It was hot and humid that day in the upper western midwest. So hot and so humid, that we shed our helmets and jackets just for the short stop to get gas. Paul and I finished first and rolled under the shade of a nearby tree. The gas station and mini-mart had thoughtfully placed a picnic table under the tree. I poured more gatorade into the big cup of ice and gulped it down. Paul looked due west in the direction we were headed. There was a line of thick black clouds sitting right above the mountain range. Even from this far away, you could see that they truncated the sunlight in a fairly abrupt manner. It looked like a scene from a tornado movie. Estimates were that it was a good hour and a half to two hours away. Our planned stop for the day was an hour due west. I suggested that we saddle up and get going. Mike and Greg joined us and said they were going to call it a day and let the storm pass overnight.
We had only met that morning, but had similar plans for today’s destination so we rode together. The danger of that is a decision point just like this one. Not everybody agrees. I looked at the group and tried to convince them to continue to the planned stop, and that the rain was only water. Mike and Greg were unconvinced. Paul became unconvinced. I decided to press on. It might have been an excuse to get back to solo riding, or I may have been confident in outrunning the weather. Probably a little of both. For the next 30 minutes, the road went arrow-straight, and the conditions remained hot and humid. The air-cooled cylinders got what little cooling the passage of 100 degree air at 75mph could provide. I was glad they stuck out into the airflow. Those Bavarian engineers were right to have form follow function.
And then I hit the front. The weather front, that is. The temperature dropped 15 degrees in what seemed like a hundred yards. It felt great. Regardless of the fact that it probably dropped from 105 to 90°, it still felt great. A few more clouds appeared, but it was still pretty hot and humid. The bad stuff still looked to be a long way away, and I pressed on. Five minutes later, there was another big drop in temperature, and this time the skies got much cloudier very suddenly. This was followed very quickly by the first big drop hitting the windshield. It was an unbelievably large single drop of rain such as I had never seen before. It was as if someone had thrown a small water balloon against the windshield. And then there was another, and another, and pretty soon they were hitting the road like some strange kind of aquatic mortar fire. I pulled off immediately and decided to rapidly put on the rain suit.
Or not. It is amazing how difficult it is to put on a rain suit while in a hurry, having nothing to lean on, and while getting wet. They are designed to be put on in a controlled environment where you preferably have seating available and a few minutes. The road was mostly deserted, but I must have looked like a hopping contortionist being attacked by bees. When finished, I was yards away from the bike and trotted back drenched in sweat. It was now a steady downpour, and having no shelter, I decided to ride rather than steam myself to death. As I got underway, steam was rising from the entire road giving the surreal appearance that you were riding a ribbon of vapor rather than a road. I remember thinking that it would make a good scene for a sci-fi movie set on some strange planet. The rain came down in sheets and buckets. surely I had made a navigational error and I was now riding under niagara falls. The windshield was fogging, and my visor was fogging. I ended up sitting fully upright to see over the windshield, and left my visor open so I got a face and neck full of rain. But I could see. Partially. There was a headwind which seemed to drive the rain straight at me horizontally. The road is said to be more dangerous when it first starts raining, but in this case the rain was coming down so hard that it probably negated that effect.
The rain began to get cooler in temperature, but just as torrential. A truck came up behind me, and then crossed the centerline to pass. It released a tidal wave of water sideways, and I was almost pushed off the road. He also left a wake of spray making visibility zero for a few seconds. A few seconds of blindness on a motorcycle in these conditions is pretty unsettling (read terrifying). The sky got even darker, and the rain was heavy and relentless. My speed slowed. Time slowed. It was 30 miles to the stopping point, and nothing inbetween. My max speed was about 40mph.
Then I noticed something. In the absence of the truck ordeal, simply riding along in a complete downpour with the cooler temperatures was not that bad. This is what pushing your limits is all about, its all relative. I slowly began to relax. Wasn’t the motorcycle cool and contented compared to earlier ? Why yes, yes it was. Would I have voluntarily taken on this challenge ? No. Why were we trying so hard to avoid riding in the rain when we all had good gear that we purchased for just that scenario ? Good question. Same for my tires which have a great wet rating. Do we as motorcyclists have an irrational fear of the rain ? Aren’t we trying to get closer to the elements than you might do in a car ? Yep, another good point. And another thing, how is rain able to wash all of the bug stains off the windshield, when space age chemicals cannot ? What if I had stopped with the others and had never experienced the rain ? This banter went on for a while until I suddenly noticed that the sky was, to quote Joe Cocker, a lighter shade of pale. The rain was just as steady but moderate, and the signs of the town were appearing. I considered pressing on, as there was some daylight left, and another town about 45 minutes up the road. I ultimately decided not to add fatigue to the list of factors to navigate. I reluctantly headed for the motel. Motorists gave me the look that said “you poor wet soul” or “I bet he would love to trade that for my SUV right now”. I smiled at how wrong they were inside a slightly foggy helmet.
Sitting an hour later with a burger and a beer, I watched the rain continue to come down. It was washing away the layers of dirt and dust from the dry hot days which had preceded it. The waitress said they really needed the rain. I nodded. I really needed that rain. It was afriendly rain with much to teach and nothing to fear. To the contrary, it beckoned.