Monday, August 8, 2011

Cycling in a Coastal Downpour

After the Downpour
On the second morning of our trip I awoke to the sound of vigorous drums, which I soon realised was pelting rain. Outside, the line between sky and ocean was blurred and the patch of rocky beach we occupied was flooded. Inside, everything was damp from humidity - our clothing, the bedding, our faces. We had known that the forecast promised intermittent rain, so this was not a surprise and we didn't despair. We were not planning to cycle every day; we had loads of other things to do. We would see.

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!

37 comments:

  1. Hang in there! Hopefully you can find some car free roads or paths to ride on during the rain. I can enjoy heavy warm rain if there are no cars and the road/path is in reasonable shape. It always seems to me that cars speed up when the weather is poor, but maybe it's just the sound of the tires on the wet pavement. Stay safe.

    Thanks for the photo showing the Nitto Campee rack.
    Mark

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  2. V-
    I really wish you were having an even more enjoyable vacation, but at least it's bound to get better.
    We were biking in France in May, all the ingredients for perfect biking - until the rain started. What can you do? Keep going!
    Your story reminded me of how little fun it is being passed by cars & trucks sending up those huge clouds of water spray - really an experience unique to bicycling!
    It does make for the good story after it's over though.
    Tallyho,
    OBR

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  3. Vel said.......
    "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."

    Yes, and I can see why. Unlike the Blues Brothers this trip was not a "Mission from God" ! :^))

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  4. WOW! Sounds like quite the adventure!

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  5. oy! the rain was indeed yucky! so sorry you were riding in it. I hope today is better. the cape it started off foggy and now is actually nice. tomorrow seems to be an even better day. take good care!

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  6. Despite the rain sounds like it would be my kind of adventure. I know what ya mean bout rim brakes getting wet they do suck but as of yet I have not had the pleasure of riding in a full down pour.

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  7. I had 90 miles of that sort of thing cycling along Hadrian's Wall in Cumbria a couple of years ago, late in autumn, in record floods. No fun at all - until late in the afternoon coming upon an old pub on a lonely road along the Solway Firth; the Hope and Anchor. Called in and a few minutes later, my room arranged I was sitting down to a pint and a pie and listening to the rain lash the windows. Somehow that perfect moment was the pay off for the whole day's misery.
    I hope you find such a moment

    Cheers

    Roff

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  8. Some weather is just not safe to ride in. A drizzle or even a steady summer shower is one thing, but a torrential downpour with gusty winds is something different. Please be careful out there.

    I always take a small (4 oz) weather-band radio on tour, so I can check for things like severe weather alerts or just get the forecast in rural areas without cell phone reception or internet access.

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  9. Why didn't you put rainwear on? There's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. Epic fail.

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  10. I was car free for 10 years and have ridden in the rain a lot. While I think that the trick to riding in the rain is mostly mental (i.e., it's not really as bad as it is in your imagination), in many years of biking, I don't think that I have never ridden in conditions as bad as the ones you describe. The combination of heavy rain, invisible potholes, elevation changes, and speeding motor vehicles splashing you with water sounds both extremely unpleasant as well as dangerous, and I think choosing to avoid those particular conditions if at all possible is wise.

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  11. That kind of riding is never enjoyable. It's just necessary sometimes, given the range of weather conditions that occur on Mother Earth. And it's essential to undergo, insomuch as it gives you the valuable experience of handling it. You didn't directly mention the co-hab, but presumably he endured it too. There's a bonding experience to be gleaned from that, at least. Usually that kind of drenching nightmare is endured in stoic solitude. So if the glass can be half full, perhaps that's what you can focus on.

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  12. Ronnie - I started out with rain clothes, but it was too hot. In any case, that was the last of my concerns. The biggest problem was cycling along a flooded road, poor braking power, and poor visibility - I don't think they make the right clothes for that
    : )

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  13. Ronnie, I kind of got the impression that this was meant to be a trip for pleasure, in which case, it's not a matter of whether or not V and the Cohabitant were ABLE to ride in the weather, but a matter of when it stopped being fun.
    I think all of us have been out in some pretty horrendous stuff, but speaking for myself there's a point where I might head home early if I can't think of a compelling reason to be out there.

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  14. Right now, a downpour would be glorious. I can't remember the last time it rained. I know it was before I bought more rain gear.

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  15. Buying all the rain gear only to have it never rain when you cycle wouldn't be a bad deal. Of course the deal's off as soon as you leave said gear at home.

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  16. Matt - Right. If I'm cycling along a route selected especially for its beauty, but the visibility is such that it might as well be the local Stripmall Road, then it kind of defeats the purpose. But moreover, it was also a matter of safety. My thinking is basically as Andy describes.

    Roff - Hope and Anchor! Very nice : )

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  17. Anon - Haa! I wore my rain jacket initially precisely hoping that this would make it not rain.

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  18. I'm wondering, if given 2 choices, which would you prefer? Cycling in a downpour with poor visiblity, which you just experienced, or intense heat in the desert with perfect visibility (and i don't mean middle-of-nowhere desert, but big-city desert, like Las Vegas). Hard to judge since i don't think you've experienced the latter.

