Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Friday, May 26, 2006


If rock climbing restored to me the pleasure I take from being in the woods, cycling has restored to me the even more primitive pleasure to be found in rain. Left to our own devices, most children will rush out into each rain storm, plunge their hands, palms down, into the nearest puddle, and cavort heedless of any risk of illness or hazard.

I have logged something like 50 or 60 miles in the past 10 days alone in rain -- first at the Ride of Silence, then in the morning of Pedal Pittsburgh, and then this morning and this evening riding to and from work.

Children are a burden on their parents, no matter how they spin it presently or later. And children do -- it's true -- pick up colds as readily as pebbles and sticks and the inappropriate tics of their parents. Sick children are more burdensome. So we forgive parents, and preemptively ourselves, for being prudent to a fault.

But what do we miss, raised to believe that rain is an adversary from which we reflexively hide beneath umbrellas and oilskin, roofs and awnings?

Were rain lethal, or even a terribly bad thing, we never would have made it to the point of fashioning even crude shelters. We would have perished like all the other maladapted species who speak to us in crumbling, blanched whispers from the deepest strata of history.

Tonight, climbing out of Panther Hollow into Oakland, and arriving at the bottom of Schenley Park, the sky loomed ominously, as it had intermittently all day. I had divined from the satellite map a tentative expectation that I might fit 20 or 30 miles in between the visible rain bands, which seemed in jerky flipbook doppler animation to be moving more slowly than is usually the case. But I am no weatherman, as the world sees fit to remind me, time and again.

The prospect of rain required no mental preparation; the skies had tipped me off for the six or so miles I'd ridden from downtown, had whispered to me even before I turned the office light out on my workweek and embarked on my long weekend, Memorial Day . . . .

As I'd intended, I began my ascent, loose and ready from a moderate-paced ride out of the city. I passed the Conservatory, bent right onto the bridge over Panther Hollow below which I'd passed not ten minutes earlier, and negotiated the complex of overlapping ramps and merges to enter the park proper. I lifted out of the saddle to get up the momentarily steep first switchback, then resumed the saddle for the mild climb to the next.

I heard live music, the Ramones, from inside the park, the tinny sound of a snare played out doors, the flurry of nonsense syllables, and over all of it the piercing squeals of tween or teen girls, mocking a ritual invented by the oldest among their parents as though it were a birthright. Rounding the bend, I saw the source of the noise, the volume of which was increasing. A few dozen kids were crowded into a shelter in David Lawrence Park, tucked perfectly into the rectangular rainshadow provided by a peaked roof standing on four pillars.

There was something surreal about the prospect of a middle school or high school band, playing the same covers I had played in the one living-room-bound middle school band for which I had briefly played keyboards nearly twenty years ago. Aside from this unlikely tumult, the park was almost empty, nothing like it was on Tuesday when Frightened Monkey and I invented, in slightly longer form, the particular route I rode tonight.

As I reached the top of the park, approaching the tennis courts, I considered the prospect of lightning. Even exposed, more or less alone at the top of a park, I couldn't find the energy to worry much. I wondered briefly whether having bicycle tires between me and the ground would save me. I imagined not, but figured the odds of being struck by lightning were, well, like the odds of being struck by lightning. My corduroy shorts became saturated and stuck to my legs; my sunglasses became impossible to see through, leaving me with a familiar choice between uncorrected vision, rainfall constantly interrupting my vision, and obscured but corrected vision through sunglasses that I'm sure look sillier than they really are when the skies darken and empty themselves on the world below.

Descending through the trees, slow to accommodate the danger presented by poor vision, the canopy's untimely shadow, and the prospect of a line of parked cars, I witnessed the absurd spectacle of a man trying to mount a mountain bike to a trunk rack while hiding under his umbrella. I resisted the urge to call out something mocking, recognizing that I looked as absurd to him as he did to me.

But why hide? Why treat the rain as something to be endured only reluctantly rather than embraced and celebrated? The rain continued all the way home, out Forbes through Squirrel Hill, across Braddock through Point Breeze, down Dallas into East Liberty (or whatever neighborhood lurks between Point Breeze and Highland Park), through Highland Park and up Stanton into the Heights, skirting the edge of Morningside, and then finally, shamelessly riding the brake down into Lawrenceville and home.

As the rain diminished, my glasses dried into something less than clear, my gloves squelched in time with my cadence as I methodically climbed Stanton out of the saddle, water moving around within my shoes, dress socks, all that remained of my workday uniform, sodden and bunching around my ankles, and I wished the deluge back, to complete the circuit, rain by morning, rain by evening, and the welcome prospect of a warmer shower awaiting me at home.

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