After two days out of town and off the bike for the holidays with family, I returned to Austin ready to get back to bidness. I needed to take my computer into the shop and to retrieve my mail, so I had two destinations. There was some light rain but the temperature was in the high 60’s, not much wind. A little rain never hurt anybody (except the Wicked Witch of the West), so I suited up and headed out. So it was not all storm all the time. But soon after errand number one, I had to put on my poncho and shoe covers. For a while it was fine. And then, it wasn’t. I felt the wind pick up from the north and with it, the temperatures dropped and gusts increased. There was also that part about a tornado watch. Did I wisely throw in the towel and head straight home? No. Here’s why and how.
Goals Don’t Care About Weather or Other Excuses
Returning readers will know that for whatever reason, hitting a certain number of miles in a year on my bike is a motivating factor for me. In 2016 I did 5,306, in 2017 I did 4,714 (total of 10,000) and this year I’ve passed 4,000. (In 2015 didn’t have Strava or a Garmin, but I figure I rode about 3,000.) Having revised my 2018 goal upward on several occasions — thrice, to be exact — I decided that basically there’s very little chance I’m going to quit in the home stretch being so close to this last milestone. While a little rain was not going to be easy, comfortable or even fun, I was not going to let a little water stop me either.
Here’s what I wrote in Strava (check out this ride at this link):
“Lightning, thunder, flooding, high and gusty winds, dark, got cool. What’s not to love? I have a goal and I’m very close so as long as my count of the thunder after the lightning strike was over five – one thousand (five miles), I figured I might live. Also, scouting for sharks that might get caught up in a tornado, I came up empty. Seems I saw a documentary about that. Also, a guy at the Randall’s was named Noah, and I said he was just the guy I needed to see. He said I was allowed to make that joke. Once. There were some moments I wasn’t sure I would make it. Anyway, Sophie the Fairdale handled the ride like a champ, and I lived to ride another day.”
Once I get a goal in mind, I’m like a dog with a bone: I ain’t freakin’ letting that thing go without a fight. So the reasons why are that: a) I had places to go and things to do; b) I don’t have a car and hate the bus; c) I need the exercise due to all the extra sugar I ate; d) I don’t mind a little rain even though my rain gear sucks; and e) stubborness runs in the family. But having a goal and sticking to it are two different things. One is easy; the other requires sacrifice, struggle and suffering.
As for HOW, well, the main thing to know is that when riding in wind gusts, one really must unclip their pedals and grip those handlebars like grim death. I was also prepared to alter course, stop quickly, and lean into the gusts, too. The fact that I’m not too fast to begin with, being a middle-aged, tired fathlete as I am, helps. As does a steel bike that’s 28 pounds before water bottles and other accoutrements. Here are some screenshots of the weather, in case you think I’m making this stuff up (and no, I have no idea how I would fake these either):
More how to’s: a) I counted the seconds between lightning strikes and thunderclaps, and if they were under five seconds, I would have considered bailing out and finding a bus or phoning a friend. Since they weren’t, although terrifying, I did not feel that the risk level was irrationally high (despite the title of my Strava ride); b) consider seeking shelter by riding on neighborhood, tree-lined streets; c) find refuge and wait out the worst (not an option since it kept getting worse); d) I studied the hourly weather before leaving, so I knew what to expect; and e) I was willing to get wet even with rain pants, poncho and shoe covers. My laptop did not get wet. Perhaps the most important trick though is f): being present in the moment and maintaining equanimity or in other words, follow the maxim of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “DON’T PANIC!” (And always carry a towel.)
Calculated Risks Are Worth Taking
In the end, I felt the reward for this ride was not only having something noteworthy to blog about, but the boost in confidence it gave me. Think back to the last brave thing you did that worked out (at some level), and you’ll understand. Maybe you were nervous, but still asked someone out on a date, or went on a run for longer or faster than before, or asked your boss for a raise. There’s no describing that feeling of inner knowing that you’re in alignment with your level of ability and can meet an outside opposing force and overcome it, or at least work with it to “git ‘er done”! Benjamin Franklin was right when he said “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Because it was hard and I survived intact with no wrecks or electrical burns from the sky, it’s that much more of a personal victory.
But kids, don’t try this at home. Because at one level while it seems manageable, for many people it would not be. With over 17,000 miles in my legs since 2015, I have less experience than far stronger cyclists. I do have a good bit more experience than some, though. One thing’s for sure: The next ride I do will be far easier. That’s because it will be sunny and not storming, but also because I have the visceral experience and knowledge that I have a shit-ton of resiliency and determination when I want it. Calling on that to apply in other areas of my life is still a challenge. But every time I (or you) overcome some obstacles, we get closer to mastering a life skill. Or at least a feeling of victory in the moment.
I will also tell you this: it’s good to know that an obstacle is not as hard as you think. And if I can overcome one, I can overcome another. But it’s also good to keep perspective and a sense of humor. You may have to try several times to get good at your skill. I stopped in a grocery store for some Think Thin bars and a Vitamin Water Zero and had a nice chat with the young cashier. I said he was just the man I needed to see on a stormy night. His name was Noah. I’m not stupid-stitious nor believe some mythical, mystical, magical space ghost friend for adults is watching over me, but if that ain’t a good omen, I don’t know what is. Ride on, people!
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6 thoughts on “How I Bicycled 22 Miles in a Thunderstorm and Tornado Watch (Shark-Free)”
Dude! I was in SA visiting family during that storm. Hats off to you for getting out in that. The bravest thing we did was drive to The Goodwill to drop off unused items from closets and that was a dangerous task!
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Not sure it was bràve as much as dumb but it was an experience for sure. One I hope to avoid in the future!
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Thanks again Tex Biker !
I’m glad it worked out for you. I’ve been cooked and expired from different things a few times and can’t afford to do it again, so outdoors in lightning weather is not for me if I have a choice!
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Thanks and that’s understandable!
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