The Slop

I am naked. In the basement. Stuffing my shoes with newspaper. My clothes are in a heap by the washing machine. There is a drop of water dangling from one of my ears, like a pearl earring.

It starts in winter. In anticipation of snow, the cities and towns put down salt and sand. Every storm calls forth the sanders. When the spring comes, such as it is, the roads show multiple layers of sand and gravel, and over the initial weeks of the thaw, all that mess finds its way to the shoulders of the road.

l try to get the newspaper in the shoes as soon as I can. It’s the only way to dry them, and there is nothing worse than strapping into wet cycling shoes. Not to mention the aroma.

There is a gap between the last snow and the first appearance of the street sweepers, and during this time cycling in the verges becomes a dicey proposition. The great lumbering yellow hulks eventually come and clean things up, but as budgets struggle to cope with the weather, the cities and towns take an increasingly inconsistent approach to their spring cleaning, so that even now, in mid-May, there’s still a lot of crap on the roads.

My neighbor said, this morning, “I’ve always wondered what it was like to live in Seattle,” and laughed. It’s been a cold, rainy spring, and we’re in the middle of roughly ten days of constant precipitation. The coffee doesn’t seem to be any better, though.

Because it’s spring there are great washes of pollen and seed pods beneath the trees, and the rain mixes with this organic sputum and creates a sort of road snot, slippery and yellow. It gets gritty where the winter sand mixes in, and all of that comes up as spray as your tires knife through it.

You have to wear glasses in the city because of all the junk that gets churned up by cars and buses and robots whizzing by on their bikes. Even on rainy days, when you’re forced to clear your lenses every five blocks, the glasses are essential equipment. For some reason, all that mess seems to find its way to your face, or at least that’s how it feels.

In a meeting, earlier in the afternoon, I said, “I hate this job so much that I would trade being inside, in the warm office with a cup of coffee, for being outside, in the cold and rain, on my bike, on a steep hill.” Later on, when I was outside, in the cold and rain, on my bike, on a steep hill, I had to smile. I’m kind of an idiot.

As I crouch there, naked, in the basement, I can see how thick the muck is because it clings to my ankles in a dark band above where my socks ended. I lean into the garage to wring out my gloves, socks and hat. Charming. I’m naked in the garage. No good stories start or end that way.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International



  1. Chris

    One night this past winter, I found myself in a similar situation: naked on our patio with gear spread everywhere and pile of wet clothes on the ground. As I stood there, I realized that I had no way to get past my in-laws, who sat just inside watching television. So, I made a phone call to my wife to request she come and throw a beach towel out for me. She opened the door, to me shivering and naked on our patio with a huge smile on my face and said, “you’re a weirdo.”

  2. Jeff B

    Man, Robot, this is why I’ve barely been on a bike this spring. Rode on Sunday at a friend’s place in NH. What a trainwreck the weather was. I came back soaked and freezing. Thankfully I haven’t been out in the crap enough to be miserable.

    1. Padraig

      I’m fortunate that our washer and dryer are in our garage. I can enter the garage, deposit my bike, strip, treat and then start laundry, after which I walk straight to the shower. The one thing that has gotten tricky is how our 22-month-old son loves to run up to me and hug my legs when I get home from a ride. On those nastiest of days, I don’t really want him hugging a melange of sand and embro, so I have to move quickly. Of course, I lose out on a really endearing moment with our littlest sprinter.

  3. Dan O

    I too reside in the Seattle area. It’s been one wet and cold, so called, spring season.

    Our washer and dryer also reside in the garage. Works well for peeling off soaking wet bike clothes, then making a run through the house with a something pulled from the laundry pile wrapped around my waist – much to entertainment of the family…

    Our dryer has a shoe dryer attachment – wire shelf that sits inside the dryer – works fantastic for drying wet bike shoes. If my Sidi shoes get soaked riding into work, I set ’em behind my PC, near the exhaust fan. By the time I ride home, dry and comfy once again.

    Yup, riding in Seattle teaches you a few tricks.

  4. Souleur

    cold and wet is all across the fruited plains it seems, as here in the ozarks, we have had our fair share of deluge. I was fortunate enough to have bought booties, rain jacket and been prepared for it, but after the spring thaw, it simply reminded me that it really matters little. The rain jacket helps, the booties help, but in the end, water is still going to get in to every little crack and crevis despite the best of preparation, best of gear, fenders or not. I found myself after the first ride, decked and ready, rain falling like in Noah’s generation….I found myself smiling, accepting the fact that water goes everywhere and enjoying the puzzling looks that people give a cyclist in this muck and mire.

    thanks for the hint on newspapers, will give that a try, instead of hanging them out to dry

  5. randomactsofcycling

    We had a wet April/early May here in Sydney. Unfortunately the seasons run opposite to you guys so the weather was also getting colder. I always try my best to resist winter apparel until I absolutely cannot stand the cold any longer but with the extra wind chill of rainy weather, arm warmers, booties and jackets/vests have been out earlier than usual.
    There’s a public access pathway running up the side of our place that a few neighbours use to walk to the train station. I get a few looks and comments from those that see me on the back patio stripping off in the morning! Still, I hate the home trainer so much that I sold it because I would rather be wet/cold/dirty than sitting on that thing.
    @Dan O – nice tip about the PC fan. I’ll have to try that one.

