Monday, August 8, 2011
Cycling in a Coastal Downpour
But as we drank coffee, the rain appeared to let up. Things were looking good - picturesquely stormy, but calm. It looked as if the downpour had exhausted itself in the course of the night and we decided to set off on our bikes after all, going along the coast for a manageable distance.
The ride started out fine. We made our way up a winding hill, past ominously abandoned beaches. Moody skies hung low over a dark gray ocean. The empty roads were promising. There was only a mild drizzle and we agreed that if things stayed like this, it would be even better than sunny weather - cooler, and less crowded. After cycling for a bit it grew humid and I removed my rain jacket, stashing it inside the handlebar bag. Two minutes later, the skies opened up. There was no build-up; it was as if someone opened a floodgate.
Instead of turning back we persisted, hoping the rain would eventually ease up again. But it only intensified. The amount of water was unbelievable, even compared to the many other times I've cycled in the rain. Visibility became non-existent, with everything turning gray and liquidy. The roads became flooded and soon I was cycling with my wheels partly submerged in water. Roads are terrible in this area, and even on a dry day it is a task to navigate around potholes. Now that they were invisible underwater, I could neither anticipate nor avoid them. My bike bounced violently over ditches at high speeds. This felt distinctly unsafe, especially on curvy descents. On a bike with narrow tires, the ride would have been simply impossible for me.
The coastal road was narrow and winding. As I tried to maintain a consistent line of travel, motorists sped past us, well over the posted speed limit, sending sprays of yet more water in our direction. I had my lights on and could only hope I was visible to them. My jersey - which had started out a bright crimson - was now a dark, dull brown. There are a few tricky spots on this route, where several roads merge on a twisty downhill - so that one must resist picking up speed and be prepared to brake instead. At these instances it became frighteningly apparent that my brakes did not work well under such conditions. I suspended disbelief and did my best, feathering the brakes and trying not to have a panic attack. Climbing up a flooded road while bouncing over potholes was horrifying as well.
Despite my best efforts I found this type of cycling too stressful to enjoy. I couldn't see where I was going, let alone anything resembling scenery, and frankly I had nothing to prove. This was meant to be a pleasant trip and not an endurance contest. I signaled to the Co-Habitant that I wanted to turn around, and we did - making our way back through the unrelenting downpour the same way we came. Before returning home, we took a detour and stopped at a hardware store to pick up oil for the bikes - later spending a great deal of time wiping sand and debris off of them and treating the components to prevent rust - which can form alarmingly quickly in a coastal environment. My wool cycling clothing took a day to air-dry, and my shoes are still soaking wet.
Though I know others enjoy the challenge of riding in this kind of weather, this is not an experience I care to repeat unless absolutely necessary. It is one thing to cycle in the rain, but a trip along the coast in a continuous and forceful downpour - with the roads flooded, visibility poor, and the wind assaulting my face, body and bike with sandy salt water - is not something I can justify, both in terms of safety and in terms of its detrimental effect on equipment. Hopefully there will be better weather ahead... though the forecast remains ominous!