Friday, July 23, 2010

Rain Ride

In the movie The Weather Man, people often assaulted Nicolas Cage's character, throwing fast-food items at him - presumably payback for botched weather forecasts. Hmmm ... I bet some of them rode motorcycles.

Since we decided to scrap a ride to West Virginia, Anna and I settled for a day trip on Friday, the only day she had completely available to ride. The weather forecast - cloudy, with only a 10 percent chance of showers by the early afternoon, increasing to around 30 percent by late afternoon - was not ideal, but not horrible either. We at least figured we'd have three or four hours of dry weather, and escape the worst of the rain, as long as we got back before 4 p.m.

As we began riding toward Connecticut around 10 a.m., I thought it was actually nice not riding with the sun beating down on us. We both wore our leather jackets since it was around 70 degrees, a bit cool for summer. But after only 45 minutes into our ride, before we even reached our first destination, rain began to fall. Although light at first, it would never let up the remainder of our ride, and, indeed, it gradually fell harder and harder, making a total mockery of the weather forecast.

Our first destination was Buttonwood Farm Ice Cream on Route 165 in Griswold, Conn. Some friends rode out there about a week earlier and took some awesome photos of the farm's fields of giant sunflowers, and Anna wanted to take some photographs of them. But upon our arrival, the parking lot was nearly full and, to our disappointment, we found that you had to pay to take a tour of the field and get up close to the sunflowers. (According to the farm's website, proceeds from the "Sunflowers for Wishes" tours benefit the Connecticut Make-A-Wish Foundation.) Since there was a large crowd and we wanted to ride,
we left the parking lot, rode a bit further, and then pulled off to the side of the road to look at another field of sunflowers. A woman graciously offered to take a few photos of Anna and me together. "Is that a new bike?" she asked me. She was impressed at how clean it was for an 8-year-old motorcycle.

We continued along Route 165, catching Route 2 through downtown Norwich, Conn., and rode along Route 32 north, through the towns of Franklin and Windham. Then we came upon Willimantic, a small city that once thrived due to the textile industry, which fled long ago. This was the first part of Connecticut Anna saw that was not very scenic. Or as she put it: "Willimantic: it's not romantic." After leaving Willimantic, Route 32 became more rural and scenic as we passed through some small villages. The rain showers were beginning
to fall a bit harder, but we were still comfortable.

We stopped at a Mobil gas station at the junction of routes 32 and 195 in Mansfield, Conn., for a bathroom break and map check. A postman asked if I would rather have a GPS, but I told him I preferred a map. "I'm
old school," I said. Anna, who is originally from West Virginia, noticed that people in Connecticut seemed friendlier and more helpful than people in Rhode Island, where we both live. A few people who saw me looking at a map asked if I was lost, to which I replied, "No, I'm not lost ... I just don't know where I want to go next." (That was an honest statement, not sarcastic, because I had not planned our ride beyond our first stop.) At the Mobil station, we saw a few bikers ride by, despite the rain. In the parking lot, we talked to a woman in a car with Massachusetts plates, who had experience riding a motorcycle in the rain. She told us she would wear plastic bags around her feet before putting them in her boots. "I can't stand wet feet," she said.

From the gas station, I initially considered getting on Interstate 84, riding north to the Massachusetts Turnpike, riding east and then back south to Rhode Island, but Anna said she didn't want to ride on the highway, since the rain drops were stinging enough at 45 mph (we both wore half helmets and my bike has no windshield). So I decided to continue riding on Route 32 north and then head east before we reached the Massachusetts border. We rode through the towns of Willington and Stafford, and got on Route 190 in Stafford Springs. The rain, which had seemed to let up a bit at the Mansfield Mobil station, got heavier, and my fingers began to get a bit numb. Although I wore a leather jacket, I had neglected to wear gloves. We then rode east on Route 197, one of the more scenic roads (especially past Bigelow Hollow State Park). It would have been fun to ride with its sweeps, dips and curves, had it been dry out. We stopped at the intersection with Route 198 for a map check, and at that point, decided to start heading back home. We would continue riding east on 197 and then get on Route 169 south.

Connecticut Route 169, another scenic road, is not as technically challenging as Route 197, but it starts (from the north end) in the beautiful town of Woodstock, Conn., a
charming mix of farms and quaint New England-style village greens. But we needed a break to
thaw our hands. Anna suffers from Raynaud's Disease, and her fingers were going numb from the cold also. The leather jacket she wore did not cover her waist, and she said she could feel water dripping down the back of her jeans, which was completely soaked, as was her top. "I don't mind being wet," she said, "but it's COLD for July!" The forecasters had predicted the temperature would be about 80 degrees, but it felt like it was in the high 60s, at best. I missed a turn for Route 169, so we stopped at the Cinnamon Tree Bakery on Route 171 in Woodstock, Conn. for a bathroom break and coffee (which was not hot, and had to be microwaved). The woman behind the counter let us warm our hand inside one of the bakery's ovens that was shut off, but had recently been used to bake muffins, so was still warm. She also gave us some vinyl food prep gloves, which did help a bit to delay cold-induced numbness for the rest of our ride.

The rain seemed to come down even harder by the time we got back on the bike, so it was now a test of endurance. From the bakery, I had planned to stay on Route 169 south, and then cross over to Route 49 via 14, but instead, I decided to take Route 6 west to get back to Rhode Island faster. Anna said she was "never so happy" to see the 'Welcome to Rhode Island' sign. We then got on Route 102 south, since it was a fairly straight path to the southern part of the state, where I unexpectedly hit a construction zone where a section of the road was dirt. Despite the rain, road crews were at work, and I had to pass a road construction roller in operation. By the time we hit Route 3 in West Greenwich, I needed to take another break and was looking for the Middle of Nowhere Diner, but I turned north instead of south on Route 3, so I had to turn around. I had forgotten the diner was actually located in Exeter, R.I. (Surprisingly, we saw three other motorcyclists riding in the rain in Rhode Island.)

The diner's parking lot was packed, but we managed to get a booth. Taking off her soaked jacket, Anna could not stop shivering, an
d the air conditioner inside the diner didn't help. I had to hold her to warm her up while we sipped coffee, and then ate a bowl of clam chowder and turkey club sandwich. Our waitress took pity on us and asked us how much farther we had to ride before we got home. "Not too far ... about 20 miles," I replied.

"That's far enough," she said.

After riding about 170 miles, mostly in the rain, a hot shower never felt so good. So far, I have not invested in rain gear, since I don't plan on intentionally riding in the rain. But, this experience has taught me to never trust a weather forecast, and always be prepared.


  1. That's one of the things I've always liked about riding - the people you meet who will extend a hand to help, or just chat when you're on the road. You may have been wet, but you had a great day.

  2. All these places back east sound cool to me. Woodstock, Exeter. Must be fun to ride in that area.