Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sun in January

When the sun breaks through the rain clouds in January, one must act quickly to take full advantage. Within 20 minutes I was changed and ready to ride for a short training ride. I've been looking at setting up a 100k training route around Olympia that might look something like this. I decided to go scout out Steamboat Island and see how it would look to ride for a permanent. This was the first ride I have done in months that didn't require a rain jacket. It was a little windy down along the water, but it just offered a fast tail wind on the way home. The Olympics and Rainier were both out (not obscured by clouds) and the sun was just setting over the Black Hills as I reached the bridge onto Steamboat Island. I got back into town just at dark feeling reminded that spring will come eventually and the sun will shine again. Hopefully I can get the details of a 100k permanent together so the south sound rando riders can have a ride to boost some miles and get in shape for the busy coming year.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Wet Day in 2009

I had one more day to tip the scales of total bicycling kilometers for the 2009 year. One day off and the last day of the year. So on the eve of the new year, I set off for one last 200k ride. With thanks to Josh, Olympia had a new unexplored Route 750. I set off on a warm (40 deg) and dry! morning riding down familiar roads out of town. It felt incredible to comfortably cruise along after a few weeks off for Christmas holidays in the midwest. The perfect day of riding quickly disappeared as the sun crested the horizon and was quickly swallowed by rain clouds. The drops started falling before I reached Shelton and had no intentions of stopping. I grabbed some hot liquids, a sandwich and took advantage of the hand dryer in the bathroom to warm up dry out my wet clothes. Even though I knew they were going to get soaked the moment I stepped outside again, the dry seemed to provide lots of relief.

The drizzle that chased me into Shelton had turned into a full-on winter rain on the way to Union. The last time I had been in Union, the sun was shining and there were fresh sandwiches at the general store. Today, I could hardly make out the shore on the other side of Hood Canal. I put on another layer of gloves and pushed on in search of the next dry spot. On this rainy day, I broke my rule of not stopping except at controls and found myself at a McDonalds in Belfair. The idea of hot food was too tempting and I wasn't sure what services were going to be available until Gig Harbor. I ordered up lunch and hot chocolate and took advantage of another hand dryer. As I left, I noticed a growing puddle under my seat and realized why I was getting some odd looks from other people in the area. Warm and less wet (not dry) again, I set out with fresh energy.

Many times the winter rains in Washington will come in waves and have some moments that are wet and then a few hours break and then more rain. This was not one of those days. After a few minutes of riding, a steady stream of water was running off my helmet, on my face and dripping down my jacket. Before I reached Port Orchard, I had the strange sensation of water sloshing around in my waterproof mittens. It took me a few minutes, but I realized that I hadn't tucked all of my mitten under my jacket sleeve and water was running down my jacket and filling my mitten. I switched to warmer dry gloves and continued on completely tucked this time.

The afternoon miles pass uneventfully until I reached an area that I recognized from the spring 600k. In the back of my head I remembered going over some steep hills during this section. All I could focus on was the hot coffee that awaited me in Gig Harbor. I appreciated my low gears (30/32) and ground my way up the steep pitches. I pedaled into town and stopped at a city park for a bathroom and water break (and another meeting with a hand dryer!) and then searched for coffee. I got to the first store just as they were closing early for New Year but found another just a block away. Late on a rainy day, it's easy to waste time in a dry area. I had spent around 3 hours drying off today. I ate some more food and dressed for night riding.

A few turns later found me riding over the immense Narrows Bridge and into Tacoma, only 30 miles away from home. Riding at night in the rain isn't easy for a few reasons: it's difficult to see the road, and to read street signs, and light refracts into star patterns on the drops on my glasses. Navigating the many turns through Tacoma took over an hour. I felt completely turned around, but managed to stay on course. Soon, the street lights disappeared and I reached Fort Lewis on the other side of the city. The base was dark and mostly quiet. The Nisqually River valley was filled with patches of fog, making it even harder to see where I was going. I missed the last turn but soon found myself on familiar roads and quickly got back on track and home at last. One last adventure for 2009. The year wasn't going to let me go easily, but I managed to hit my 8,000km goal for the year, just at the buzzer.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Just plain Cold

