By Vernon Felton
I make my way up the aisle to the exit on the puddle jumper that's brought me back home to the Pacific Northwest. The moment I step onto the platform, it strikes me: crap, it's miserable out here.
Yeah, no shit, right? What did I honestly expect? It's fall in western Washington and as anyone who lives here can tell you, fall officially kicks off nine months of grey skies, daily drizzle and soggy riding shoes. I know this full well, but I've been made soft of late.
We had an extraordinarily benign summer. Something like 42 straight days without rain—the longest dry stretch in decades. I then chased that sunny spell with a three-week attempt to increase my odds of acquiring skin cancer in Las Vegas and, soon after, the high and dry environs of western Colorado.
As a result of all this fair weather, some part of me has come to expect that I can go out on my bike and ride without first donning a wool body suit, a jacket and plastic bags (for my feet). Some pollyanna part of me forgot that as the cycle of life goes, this is simply the time of year when I have to resign myself to riding in the rain every day, grinding expensive parts into paste and contracting a serious case of flaming monkey butt.
I stare out the window and watch the rain come down. Should I ride now? I've got a two- hour window while my son is at pre-school. It's now or never. It's now or take root on the couch and grow sour, fat and bitter.
Time to man up. Time, as the saying goes, to put on my big-girl pants and ride.
I scrape into my least-scratchy, wool gear. I pull out my rain jacket from its funk-filled corner of the closet and I apologize to the shiny bike I am about to defile. Goodbye, Resin Pads. So long, Pivots that don't squeal.
And I pedal into the wind and rain.
The first five minutes suck. Bitterly. Icy water streams through the many vents on my swiss- cheese helmet. My hands are useless and numb. My taint is already complaining.
But the amazing thing about riding in the rain is that once you break through that first couple minutes of misery, you kind of forget that it should be anything other than this.
Sure, the bike is now slipping and sliding in all the wrong spots of the trail and the brakes are howling like monkeys on fire. But there's also something oddly beautiful to all this. I have the trails to myself. The forest is hushed. Part of me feels just a bit stronger and more resourceful for simply being here. The deadlines that I'm already missing start to fade from the shrieking DEFCON FOUR level and begin to seem manageable. It makes no sense, I know. Wet and raw? Yeah, but somehow almost…warm and fuzzy, despite it all.
I stop near ride's end and watch a couple of chum salmon struggle up the creek by my house. If you look close, you can see bits of flesh have already peeled off the big fish—they beat the hell out of themselves, jumping from pool to eddy to riffle to pool.
In a day or two, they'll be floating belly up along the sides of the creek. Spawned out. Dead. Circle of life kind of thingy.
If anyone had a right to bitch about this season, it's probably the salmon. But they don't. They just put on their own fishy big-girl pants and, in a manner of speaking, ride.
I give the salmon a salute and pedal off…just happy to be here. Riding. In the rain.