Last Christmas, my parents gave me freedom, in the form of a full set of rain gear from MEC. Of course, I didn't really know it was freedom at the time. I knew that it was a parently gift: it came with a card saying, "Happy, dry trails - Mom and Dad," and like the gift certificate I got for my birthday when I first started biking (the one that I knew, although it wasn't stated, was given in the hopes it would be used on a helmet, which it was) it made me smile. Sure, I'm a grown woman, but my mom and dad still worry about me out there, on the roads, in the rain.
I didn't know how much it was going to change things for me. It was the middle of winter, and although Ottawa was in the middle of a horrific transit strike, I wasn't biking too far, and even when I did, I was wearing a parka. But then spring rolled around. And as soon as the snow was (mostly) off the Riverside Path, I was out there, with my gloves and warm sweaters on, skidding and slaloming my way through the ice and slush on my way to work (because the bus strike had also taught me that I could bike in pretty much anything if I had to.)
And spring brought rain (and freezing rain, and wet snow, and snizzle.) And I discovered that what I thought was a bright red rain jacket, black rain pants and boot covers was, in fact, freedom. The first morning that I woke up and saw there was cold, needling rain coming down, I bundled up in all my rain gear, and feeling a little like an astronaut - the boot covers in particular made me feel that way; they're dorky as hell, but do they ever do the trick in keeping rain from running down your legs and into your shoes - I wheeled Mike out and into the elevator, and proudly smiled at anyone riding down with me. Yup, that's me, heading out into that, on my bike. I'm hardcore.
It was liberating. I got on the bike, wrapped up my Velcro wristbands and stuck my mp3 player in the little zip pocket (I know, we'll get into the ethics of the mp3 player later) and regardless of the downpour, off I went. Not even avoiding the puddles. I think I actually enjoyed blasting right through them, with the cascade of water thrown off my front tire and onto my legs. I was a force of nature. I was a duck. I was a cyclist in the rain.
I thought of that today because it was another hot, oppressive day when I left for work this morning, and it was obviously going to rain. I brought a change of clothes for the office, and when I felt the first sprinklings on my way out of my apartment, I didn't blink. When I left work today and there was a full-on rainstorm in progress, I didn't blink. I biked home. I loved it. Of course, it's the middle of summer and the rain is warm. I don't mind getting soaked. But it used to be that I would think twice and take the bus if it was pouring out. Leave Mike at the office and pick him up the next day. Maybe in fall, when it's cold out there, if I've forgotten the raincoat, I'll do that. But right now, I will bike in the rain and I will love it.
There's a lot fewer people on the trails when it rains, and you can just skim along. The river is beautiful in the rain. The puddles are warm when you splash through them and douse your feet. The breaks in the clouds (because these summer storms come and go in fifteen minutes) let through sparkling sunshine that catches in the beads of water on your arms. And once when I was coming home I watched the front edge of a rainstorm actually make its way up the path toward me - one moment it was clear, the next I was watching a wall of rain come toward me, the next it was driving into my skin so hard I think I said, "Oh!" When it's hammering down rain, you just push on through it, and as soon as you're soaked it becomes like swimming in your clothes - freeing. The grit on your feet and ankles is even lovely. And today I came out of the rain into a patch of sun and the pavement on the trail was smoking in the sudden heat, and I slashed through a patch of steam that smelled like earth. And you start wondering what the hell it was you were thinking when you dashed from sheltered area to sheltered area in the rain.
I think I might have continued to think you can only bike when it's dry, though, if it hadn't been for those freezing mornings in my full-body rain gear this spring, when I watched the rain roll right off me and realized I can go anywhere, in any weather.