“I never remember the easy rides, the pretty weather. It’s always the times when I’m drenched and the storm rages that I remember.”
My friend Jim uttered this comment as we charged forward at 16mph on a bike path that sometimes wound through the forests – seeming like we rode through a tunnel of trees – and sometimes along wide open farms, the corn growing tall in the blazing sun of August.
The rain was starting to drizzle over us. The obvious warning to seek shelter because worse was coming. So much worse.
“Good. I’d hate for you to forget a whole day of your life.” I responded through clenched teeth as the downpour opened wide and turned our world into one of lightning bolts, chilled winds, and water. So. Much. Water.
12% chance of storms, my ass, Weather Channel.
Jim was riding 200 miles Sunday. Part of his triple full-triathlon training. He asked if I’d mind riding the last 40 miles with him, and of course as the super talented athlete and great friend that I am, I agreed.
Ok. It was the offer he made to buy me a BBQ dinner.
But also because I’m his friend. Seriously.
The BBQ helped though.
We met at a small place off the trail, where the food was good (Unless you got their “hotmess”, or whatever they called it… That was damn good), the gift shop was kitschy, and the walls were covered in cycling-related signs and knickknacks.
After dinner we started gearing up for the ride ahead of us. Overhead, thunder rolled. We glared at the sky, and almost in unison, as I ordered my husband to check his weather app, Jim asked his wife to check the weather.
“It’s all heading north-ward. We’ll be fine.” Jim said hurrying to put his helmet on. Oh. Helmet. That’s important. I forgot mine… And my socks. Shit. No. No, I’m gonna ride. I came out here for a reason. I pulled on a visor that was sitting in the back of my car. That’ll protect my head from damage on an uneventful ride on an almost 99% flat bike path.
As for storms? My husband confirmed, “There’s only a 12% chance of storms.”.. Jim was confident, “If we go now we’ll out-ride this.”
“Have fun on your two-wheeled, not remotely lightning-resistant conveyances.” My husband taunted as he grinned at us.
“Hey. At least if I die tonight, you’ll know that I went out doing something I mildly tolerate.” I responded as Jim and I rolled the bikes toward the bike trail.
“Don’t die!” My husband called by way of good-bye. And then it was just Jim and me and 40-ish miles to our ride home.
The first 8 miles or so were warm, sunny. We chatted easily, about Jim’s day of riding, about his family, about mine, about the 5k my husband and I ran that morning. The rolls of thunder so faded and forgotten behind us, and the slowly sinking sun so bright before us that the threat of storm was completely out of mind. This would be a nice, easy ride.
Until the rain drops.
Until the wind.
Until the flash of lightning right across our path.
Before us was the sun and blue skies. Above us was a wrathful dark, a storm whipped to frenzy, and ready to pour.
And did it ever pour.
Lightning caressed the skies above us and along side us. It struck the open field before us, and charged the air so much so that we felt the wave of heat within the chilled, rainy and windy air.
We continued. 16 mph of “get this done” speed as we dodged small or medium bits of tree and squinted into the wall of rain. I was both glad for the visor, and cursing not having a helmet. Visions of hitting something and flying over the handlebars danced behind my eyes each time I had to swerve around debris.
We stopped at an intersection, me happy to get my ass off that seat for a moment and downing some of my electrolyte mix, watered down with rain, as I tilted my head back to drink it down. To our right a soaked and rough-looking group of cyclists sat under a shelter and eyed us like the crazies we were. Jim and I simultaneously gave them a lazy wave, as though we had all the time in the world and were not standing in rain that threatened to wash the world of all humanity as it poured down on us. To our left, a rainbow. My second one of the day.
At one point, the sun painted the air orange, and illuminated the far end of the tunnel of trees we rode through. Thunder cracked above us and lightning struck just ahead, and through it all was this eerie orange glow that made every drop of rain in the downpour visible. We rode through a shower, in a dark tree tunnel, toward the light at the end.
It was beautiful.
It was treacherous.
It was the thing myths are born from.
I could write fantasy novels and epic journeys based off this 2-hour(ish) ride.
