Doing it all the hard way...

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Coffee and Lies # 103 Shifting gears

Cyclocross is over and there is snow in the mountains. Winter, as I define it, is in full swing.   The rituals of the season though familiar are for a moment, fresh.  The audible click when my boots locked into my Nordic bindings was a sweet sound I had forgotten until I heard it again.  When I heard it I smiled.  Assembling and donning the proper layers of clothing to cope with cycling in the cold and/or chilly rain brings a satisfaction when it all works out.  I go to work in the dark and I come home in the dark.  It isn’t good or bad; it just is.  When I need to work on bikes in the garage it is cold down there. 

This past Saturday El Chefe’ and I started at sunrise and spent the first four hours of grey daylight riding and talking. We wanted to be sure and finish before the day got dry and comfortable.   We achieved that goal. When we finished we had more than a hundred kms which was the longest either of us had ridden in a while, yet we both felt pretty good. El Chefe’ was still in race shape but was kind enough not to drop me.

We bumped into McWoodie on the I-90 bridge.  You can always spot the brown kits from an amazing distance.  We finished with a loop of the island. It was good to catch up with El Chefe’ and I was reminded that he is an exceptional human.

It felt really good to go long.  After a season of intervals four hours seemed like forever. The slower pace necessitated by the distance and road conditions was welcome.  Saturday afternoon my legs were tired.  Not sore, not tight, not achy, just tired.  It was a great feeling. The voluminous mound of post-ride laundry reflects the season as much as anything.

The Sunday morning rendezvous for Coffee and Lies was surprisingly populous with a peloton that peaked at eleven riders sporting the brown.  For perhaps the first time all year we had our entire executive committee riding.  I was wondering if we might get a State of the Team Address from el Jefe.  That didn’t happen; we just rode.  That was enough.

Our team rides in deep winter are a treat. Although conditions are typically bleak the pace is slower and during the ride I get some unhurried time to spend chatting with each rider.  This is the season of base miles. 

Before it was the Coffee and Lies ride it was known as the “Hank Ride.” Ironically Hank hasn’t been on his namesake ride for about three years.  Hank’s passion has gone to the dark side and he now competes in rowing events and uses cycling as a supplement to his rowing training.  How misguided…

A similar story with a very different ending comes from another neighborhood ride.  That ride goes four days a week and on Sunday it departs before the Coffee and Lies ride.  Those riders are known as (fake name to protect the innocent) The Flanders Boys Ride named after the group’s leader Tim Flanders. 

For the majority of this year the Hank ride and the Flanders Boys rides had no Hank or Flanders.

Mr. Flanders spent last year battling cancer.  In my “denial is the key to success” way, I acted the coward and kept up on Tim’s illness from afar.  In the spring months things looked grim.  Time to talk about time grim.  By summer things were looking better and by fall, Tim had begun riding again.  His outlook isn’t ideal; kind of along the lines of something is better than nothing.  Compared to nothing, something is infinitely better.  Sometimes something is enough.

On our ride our group met up with the Flanders Boys including the man himself.  During the conversation Tim mentioned how painful it had been when he returned to riding a few months ago.  I asked him if he enjoyed that pain.  He met my gaze and matter-of-factly confessed that he had enjoyed that suffering.  His expression told me he knew what I was asking. 
As our group gets older our priorities are shifting away from the podium.  We still relish being known as “The nicest bunch of guys that will kick your ass.”  Don’t get me wrong; we aren’t ready to trade our carbon and titanium bikes for wheelchairs.  I am just noting that as much fun as it is to kick people’s asses we are finding great joy in just riding and sharing those experiences with each other. We have finally figured out the quality of a ride can be expressed without using speed as the primary measurement.

It was enjoyable to catch up with my band of brown brothers.  It reminded me what a special group we have.  I hope they don’t do any retroactive background checks and boot me out.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

THAT was a bad decision

This would have come in handy...
As my co-worker asked with sincere concern in his voice, “Is there some point where you decide it isn’t smart to ride?”  After a brief but awkward silence I tried to answer with a hint of knowledge in my tone while at the same time conceding I had just done something foolish.  “Yeah, when it gets like this you shouldn’t ride,” I confessed.

While it can be said that bad decisions often lead to great stories, sometimes they just lead to pointless suffering.  No great story here, just cold hands and a hint of shame. 

