Riding a motorcycle in a thunderstorm is like some sort of religious experience. It begins with a familiar smell of ozone and nitrogen. Traveling at a mile a minute, smells tend to waft in and out of your helmet rather frequently. This phenomenon will frequently cause me to salivate uncontrollably when I fly past Dom’s bakery on Washtenaw on certain nights. But, on the onset of a storm, your nose is overpowered with the aroma of of sky and soil. It is like the atmosphere has been sweetened and intensified as the heavier air travels through your nostrils and down the back of your skull into your lungs. The world offers you something exceptional and the effect is pleasantly maddening. Within the next few minutes, the sky slowly begins to flash in the distance and the light momentarily distracts you from the operation of your vehicle. Downshift and ease off the throttle as you take it all in.
Despite common sense telling you to expedite the trip and get someplace dry, you’ll always let the engine wind down a little to enjoy the lighting. White ripping across a blackened sky momentarily making all man-made illumination, no matter how clever, obsolete never fails to be remarkable. Sometimes the flash is so brilliant that new shadows appear, move and vanish before you’ve had a real chance to focus on them. They appear, dance and flicker away before they can really be processed. You forget where you are, what went wrong, where you are going and everything else that makes life unbearable. You forget about it because, in that moment, it doesn’t matter.
Then comes the noise and the rain. It starts slow and gives you time to change your mindset. The first few drops are a downer and cannot adequately prepare you for what is to come. At sixty miles an hour, rain has a knack for finding every possible seam and fault in your clothing and exploiting it. The drops sting as they strike less protected areas over and over. Water is directed off the front of the machine and into your lap; the sensation is immediately unpleasant. It spreads out from there and your body temperature drops as your extremities get sloppy and difficult to control. Without the proper rain-proofed equipment, you’re sopping wet inside of five minutes. The moisture and the cold siphons energy away at an accelerated rate and it begins to make your clothes tight and cumbersome. Droplets ricochet off your helmet and you bare down and push through the water tails of cars and the downpour that impedes your progress while somehow enhancing the overall experience of being alive.