Monday, June 17, 2013

When the Rain Comes

It's called hydroplaning in the rain when your particular tire tread, the road surface, your speed and individual droplets of water conspire to lift you off the pavement and onto a microscopic sheet of liquid skidmaker. I only mention this because one never really thinks about it until one finds themselves traveling at a high rate of speed and it suddenly feels like one has left the gravitational pull of one’s planet; and because I was reminded of it on this particular day so I thought I might remind you of it so if it rains today before you forget what I’m telling you, you’ll be prepared. Feel free to thank me later.

But it wasn't raining when I turned the bike onto a road whose signage announced its name as “County 9”. (My wife given instructions to "go east" determined my never before seen route.) About ten minutes into "go east", a sign popped up at the border of the nearest cornfield. "Pavement Ends" it said in big black letters on a baby poop/mustard yellow background. I barely had time to read it before the familiar sound of crushed rock leaping off my front tire pinged against my engine crash bars.

For 47 miles I held on for dear life as Linda giggled and leaned into my back to holler "it's an adventure!" "Yea" I said, "just like jumping off a cliff! I can take you to a bluff and you can test the theory if you like."

She thought it was great fun scooting down 6% grade in sugar sand and pea rock, twisting through a county parkland toward the Cannon River, and then back out of the bottoms only to find a half dozen intersections all the same; all dirt, all the time. It's fascinating to be moving at speeds approaching 70 when you know neither of your two tires is actually contacting mother earth, but being held aloft by little fingers of petrified clay, like a swami lying on a bed of nails being pulled through the air by a hogtied dragon. (Not like that at all really, but once I'd thought it up the visual was so cool I was reluctant to edit it out, so it stayed even though it's nonsense)

Only the mental image of the result of sliding through said petrified clay on a clothingless body part because you saw a naked chick in a farmhouse window and glued your eyes one second too long, keeps you well aware of the task at hand, and reluctant to admire the passing scenery no matter how incredibly timely and fantastical.

Once we finally reached tar my forearms and wrists were twice their normal size; death grip is great aerobic exercise. But we weren't done yet; adventure she wanted, adventure she'd get.

When I was young one of my nicks was "rainrider". Not that I liked riding in the rain, but that I was cursed to be caught in the rain quite often, and was too damn stubborn to wait until it passed. As with my tale about riding the Black Hills in a blizzard, I would always just plug ahead without regard as to the weather.

I knew it might rain that day, I was trying to keep a schedule of sorts; not easy when you're navigating by coin toss, but doable if you have a clue as to where you are at all times. The problem was, I didn't really. And when I asked directions, I asked about the wrong town.

See, my house was west, as is Zumbro "Falls" from Red Wing. Zumbro-"ta" on the other hand, (the word I mistakenly used when asking for directions) is SOUTH, and further yet EXPONENTIALLY from my garage and its fully shingled roof. That was my faux pas of the day, I thought I was asking the route to the cabbage patch, but instead asked directions to the freaking moon and then rode there as quickly as I could.

By the time I figured out for the bazzilionth time what a moron I am, the western sky was bathed in a sort of blue/gray/green; at least where the color wasn't just plain black. But west was home, and I'd seen the morning radar; what was coming was a day's worth, so stopping was pointless unless we thought spending 40 bucks on a motel room 40 miles from home would be spuriously romantic. Nah.

About 25 miles out it began, a little drizzle across my windscreen. Both the lady and I were in shorts and sleeveless T's, the afternoon temp being close to 90 and the humidity not far behind. I told her if she wanted to stop for rain gear to let me know, otherwise I was making tracks. She deferred. "Let's just go" she said. Then the sky let loose.

At 60 on a "dresser", the aerodynamics of the bike sends most water up and over the humans on it, so long as you continue to move. But as I don't wear a helmet, the skin on my forehead was being torn away in sheets, the rain acting like a Star Wars laser in search of an ICBM. Yet I was managing until the inevitable happened. We found a stop sign.

The guy stopped in front of me would have suffered my wrath for his cowardice had I not been drowning and unable to breathe. He waited while a car that seemed a mile off trudged past, and then waited some more. In the meantime Linda and I were basically standing under a fire hose, the force of the water effectively smooshing us into our seats.
I went around the razzifrazzenmrfker and got about a block before I was blind. Cars were pulled onto shoulders all over the highway, and here we were drenched, freezing and incapable of continuing. I looked for a grove to duck into. No trees but one, and as I pulled up to it I saw its trunk was surrounded by standing water. Linda went for the rain gear, but one of the two locks on that bag was stuck. She finally squeezed her fingers inside and managed to zip out a poncho and coat, but by that time even my pubic hairs were bathing; it hardly mattered anymore save the temperature had dropped about 15 degrees and we were both shivering.

I'd not have asked her for the helmet, but she offered it. She just wanted to get home, so reluctantly I pulled it on, wiped out the inside glass and off we went again, two wheels up in a typhoon. She kept laughing as I'd scream out some vulgarity aimed at the sky; she kept shouting "It's an adventure!" It was an adventure alright; if I wasn't so heavy the hydroplaning would have reduced our traction to that of a jogger on a frozen lake, and I'd have surely writen this from a road rash hospital bed.


Eventually the wind came up and the rain pummeled us from the side. She was amazed by its destructive force as all the tiny hairs were stripped from her legs as if she'd stumbled into a power washer, and I was kind of amazed that I was able to keep us upright in spite of our 25 degree tilt; my rear tire being bald and all, and my not having remembered to replace it right away that week after the tire guy had called and said the tire had come in...forgotten probably for the same reason I sometimes misspell my own name, too much thinking about really important stuff.
We got home obviously, and within minutes there was a trail of sopping clothing stretched from the garage door to the master bath, where we spent a half hour under the double shower trying to rid ourselves of hypothermia. (Don't need a motel room when ya got a two headed shower)


As I wrote this the wind was still howling, the rain still coming in spurts, as if there was a sky highway overhead lined with million gallon barrels of gathered sea, being dumped one by one by malicious elephants. (Well ok, that's what I see, your visions may vary) There was a tornado along our route, maybe an hour after we passed. I guess there's the silver lining, we could have gone to Oz and seen the wizard and missed the CBS 60 minutes porn expose' but for my excellent timing.

Even though my back was stiff from a day's worth of keeping us alive in adverse conditions, I had to admit, at least to myself that it really was an adventure. But I never told Linda; I don't want her getting a swelled head.

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