Fording the River
This past Monday, we had a angry thunderstorm here in the Champaign area. It was around 5:00, quitting time at the office. I was going to head out, but I decided to loiter a bit so I could check on some things. I had just received my work laptop, and I was making sure I was ready to take it home for the night.
Little did I know the impact this 15 minute excursion would have.
When I was a mere 3 feet away from the door to exit my building, I heard the heavens rip. It was definitely a tearing, akin to a child eagerly ripping opening a bag of chips, only to have it spill everywhere. Moments later, it came. That kid didn’t mess around. Like a sheet, the rain came down hard.
There was another person who was leaving the building. Judging by her phone call, she too had a bicycle, but had decided to ask her friend to pick her up instead. Seeing that I was waylaid this ninja of a storm, I gave my friend Gramu a call, telling him I was would be late arriving back home. He offered to give me a ride. I refused, wanting to take my bike home. I would soon be taught firsthand the folly of my decision.
It looked like I had no hope for keeping my shoes dry. I stuffed my socks in my shoes and stuck the lot in my bag. My brand new laptop, I figured would be safe once I wrapped it in a plastic bag. I stuck my phone and wallet in the bag as well. The rain seemed to be letting up, and I made a dash to my bike. Mind you, it was still raining pretty heavily, but at least it wasn’t a downpour like before.
I should have realized the lull wouldn’t last. I knew the air was thick that day, being around 95% humidity that Monday afternoon. The clouds wanted to cry. It was just waiting for an excuse. And then someone called it a fatty. Just as I began unlocking my bike, the clouds started boo hoo-ing again. A lady was out there as well trying to take advantage of the lull. Once the rain hit again, she gave up on the bike and head for a building. I still pressed on, fumbling my keys as the rain came down in giant beads. Once I managed to seat myself, I took off.
I only noticed how strange of a feeling it was to pedal barefooted after I had reached the Alta Mater intersection at Green and Wright. Before, I was thoroughly distracted the incessant rain in my eyes and my futile attempts to keep my vision clear. There was only handful of people out on the Quad, and they were all hiding underneath building entrance ways.
And so I pressed on. I cut across the intersection, and rode down Green St. There weren’t cars ahead of me, and no was dumb enough to cross the street. I made good time and turned North to Springfield Ave. This is when the rain summoned it’s Shikai. Like blades, the clouds launched their assault. It was getting harder to see, and I would have to slow down a lot before I make any turns. At the intersection of Fourth and Springfield, I waited for the light to turn green. A week earlier, I would’ve been home in just a couple more blocks to the Northwest. But no. I still had a bit to go. Getting soaked to my skivvies and hoping my laptop was still dry, I waited. At least the rain was still warm.
I made my way West on Springfield and saw that cars were making U-turns ahead. After 1st street, Springfield dips below some railroad tracks before leading to Neil Street. This turned out to be the perfect space for a small river to form. (I guess it’s more correct to call it a lake, but I’m Oregon mode, bear with it.) I figured it would be easier for me to push through the flood then a large car. Yeah… I made it across alright, but not the way I wanted.
I was standing, so I could power my way through the water. The going was good until I hit the lowest part of the dip. There, the water made one of my feet slip off and hit my bike like a fat sumo wrestler with no arms. I managed to maintain my grip on the other pedal, but the speed was gone. I was going to tip.
Or I would have, had my tickle of adrenaline not kick in right as that was happening. I struck out my left foot, which was jarred loose by the impact a moment earlier and caught myself in the water. I felt the brown river hit the inside of my thigh. Nice. I gave myself mental kudos. I pushed my way out from under the bridge and started pedaling again.
Neil Street. Why was it uphill? I hopped on the sidewalk, as I didn’t want to get killed by any angry cars. And then it came. The clouds were angry. Angry I managed to make it this far. It released Bankai. With an almost theatrical clap of thunder, the rage came pouring down. It was heavy and sharp. The wind shoved the rain around everywhere, but mostly at my eyes. Always at the eyes.
Anyway, I couldn’t ride anymore. Not because I was tired, or my bike wasn’t working, but because I could not see in front of me. With the rain’s strategic assault on my eyes, I was blind to what was ahead of me. I hopped off the bike to hide by the lee of a billboard pole, hoping to keep my bag dry from the relentless onslaught. I wasn’t being battered by rain anymore, but still a lot of water was hitting my bag. I was hoping so hard that my laptop was still dry.
I grabbed my bike and ran towards a small gap between two buildings. It wasn’t exactly an alley, as it was only just wide enough for me and my bike. I had nothing shielding me from above, but since most of the rain was flying in sideways, I kept my bag under me as I huddled against a wall. And surely enough, the clouds gave up a bit and the winds subsided. I took this opportunity to make my way towards home again. Silly me.
When I stopped at the next intersection, the water levels had risen quite a bit. I propped my foot down and saw that the water went halfway up my calf. Yeah. Good thing my shoes were in my bag. The light had just turned, and I knew I was to wait for a while. And then it hit again. The clouds went Hollow mode and their rage came pouring down again, once again blowing in my eyes. I was afraid for my bag and backtracked a bit. I didn’t see any building I could duck under, and the businesses on my side of the street were all closed. No alleys, no overhangs, no billboards.
When all hope was near lost, I saw it. There was a large dumpster in the parking lot, one with a long sloped lip. I dropped my bike in the lot and ran underneath the dumpster. There I waited for the rage to go away, with my bag against the dumpster, my body shielding it from the other side. Thunderclap after clap, the clouds continued to taunt me.
However many minutes later, the winds died down and the rain went from DESTROY ALL HUMANS ANGRY to just regular angry. It had battered me, screamed at me, and spit in my face over and over again, but finally it had lost its strength. I decided to claim my victory and I came out from under the dumpster. I grabbed my bike off the ground and rode home. I took a bit of a round about path getting past flooded areas, but at least now I could see where I was going. The rain had lost its strength, at least for now.
I arrived at the steps to my door and quickly locked my bike. I rinsed the mud off my feet in the pond that had recently formed over the sidewalk. I unlocked the door and ran inside. As soon as I got to my room, I opened the bag and pulled my stuff out. My bookbag was dripping wet. Things were looking grim. But as I pulled out the plastic bag that held my laptop, things seemed strangely dry. There was a book inside the plastic bag as well. Dry. I pulled out my laptop, and saw it held not even a single drop. Relieved, I pulled out my shoes, which were also surprisingly dry minus a couple spots of damp by the laces. My bookbag was sopping wet, but it did it’s job well. Yay.
And although you could have prolly imagined what I did next, I’ll finish it off. I stripped off my clothes and tossed them into the sink. I wiped myself off with a towel, got some fresh pair of boxers on, and threw myself on the futon. I was spent.
So this was the tale of my most epic bike ride ever. The distance covered was a paltry amount, but my goodness, it felt like miles. I checked the clock. It took me 50 minutes to ride home. Longer than it would have taken to walk. Normally only takes 10. If you had seen me, I bet you would’ve felt compelled to swaddle me in a blanket and hold me to keep me warm. Wah.