Life Lessons In Rain

May 25, 2017
     “Real” bikers ride in the rain. We all know that. I don’t like it. But I do it. If you ride all the time, it’s bound to happen eventually. But the truth is that riding on a cloudy day, when it looks like the sky is going to open up and spew all over you at any moment, is just as wonderful as a sunny day. That is if it wasn’t for the constant concern about getting drenched. Nonetheless, we keep our head down like we’re able to hide from the onslaught of the weather and glide through it hoping that the rain clouds don’t notice us. And, quite often, it looks worse than it ends up being. I’ve ridden under enough clouds and made it out dry that I find myself thinking, “Don’t worry about the rain until you’re getting wet”. It’s almost a motto. I don’t entirely believe it yet. But I’m getting there.
 
    It strikes me as a metaphor for life. If we don’t choose to stay inside and avoid the ride altogether, we ride with this impending doom hanging over our heads. We worry about what’s coming or what could happen. And, looking back, we find out it was a great ride and there was nothing to worry about.
 
    And then.. sometimes it pours.
 
    I spent several months putting together plans on a ride from Charleston, SC.. into Birmingham AL to go to the Barber Motorsports Museum.. up through Huntsville, AL to visit the US Space and Rocket Museum.. into Nashville, TN ‘cause it’s NASHVILLE and I had an appointment to get my first tattoo.. down into Lynchburg, TN for the Jack Daniels Distillery.. continuing into Chattanooga, TN.. and then back home. The ride alone wasn’t particularly ambitious but, with the stops and other riders behind, it was an event. I referred to it as the “Sorry You Didn’t Go To Sturgis This Year Consolation Ride”. Being the longest vacation I took all year, I wanted to make sure it was an awesome trip. Since it was my trip, I wanted to make sure the people riding with me had a good time too.

    The first leg was great. A little back road. Plenty of highway. Temperature was pretty hot but we made it into Birmingham and had a great time at Barber Motorsports. The following day, we had planned on heading to Nashville, stopping on the way in Huntsville to visit the Space Center. As I sat there eating breakfast, I saw the weather with a big mess of rain stretching from Birmingham to Nashville. Pretty much the whole path we were taking. I made up my mind that this was gonna suck and that’s all there was to it. But.. don’t worry about the rain until you’re getting wet, right?
 
    About half way to Huntsville, we got some sprinkles and I pulled over to let people put on rain gear if they wanted to. I had rain gear but, since my son didn’t, I chose not to use it. He still thinks it’s silly to this day but I just didn’t feel right about it. He’s not a dad. Besides, as the leader of the ride, I couldn’t really get a sense of how miserable it was for him if I was wrapped in proverbial bubble wrap. I feel responsible for my riders. Anyway.. once we got rolling again, it cleared up pretty quickly and those of us without rain gear dried pretty quickly.
Rocket Harley-Davidson is just down the road from the Huntsville Space Center. When we left there, a couple of us decided they were going to head toward Nashville, wanting to take more back roads. The rest of us went to the Center. Between Rocket H-D and the Space Center, it POURED! I had water all up under my glasses and had to drop them down so I could look over them to see big exit signs. It sucked. A lot. My friend, Tiny, hadn’t been riding for long and I’m not sure he had ever done rain like this. But he hung in there.
 
    At the Huntsville Space Center, we were beyond wet. There was no point in trying to stay out of the rain. We were soaked through and through but we made it alive and whole. One thing to keep in mind if you’re ever in a situation like this.. a place like the Huntsville Space Center.. air conditioned. If you’re thoroughly wet, you’re likely to be thoroughly freezing inside. Being an engineer and a biker, one looks for fixes. Yeah.. no, they either didn’t have beach towels or they were sold out. We weren’t going to dry off or warm up anytime soon.
 
