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.


  1. 300k on a 6 degree day? I always knew you were insane.

  2. Glad you're still riding on "10"!
    Burly man.