(Warning: some of the the references here are very specific to U.S. "culture". Non-U.S. readers are therefore warned that parts may be incomprehensible. Jeff) Riding in the Pacific Northwest, you get used to Mother Nature throwing an occasional curveball. Last Saturday, she went out and threw one that would make Roger Clemens proud. I suppose I should explain. Last Saturday was my sixth annual Oregon Human Powered Vehicles Rites of Spring bike ride. It's always been an informal introduction to the riding season, held on the Saturday closest to the first day of Spring. It usually brings out a few diehard riders- more show up if the weather is promising. Saturday was promising- promising to be very strange. The local weather people were tearing their hair out with different models and predictions and radar maps. But it dawned clear and cold- I thought it would work out. So, I bundled up and got myself to the starting point in East Portland. I get there early, just so I can meet anyone new. I was met by Michael Wolfe, showing off his brand spankin' new M5 carbon-fiber lowracer. I thought he was crazy to bring out such out such a nice machine with the weather looking so chancy. By then, dark clouds were rolling in from the west, adding punctuation to my comment. He replied that he had put in lots of miles commuting over the winter, and didn't really feel the need to go out in the rain any more. Besides, he had this really cool bike to show off. I had to agree that he had ample reason to not ride that day- a couple more people had showed up and were unloading bikes into a very cold drizzle. Once everybody was ready to ride, it became obvious that we would make a very strange parade, indeed: there was Bill Stites on his Chameleon trike, 3 Tour Easys with body socks, a couple on an upright Cannondale tandem, a GT/Autobike upright and two fellows on upright singles (father and son, both named John). I was on my Lightning, so I figured we had most of the bicycle styles covered. At the appointed hour (10AM), everybody looked ready, so I made my usual "ride leader" speech and got us pointed out of the parking lot. I didn't see any reason to hang around since the drizzle had started to freeze. I figured that we should get moving rather than stand around in a parking lot. The freezing rain didn't last long, but we were now going south, almost directly into a headwind. People started splitting into groups, with the Tour Easys up front, followed by the two Johns, me, and Bill and the Autobike bringing up the rear. The couple on the tandem gave up after the first mile- probably proving their sanity. Once we turned east on the Springwater Corridor bike trail, the headwind turned into a quartering tailwind, it dried up, and the riding became rather pleasant. The sun made a couple half-hearted efforts to break through the cloud cover, which was welcome as we passed a trio of kids riding unicycles. We turned off the Springwater bike path into downtown Gresham (now proudly proclaiming itself "Home of Katie Harman, Miss America 2002") just in time to be blanketed by dark gray clouds and big, fat, wet snowflakes. The snow somehow lightened everyone's mood more than the previous sun breaks. Suddenly, we were cruising through town, laughing, whooping and giggling and generally sounding like kids. The snow shower only lasted a couple minutes, but we were moving along nicely, spirits lifted and snowflakes melting into our tights. We ran into a little automotive traffic as we went through Fairview, but all the drivers seemed friendly enough. Perhaps they were staying away to avoid provoking the lunatics... The road past Mt. Hood Community College started us towards the descent to the Sandy River. The lack of precipitation helped, but the clouds were still threatening overhead. On the long slope down to the river- where it's possible to hit 40 mph on a good day- we were hit by sleet. Do you know what sleet hitting bare cheeks at 40 mph feels like? It's like all the acupuncturists in Portland are using your face for practice. It's like your cat is using your face for a scratching post- and he's welcomed all his friends. It hurts! (Let's see... rain, snow, sleet. All we need is gloom of night and we can join the Postal Service!) After recovering from the icy assault, we made our way along the Sandy River to our lunch stop in Troutdale, passing a couple roadside waterfalls in the process. We feasted on the usual food-with-attitude at the Rainbow's End, warmed out tootsies, and generally yacked until we were reasonably sure that our brains were again firing all neurons. We settled the bill and walked out to another weather surprise- bright blue skies! It was still cold, but we stood around facing the sun, absorbing precious warmth. Despite the sunshine, the return trip was more difficult than I anticipated. Whether it was the headwind or the post-meal torpor or the complete lack of winter training I'll never tell, but I know we were struggling along Marine Drive. I guess I'll have to blame it on the headwind. In any case, we finally made it back to the I-205 bike path and turned for home. Despite being in the clear for the better part of an hour, I somehow sensed that it couldn't last. Maybe it was the ominous dark clouds that were heading our way, blotting out the horizon completely. Knowing that we were within a couple miles of home only spurred us on. We still weren't moving fast, put we were spurred on. But Bill and I didn't make it. We were less than a mile from the end when the skies opened up like nothing we had seen that day. Hail! Not big, but a shower like billions of white BBs came crashing down, forcing us to seek shelter under some trees (no lightning around, except the one I was sitting upon). Even though we had been sheltered, we still ended up with piles of hail on our laps. We waited through most of it, and then crawled along the last mile or so. I'll have to say this was one of the most memorable Rites of Spring ride I've ever done. Rain, snow, sleet, sun, wind, hail- all in the space of four hours! Have I said that I love riding here? Well, I do. It's never dull, it always surprises. Curveballs are fun.