Giacchino is well versed in the ways of New York weather, he can predict it after all, but Pennsylvania weather is a whole different story…
I’m not a rookie when it comes to the Western New York calendar year, and yet it would certainly appear to be the case to onlookers if this past weekend were any indicator. Late September in Buffalo is never known for climate stability and riders looking to test Mother Nature’s unpredictability do so at their own peril. As such, it has been many years since I’ve felt the hopeless urge to suppress any and all sense of logic by testing these limits. Of course this year I have my cousin Mike to blame for providing me with the twisted logic and motivation to do our best to contract pneumonia from the saddles of our bikes.
The scene was a clear crisp Sunday afternoon when rather than watching the football game on television, Mike and I were out romping on the trails across the street from my house. Calling the conditions perfect would be understating their true level of shred-ability. The kind of guys who can never leave well enough alone, Mike suggested that we make plans for the following weekend to take a road trip down to Bradford, Pennsylvania, for a full day of trails and motocross. A cool breeze rippled the orange leaves on the trees all around us at the exact moment he announced the plan, an ominous hint that probably wouldn’t have been ignored by a smarter duo. Hey, nobody accused us of having good judgment and besides what kind of column would this be if that were where the story ends?
It turns out the story doesn’t end with the perfect season-finale ride but rather continues onward with conditions that hinted toward impending doom all week long from the safety of the work place. Each day the sun seemed to set a bit earlier, rise a bit later, and the clouds rolled in across Lake Erie in massive clusters of gray and deep purple. By the time Saturday did finally arrive, my phone was ringing bright and early (well actually dark and early but bear with me here).
Mike: “We still on for today?”
Me: “I don’t know man, it looks awfully dark and windy out there. Plus the weatherman says we’re in for heavy rain.”
Mike: “I just put on the Weather Channel, they say only a 10% chance for rain down in PA. I’ll be over within a half hour with the trailer.”
Me: “I hope you’re right. I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Hello? Hello??”
The sky cleared enough to enjoy some muddy trails, but the fun time would be limited as the sky suddenly turned into water.
Twice during the hour-and-a-half drive to the trailhead did we encounter torrential downpours and neither time did it sway us from pushing onward. We just turned the heat up in the truck and pretended not to notice. By the time we arrived to our destination a little after noon, the perseverance had paid off as the rain had momentarily abated. We continued to ignore the signs as the sky grew darker and the winds kicked up dust in swirling eddies across the parking area while we unloaded and topped the tanks with fresh petrol.
We geared up with what few layers we had with us (which means we kept our t-shirts on beneath our jerseys) and blasted away toward the trail entrance, which consisted of the oddest combination of both dust and mud holes depending on your position on the trail. The sides were drier but resulted in mouthfuls of airborne grit while the middles tended to spray your back and legs with impossibly chilly ooze. Choose your poison, as it were. So far so good, except for the fact that we seemed to be the only ones heading away from the pits.
We made it to the hilltop motocross track after several enjoyable loops just as the first raindrops started to fall. They were freezing cold on our shoulders and gathered in droplets across our goggles but otherwise did little more than tame the dust. We continued carving laps with a false sense of astuteness for sticking it out during a little drizzle when everyone else scattered. Our patience had resulted in a track almost entirely to ourselves. Things were going well until the storm finally decided to unleash itself upon our already-numb bodies.
It is hard to avoid kicking up a mean roost when are trying to escape a torrential downpour. Might want to make sure you are still friends with the guy behind you at the end of the trail.
The rain came down in buckets and visibility was immediately nonexistent between the combination of water and mud that managed to find its way into the cracks and crevices of even the toughest-looking gear. Our clothing weighed almost as much as the bodies it clung to and the mud was being kicked up in such broad globs that it was impossible to find the seam where pants and boots merged.
The trip back down the trail loops was slow and slippery with gravity attempting to pull us off the trail at every switchback. The rain continued to fall and thunderclaps shook the mountainside while we struggled to secure tie down straps in the mud pit that was the parking area. Worse still was that the rain had fallen so quickly that only the top layer of dirt had become saturated while a few inches below the surface was still dry and sandy. As a result each step meant a perfect sole-shaped imprint of heavy east-coast mud stuck to your boots. The thermometer inside the truck read 47 degrees once we were forced to strip down to soaked skivvies and wet t-shirts so tight they might as well have been painted on. Steam rolled from our backs and shoulders like those old cartoons depicting characters who hadn’t yet realized they were in fact ablaze.
While no picture of the Rambling Man was taken at the end of this event, we can only assume that this is an accurate depiction. Nothing like that east coast mud!
It took about 30 miles of the return trip for my jaw to unclench and an alarmingly uncomfortable voyage through the drive-thru window for hot coffee. Thankfully the girl working the window didn’t even bother to ask questions but simply stared as if she expected Ashton Kutcher to appear at any moment with hidden cameras from behind the bushes.
The rain hasn’t eased up since and it’s now the fifth day. The bikes are still outside on the trailer awaiting a break in the foul conditions for a proper (pressure-wash) shower and a tucking-in within the confines of the shed for a long winter’s nap. Upon last check, my goggles were too thoroughly slimed to be salvaged and my once-black Alpinestars look like they were carved from the feet of some Greek statue.
I would like to tell you that I have nothing but regret for partaking in the events of last weekend but in truth it seems like once you’ve thoroughly dried off and warmed up, once the bikes are back on trickle chargers and three feet of snow keep you from opening your front door in the morning, it’s the memories of rides like these that make the off-season tolerable. But just to be safe, I’m going to let the machine get it when Mike calls me for the first ride of spring.