Tuesday, September 24, 2013

When It Rains It Pours

The weather couldn't have been better and the sun was still shining.  So, I went for a ride.

It was an easy 22 mile loop, if I didn't take any detours.  It would take me just over an hour to finish and then I'd be home in time for dinner.

There aren't many things better than a quick evening ride to burn out the stress from the day.  I long for these days.  I plot all week long, hoping to find that one perfect day when the stars align, the weather cooperates and work doesn't drag on into the evening too late to make it worthwhile to head out on the road.  There's a sense of victory associated with the evening ride, as if I've pulled something off that the world has been trying to keep me from.

Last Thursday was one of those days and I was loving it.  There was a strong headwind on my way east, but I just reminded myself of the joyful tailwind it would give me on the way back home.  7 miles into the ride, I found myself staring out across the desert vista at a beautiful tower of dark clouds from which thick sheets of rain were pouring across the flat expanse.  Some trick in my mind told me the storm was moving away from me across the desert.  I didn't put it together that the headwind I was fighting might also be pushing the storm my way.  It was just too beautiful to think about, and I gazed at the contrasting billows of white towering thousands of feet into the blue sky under which raged a fierce rainstorm.  I thought to myself, that at moments like this I needed to bring a camera to capture and bring home these instants that passed along the road and were lost to time and memory only.

I wished the storm farewell and, three miles later, began the long curve that would turn and take me back towards home.  The promised tailwind pushed me along and I cruised into high gear, my wheels eating up the miles effortlessly.

The first drops to hit my arms came as a total surprise.  The sun was still beaming down from the west, it wasn't even quite to the mountain tops yet.  I looked off to the left and behind me and saw the storm cloud I had been admiring earlier, rearing above and curtains of water rushing towards me.  I still had over 6 miles to go before the safety and shelter of home.

I pedaled faster.

The first wave of the storm hit with large bullets of water, stinging my face, arms and head.  The drops were enormous and fell almost sideways until they crashed against the softer exposed flesh of my body.  I couldn't believe I wasn't bruising from their impact, they hit so hard.  The patter on my helmet was almost unbearable.  I made a right hand turn and the stinging rain slowly fell behind me.  I realized that I was in a race with the storm.

I pedaled faster.

My route home was a zigzag of left and right turns.  Whenever I turned right, I would be riding away from the storm cloud, and every time I turned left, the storm would be catching up to me.  Could I outrun the storm?

I pedaled faster.

Less than two miles from home I caught a stoplight.  I thought about sneaking through the cross walk, playing the part of the annoying inscrutable cyclist, but there were too many cars so I waited.  I hoped that I'd put enough distance between me and the worst of the deluge, that maybe there'd be just enough time to get to my house before I got caught in another burst of rain.  I was only a little damp as it was, and didn't think things were going to get too bad before I finished.

That's when I looked to my left and saw nothing.  There should have been a street leading half a mile to a track and gym, buildings and an entrance gate.  Instead, there was nothing.

50 meters down the road, the world ended in a turbulent swirl of gray nothing.  I watched appalled as two men jogging down the sidewalk towards the wall suddenly were blown almost to the ground.  They flailed helplessly as the storm engulfed them in a wall of white water.  Horrified, I could only watch as the gray nothingness began to devour the street, moving towards me.  I shook my head and stared at the stoplight, praying it would change.  I heard the driver in the car behind me swear loudly, then frantically roll his window shut.  I braced myself against the curb and waited for the inevitable barrage of water.  The sound was immense, a steady roaring in my ears as the monster neared.

Then it hit.  Like being caught in a wave crashing near shore, I was completely submerged in the swirling vortex of water.  I struggled to remain upright when the light changed and I soggily clipped into my pedals and took off.  Each pedal stroke was an effort in the suddenly flooded street.  Each buffet of wind nearly blew me off the road and sent me rolling into the mud.  Cars stuck behind me at the light cautiously creeped around me in the maelstrom.  I could barely make out their faces, aghast and staring at my plight.  Several times I considered pulling off, walking my bike into the lee side of a building, waiting out what might be the worst front edge of the storm.  But what if it didn't get better?  I had to get home.

A lifetime later, and a mile down the road, I again pedaled out of the storm.  I was dripping wet; my shoes felt like buckets of water attached to my legs.  I spun my heart out down the road, every ounce of energy combined with pure adrenaline and panic to propel me homeward.  I made the final turn onto my street and forewent the customary victory lap down the block, instead pulling into the driveway immediately.  The pavement here was still dry.  I coasted into the garage, dismounted and spun back to the open door just in time to see the whole world disappear into the mouth of the same monster I had just escaped.  10 seconds, maybe 15, and I would have been back in that mess of wind and water.

I closed the garage on the roar of the storm and turned towards the door leading to safety, warmth, and hopefully dinner.  I was shaking, whether from the cold and the water, or perhaps, because I'd left my dignity out on the road in a puddle somewhere.  Either way, I was home.

Some rides are more exciting than others, especially when you're least expecting it.