When you’re all wet, you can’t get any wetter. So you might just as well ride on. That’s the common-sense philosophy I applied today, when I probably rode longer in rain than I ever have before.
Not that I ever plan my rides to happen that way. Life is too short and good days too plentiful to hop out there in a downpour. Why court discomfort and even, perhaps, illness while there are plenty of other cycling prospects? Besides, in the rain the equipment gets soaked, even mushy, starts making strange noises, and can end up creaky and rusty. So can your bike.
But this morning was lovely. No early fog or cloud layer, though there was a prediction of scattered thunderstorms this afternoon (complete with all the usual Terrorist Weatherman warnings about heavy downpours, damaging winds, and hail). The sky was blue, with a thin veil of high cloud, through which contrails could be seen. The sun was out, and by 10:30 it was already 76˚. Perfect! I suited up, but donned a simpler jersey, and decided to ride the Fuji. Not that I expected rain, but I wanted to head west and the trail work east of Hunter Mill Road continues to force us onto the bridle trail with its loose gravel and mud. The Fuji has shocks in the front forks and wider, softer tires with tread, instead of the carbon forks and thin slicks of my Trek.
Between the time I started to dress and the time I rolled out of the driveway, however, the sun had given way to a denser overcast which still looked broken, light, and non-threatening. As I went westward toward Vienna I could start to see some darker layers of cloud off to the southwest. By the time I got to Hunter Mill Road the sky was even darker, especially where a straight line of dark cloud seemed to be working in my general direction but bypassing the trail to the south. Exactly as the Doppler radar map I checked on the Internet before leaving had indicated, this seemed to be a small cell that was destined to miss northern Fairfax County.
But just after I crossed Hunter Mill a few drops started splattering down, propelled by cooler gusts of wind. Stray drops, I figured, drifted from a couple of thousand feet up by the wind. And so it stayed for a while. The asphalt looked speckled, not saturated; where trees sheltered it the Trail was dry. Just after the top of the climb west of Hunter Mill I heard the boom of thunder off to the south. Fairly distant, it seemed.
But right afterwards, as so often happens, the rain began to fall more purposefully. I was already soaked, and it was not raining hard enough to distort the readings on my cycle computer, so all I had to remember was not to get going so fast that I had to slam on the brakes. Not much chance of speeding on the uphill section I was riding, anyhow. I was even discovering I could see pretty well even with raindrops on my sunglasses. By the time I got to Sunset Valley Road the Dulles Toll Road overpass provided a comforting respite from the rain, and when I crossed Wiehle Avenue I decided I would stop about a mile farther on, at a large shelter just before I got to the 7-Eleven.
When I arrived there was another rider there, a woman who kindly rearranged her bike so that both my bike and I could stay dry. She was heading inbound, and planned to cycle the W&OD and the C&O. She had sort of homemade panniers, and an older bike with a chain guard and fenders. We chatted a bit and watched a couple of groups of strong riders blast by. A cycle team car painted up with the sponsor’s name and logo was parked in the lot across the trail. I wondered where they were, and guessed they were not stopping. There was more thunder and some pretty heavy rain, but there was lighter sky off to the west and when the rain let up a bit, after 10 minutes or so, we both took off.
The rain didn’t give up easily. There were loud rumbles of thunder, and for a few minutes the drops got a “hard” feeling, probably meaning that they were actually melting hail. It was still falling lightly when I reached my turnaround point at the skateboarding park just west of Herndon. To the everlasting shame of those skateboarders there was no action on the ramps. “Sissies and cowards!” I thought somewhat smugly, and headed for home.
Finally the precipitation petered out into drips and drizzle somewhere along the way back. I noticed places where leaves and/or gravel had washed over the road, though I don’t think I ever experienced any rain that heavy. The sky transformed itself from the blur of falling rain to the gray legions of clouds moving away in orderly echelons toward the northeast. Joggers and walkers re-emerged on the Trail almost immediately; cyclists who weren’t already soaked like I was seemed by their absence to be more circumspect about afternoon exercise. I got back unscathed, my soaking clothes serving as a badge of honor.