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  19. Oh my. You are right, I haven't experienced the latter. But knowing myself, I'd probably take the downpour.

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  20. Off topic, but I've been scouring your blog looking for information on the water bottles that you and your counterpart use. Any help would be received gratefully.

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  21. Very nice blog. I have just acquired a Surly LHT and have every hope of rejuvenating a 40- year cycling passion. Your posts are factual and informative but they have a dreamy quality that reminds me of my wife's and my tour from Le Havre to Florence and back during 1975 and 76. You are fun. I hope to visit frequently. Best wishes- PJTramdack

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  22. I've ridden in torrential downpours in traffic with passing cars spray and have ridden/do ride in a desert city (Tucson). I'll take riding in a desert city any day. Drink lots of water, don't overexert, and enjoy!

    One guy I know here in Tucson rides a weekend summer Saturday 60 mile ride with the fast crowd, starting at 6:30 a.m. Then, later, around 11:00 a.m. he rides his Specialized S Works CF bike along a local river trail, just for fun with his earbuds plugged in. He looks like an older Lance Armstrong...

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  23. I'm afraid I'm a sunshine patriot when it comes to most any overnight outdoor adventures. Take the beach for instance. When the sun is shining it is beautiful beyond compare... but when it's grey and raining, the waves turn ominous, the color turns to mud and no joy can be found in merciless Nature. It's easy to imagine as many awful things as there are wonders to find in the sun.

    I was on a car camping trip recently where we met up with a couple who was cycling and camping cross country. Very brave indeed! I thought I was toughing it out just car camping. But they were peddling down a busy two lane highway. I'd think the traffic of cars speeding past at 60 mph would have been the worst of it. But add to that the privation of sleeping in tents and all. I hope they found a quiet patch of road to enjoy.

    :0)

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  24. Jim - They are Klean Kanteen, twined and shellacked.

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  25. It's been a very long time since I've done that sort of riding. The Mendocino coast rarely has that sort of rain, but features lots and lots of drizzle and fog.
    I do not imagine I would have fared any better than you and Co-Hab did.
    At least there was coffee.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AFf0ysgNiM

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  26. Velouria, I'm sorry that I am enjoying your travelogue, and you are not. I know exactly what you mean by "Not having anything to prove". I would have bailed, maybe earlier. I will pray for sunshine for you two.

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  27. Been there, on a motorcycle. Same danger. Most worried about being seen. And yes the cars keep coming adding more stress to the situation. We once spent a whole afternoon waiting out a storm on the porch of someone's farm like a couple of refugees. Kinda cool actually.

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  28. Rainy day? Cast your Anchor. Hope is just a pint away.

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  29. Oh dear! And I thought we'd had it bad last year on our soggy summer rides - nothing like this though. Definitely the right decision to turn around - misery and danger highly overrated as bike-character builders.

    Hope you have some sunny days to enjoy all the more from the contrast.

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  30. Very good for the skin.

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  31. "Everything turned gray and liquidy". Very apt description! That's happened to me a few times, but it's usually been on segregated cycle paths and on the way home, so no big deal.

    Hope you get better weather soon.

    BTW you take nice pictures and write well. Have you considered making video footage of your rides too? Russ knows how...

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  32. Totally confirms my dislike of such expeditions...
    I may be a pesky princess but I only sleep in beds and under roofs, thank you very much!! Oh and throw in normal breakfasts with forks and knives on a normal table!!
    Mr. Montrealize would love to drag me into such trips but beyond the sheer and obvious danger of it (yours is a perfect example), who want to pedal with algae in their undies, peeing behind bushes?
    I know, I know...

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  33. "Hope is just a pint away"

    Actually no! Turns out the closest town here is... a dry town! More details on this and other wonders soon.

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  34. Velouria said:
    " I don't think they make the right clothes for that : )"

    Maybe something like this? : ) http://www.impawards.com/2008/iron_man.html

    In those moments I remind myself that when I'm old in an old body it will be one of my fondest memories: the miracle of what my young body could withstand.

    Hope you get to have at least one day that is what you imagined your holiday would be. Cheers!

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  35. OK so I was thinking you might be on MDI because of the photo and the crazy rain! But, we have no dry towns: mostly booze filled tourist traps! I just drove back from Maine yesterday and we had some mega showers over the last week and it made me feel very sorry for cyclists and campers stuck outside!!! I agree with you....once a pleasure ride is not pleasurable, it's time to call it a day! Stay dry...

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  36. I ride in the rain a few times a week where I live (northern England), and it's not for everybody, even here. If you do it enough, you hardly notice the weather.

    It's a folly to try to stay dry in such conditions, as you will either be soaked with rain or your own sweat, take your pick.

    You were doing well in that your bike was equipped with mudguards (fenders), but you might want to look into Kool-Stop Supra 2 brake pads, in the salmon color (wet conditions).

    Try another rain ride before deciding it sucks.

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  37. It's fun riding in the rain and having a hot coffee after that. I love it. But the paths you take must be good for a rainy ride, potholes are nightmare if not clearly visible.If there are other speeding vehicles, you must stay safe, and wear some highly visible cloths. It's tough when the water hits hard on you. Have a happy wet ride.

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