  6. gus cinci

    robot, did you say ring around the ankles? so shame on you – you should be seen wearing tall socks. you don’t wanna be mistaken by a triathlete do you? DO YOU? wait a minute…triathletes don’t ride in the cold. scratch that altogether.

    the trick of newspapers in the shoes deserves an additional step: after stuffing with newspapers, place the shoes behind/under the fridge. its motor provides air and a modicum of heat so the next day the cloppers will be deliciously clean.

    naked in the basement; my wife makes me undress at the door when i come in carrying a mix of spring sputum (love the word), mud, grass and burning embrocation. so, like you, i disrobe and walk upstairs in the buff. not pretty, but gets the job done.

    btw, to whomever suggested fenders, please…

    1. Padraig

      All: I’ve got some ebola I picked up from Mini-Me. I can’t think well enough to write something worth reading. I hope to be back at it tomorrow.

  7. Author

    @gus cinci – Man, you are stylish and suave on your bike. Your tall socks probably stay up EVEN when it rains. You have that accent that makes all the lady cyclists mess their knickers too. I am not worthy. Truly.

    @Padraig – Get well(er).

  8. Janet D.

    Well Padraig, looks like Tyler Hamilton has provided you a subject. Not that it won’t make you sick(er).

    1. Padraig

      Souleur and Nate: There’s this German magazine that devised this stuff and if you think about it, they are really on the right track, where weight is concerned. In this case, Cannondale got a third party to use the protocol from the German magazine (Bike). Frame weight really ought to be measured in an apples-to-apples manner. They’ve gone with no derailleur hangers, no headset, no seatpost or seat collar and no BB adapters. Th effect is rather like a slimming mirror in that when they account for things like derailleur hangers and such, most bikes lose weight relative to how they are usually reported. For bikes with a seat mast, the effect is more pronounced. It’s not so much a formula as a lot of calculation. My understanding is that they weigh the frame shipped and then get copies of derailleur hangers and such to weigh and then subtract that; I don’t know what they do on seat masts.

      Paul: I’ve avoided reviewing stuff that I don’t like or don’t think is really up-to-snuff. There are really only two entities in cycling I enjoy bashing, one being Pat McQuaid and the other being Riccardo Ricco. So giving a bike a bad review isn’t something I find really helpful. Then there’s this whole other problem; honest to Buddah, I really have trouble getting around to writing a review for a product I don’t like.

      I began RKP because I’m excited and passionate about cycling. The stuff I write about here every week has engaged my passions at some level. Some of the stuff turns out to be a bit more profound than other bits, but they all get my passion to some degree. If a bike is uninspiring, it’s hard to write about. I’ve sent bikes back without writing about them. Paul, I respect your need to read content that you find credible. And if you think RKP lacks credibility I wish you luck in finding an outlet that does a job you deem more credible.

      One other small note: While this post might pass as a full review for some publications, those are really just my first impressions. I’ve done less than 100 miles on the bike. I like it loads, but I’ve yet to test on any truly dicey descents. I plan to push it and spend some time referencing it against other great bikes.

  9. grayson

    Riding in the rain makes me think of Haussler winning a stage in the Tour in the rain, on the same day I was riding RAGBRAI in the rain. With a girlfriend (now fiance) who would get pissed every time I’d make sure not to drop her on the hills. “Just go ahead god damnit, stop patronizing me!” She managed to get 4 or 5 flats in one day that week.

    One memory leads to another…

  10. Phil

    I love riding in the rain, especially early in the morning. I do prefer it if the ride starts dry and then the rains come – it just makes it all the more satisfying (yes, riding in the rain can be satisfying to some).

    My only issue with riding in the rain is Sydney drivers. As soon as it starts to rain, they lose any semblance of driving skills they possessed and become blithering idiots on the road. Somehow, they manage to drive closer to the rear of the car in front when it’s raining than in the dry. I’ll never understand it.

    Thankfully, after a long ride in the rain, my fiancee is usually there ready with a fresh towel for me, and a rag to wipe down the bike so I don’t have to put it away wet. Then she goes back to bed. She’s great like that.

  11. Wes

    ^^^ I’m with you, Phil. There’s something I enjoy about riding in the rain, too. As long as it isn’t _5 months_ of rain, which is how it’s felt in my first Seattle Winter. That said, I moved here from Toronto, which has it’s own Winter-riding issues. I’ll take rain over freezing temps, road salt, and (even a little) snow.

    Apparently Seattle’s Winter/Spring this year was historically particularly cool/wet, which makes me feel better about future years. It definitely made me glad that when I got my DeSalvo road bike built a couple of years ago, I opted for long-reach brakes so I could mount real fenders. Crappy fenders are better than nothing, but hammered Honjos (with Embrocation Cycling Journal buddy flaps, no less) repel water and attract compliments. 🙂

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