In November and December, expecting the winter rain to start at any time, we prepared for the season by buying cycling rain gear. At that point, for some reason, prices were amazing, which is the only reason we were even vaguely prepared. Our rain jackets were purchased for half off regular price, and waterproof pants were even cheaper; I think mine cost $10? My mom sewed rain pants with cartoons of angry dinosaurs on them for our son. He tried to wear them as pajamas but we had to nix that.
And then: nada.
We were beginning to think it was another drought year. December was warm and dry, great for riding, but leading us to fear a return to the days when restaurants wouldn’t bring a glass of water and people were encouraged not to water their driveways. Evidently in the Inland Empire and SoCal, people water their driveways. Watering lawns during daytime hours and washing cars were also discouraged. But also: watering driveways. I have lived in California now for years, off and on, and I still don’t understand this state.
I was starting to feel kind of stupid. It looked as though we’d dropped a lot of dosh and shopping effort on rain gear we wouldn’t need until next year, or in the event of a real multi-year drought, several years. We were preparing for real Northern California rain, too, not the endless drizzle of my Pacific Northwest childhood, but the insane barrel-of-water-dropped-on-your-head downpours that scared the daylights out of me when I first moved here. These kinds of rains left my waterproof shoes filled with water that was then impossible to remove and once led me to attempt to dry my soaking wet clothes on the (forbidden) space heater in my office. It turns out there’s a reason they tell you not to dry clothes on a space heater, who knew? My entire outfit ended up with giant brown-edged holes in it. People across the hall complained about the smell and sent the department manager to investigate. I skulked home in my gym clothes. It was a low moment.
This year the rains came late but seem eager to make up for lost time. And I smelled the sweet scent of victory over the elements. I rode to work in the pouring rain but with waterproof pants, jacket, and boots, I was feeling great. There are some extra issues to consider: I can’t see as well; giant puddles at the edge of the road mean taking the lane more often; braking is best done early and often. On the other hand, there are many fewer cars on the road, and they are slower and more considerate. And once I stripped off the rain pants and jacket, no one believed I had ridden to work.
It turns out that it’s fun to ride in the rain with the right clothes and the right bike. I haven’t spent so much time outdoors in serious rain since we were kids visiting my grandparents and didn’t care about getting soaked in the local thunderstorms: they’d just hose us off in their laundry sink. For the last several years I was always scurrying from one covered place to another when it poured. But seeing the world in the rain is pretty. The city smells green. I had forgotten.
Matt checked in after taking our son to school geared up as I was, and sent his impressions:
“The ride this morning in the pouring rain was actually great… especially after 3 days of driving 4 hours a day! [Matt had to drop off and pick up both kids while I was away.] The investment in gear has totally paid off — rain jacket and pants, bike shoes, smart wool socks, thermal gloves — I was completely dry from neck to toe. Only remaining gaps are a) goggles or some other solution to keep my glasses from fogging over (I just took them off eventually, but then the rain gets in your eyes); and b) a helmet cover (optional, but would be nice to have dry hair on days when I have to show up a little more dressed up and collected).
The boy loves his rain pants and boots so much, he insisted on keeping them on in the classroom. With the balaclava, he’s even better covered than me on top.”
Riding in a San Francisco winter offers fewer challenges, I realize, than riding in other winter climates. It snows here about once every 30 years, if we’re lucky, and temperatures are unassuming. But it’s nice to conquer our little challenges even so. And of course we’ll always have the hills.