It's Wednesday night, and that means ride night with the West Bank Motorcycle Club. I'm not a member of this club, but Dean and I ride with them on occasion. Tonight was the last Weds night ride of the season, and since I had a sitter (rare for me) I was determined to join them. Besides, I'm in a Sis Riders mileage contest this month and haven't hardly ridden at all. Dean wasn't able to go tonight, so this would be the first time I'd ride with the group without him, and I was a little nervous. I have no idea why, as the vast majority of my riding is done alone, (almost 6,000 miles this summer!) but once in awhile the old shy me comes out and I have to stuff her back and pretend she doesn't exist.
I'm always anxious to head out for a ride, itching to get in the saddle and go, and tonight was no different. Nobody in the club had seen my new bike, so while Angela entertained herself by forcing the dogs to run the agility equipment again and again, I gave Red a bath, making her chrome all shiny and clean. About the time I finished the sitter called and said she was home and I could drop off Angela any time. I was thrilled that for once the day's timing was in my favor.
The club meets at a small bar in south Minneapolis. As I headed north on Cedar Ave. I could see the dark ominous clouds ahead. I could still see the skyscrapers though, so I knew it wasn't raining there yet. I figured I'd at least get to the bar, say hello to everyone and then head home, but as I got under the cloud system it really was just cloudy. Slightly on the chilly side, but I was dressed for it so it wasn't a big deal.
When I got to the bar I learned the ride was headed west to the Mound area. Hmmm...west..I looked at the pitch black sky to the west, watching the system flicker with lightning. "That west?" Crap! Ok, I can figure this out. When the ride heads out I'll head for home. Now, I've always hated having to leave an event early, only to to later hear about the fun stories of things I missed. I decided to stick with the group, and if things started looking worse I could always split off and head for home. It sure sounded like a good plan at the time.
We saddled up,all 40 + bikes, me keeping to the back of the group, making it easier to split of if need be. We headed west through city side streets, the sky ahead of us getting darker by the minute, and the lightning getting bigger. I decided it was time to make my move, except there was one small problem. I had NO CLUE where I was! Again, not a big deal. Soon enough we'd get to a highway and I'd be able to get my bearings. Just as I thought that thought, the ride captain pulled us over. "Ride's off. Those who live to the west will still go that direction. Everyone else, if you want to sign in (the club members have to sign in to get ride credit) do it now." It was only 7:00 and pitch black!
Everyone made quick decisions as to what they were going to do. The vast majority chose to head for home. One guy, Milo, said he was headed back to the bar we'd just left, so I planned to follow him. At least from the bar I could find my way home.
My friend Tracy was on my left. We're really just good acquaintances, but she's one of my favorite people in the club. She said she was headed back to the bar too. As the group headed out, bikes were splitting off in several directions. Tracy and I pulled up to the stop sign together, realizing we'd already lost Milo in the darkness. Tracy said she knew how to get us back so I was good to go. As we sat a stop light a few big drops started to fall. I looked at Tracy and said, "So this is great. I've never ridden in the rain before."
Tracy plastered a frozen smile on her face. "Oh...well I guess you're gonna learn huh?" But the look on her face said, "Oh shit. This is NOT good, and here I am...the babysitter."
A few minutes later the wind started picking up, and the rain started to fall for real. Tracy hollered "We can stay on the side streets or go on the freeway. What are you more comfortable with?"
"I don't care! Either way we're wet so whatever you want is fine."
That was the wrong answer. "Ok, well follow me. If you don't feel safe and want to pull over just do it and I'll pull over too."
A few seconds later the rain started POURING down. I want to use the term "Torrential rain". When you're on a motorcycle and it rains like that, you cannot see A THING! The raindrops hit your face so hard you're sure it's hail. It runs down your face and into your eyes, making you want to close them, except that closing them means certain death. As I followed Tracy, she turned onto the I-94 entrance ramp. Oh...My..GOD we're going on the FREEWAY?? Suddenly the ice cold water running down the crack of my ass didn't matter anymore.
I gripped the handlebars a little tighter and watched Tracy's tail light speed off ahead of me. I tried to speed up, afraid that soon I'd feel my rear wheel slipping underneath me. I could her Tracy's voice in my head, "If you don't feel safe and want to pull over..." Man, I really wanted to pull over!!! But yeah, this is the freeway, and it's pitch black and raining. Not a good idea. So I sped up a little bit. Just a little....
I don't know how fast or slow we were going. It could have been 10 miles an hour or 50, I have no clue because was afraid to take my eyes of that little red light that was Tracy. I couldn't see the lines in the road. In fact, I couldn't see the road at all, just shiny blackness. I was thinking how glad I was we were in the right lane when a saw Tracy's yellow blinker as she moved over to the center lane. THE CENTER LANE!!! OMG...I was pretty sure I was going to end up on the news. I knew that Tracy was riding on the left side of the lane, so if I stayed staggered I'd accomplish 2 things. 1) my tire would be in the tracks of the cars ahead of us, giving me better traction instead of hydroplaning and 2) would keep me in the center lane without getting in the way of any cars that might be next to me. There COULD BE cars next to me, but to find out would mean taking my eyes off that little red light.
We went through the small tunnel and as we came out the other end the rain hit us like a brick wall. I realized that I'd been holding my breath for quite some time...probably like 10 minutes or something. I couldn't see so I tried ducking way down to look near the base of my windshield, but that did nothing except expose the skin on my back to the rain, causing even more cold water to rush down my ass. I tried looking over the rim of my glasses but that was bad too. There just wasn't any good way to see at all. I wondered how Tracy could possibly see to lead us.
There's her turn signal. HALLELLUIAH! We're getting off the freeway! This was wonderful, but posed a new problem at the same time. It's called "stopping". Stopping on wet pavement (and really, this was standing water) can be tricky. I concentrated on slow/even braking. We made a couple of turns and there was the bar. I wanted to kiss the ground but realized that would look silly. I didn't know if I was shaking from being cold and wet or from the adrenaline coursing through my body. We went inside to the bathroom where I called Dean to let him know I was alive. I was jabbering away telling him about our ride when he said, "Are you drunk? You sound drunk. I thought you just got there."
"No, I an not DRUNK! A bit shaken up maybe, and having an adrenaline rush, but I haven't even had a POP!" Getting drunk sounded good about that time, but not a very good idea since, when the storm blew over I'd have to get myself home.
We stayed about an hour then headed our separate directions. As I rode home on the wet roads I realized how thankful I was that Tracy was there for me tonight. Would any of the other riders have been as patient with me? Would they have gotten us back only to give me a hard time about being a newby?
As my riding skills have grown over the summer, God has seen to it that I've learned things one step at a time. He's given me Dean who is a great teacher and forces me to learn things without being mean about it. He put Tracy in my path tonight because he knew she'd be patient, kind and safe, but still making me learn this new skill of riding in the rain. She gave me just enough encouragement to press on, yet reminded me to ride my own ride, and pull over if I didn't feel safe. I know that if I had pulled over she would have sat it out with me.
Tonight I'm thankful for good friends, a safe ride, an open garage door when I got home, a hot shower, and His protection. Oh, and I'm thankful for little red tail lights!