(This account of a rainy bike ride was first published years ago, and aside from some slight updating and reformatting it appears as it did then.Team Clydesdale was a team I captained for the MS City to Shore.)
On Sunday I traveled two hours to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capitol, to ride in a group training ride for Team Clydesdale. Meeting me were Ben and Herb, two Team members and Bike Forums posters.
Meeting us also was the rain. I first turned the car wipers on by the time I’d reached the Turnpike exit for Hershey, and the rain was a steady downpour by the time I’d reached Ben’s house. Despite the weather, we decided to set out. Herb, like the good Boy Scout, was fully prepared to ride. I hadn’t brought any rain gear, and Ben didn’t own any. So Ben hastily constructed trash-bag rain ponchos for he and I, and shortly thereafter the three of us set off.
Our destination was Harrisburg’s Greenbelt, a series of parks, paths, and roads that encircles much of the city. I began to have problems immediately, as the rain intensified and my confidence in my riding ability diminished. I walked part of the first major hill climb because I’d hit a red light and I didn’t feel I could get a safe start continuing uphill. Being cold and underdressed for conditions didn’t help.
Nor did the course. Once we crossed the Susquehanna River and entered Harrisburg, I began to feel more confident. Here was a paved bike path, and the ride along the river was very scenic, with some spectacular views of the mountains around the city. I could enjoy this, despite the rain beading on my glasses and pinging on my trash-bag covering. And then…..
“This is now the mud portion of the ride,” Ben announced.
The Harrisburg Greenbelt was constructed piecemeal, like many bike routes, and so trail conditions varied from place to place. For the next few miles we rode on pea-sized crushed stone, made sloppy by the rain. The path was made ‘interesting’ by the Greenbelt planners with lots of sharp turns. I wasn’t interested in those hairpins; I’d rather be bored and safe, thank you.
Shortly thereafter we passed a bridge spray-painted with a “death to pigs” logo. It took me a moment to reflect that the spray-painter probably didn’t have pork in mind. Our guide began to explain just how much crime took place in this area. “So, this is the urban adventure section of the ride, Ben?” I asked.
Once out of the ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ part of Harrisburg, we stopped at an underpass and had a team meeting. The rain showed no sign of letting up, and as I was squeezing water out of the arch supports in my cycling shoes, we decided to cut the ride short. Our plan had been to ride 50 miles, circling the Greenbelt twice. Once was going to be enough today, we decided. So off we went, riding through puddles and overflowing ponds in what could be called the streamcrossing part of the ride. The rain picked up, banging against my trash bag covering. I got drenched on one street crossing from spraying water, and when I put a foot down at a stop light, I found the middle of a small stream.. “Something wrong, Neil?” Herb asked me as I tentatively climbed uphill from the crossing. “Yeah Herb, I just got half the Susquehanna in my right shoe.”
Climbing the hill, Ben warned us “there’s always broken glass at this gate, so carry your bikes over it.”
“So this is the cyclecross portion of the ride, Ben?” I asked.
Off we went, crossing streets and turning back onto gravel as we passed through a local park. One hairpin turn nearly caused me to fall. For the rest of the ride I dismounted and walked through sharp turns. One place I didn’t dismount was at a 10 per cent downward grade – it came with little warning, and I didn’t trust my MTB shoes to keep me from falling on the rain-slicked surface. “This is the roller-coaster portion of the ride” I thought as I headed downhill.
Meanwhile, the rain was letting up. However, I was so busy dealing with the technical aspects of riding under these adverse conditions, and with catching up to my companions, that I didn’t notice. By the time I’d climbed out of a local nature center and gotten back onto Harrisburg’s streets, the rain had stopped completely. The final portion of the ride was back on the path along the Susquehanna, and shortly thereafter we were back at Ben’s place drying off and congratulating ourselves for riding through that mess. We tried to get a woman walking on the path to take our group photo, and instead she captured video.
Afterward saying goodbye to my friends I returned to the Greenbelt and spent time photographing the sunset. This was the moment my long-sleeping passion for photographs returned. And this sunset made up for everything that went wrong that day.