Saturday, April 12, 2008

Snowy Century

The alarm went off at 3am and I was on the road by 4am.

I had original plans back in about January for a double century two weeks before TransIowa. The loosely laid plans called for a final shake-down of equipment so that I knew what bike I would ride and have a final trial of everything.

Well, the overnight temperature had dropped below freezing and the drizzle turned to snow. 28 degrees on my home thermometer, 30 according to the National Weather Service. Sustained winds out of the north around 15 mph gusting to 25 or 30.

I was the least prepared for a ride this morning than I had been all year. With my wife out of town during the week and returning home on Friday evening, I had parked the bike at the end of another wet commute and dropped everything I was wearing by the back door.

I scrounged up a pair of dry wool socks and donned my still damp winter cycling boots. I grabbed all of the dry (note, I didn't say CLEAN) wool cycling clothing I could find without turning on lights. Anticipating a possible wet ride, I stuffed everything in Outdoor Research waterproof stuff sacks. I quick adjusted the tension on the chain of my bike, poured on some lube and I was off on my way.

I hadn't reached the end of my block before the first doubts had come to mind. I made it around the corner and seriously considered riding around the block and going back to bed. The roadway was covered with ice and there was light falling snow. I knew there was NO WAY I was going to ride 200 miles today.

With each corner I searched for a reason to continue riding and entertained the idea of heading home. I reached White Bear Lake when I began thinking about curtailing my ride. I thought about destinations, options for loops. I pondered what would make an acceptable distance. While thinking through options, I continued turning the pedals keeping a watchful eye on the road trying to keep the bike upright and negotiate frozen ice chunks, snow, and occasional ice.

I made the turn north on Portland ave heading into the wind. Progress was slow. I looked at the clock and did a mental run through that I might be able to make it out to Manning Ave, then loop around to make it to Hiawatha Cycles for the Saturday morning ride. Estimating mileage, my forward progress, I figured that making it on time was improbable. Thinking then that I would turn south at county road 55 and make for a nice 50 miler or so.

I found myself somewhat entertained with the ride once I got to the open roads of Washington County now heading east. What parts of the road that were wind-swept by the now cross-wind glistened with an icy coating. In the parts protected by trees, the roads were covered with snow and my headlight would cast a bright and reflective beam. Not knowing exactly where the edges of the road were, I pedaled my way down the middle.

Reaching the turn to head south on 55, I looked right, but my bicycle continued straight past the intersection settling on the next left to head north on 55 instead. Entertaining the idea of stopping at Roberta's Coffee in Marine On Saint Croix, I pushed my way into the wind.

My final descent into Marine was interesting. I locked up the rear wheel and slid for at least a city block going down the hill. Reaching the coffee shop just after 6, I was disappointed to see the sign read that she didn't open until 7. I had made it about 35 miles or so.

Instead of heading South on highway 95 and heading toward home, I turned north. Being a state highway, the road maintenance crews had salted the roadway and the shoulder was a bit of a slushy mess. Working hard to go 10 miles an hour at times, I continued north thinking I would first stop at William O'Brien State Park for water, then thought about turning around in the next little town, then crossing the river to Wisconsin in Osceola making it a 95 or so mile day.

With each thought came no change in direction. Continuing north I finally decided to re-trace last week's route and the miles heading north ticked by slowly. Once into Wisconsin, the rural quiet roads were mostly covered with snow. Heading south was easier with the wind at my back, the progress seemed slower than I had hoped. I had been thinking that my efforts going north would be rewarded with an easy ride south. Not so much. Riding fixed-gear really doesn't allow for much in the way of an easy ride home.

Stopping in Osceola, WI for coffee. I enjoyed a latte with a muffin while I thawed out a bit. Filled my travel mug with a cup of coffee to go and I changed into dry clothes and put on a dry pair of socks. (Packing lots of clothes with does have its merits.) My toes had been painfully cold for the last few miles and it felt SO good to put on a dry pair of socks.

Once back on the road, I made a few adjustments in clothing in an attempt to stay cool enough while climbing the hills, yet stay warm enough when descending. With snowy and icy roads, I wasn't too interested in picking up much speed. The rear end of the bike will sway wildly on slick surfaces if my cadence gets above about 150RPM when riding fixed.

Made a stop to unscrew the top of my waterbottle in an attempt to drink the remaining bit of unfrozen water. That was my last stop until Stillwater (85 or so miles) when I stopped at the convenience store to use the restroom and buy a bottle of water.

I made my final stretch north to catch highway 96 West back into White Bear Lake. Stopped by County Cycles on my way home to pick up some science food and a new chain and made it home by 12:30.

I'm exhausted. It was a slow 111 miles, in the snow. A winter century for all practical purposes. Any cyclist has been on a ride when they thought to themself "let's just get this over with." That's exactly the way that I felt from the first few pedal strokes. It was a miserable ride from most any way I could measure.

Strangely, it was satisfying though. I won't easily forget being alone in the dark on snow covered roads in "the middle of nowhere." I won't understand how I made the decisions to take the long way when I could have easily taken the short-cut instead.

I have fears of showing up in Iowa in two weeks under-prepared. I'd really liked to have had a 200-miler under my belt. I would have been satisfied with 150. I couldn't do either. In the last 5 weekends, I have ridden 4 centuries. Today's being the hardest century that I have EVER done.

I think that the best thing that I can do between now and TI, is catch up on some rest. That, and pray that the weather gets better. It's mid-April, I am ready for Winter to be over.


Paul said...

Amen to all of that! You will be kicking ass at TI!

See you in two weeks!

cornfed said...

I'm with you on the worrying portion. I think you've got little to worry about as far as you goes. We'll all be at the mercy of what the day brings, and we can't control that.

My new thinking is 7 "50's". Smaller, bite sized Trans Iowa.

See ya in a few weeks.

-d said...

right on. good finish. I felt the exact same way in the thunderstorms a couple weeks back. My wife even said she would leave work to pick me up. Can't wait to line up with you and everyone else in 11 days.

Reflector Collector said...

We're past the point of physical preparations. Thinking that the best I can do during the remaining days is continue to commute, stretch, and try to relax.

I need to concentrate on my packing list and the technical preparations of the bike.

This IS going to be fun, right?

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