An Impromptu RideJan Heine
On Monday, Seattle experienced a huge rainstorm as the rainy season arrived in earnest. By noon, more than 2 inches of rain had fallen in my neighborhood, and the wind gusts reminded me of Hurricane Sandy, which I experienced in Philadelphia. (I was lucky and not on the shore, where the storm surges caused the real damage.)
I had a dentist appointment that day, and seeing the rain drops bounce off the pavement, I wasn’t looking forward to the ride across town. In fact, I was reluctantly considering to take the car. But then it looked like the rain was letting up a bit. I took it as a sign: Ride your bike! I contemplated riding in street clothes and rain gear, but then decided to change into cycling clothes. Comfort prevailed over convenience. The rain did indeed let up, and it was a pleasant ride. As the wind whipped across Greenlake, waves were breaking on the surface of this usually placid little lake. Fortunately, the strong crosswinds didn’t bother my Urban Bike. Better yet, I was on the upwind side of the road, so the spray from passing cars blew away from me. I got to the dentist only slightly moist on the outer layer of my woolen clothes.
When I left the dentist’s office, it had stopped raining. As I turned onto the Burke-Gilman Trail, I could not help but think that it was a lovely afternoon for a ride. Back at work, my desk for once was not crammed with urgent deadlines. What if I rode a few minutes the other way, then turned around and head home?
The trail is wonderful on winter weekdays, almost deserted. It’s like having a road to yourself. When there is a break after a heavy rainstorm, it almost seems like the earth is breathing a sigh of relief. It now has time to absorb all that water, or at least try to.
At one spot on the trail, a drain appeared to be clogged, and I rode through half a foot of water. A vactor truck had pulled up, and the workers were assessing the situation. Along the bluff, there were rushing creeks where usually no water flows. Further into the ride, I saw that much of Lake City Way had flooded (below). Police were closing the lanes and redirecting traffic. The photos, by the way, are courtesy of the Seattle Times. I did not bring a camera, nor would I have wanted to stop and get cold during this ride.
As I rode along Lake Washington, I saw the yellow maples at Holmes Point across the water, not far away. What if I rode one of our favorite routes that loops around the North End of Lake Washington? I resisted the temptation, but then decided to at least continue to the northern end of Lake Washington, where I could see the waves crash into the beach at Logboom Park.
Pushed along by the powerful wind, I got there quickly. That meant I would have to ride into a strong wind on the way back. If I continued the loop, then I’d be sheltered among the trees on the Eastside. There was the possibility – no, likelihood – that it would start raining again, but so what? I checked my watch. I should be able to make it home barely in time for dinner. I did not have much food with me, but I could pick up something if needed at a convenience store… I decided to give in to the temptation and continued past Logboom Park.
It’s the off-season, but I felt good climbing the long ascent of Juanita Drive. I noticed that the cars coming the other way had their windshield wipers on and their headlights illuminated. Not a good sign, but turning around now seemed silly. It was almost as far if I turned back as if I continued. The descent to Holmes Point usually is a great place to test the handling of bicycles, as it has some sharp turns with decreasing radii. Today, I took it with caution, as wet leaves and tree branches littered the road. When I reached the bottom, the storm started in earnest again. I flipped the switch on my stem to turn on my lights and continued. I thought about putting on my rain jacket, but stopping was not appealing, and my wool jersey and wool tights kept me warm, if not dry. At least I wouldn’t overheat on the next climb.
As so often, once you are out in the rain, the weather doesn’t diminish the fun of riding. I was enjoying myself as I rode through Kirkland and Medina. Even though my fenders kept the spray off my feet, the deluge was soaking them from above. Darkness fell, but from this point, I would be on small streets with little traffic. On the steep hills along the shore in Bellevue, I wished for better brakes. Usually, I drag the brakes on long urban downhills in the rain to keep the rims warm, so that all incoming water evaporates. In this deluge, the rims cooled so quickly that this did not work. I pulled on the levers as hard as I could, and for a long time got almost no braking. Then, finally, the pads had removed the water and grabbed the rim, and the bike slowed immediately. Not wanting to stop, but just slow down, I opened the levers, only to have the rims coated with water again immediately. Mental note: If I were to ride in weather like this often, I might get disc brakes.
The leaves on the road required cautious cornering, and my iffy brakes required me to slow long before every intersection, so my average speed was much lower than usual, and I was running far behind schedule.
As I rode through Beaux Arts, I was not looking forward to the bike trail across the Interstate 90 bridge. For some reason, the planners decided to put the trail on the side of the freeway that is downwind during rainstorms. On wet days, the spray is blown across the low concrete barrier and onto the cyclists riding within a few feet of the speeding cars. I needn’t worry on this day since the traffic was stop-and-go, and there was no spray. I stopped in Leschi to buy some chocolate. The nice clerk let me use their phone to call home. As I continued on Lake Washington Boulevard, I saw that my favorite hillclimb up Alder Lane had a mudslide coming down the road. A huge pool of muddy water had collected on the road – but fortunately not in my lane. A little further, utility crews were digging out a manhole, illuminated by bright worklights. I dodged more standing water in the Arboretum (photo at the top of the post) and finally made it home at 6:30, an hour behind schedule. I am glad I didn’t take the car to the dentist, because I would have missed the opportunity for a great ride.