under my wheels on an empty A3. Past the M25, the stars all vanish. Somewhere near Guildford, the rain starts, and gets heavier and heavier, until I’m doing a good impression of a sea slug — at least it’s warm. Then the lightning starts up with a really good display of heavenly angst. I’m rather enjoying it, and just cruising along at a steady 80mph or so, with warm rain trickling down the back of my neck.

Then the world turned into a photographic negative — the black of the night replaced by an all-consuming whiteness. I felt a massive shock travel up from my fingers, down through my body and out through my toes (some people pay good money for that sort of thing). For a moment I actually felt that I was riding through a tunnel of light – Hallelujah! and all that. It was all over so quickly that I didn’t even have a chance to react, which was probably no bad thing.

After several moments of stunned reflection, my brain cell poked itself into life, tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out, rather acidly I thought, that yes, I’d been struck by lightning, that we were still on a completely exposed road in a thunderstorm and what was I going to do about it?

Part of me asked what the chances were of being hit TWICE in one journey. A much larger part of me suggested getting the f**k out of the storm. Which meant either pulling over or making a run for it. Guess which I went for? Several miles further down the road, a local police car was wombling along in the inside lane, its occupants no doubt looking forward to their end of shift cuppa, when a dark grey Ducati overtook, at a speed sufficient to make him think his engine had fallen out. I’d like to think I was trailing a plume of smoke: at that stage I’d happily have been safe and booked than legal and fried.

Home safe, and no apparent damage to biology or technology — I felt very tired and heavy though, and the outsides of both my forearms and the outsides of my feet felt slightly numb until well into the next morning.

What I think happened (from the fleeting impression that was seared onto my retinas) was that the lightning had forked and hit the armco barrier to my right and possibly the signpost I was passing on my left – what I’d gotten was the leakover through the saturated air.

Follow-up: I posted this on the Ducati ST owner’s list, and it turns out that, from a list membership of around 1000, no less than three of us had taken a lightning strike at some point or other. Given that a rough average for the population seems to be a 1:600,000 chance of being hit by lightning in a lifetime, a list with a 1:330 strike rate seems to be pushing its collective luck. So does riding a Ducati make us more susceptible to lightning strikes? Or do we ride Ducati’s because we’re more likely to be hit? Hmmm…

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