Rainy season has started. It hasn’t stopped since the day we moved to the Hampton. We ended up spending three nights there the second two everyone sharing beds still on Andy’s dime. Charlie needed time to recover from a particularly bad three days of food poisoning. It would appear to have been the J.R.’s rib house meal that triggered it but we all ate that meal and felt fine. Getting Andy’s bike through customs on Tuesday turned out to be an all-day affair so he didn’t mind having an extra day to put it together out of the cargo container. Alex and I just hung out, washed our bikes, and enjoyed the A/C. Thursday at noon we finally got moving.
We finally decided where were going in the parking lot while warming up the bikes. Our friend Patrick was a day south of San Jose and ready to hit Panama. Charlie and Andy caught up with Patrick for part of Costa Rica, but Alex and I hadn’t seen him since the first couple nights at Zephyr Lodge. We pulled out of the parking lot on what was the very beginning of Andy’s motorcycle trip. Charlie’s GPS led us through San Jose during the afternoon traffic. Clouds were closing in overhead and twenty minutes in the rain started coming down. We pulled over for gas soon after and by then I was pretty wet in the shorts and shoulders. I put my waterproof liners in and mounted up again ready to go. Everyone else made their adjustments as well and we pulled away from the gas station into the intensifying rain.
Patrick was on the west coast near the border and the only way there was over the mountains. Our gang climbed up a windy road into the clouds with the rain slapping down the entire way. Everyone was staying pretty dry but getting cold so we stopped to warm up at a mountain café. Alex and I got out our waterproof insulated gloves. I threw on a jacket for warmth. We ended up climbing to 11,000 feet and into fog so thick you couldn’t tell up from down. Somewhere on the way up I started getting wet. I wasn’t sure at first since I had been damp since I put the liners in. But no, my waterproof liners failed. It started with my pants. The rain pools at your crotch coming down the chest and off the legs. I could feel the moment when the seal broke and the water crept in. Soon after my shorts were soaked and there was water dripping down my leg into my boots. Then my boots gave in. The work boots say ‘waterproof’ on the side, but their levy broke too. At the same time water from my soaked waist was crawling up my tee shirt and insulation jacket nearly to my armpits. The only part that stayed dry was my shoulders, and they started out damp. I was soaked and it was 53F degrees out. I hadn’t had a ride like this since returning from Dave Matthews at the Gorge over North Cascades Highway last fall. That was even wetter and I was less prepared. I remember it got me very excited for this trip; strange because it seems like hell now.
That mountain pass was miserable. It was the first time what we’re doing has seemed dangerous to me. After having no problems with banditos or bad roads for three months, weather caught me off guard. I couldn’t feel four of my fingers and shifting gears felt like moving an ice block around on the end of my leg. I got cold and it was all I could do to focus on the heat in my core and keep my body moving with the bike. Getting wet caught me off guard too. I put a lot of faith in this gear when I paid nearly $1,000 hard earned Alaskan on it this spring. The truth is nothing could have withstood that downpour. By the end of our ride everyone was leaking.
We had made it to the coast. Andy had hit the ground running. Patrick was still a ways south, but we put in a good effort through an entire day of rain. No sign of the sun the entire afternoon. We stayed in an apartment at a hotel for $60 total and laid our wet gear out in front of an arsenal of fans overnight. We had a tame night eating at a vegetarian restaurant and then shooting some pool for an hour.
Friday morning we woke up at 6:00am determined to beat the rain today. We were loaded and on the road by 7:30am, just as the rain started to come down. From 7:30am until 5:30pm we rode through a tropical storm across the Panamanian border. Fifteen minutes in Charlie and I got separated from Alex and Andy during a gas stop. We didn’t seem them for about five hours. Naturally, both teams just kept plodding towards the intended border figuring we’d catch up with each other in the next 24 hours. My gear was still damp when I put it on and within an hour of riding I was completely soaked again. It was warmer than in the mountains, but it was still hard to bear for the entire day. From dawn until dusk all I saw was dark grey skies pouring buckets everywhere.
Around noon Charlie and I arrived at the no-name border between Costa Rica and Panama. We got to work on the stamps and paperwork moving from building to building. Halfway through we heard two big bikes roll by and the group was back together. In total we probably spent two hours standing around in the pouring rain getting all our important documents soaked. We finally took care of everything: stamps, insurance, and tire fumigation.
The afternoon was wearing on at this point. Also every component of every person’s waterproofing had failed at this point. We were a wreck. The nearest city was Volcan and that sounded good enough. We tore off down a newly paved two-lane road. We were making great time until it turned to mud ruts ten minutes in. Used to breaks in the road such as this, we pushed forward riding downhill in the mud. It wasn’t so much riding as it was skiing on my boots keeping a bike upright as it coasted through the slope with the clutch in. Down at the bottom the road didn’t improve. We asked directions and somehow we had slipped back into Costa Rica. Wrong way.
Time to get back up the mud. It wasn’t easy. Open the throttle and start playing with the clutch looking for traction. Eventually it bites and the bike gets moving. It will always break free though and the rear wheel with all the luggage weight on it will start sliding left or right cutting through the ruts. As bad as it was, everybody made it up incident-free and we took off in the right direction.
Forty-five minutes later we finally arrived in Volcan. The rain kept coming down as we rode through some high mountain roads surrounded by pine trees and sparse vegetation. There were some great views but all of them were marred by fog. Finally, with the last of our energy we arrived here in Volcan. We’re at a hostel for $10 each and we have the entire dormitory to ourselves. There is wet gear everywhere and four tired bodies. The rain is pounding the roof. Tomorrow we’re going to get a slower start hopefully with some drier gear. It sounds like Patrick might catch up too since we never crossed paths today.
I’m exhausted. I need to figure out a plan for this rain; it’s predicted for the next three days and months. Charlie’s and Andy’s simplest idea seems to work the best. They just wear rubber pants over their riding gear up to their shoulders. If I were to do this trip again, there are some things I would do differently. Trusting waterproof/breathable liners is one of them.