After a long holiday weekend of riding fat bikes and skiing in temperatures in the teens I was not about to let temperatures just below freezing stop me from bike commuting.  I had already made two or three commutes with temperatures in the twenties so I figured this would not be a big deal. I was wrong.

My bike commute to work stays on lightly travelled side streets for the first half of the trip before hitting a bike lane on a busy road.  I was having a great ride looking up at the stars and singing quietly to myself.  I saw folks scrapping the ice off their windshields and was glad I didn’t have that chore this morning.  It was cold, but I was warm and all was good.

Then my route ventured out onto a busy road that has a nice wide bike lane.  We had been at the cabin when the Puget Sound received a token snowfall last Friday but I wasn’t paying attention.  I had no idea there would be ice in the bike lane.  After a couple miles where there was ice only in the curb half of the bike lane the ice took over the whole bike lane. 
Not my photo, but you get the idea

Now what?

I stopped and considered my choices: 1) Ride on the icy bike lane and assume that if I go down I will be squashed like a grape by a passing bus. 2) Ride on the sidewalk where the snow had been trampled down so while lumpy, it wasn’t glazed over with ice. 3) Ride out in the road and hope traffic would go around me rather than tailgating me so that if I did fall the last thing I would hear would be automobile tires sliding on ice whilst heading for my head. 4) There was no fourth option.  I was twelve miles into my seventeen mile commute.  I had a morning meeting.

At this point I put the “Pro” in “Profanity.”  Fortunately my riding collar was pulled up to muffle my mumbled words.

I chose to ride mostly on the sidewalk and venture out into the bike lane when the ice didn’t cover the whole bike lane. As I made my way gingerly on the bumpy sidewalk I grew colder.  Because I was forced to go slow I couldn’t generate much body heat and my poor choice in gloves this day was dramatically exacerbated and my hands were slowly turning into meat paddles. My ride now had the feeling if a story from “Accidents in North American Mountaineering.” I used the old woodsman trick of windmilling my arms to force blood into my hands but I knew I was fighting a losing battle.  Wildly swinging your arms while riding on a slippery surface is just piling on to an already bad situation.

I hadn’t fallen and contemplated making a deal with the devil to ensure my safe passage.  Years ago I would have made a deal with God, but I found out just last year God was in fact working against me.   In a 2013 Cyclocross race I battled against a rider trading places back and forth the last two laps. On the last lap he gapped me on a loose corner and in spite of my hard effort he held it to the finish. After the race I congratulated him and he said Jesus had helped him that day.  I felt pretty screwed when I found out that Jesus was trying to make me lose. It was, however, an answer that explained a lot in my life. Now that I know God is (and has been) working against me, I’ve started making my deals with the devil and so far it seems to be working just fine.   

I made it to the office without crashing and after a hotter than usual shower I regained feeling in my hands. I discarded my usual bravado and when asked how my ride had been.  I responded truthfully. “It was pretty bad.” I hoped the day would warm enough to melt some of the ice for my evening ride home. 

In an effort to feel warm I drank so much coffee my ears began to itch.

Looking out a window from my office I spotted a patch of ice that I decided would be representative of the bike lane on my route home.  I checked it during the day and noted only a hint of improvement.  I employed Google Maps for alternate routes to the bike lane and found a contrived maze of side streets that would keep me away from the Polar Express.

When it was finally time to punch the clock I changed clothes in the phone booth and loaded my bike for the evening adventure. I had written out a Cue sheet. Yes, it was in a very large font.  I’m no longer a young man. Thanks for highlighting that and reminding me of another of my many shortcomings.

It was a few degrees warmer and with a higher cadence I was able to keep almost all of my hands warm.  Only the tips of my fingers were cold. When I started on my “snow route” everything looked promising.  Following my directions I turned left, stayed right then took a right turn. The road was ice from curb to curb.  I chose what looked to be the best line and pedaled smoothly. My real wheel slid a bit but I stayed upright. I just tried to stay smooth.
Still not my photo, but it captures the feeling...
The snow route had almost no traffic but in places the roads were icy.   When I was fully past the fire swamp and had no more fear of R.O.U.S.’s or ice, I relaxed, resumed my singing and had a pleasant ride home.  My diversion took a full twenty-five minutes longer and when I hit the doorway of Casa de Evo I was hungry.  

Hottie had spaghetti cooking and before long I was clean and warm with a full belly.   Hard to believe I can keep thinking I know better yet I still find myself doing stupid things.