    We shivered our way through the Space Center and I found great comfort in a bowl of hot soup at their cafe. I held it close longer than I took to eat it. We skipped the outside exhibits. Even when you’re already dripping wet, it’s not intuitive to go out in the rain. Looking back, we probably should have just done it but hindsight is not only clearer, it’s warmer and drier. Nonetheless, after a while, I decided we were just going to have to suck it up and ride on. We had to get to Nashville and couldn’t spend the night where we were. I waited until the rain died down a little but by the time we got to the bikes, the rain had picked up again. I took a route that kept us off the highway for a while.
 
     After ten minutes or so, the rain had stopped. In another ten minutes, everything was starting to dry out, including us. It was a beautiful ride for the rest of the ride into Nashville.Since that ride, I don’t always reach for my rain gear all the time. These days, I make sure I’m wearing sneakers if it looks like it could rain. It’s easier to dry them out than boots and they’re cheaper to replace. For months after that ride, any rain I got caught in was compared to Huntsville. “Sure, it’s raining. But it’s nothing like Huntsville.”
 
    That is.. until Cocoa.
 
    In case there’s any doubt, I’m a space fan. Planes and spaceships. And I love Cocoa Beach, FL. It has a vibe of it’s own, unlike any other beach town I’ve ever been to. It feels more like a place where people live and less like a tourist attraction. It’s nice. I had gone to Kennedy Space Center a year or two earlier but wanted to go again. There was still stuff to see that I didn’t get to the first time because it was so hot outside. There’s also a fine little bar and grill I really enjoy called Coconuts On The Beach. Great food, great atmosphere and it’s on the beach! So I planned another ride down with my son and Tiny.
 
    When we left the hotel, my son decided he didn’t need his helmet since KSC is just down the road. We rode out past the huge docked cruise ships on this partially cloudy day and made our way to Kennedy. After doing our thing, taking the tours, looking at exhibits, watching the iMax movie, etc., etc., we came out to hideously black clouds off to one side of us. After quick calculations of our position against the position of the impending doom, this handful of seasoned bikers turned weathermen decided, “It’s moving away from us”.
 
    Hope may spring eternal but, as we made our way back down the highway, we realized that cold, hard fact put the clouds right in our path. I twisted on a little more to try and cover as much ground as possible before the suck fell on us. In about five minutes, all the traffic on the road, including us, was going about ten miles an hour and you still couldn’t really see anything in front of you. Common sense would have had me get off the road but.. meh.. who listens to that? I had bluetooth on my helmet and called back to Tiny. “Take your time. Stay behind me. We’re going slow so it’s more miserable than dangerous right now. If you feel like you’re losing traction, slow down or pull over. No fast throttle changes. And I’m leaving the channel open just so we’re on contact.” If my son had bluetooth on his helmet, I could have called him too but he had neither bluetooth nor helmet. His full faced helmet, which would have protected him from being pelted in the face, was back at the hotel. Tiny let me know that my son pulled over behind us. I pulled over on a bridge trying to figure out what was going on and wait for him to catch back up. I had comms open with Tiny. I had no channel open to common sense.
 
    When my son came up on us, I started moving again to get off that bridge and look for a safer place to pull off. I took an exit and went to get under the bridge to the left of us but, because of the way the traffic lanes were drawn out and the fact that the bridge was actually two separate lanes, the only place we could park was where the rain came through between the overhead bridges. Not really helpful.
 
    While we had a terse “discussion” between father and son about how he couldn’t see anything and the rain was flaying the skin off his face, the rain subsided and we continued on. On our way to the local Harley shop.. passing our hotel.. the rain actually stopped. Of course, the Harley shop was closed and stopping provided time for it to start raining again, but not nearly as bad and the hotel was about a mile away. We were, again, entirely soaked. Tiny had again survived the worst rainstorm ever. In history. Ever. Since then, the story has been, “Yeah, it’s raining. But it’s nothing like Cocoa!”
 
    We survived. The moral of the story? Don’t worry about it. It’s either going to rain or it’s not. You’ll either enjoy the ride or you’ll have stories to tell. That sounds a lot like life to me.
 
    Oh.. and wear your helmet.