Wednesday, November 28, 2012

THE THINGS I FORGOT (about riding in the rain)

What are you, crazy?
Lady from down the street

Nope, just practicin’.
Me, returning from a ride in a downpour

What?  Bein' crazy???

Midway through the second good storm of the season, I get the urge to mount up and practice a little rainy day riding.  I figure the first storm will have washed away the grit and slick from the area’s roadways so in the second one, I’ll be more likely to deal simply with pavement and wet.  Why ride in the rain?  Two reasons.  One: If I ride around the nearby country roads for an hour or so and get chilled, there’ll be a nice hot shower awaiting me when I get home, and Two: practicing wet weather riding when you don’t have to do it prepares you for those times when you do.

Bundled in a turtleneck, flannel shirt, Gore-tex slicker all under my three-season jacket, I pack a camera and set off.  A few hundred feet up the street, I realize I’d forgotten how quickly the face shield on my Shoei fogs up, no matter how recently I sprayed it with anti-fog.  I crack the thing open and exhale more slowly.

I also forgot how quickly the storm drain gets clogged with the slick leaves from the neighborhood’s blue gum trees.  Wading through inches-deep water, I can only imagine how little friction exists between my new rear Metzeler and the cold, wet pavement.  All this, and I haven’t even left the development.

I choose a short loop that will employ county roads, state highways and even a few miles of gravel or dirt.  I want to take a few shots of some favorite scenes only this time scenes muted by a low gray ceiling and perhaps, sheets of rain.

Having been off the bike for six weeks, I drive particularly gingerly along the boulevard that leads me away from town.  A Cadillac SUV speeds past and sprays me pretty well.  I’d forgotten how the helmet’s visor sheds water to the right and left as I tootle along.

There’s a great old barn just north of Lincoln on old state route 65.  I’d taken pictures of it in early morning springtime low sun.  I stop by the side of the road, do not dismount, fumble with my little Panasonic and snap a photo.  A four-by-four post bisects my shot.  On it used to be an old campaign sign declaring “Integrity Does Count!” along with a picture of our Congressman who later earned the bum’s rush for cavorting with Jack Abramoff.  I laugh and my helmet refills with fog.

Two miles north, Chamberlain Road heads east.  After a brief skirt of pavement, the road turns to washboard gravel.  I adjust the suspension on the GS and jiggle forth.  A quarter mile on, the gravel has sunk into red mire.  The washboard is gone, but so is the traction.  I feel the rear wheel begin to explore its own path and, without touching the brakes, gently slow precipitously. 

I am beginning to get wet and I am beginning to think this is a really stupid idea.  Then I realize, “Nope, this is exactly what today’s ride is all about.”  I creep forward letting the rear wheel squirm only slightly, thankful that I’m not out in Idaho or Utah eight hundred miles from home experiencing this for the first time.

Only a bit further, past the home office of the spread through which Chamberlain Road runs, I tee into Montezuma Road.  Thankfully, it is paved.  My butt immediately relaxes on the seat a bit.  Out this way, tiny streams are filling.  In a day or so, they’ll surely overtop the narrow bridges on the route.  I stop for a couple of shots near the bucolic cemetery out that way.  I forgot how difficult it is to get wet gloves back onto wet hands.

Western Placer County is a web of secondary roads that right angle into one another, split pastures, tunnel through oaks and climb gentle rises.  It is a pleasant place to explore, even in the rain.

I seek out the old Fruitvale School, now a for-rent community center and stop for another rain shrouded photograph.  The parking area is gated off, but from the gate it appears to be just a pan of slick hardened dirt. 

I continue east on Fruitvale Road.  Within yards, a six-point buck (maybe eight point?  His rack was impressive) came charging toward a fence that parallels the road and startles me.  I’d forgotten about deer heading for the lowlands in winter.  I slow not so carefully.  Inside a brain about the size of a soft-shelled pecan, the critter has second thoughts about his own suicide and taking me out with him.  He stops just short of the fence.  As I pass, he reverses course, finds a tractor trail across the veldt and gallops south on it.  I take an immediate right on Fowler and soon I find myself pacing him about seventy-five yards to his east.  I can’t help but note the athletic build of this creature and the joyous and graceful way he bounds across the field. 

I realize that I am enjoying the sights through which I am riding while supremely aware of the conditions I am riding through.  Mission accomplished.

I head home and catch that shower.

The passing of the family patriarch, both the weeks leading up to it and the weeks following, changes the things we find important and how we spend our disposable time (that time not in pursuit of vocation or homebound chores).  We can’t help but wonder why such a loss prompts us to think of all we’ve gained.  In my case, the passing of my father-in-law took me off either of the bikes for five or six weeks and shut down the blog for that period of time.  Neither seemed important.  Neither really are.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press