It's five a.m. and pouring rain when I step outside, strapping my bike helmet to my head. Raindrops soak my waterproof jacket and not-waterproof pants and very not-waterproof shoes, and by the time I reach the end of our street, my clothes are saturated. Water collects on the visor of my helmet, little drops clinging in a row at the very top of my vision; when I flick my head sideways to dislodge them, they're replaced almost immediately.
I'm alone, eerily so, as I bike through residential streets. It's that sensation of being all alone in the universe, something I've felt while swimming or solo backpacking but never in the middle of London. This isn't a city that knows solitude. Usually when I pass the cyclist counter, I'm number 50 or 60 for the day; today, I'm number 16. From 4 a.m. airport trips to biking home at midnight, I've never seen the streets so deserted.
As my wet clothes stick to my skin and wind slips through every crevice in my clothing, I envy everyone else who had the good sense to stay home.
It doesn't rain like this in London very often. It drizzles frequently, sometimes enough that I consider investing in actually waterproof pants. Then the drizzle slows, or stops, and we have overcast skies or fog or bits of sunshine. In the six months we've been here, this is only the second time I'll use the spare set of dry clothes I bring with me.
The average temperature back home is colder and true inclement weather more common, so my worsening hatred of the cold has been a puzzle. Until now. As the wind nearly tips me over and as I bike through a puddle that sprays water in my face, I finally figure out the difference. I've never commuted by bike before. I've never spent an hour on my bike every day, even on the coldest, rainiest days. There's public transportation, of course, but the bike trip takes nearly half as long. I would have chosen the bus today, if I'd planned ahead, but I'd have had to wake up earlier than usual to catch the infrequent night bus that would get me to work on time.
The wind pushes against me as I turn the corner, so every pump of my pedal takes effort. When I reach the bridge over the Thames, gusts blow me sideways; it takes all my strength to stay upright. When it blows hard enough, it brings the rain with it, so I feel like I'm in the midst of a tiny hurricane. Water is pooling on the sides of the streets, and in the dim light, I can't avoid all the puddles. Good thing my socks and shoes are already soaked; what's a little more water?
And then, I'm there. The coffee shop where I work is warm and inviting, and it feels glorious to shed my wet layers. My co-workers laugh at my dripping helmet and jacket, and I laugh too, more from relief than humor. I watch the rain from inside the warm shop, and by the time I'm biking home from class in the late afternoon, the clouds have given way to a colorful sunset. That's one good thing about storms; they make you appreciate clear skies so much more.