The radar looked like a cartoon explosion. The sky looked like the Apocalypse. The cyclists had waited too long to leave, but it still looked like a race we might win on our separate courses.
If we hadn't waited until closing time to order the 54 cm Truckaccino Long Haul Trucker we would have ridden under clear skies. We were going to do it at lunch, but in a bike shop on a Saturday you eat when you have the chance. It got to be afternoon, then late afternoon, then closing time.
I'd ridden the Cross Check today because the forecast called for a chance of strong thunderstorms with small hail and winds gusting over 30 miles per hour. In case I did get caught in something like that I wanted to be on a bike the wind wouldn't toss around, with some high gears to take advantage of a big tailwind.
I couldn't believe how quickly the churning gray mass had sped across Vermont and half of New Hampshire. Its looming menace inspired me to sprint from the start. I know my legs will bitch at me later. More than they're bitching now, that is.
The bike path, for all its shortcomings, goes straight out of town without a single real hill. To gain a little in this lopsided race, I zigged my way to it. I terrorized dog walkers and strolling citizens who seemed oblivious to the spreading mass of turbulent clouds building a wall of gray that would topple as soon as it was tall enough, like the proverbial ton of bricks. Of course I slowed down for all the pedestrians, but they always seem so nettled by a swift cyclist, even one that hovers politely while passing.
The wind was mostly behind, me, as I'd hoped it would be. It wasn't very strong yet, but even eight to 13 miles per hour takes that much off the wind you're cutting through. Stronger gusts momentarily provided that feeling of drafting a huge, invisible truck. Real trucks and cars dragged more air with them. Some of them seemed surprised at how close I stayed to them, for so long.
Out on Route 28 a small car passed at a comfortable distance. The right rear window opened a little and a hand tossed something out. It didn't act like a missile.
It was a flower.
I'm a sentimental idiot. In all my years of riding, with all the things people have thrown, no one's thrown me a flower. It was a red tulip. Even with an epic squall line bearing down, I turned back to see if I could pick it up.
The blossom lay a couple of feet from the center line. Before I could go out to it I had to wait for a car that came up from the south as I got off my bike. The wheels missed it, but the blast of 60-mile-per-hour wind from it exploded the tulip into all its botanical parts. So much for that. I hopped back on the bike and pounded it back up to speed for the climbs ahead.
The wall of clouds leaned further and further. No more delays. It looked like it was too late already.
Okay, one more delay. The traffic light at the junction of routes 28 and 16 has been detecting me on the Cross Check this season. Not today, though. I circled over the sensor until I was dizzy. Inconveniently spaced cars passed on 16, preventing me from blowing the light.
I saw a group of vehicles coming up 28. The first one had a left turn signal showing. I hooked around the end of the median so I could slip in behind my traffic light buddies. As I did so I saw the light had finally relented to give me a green, but I was now headed the wrong way in the other lane. I sprinted down to the end of the divider so I could hook back in behind the cars now vacating the intersection. I was so jacked up I stayed with them for about a hundred yards.
And the rain began.
I hadn't bagged anything in my packs except my cell phone. Nothing else would suffer too badly from some dampness. The best thing I could do was keep hammering. The rain thought the same thing. We both hammered for the three remaining miles.
Jim Ayyy had more of an adventure. His route went straight into the storm. He said it was blinding, but he was laughing with the energy of the storm and the race against it. He'd just gotten a dry bag this week. Perfect timing.