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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hail of a Ride

It’s been back on the roads of late as the Wisconsin weather has begun to cooperate a bit. But you can’t rest easy around here and today was proof enough of that as the weather played the leading role.

First, it was warm this afternoon. Really warm. For the very first time this year I set out on a ride with no tights. No base layer. No leg or arm warmers. Just the basics, shorts and a short sleeve jersey. Thus unencumbered, I was off for what I had planned as a fairly easy ride.

But I had no sooner turned to head south when it was announced that I would need to challenge a strong wind coming up the river. Now if you have not pulled a long distance into a headwind then you might not appreciate the toll such riding extracts. When you should be rolling along on flat ground, making good time, you are, instead, struggling to maintain a minimum respectable speed. And you know there is no end, at least until you turn around. I decided I wasn’t going to fight the wind all the way to Stoddard, so I turned to make the climb up Mohawk Valley Road. It’s strange, I know, choosing a climb instead of the wind, but that’s what I did. At the top, there is another road that loops back to the south on the other side of the ridge. I was going into the wind, of course, but I was also going downhill.

As I neared Stoddard I noticed that sky was ominously dark to the west. Now earlier today there had been a forecast chance of strong thunderstorms after 4:00 p.m. However, when I checked in at Weather.com before I took off, the report had been revised to having the weather later in the evening. Anyway, when I got to the river road, it seemed as if the weather was still to the west and a little south. I would be riding north and now with a very strong tailwind. I was pretty sure I could expect a quick, rain-free 10 mile ride home.

But, as you may have already guessed, it did not work out exactly that way. Sure, I did maintain a very high pace ahead of the wind and it all looked as if it would be just as I had expected. Until I rolled into the south end of town, just about 3 miles from home. As I turned off of the highway into a residential area, it started to rain. And it seemed to have just come out of nowhere. Not a hard rain, so still, no big deal. Then thunder. And lightning. And pea-sized hail. I was riding north, but things were going south. As I rode along the street - still easily making 22 mph with the wind - I noticed people standing in their drives, looking and pointing up at the sky. There’s almost no way this is a good sign.

Yet the sky actually lightened a bit and the rain and hail stopped. I figured I was going to roll on in with no further incident. What I hadn’t considered was that weather was just relaxing before unleashing a furious rain storm. I hadn’t considered it, but that’s just what happened. In the course of less than a quarter of a mile, the rain returned and increased in intensity to a point where I could barely see where I was going. I knew I needed to get out of this deluge and pedaled madly for the shelter of the concessions area at a nearby ball field. Just as I pulled up onto the sidewalk, I was pummeled with a couple of REALLY LARGE hailstones - the advance group for what was to come. I got under the shelter just as a torrent of golf-ball sized hailstones rained down on the metal roof. Unbelievably, the storm raged on even stronger with some of the hail hitting the ball field reaching, appropriately, baseball size. I was seriously concerned that the roof would not hold up.

After just a few minutes, the hail stopped and rain tapered off so I took off for home, now only 1 mile to go. As soon as I got onto the road, I found that wind was now coming out of the north. And it was COLD! The overall improvement continued, however, and when I crossed the last busy street between me and home the sun was out. The roads near home were under a foot or more of water and cars where pulled over, waiting for the storm drains to catch up.

Warm. Headwind. Far-off storm. Tailwind. Rain, Hail. HAIL. More rain. Cold. Sunshine. It was, to be sure, a memorable, weather-shaped, hail of a ride.