[hpv] Rites of Spring ride report

Jeff Wills
Mon Mar 18 21:40:02 2002


(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.