I took the bike to visit a friend last night. Before doing so, I checked Weather Underground, since there’d been a good chance of rain all day. The hourly forecast showed me a 10% chance of rain, and the animated radar showed a patch of rain on the North Shore moving away from my route, with nothing between me and my destination. I skipped the car and took the bike.
The sun wasn’t quite down but the forest canopies on Route 117 in Concord were dark. I spotted some movement ahead of me with no lights that I was gaining on rapidly, so I instinctively slowed down. As I looked more closely, the bobbing motion, brown color, and size clued me in that I was following a deer running down the road! At least it stayed in the proper lane. It turned right into the woods as soon as it could. That could’ve ruined my day. I flashed my high beam at oncoming traffic to warn them, and rode very slowly past where the beast left the road, just in case it decided to jump back out. It didn’t, and I was fine. But from that point on, I was paranoid about deer. I wasn’t going fast to begin with, but I really eased off on the speed a lot, and used my high beam anytime there wasn’t oncoming traffic. I wouldn’t say I lost my confidence – I handled the deer sighting perfectly – but I was certainly a bit more concerned.
The road became wet, which meant it had rained here recently. My windshield collected a little mist – no big deal. But then it started collecting raindrops. So much for a 10% chance of rain. It kept getting heavier as I went on, and knowing that I was going to be in stop and go traffic as I crossed Waltham, I found a parking lot to bail into and put on my rain gear. My First Gear jacket came with a rain shell that stores conveniently into a pocket on the back made just for that purpose, and I always keep my rain pants in the trunk, so I’m always prepared for an unexpected shower. After I did, I found myself unable to wipe the rain drops off my helmet’s visor with my new gloves. The old ones were slightly absorbent, but not these. Even worse, somehow some rain had gotten on the inside of the visor, so it wasn’t easy to wipe, and certainly wasn’t blowing off in the wind. Bummer. The speeds were going to be low through Waltham anyway, so I could just ride with the visor open if I had to. I wear glasses so I wouldn’t get hit in the eye with a raindrop. It started raining harder as I entered Waltham. When I stopped at a light I noticed the road surface was quite slippery under my boot. I could actually squeak my heel on it.
Route 20 through Waltham is insanely poorly designed. At this intersection you have to be in the right lane, but at the next one a few hundred feet away you need to be in the left, then right for the next one… Which lane you need to be in when is poorly marked. You can’t figure it out until you’re already in the wrong lane. And traffic is always dense enough that changing lanes is difficult at best. Most people just end up running straight through the turn lanes anyway, so even if you get it right you have to watch out for everyone who doesn’t. So this area is a challenge even on a bright sunny day. Now it was dark, it was wet and slippery, and I couldn’t see very well. Even worse, my visor and even my glasses were starting to fog up. I was able to wipe them a little bit at red lights, but that didn’t help much. Though I was able to see the flashes of lightning and hear the thunder rumbling. Fortunately I’ve ridden through Waltham enough times lately that I’ve just about memorized the maze of turn-only lanes and managed to get all of them correct this time.
Then, after an extremely long red light made my visibility as bad as it could possibly be, I found myself on newly grooved pavement. Of all things… Not only was the road trying to steer the bike for me, there were numerous manholes sticking up. The curved wet metal sticking up in the middle of the lane might as well be an IED as far as a motorcycle is concerned. In conditions like these, if I hit one I was definitely going down, and my horrendous visibility made that a rather likely situation. Fortunately the road split to two lanes, so I stayed right, dropped to bicycle speed, and let the whole world pass me on the left. I managed to keep the bike up and, despite the nearly invisible road fighting me, avoid all of the obstacles in front of me. In a while I got out of the grooved section, and aside from hardly being able to see anything the last few miles were uneventful. I successfully reached my destination.
When my friend opened the door and saw me standing there in my wet helmet and rain gear, she said, “Oh no! Didn’t you know about the severe storm warning?” Why, no, I didn’t. We didn’t have one where I live, just 15 miles away. We had a 10% chance of rain and a clear radar.
Once again, my rain gear kept me dry – or at least as dry as I was when I pulled over to put it on. When I went home a few hours later my riding gear was all dry and the rain was gone. I put my rain pants on anyway because my bike was still wet, and so were some of the roads, but I stashed the rain jacket back in its pouch and was fine. I took back roads out to Route 2 and superslabbed it home. There was no way I was going back through Waltham with that grooved pavement there.
That ride has to rank among my worst rides ever. I’m fortunate that it was so short. The only other ride that ranks up there with it was another thunderstorm in Maine, where I ended up riding into hail at 50mph. That hurt, even through a thick motorcycle leather jacket.