The rain was better, we agreed, than the heat and humidity… And the bugs. The first couple of miles were a battle between breathing / having open eyes and having bugs driven down our throats at speed, or jammed into our eyeballs like ball bearings. I often grumble about the humidity being too thick to breathe, but out on this bike path it was the bugs that were too thick to breathe. With the downpour, there were no bugs.
I think it was around mile 18 that I started pestering Jim with the “are we there yet?” Questions.
I forgot how distance worked. Jim forgot to start his watch.
Shadowed figures wavered and took solid form ahead of us in the mist and wall of rain – runners and other cyclists caught out on the path, miles from their cars. We joked loudly about them being figures of our imagination. Called them ghosts and aliens… Zombies predicting the end of the world. And then we would pass them with calls of encouragement and a joke shared over our shoulders.
Can it be considered “slap happy” if you’re in miserable weather? If by all accounts of “normal” thinking, you should be miserable?
In the dying light of the setting sun and thickening clouds, we came upon a puddle that spanned the whole path for a few yards. It was deep, and pedaling put our feet in the water as the bike tires cut a narrow path through the water. We screamed, expecting a crash, as we hit it, and emerged laughing. Who knew our bikes were so water-capable? We didn’t.
In the dark, we reached a more dangerous part of the trail. The debris from the tree canopy was thicker, the fallen limbs bigger and taking up most of the path. A couple of times I called to Jim to “watch ahead” and we both slammed our brakes. Me, anticipating Jim’s emergency swerve to avoid, Jim wanting me to speed ahead so he could swerve. Luckily, we got a plan of action in order before we crashed into each other.
It was a little surreal, and a lot preternatural: Navigating what was quickly becoming an obstacle course in the dark, with only the fading light of a bike headlamp to guide us. Eventually, we were navigating bit-by-bit by the flashes of lightning as it illuminated the path as far as we could see. Jim would scream into the wind and cheer at the flashes of lightning. And although we kept agreeing to slow down, we didn’t really. The overall average speed of the ride remained 15.9 mph.
We passed a location on the path that was familiar to me, and I cheered that we were so close now! Merely six more miles. We were the only ones on the path now. All the other wet souls having likely gotten back to their vehicles in this time.
We reached another recognizable spot, this one a mere mile or so from where Jim parked his car, and we both let out cheers of joy. The rain eased off, releasing us from the torment as we whipped into the lot and up to Jim’s car.
When I was dropped off at home, my husband greeted me with laughter at the state of my drowned-rat appearance. Not a gentle chuckle or his usual, “Heh!”… No. Hard, loud, gasping laughter. He all-but rolled on the floor. I think he actually laughed himself to tears when I unzipped my cycling shirt and he saw all the dirt and tree gunk, leaves and dead bugs stuck to my chest. And then as I shoved past him toward the shower he cackled even louder,
“Oh! My! God! Your Back!”
I had a stripe of mud splattered up my back and through the shirt. Ugh. I was too beaten to care. Too soaked. I desperately wanted a shower. And then I made the mistake of muttering,
“It looks like I got some sun on my legs,” pointing out to my husband that my legs looked a little more tan, and rolling up the shorts to display the lines on my thighs.
“You got suntanned riding in a lightning storm!” My husband laughed harder. In fact. He laughed himself into hiccups and I couldn’t be more okay with that.
The next day, as with any epic adventure – or as Jim pointed out: superheroes, it was back to normal life. As though nothing happened. As though we weren’t at risk of death or injury for a couple hours of life. As though my friend didn’t just ride 200(ish) miles on a bike.
Jim said we needed capes. I said wasn’t all that great of a hero, but I probably pull off Deadpool. No capes.
Everyone knows that the easy times are easily forgotten. Even my Dad said that, “you remember the things you had to fight for, the experiences in storms.” He’s right. Because no one wants to forget feeling that badass, beating all the odds and obstacles thrown in your path, the achievement. You keep what you had to fight for. You take for granted what’s given.
Maybe its because the challenge forces you to be in the moment the whole time. You have present-sense of what’s happening. And when things are easy, you drift off into could-be’s and has-been’s, never really holding onto that moment, having not actually been in it. Maybe that’s what makes struggling so important sometimes. Maybe we all need to become comfortable with discomfort and seek the challenges out.
Thanks for reading.