My last post was about getting out on a dirt bike to do stuff I felt completely uncomfortable doing, for the sake of practice. It turns out this is more important than I thought.
Last night I went to a local shop that was having a seminar on tires and chains, and it was awesome. Now, I knew as I was leaving that I'd be hitting rain, but it didn't look like it'd get terribly nasty, and, hey, I have the gear for it! When I left I packed everything up (zip-lock bags for everything I care about, rain pants on over my jeans and pads, plastic bags inside my boots) in case I hit rain before getting to the shop. Only bit that I carried with without wearing was my rain jacket as it was HOT out (in all black leather). I learned all this on my trip back from Indiana, and how important staying dry is for maintaining your concentration. The last 5 miles or so of my trip to the shop was a mad dash through the rain, rather than putting my jacket on, as I was close enough that I didn't want to stop. However, I got there almost on time, and mostly dry.
The seminar was great, I learned a ton, but some people kept asking questions, and I saw the sky outside get darker, and darker. Finally we got to the end (checking out the bikes of the few people that road) and I got mine in second. After thanking everyone for putting it on (free of charge!) I geared up to roll out.
To set the stage, it was about 9:15, pitch black, and thunder storming, but I assumed that I was good to go. I had all my gear (except for rubber kitchen gloves under my leathers, as I felt I'd be done soon enough) on and had 240 miles of rainy riding at Interstate speeds with rain gear, and forced myself to experience riding without rain gear for about 10-15 miles in pouring rain just in case. I was fairly confident that if I just stayed off the major highways I'd be fine. That little instinct probably saved me a world of hurt.
As I pulled out onto the first road I flipped my face shield down to block out the rain, and was a bit annoyed at how dirty it was. I tried to wipe it off, but it didn't help. With rain on there, and probably all the bug guts and dirt from my Indiana trip, any ambient light washed out my vision completely. Cars coming towards me rendered my vision useless. I started to experiment with opening the face shield slightly over the next mile, but I simply couldn't see any signs well enough to read them, or judge distances in the best of circumstances, and couldn't even see my speedometer in the worst.
50 miles from home, that late at night, there's not too many options. I could have stopped, tried to clean my helmet (with what?), tried to figure out how to cut down on glare from cars (it has a built in sun visor), or kept riding and opened the shield. I kept riding and opened the shield.
From my experience coming home from Rolling Thunder I knew what rain felt like on bare skin, and hard rain through leathers, but I'd yet to be smacked in the face by it at speed. Its not fun without goggles, as every time you turn your head to check a cross street, look down to check your speedometer, or look up to read a sign rain blasts into your eyes, and of course you can't close them, you're moving at speed. In addition, simply looking forwards your face is getting smacked by rain... and water at 50mph stings.
After a few miles on the outskirts of the town this shop was in, it started to really suck. The street lights started disappearing, the street moved down to one lane, and my glasses were well and truly soaking wet. My vision was maybe at 100 feet, and for pot holes and debris in the road it was literally when I hit it, I'd know. I basically picked a mini-van, and stayed behind it, following their lights into the darkness. Then we got into tree-lined on both sides, and there was no ambient light, I actually preferred this, as with no cars coming I could actually see! However, with cars coming I was again unable to see anything but the car's headlights.
Around here, sucky turned worse. My engine started sputtering when I'd idle. So the first stop light I pulled up to, I saw my RPMs start dropping, the engine coughed, and she shut off. Not this again. This happened in the rain storm after Rolling Thunder, and the only solution was to keep RPMs up around 5-7k (idle is around 2k). As I'd rev, great spouts of steam would come flying out the front of my bike like a pissed off dragon coming awake (it'd be colored red from the car tail lights in front of me). Naturally this means that to stop I couldn't clutch in, drop to first gear, and brake. I had to clutch in, set my throttle quickly to about 50% and brake (using on the front brake in the water) while holding the throttle in the same hand. Cramp Buster saved my life... maybe literally. Oh, and fun fact, if your glasses' lenses are at the temperature of air moving at 30mph, and soaking wet, what happens when you stop at a light? That's right, completely fogged up. One hand on the clutch, one on the throttle/brake... there's no way to take them off and nothing to clean them with if you could.
So the rest of the 30 miles to home is a blur of adrenaline influenced memories of lighting cracking overhead, thunder rolling by (only at stop lights, couldn't hear it as I was moving), pot holes barely avoided and not avoided, shoulders ridden on, medians missed by inches, and me screaming the Dropkick Murphies' version of Amazing Grace into the night. I had two guys try to take me out, one caught himself, the other I had time to avoid.... I'm sure he saw me, simply didn't care. Ate water from a semi cab hitting a pot hole next to me, and nearly caught a deer (it crossed in front of the car behind me).
Most terrifying ride of my life.
But... I'd experienced riding in the rain, so that didn't scare me. I'd experienced what rain feels like on bare skin, so while it stung it didn't phase me past the first 5 minutes. I'd ridding at night and in thunder storms, so those weren't the bits that bugged me. What scared me was not knowing what was more than a second in front of me for more than 90% of that ride, and knowing that if something did come up I had no escape options. Thanks to the practice I forced on myself earlier in my riding career (and someone looking out for me), this situation turned out alright. I made it home within an hour and a half, I didn't hit a single object, and I think my bike isn't very messed up. When I arrived home, I got off the bike, looked up into the sky, and pulled a Shawshank Redemption, amazed and thankful that I was home, and in one piece.
So the next time you think "Gee, I could do X, but its a little not good for it right now" ask yourself if you might ever be caught in the same situation without experiencing it. Then go out and experience it so you can have some control over the circumstances, I'm so thankful I did.