A few weeks ago, I planned to do a ride just after school got out but before I left to the midwest with out my bike for the holidays. I couldn't believe that the weather forecast for western Washington in the winter was for sunshine! Yes, it was also going to be really cold, but a ride without rain in December, what more could l ask for. I felt confident that my years in Wisconsin's frozen winters would prepare me for the arctic blast that was going to be sweeping Olympia. This was going to be my chance to get some more big miles in before the years end and I picked out a local 300k to ride. I started early in the morning so I could do as much of the ride in the sunlight as possible. When I opened the door at 5:30 to ride to the start, the cold took my breath away. It was only later that I found out that instead of forecasted 14 degrees, it was in fact a chilly 6 deg F. I pedaled to the Shell station for the start of the ride. The ride out Johnson Point was incredibly cold. The windchill was unlike anything I had experienced before. The heavier, cold air sinks into the valleys making the descents even colder. When I reached the end of the point, I pulled my cue sheet out to answer the info question and the plastic map cover was difficult to open, not just because of my cold hands, but the plastic was stiffer because of the cold as well. I quickly snapped  a picture and then got back on the road to Olympia to warm up.

Back in Olympia, the sun was shining and the day promised to be warm and sunny ahead. Pedaling up Courthouse Hill isn't usually something I look forward to doing, but on this day, if successfully warmed me up. At this point I had also put on a light down jacket and another layer on my legs to try and keep more heat in. The ride out to Capitol Forest went smoothly although I noticed I wasn't able to pedal quickly. Between my cold muscles and bulky clothing, I wasn't able to maintain a high average speed. When I reached west side of the forest, I ran into the first general store problem. They didn't have much in the way of ready to eat food and they didn't have any hot beverages. In warmer months this isn't usually a problem, but with the numbers of calories I was burning through, it concerned me.

Finally the day started to warm up to a balmy 29 degrees as I made my way through the rural valleys of the southern counties. I was starting to figure out what clothing layers to wear, but on the big climbs I continually overheated. The only solution was to stop and remove a layer before I got sweaty and then stop at the top and put a layer back on for the chilly descent. This became a tedious and time consuming endeavor over the next big hills. On one of the descents, an emergency truck zoomed by, quickly followed by a fire truck. Around the next corner, a house was billowing smoke from every opening. Later I found out that a chimney caught fire and burned their house down. Luckily no one was injured. I spent the next few hours pulling off the side of the road to let a dozen more emergency vehicles pass.

The sun began to set all too soon and I began to think about how much I still had to pedal to finish. Staying warm for a second night was going to be challenging. At this point I was starting to see more snow on the sides of the road. This wasn't a good sign. The last thing I wanted to do was ride on compact snow in the dark. On the next big climb, sure enough, the road was covered in snow and forced my slow pace to a crawl. Descending was also a snails pace at 4 or 5 mph to maintain traction. I had never been so glad to reach Vader and to be back on snow free roads. I grabbed a bite to eat and finally turned home. It was a short ride into Chehalis where I was able to get more food and hot liquids. I also put shoe warmers in my feet. After this warm up, the air felt really cold outside. I navigated north to the final information controls. I was having problems throughout the day with my water bottles freezing. In the night it was an even bigger issue because I was relying on the calories from the drinks in my bottles as well as food. Pedaling down Johnson Creek Rd cold, hungry and thirsty was and endless process. Finally I reached the trail and was home free. I knew I needed to get home quickly because I was getting tired, and couldn't afford to make any mistakes.

One last stop at a gas station and then I was home free. The time was 1:15 am, my longest 300k to date. I started taking of layers and only then did I realize my feet were really cold. I had put my cold feet out of my mind because I had put warmers in my shoes. These warmers weren't working and my toes were cold, not a good sign. I rushed up to the bathroom and started running cold water over them to slowly warm them up. Slowly I increased the temperature and when it was warm enough I got in the bath to start soaking. The heat was putting me to sleep as I tried to eat some food while warming up. Then next morning I noticed that my feet were still cold and a little numb. It took nearly 3 weeks to get all the feeling back into my toes, a close call for sure.