Scene from the Wheelway – Part 2

Checking the weather radar just before departing on a ride is a very good practice.
But, sometimes storms can appear faster than modern technology can predict.

I’d checked the weather radar repeatedly recently prior to embarking on a 30-mile ride, an out-and-back to the outskirts of Charlevoix along the Little Traverse Wheelway. There was rain in the area, but it appeared to be north of Petoskey, heading east. I felt relatively safe, having had years of practice dodging downpours on the road.

I set out from Magnus Park amid temps in the high 60s/low 70s with a stirring breeze. Sure, it was cloudy and kind of gray, but it didn’t “feel” like rain, and the threatening clouds appeared far off. I stopped in the Miracle Mile and snapped a photo looking back toward town. I didn’t think much of it then, but I noticed dozens of geese and other birds tucked in close to shore, on what would be the leeward side of and eastbound storm.

Though they didn’t speak to me, I should’ve listened to those birds and their silent, fowl warning, which said, “We’re staying put!”

I continued on, still unaware of what lay ahead, toward East Park. In that beautiful stretch between Petoskey and the park, I detected a temperature drop, a cooling accompanied by a stiffer breeze. Still, having performed exhaustive weather radar check-ins before leaving, I felt like I was still safe, except for maybe a sprinkle or two.

Sure enough, though, at East Park the western sky had grown darker, more foreboding. Yet, my only care, apparently, was for the shocking clarity of the emerald waters below and the visible pockets of dark, deeper water highlighted by lighter green swaths of shallow.

Beyond East Park, as you all know, the Wheelway meanders from the bay shore and climbs up along U.S. 31. Rolling peacefully along, the horizon is of course obscured by the wooded areas surrounding Bay Harbor. Even past that community, the trail doesn’t parallel the shore again until it drops down, below the old railroad trestle that spans the highway. And it was at the base of that long descent, where a short, bouldered beach stretches only feet from the busy road, when I knew the radars had not detected the massive pop-up thunderstorm stretched out before me on the horizon, like a wispy tidal wave of angry clouds.

At this point – stopping to take several photographs of course – I began seriously considering where I might shelter in case this massive, rolling shelf cloud decided to drop its payload on yours truly. I could’ve headed back to West Park and the gas station at Bay Shore. But, remembering that a nearby boat ramp was equipped with a porta-potty, I gunned it and arrived there about five minutes before the bad weather hit.

Upon arrival, I noticed a fisherman standing on the dock watching the shelf cloud roll closer. We both marveled at the size of the storm, the color of the water, and the fact that we were about to get hit with some likely violent weather. We both took pictures and shot video, shaking our heads at the approaching juggernaut.

Having no rain gear and dressed only in bibs and a jersey, I, unlike the friendly fisherman, had no protection from the elements. Hence, I was forced to seek shelter in the only weather-proof structure nearby – a port-a-potty. Though it was very clean and relatively odor free, I struggled to remain in there while the storm – with its pounding rain, thunder and lightning, passed. I frequently peaked out and watched as the precipitation fluctuated between light sprinkle, steady drizzle and torrential downpour. All I could think of was that happy man in the original Woodstock movie who gleefully cleaned and restocked all the heavily-used “Port-O-San” restrooms at that massive event.

Eventually, after about 30 minutes, the sky brightened and the rain slacked off to a fine mist. I emerged from the gray crapper and gave an embarrassed giggle as I saw the fisherman had been working throughout the storm, preparing his boat for the lake. We were on the storm’s backside now, but we could see it barreling toward Petoskey, bearing down with its low, dark clouds and lightning strikes.

I wished the fisherman luck as I wiped the rain off my saddle. I climbed up the little brushy trail that connects the boat launch area with the Wheelway and mounted my Trek once again. Though I’d been surprised by the rapidly developing front, I’d weathered the storm and saw no reason not to continue toward Charlevoix.

The heavy rain left numerous flooded spots on the trail, but none were too deep or impassible. Once I reached the long, wooden bridge, I knew the remainder of my ride would be under more pleasant skies. I arrived back at Petoskey wet with only perspiration. And though I’d been sidetracked by the inclement weather, I was glad to have witnessed another incredible Scene on the Wheelway.

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