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Inside RAAM – A Little Rain Must Fall

by on July 30, 2015

Throughout RAAM, our weather conditions were mostly good.  Yes, it was hot … but it was summer!  It is going to be hot.

We dodged some light rain as we moved through Illinois and Indiana.  Sometimes the road was wet from a passing sprinkle, but mostly we stayed dry.

It wasn’t until West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland until real rain fell.

It started in West Virginia just about sunset (if I recall properly).  It was light enough that it didn’t really matter.  I do recall checking the weather radar from my phone, and seeing that the forecast was for some substantial rain through the night and into the next day.  All of this is still pretty fuzzy for me.  This was happening as I was suffering the most from sleep deprivation.

Light rain gear was really all that was necessary throughout the night.  That’s good, because temperatures were in the borderline range.  There is a point where a rain jacket is too heavy and going without is too cold.  That range is different for different people, but it is critical to know.

Experience riding in the rain was a “lifesaver” for me during RAAM.  I recall the very first time as an adult when I rode in the rain.  It was initially unpleasant as I fought to stay as dry as possible.  Over the years I’ve discovered that riding in the rain becomes easy and fun as long as it is embraced.  I do that by accepting that I’m going to be wet, completely soaked, and simply focus on the ride itself.  It doesn’t matter if it is a light sprinkle or a heavy downpour, this is what works for me.  The more I try to stay dry, the worse it is.  The goal when riding in the rain is to stay warm enough.  Wet doesn’t matter.

By the time I was coming out of my fuzzy zone, the rain had begun to become steady rain.  It was not a drizzle.  It was not a sprinkle.  It was raining.  Low lying areas on the road were ponding.  Potholes were full.  A steady drumbeat could be heard on the leaves of trees.  I was conscious of several key things, especially as I rode through Cumberland, MD.  Avoid puddles!  (One never knows how deep they are.)  Brake early! (Rim brakes on the bike lose most of their stopping ability when wet.)  Pick up the pace!  (This is a race after all, and rain tends to slow us down.)

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that while crossing a bridge in Cumberland, a truck coming from the opposite direction splashed through a puddle sending gallons of water into my chest and lap.  One of the crew in the vehicle behind me saw the deluge and wondered for a moment whether or not I might lose my balance, so great was the volume of water.  I laughed aloud.  Any dream of staying dry was now past, and the rest of the ride in the rain was simply going to be a ride in the rain.  I couldn’t get wetter!

That last day, sometimes the rain eased up enough that it was a light sprinkle.  Sometimes it was a deluge.  Eventually I shed the rain jacket and went with a vest to keep my core warm.  My arms and legs were bare.  It was a little chilly, but I decided that as long as I kept my heart rate up, I’d stay warm.

It was challenging to get out of the van to climb on to the bike when it was pouring down rain.  The van was warm and we started to dry off.  Getting on the bike meant more rain and cold.

I have always noticed that car drivers seem to be more courteous to cyclists in the rain.  They gave me wider berth while passing.  It remained challenging to be seen however.  Our Planet Bike taillights all started to fail as water infiltrated and shorted them out.  Sealing them against moisture was one of those things we put off until it was too late.

The worst parts of the ride in the rain were the descents.  As my speed came up, the stopping distance grew exponentially.  The threat of hydroplaning increased.  Visibility diminished as the rain not only hit the goggles but also ran off the helmet onto the eye wear.  Maneuvering around obstacles became more dangerous.  It was chilly with the air flowing more quickly around exposed flesh.  Finally, above 30 mph every single rain drop hitting my face stung like a mosquito bite.  Imagine hundreds of those every few seconds!

At the end of one descent outside of Rouzersville, there was a turn.  One of our crew braved the downpour to signal the turn far enough in advance that I could slow from 30 mph to a safe turning speed.  Great thinking Mike!

Still the rain came down.

A bridge south of Mt. Airy was underwater.  We were some of the first to have to detour around that section.  Frantic calls to headquarters were made and we made the best of it.

In one section, large rocks used as rip rap in the ditch to reduce erosion had washed onto the road surface.  These were 20 lb stones!  Our logistical van crew helped move some of the stones so there would be no delay for our rider.

Still the rain came down.

So, how much rain?  I’m having trouble locating reliable information at various places along our route.  BWI airport, a few miles off our route recorded 3.11 inches of rain on Saturday.  That’s right, this was not a light sprinkle.  I suspect that some of the places we rode through had more.

The rain slowed us down.  As much as we embraced the rain, the 18-20 hours of steady rain had an impact on our speed.

Frankly, I’m glad for my prior experience in the rain.  As a friend of mine says, “How are you going to learn to ride in the rain unless you ride in the rain?”

Footnote:  After RAAM for about 3 weeks, there were some morning rides I skipped because there was the threat of rain or it was lightly raining.  There are limits!

From → Cycling, RAAM

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