Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Can you swim?

Can your bike?

It's been raining here in Seattle, which is not a shock, but it's raining the way it's not supposed to. I mean, with a few reprieves, this is forty days, forty nights type rain. Seattle is supposed to be perennially grey and drizzly. If you look at the number of days of rain we get, it's huge, but the total inches of precipitation isn't much greater than many other major cities, and you can do the math and sort out that the average inches of rain per wet day really isn't that big. "Average." "Usually."

There's a series of multi-use trails that I often ride on, and like most MUTs they usually follow riverbeds or wetlands. You can see where this is going. At a number of junctions the trail dips down a bit to pass under a road or highway. In ordinary times, of course, the river would still be several feet below this level; it's not as though the trail even goes right up to the water's edge. In the summer, the Green River is little more than a muddy creek. If this weren't the pacific northwest, I'm sure we'd say "crick."

But today, today is a very different day.

I should've been warned by the "puddles" that filled some of the gravel parking lots from the wetlands, or the farmers using bilge bumps and hoses to drain the contents of their fields-cum-swamps into the street. I should've been warned by the "water over roadway" signs. But no, thinks I, I have my cyclocross bike, I am invincible, I can handle this stuff!

The first superpuddle I went through was pretty small, and I was able to simply coast through the whole thing. Perhaps a foot of water bogged things down considerably, and completely soaked my feet. This last part is the important bit. I HATE wet feet. I mean, as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee. But the simple truth is that there comes a point when wet is a binary statistic: your feet are either soaked, or they are not soaked. These, then, were soaked, and nothing I could do for the rest of the ride is going to make them UN-soaked.

So, when I hooked up with the group, they of course asked how the trails were, and I honestly told them they were "pretty wet." Of course, if I were forthright, I'd have said "impassibly flooded," but I'm not that nice. After all, these are the crazy folks that decide that the "Caution 21% downgrade ahead!" hill is a good thing to ride down in the rain, they can handle it.

At the first underpass, it's clear that the whole thing is submerged, and I'm in the front of about a dozen riders. What follows is a dirty trick. You all know the cyclocross dismount, right? You just swing your right leg over the bike, step through between your left leg and the frame, pick up the bike like a suitcase, and run over the barrier / obstacle / hay bale that the organizers have put in the way. The idea is to keep as much momentum as possible. This is the plan here, and the folks behind me suddenly have to decide what to do. A few try to RIDE through the water, two others, one also on a 'cross bike and one on a fixie with mountain pedals, do the same thing I did, some curse and turn around. A couple do the curse and turn around part, but they don't decide to do this until they are already in the water, which means they're basically standing in the water trying to get unclipped and turn around.

Remember how my hated wet feet can't get any wetter? I keep telling myself this as I wade across the knee-deep stream. A few laughs, a few punches in the shoulder later, we're back on the road.

My comeuppance arrives at the third underpass, and everyone but the Other Guy on a Cross bike has learned the "fool me twice" saying and go the long way around. This time, I can tell the water is a little deeper, so I carry the bike over my shoulder and wade onward. The water is up to my thighs when Other Guy shouts out "dude, screw this, let's go around." Whatever, I'm deep enough in the mud as it is, may as well go through it, right? Right?

The water is touching the wheels of my bike, still over my shoulder, and if I thought my feet Could Not Get Any Wetter, at least I could feel them before. About the time the water gets up to my hips and I think I've reached the deepest part, I find that I'm falling into the water. The city of Kent has helpfully put some A frame warning signs out, suggesting that the trail is closed due to high water. One of these signs has become completely submerged, and I've just run into it. I'm falling forward, try not to drop my bike or face plant in the water, lean back, end up sitting down onto the sign, the top of which is only about six inches deep, and spend a moment figuring out exactly how I'm going to stand up.

Eventually, I do, eventually, I continue my ride, and at some distant point in the future, I can feel my toes again.

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