Ridin’ In The Rain

This morning’s ride never felt right. Tired, got in too late the night before. Dead legs, maybe from a big swim the day before. Mentally just not into it.

And the clouds.

Looking out the window when I awoke, it was dark. The forecast was for intermittent showers. But I either rode this morning or never. Too much to do later in the day. So I kept going. Filled the water bottle. Put on the bike clothes. Checked the tires.

Off  I went.

There was this constant feeling of dread. I looked up to the heavens ever few minutes. The sky was dark…but was it getting lighter to the west? The sun would pop through the clouds every once in a while and yet it was mostly dark. Inside and out.

The feeling of dread continued. My legs were not working as they should. I was struggling and I had not even gone 5 miles (on my way to 50 was the plan). A pack of bikers passed by. I entertained myself trying to keep up but then the hill came and they were gone.

I knew I had work and house stuff to do and if I rode 50 I would be too tired.  That weighed on my mind. So even as I lurched forward my mind and body conspired against me. And then there were those clouds. I picked a spot to turn around that was way too soon. I would go out later and add miles if I felt better I promised myself.

Within minutes of heading home the rain came. Heavy at first. Big drops. Then a steady downpour. I was 10 miles from home. That would have been 40 minutes in dry conditions but the rain makes me drop to casual ride speeds. I had learned my lesson early about speed and turns and thin tires at 100 psi. that day just left me with scraped legs and a bruised ego. I will not risk being that lucky a second time.

For a short time ridin’ in the rain had a romantic feel. The storm was not strong enough to invoke a sense of adventure. But this was different from my usual ride. The large drops felt cool on my skin and I figured what the f…

That romantic feeling faded fast. soon I was just wet and cold. My feet felt as if I was standing in puddles and the rain drove the sweat into my eyes. That burned. No, not in danger but this was no longer fun.

It took an hour but I was home. Ripped off my wet stuff wrapped a towel around me and made breakfast. Finally the day ahead seemed brighter. Then the scream. Hundreds of ant in the food pantry. That is another story.

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It Was The Best Of Rides, It was the Worst Of Rides

When I do something particularly well I imagine the next time will be as good or better. Assuming an upward trajectory is a common mistake. Reality more often is a series of hills. If you are good, over time the overall elevation gets higher but there is always some up and down. (Not sure if that analogy worked as well as it did in side my head. What do you think?)

Two weeks ago I rode better than I had in years. I woke up sluggish and the first few miles on the bike were nothing special. The conditions were good but not great (3.5-4.0 on a 5.0 scale). Temps were in the mid 60s and a modest wind from the east which had little effect on my mostly north-south ride. But soon something magical began to happen. I decided to push the pace and my body actually responded. I felt strong the entire first half of the ride. Instead of merely pedaling I was pedaling hard.

OK. This was the first half. This has happened before. More often than not when I feel like a hero I discover that the wind has been at my back. I turned after 27 miles. Waiting for the wind or for my legs to begin to beg me to slow. Never happened. I felt great. I forced the action for the next 28 miles. I rode 55 (it was my birthday and I rode one mile for each year on the planet.) I averaged a hair under 16 mph while riding which was more than .5 mph faster than my best time so far this year. I cannot remember averaging that speed for that long in several years. The difference between my total time and my ride time was only 8 minutes. That was one 3 minute break at 30 miles and lots of stop lights. I have been semi-seriously riding for 6 years and my speed had plateaued. Riding faster has been a desire for several years. On that day I did feel like a hero.

Fast forward to yesterday. Yes I completed 52 miles. But I can’t really count this as a 50 mile ride. I struggled from the beginning. Barely able to move for ward. The signs were there at 17 miles that I should not make this a 50 miler. (Visualize in cartoon fashion a big sign saying “Rick Turn Back NOW!!!) I had to stop, I was breathing hard and my legs ached. But I am stubborn. Or stupid. On I went.I ended up making several stops along the way. Towards the end I stopped every few miles. I only can hope that the effort I put in burned a whole bunch of calories. If not the 4+ hours I spent were for naught.

So how did I fall from my best ride ever to hell on wheels? Certainly part can be explained by the weather. Yesterday was 85 with high humidity. It was my first ride in the heat. And yet the delta was too great for the heat  to be the only factor.

I can think of several possibilities. I had not gotten enough sleep that night or for the past week. After many weeks of relatively healthy eating I had given into candy on several occasions recently. I do consider sugar to be a poison. Just a particularly tasty one.  Lastly I had not gone swimming for two weeks. Swimming adds to my aerobic capacity and overall feeling of goodness.

Whatever the reasons, I have until tomorrow to contemplate what this means for the future. Was my birthday ride an anomaly and destined to be the pinnacle of my riding success? Will i be able to adjust to the summer heat? Can I ride enough to complete a century ride by the end of the summer? That is my ultimate goal. As of yesterday the answer is no way in hell.

But tomorrow thanks to the extended holiday weekend I will ride again. The intrigue of the unknown consumes my thoughts. And I hope for the best.

Cold Day To Ride

The day began cold. At the time I hopped on my bike to go meet Ed it was 33 degrees (F).  I am certain that I have never ridden in colder weather. Why was I doing this now?

Actually the why part is easy. That was the day Ed was available, I like riding with Ed and Ed did one of those “are you a man” things to me. How could I resist?

It was really freakin’ cold. Other than the fahrenheit it was a beautiful autumn day. Sunny sky and hardly any wind. Except that the act of riding creates wind. It felt cold.

I reminded myself that there was a time when I would run in temps as low as 20 F as long as the wind was not too strong and it was not snowing at the time. Then I remembered that I was 25 years younger in those days.

Ok. How to dress. Leave as little uncovered skin as possible. Since the legs would be moving focus on keeping warm from the waist up.

Five layers from waist to neck. Light “wicking” long sleeve shirt as a base. Covered by a heavier base layer, a biking shirt (not much for heat but in honor of the event), a hooded sweatshirt (don’t use the hood but this helps provide next coverage, and a windbreaker. Running tights and bike shorts. Left the nylon windbreaking pants at home. Turned out to be the right call but only barely. Heavy pair of bike socks, full finger bike gloves, head covering that looks like a large yarmulke but also covers my ears under the helmet.

 Not sure at the start if this is enough but it was time to go. I bike 9 miles to where I meet Ed and I did not want him standing around in the cold. Initially I am chilled but it is manageable. By the 45 minutes it takes to meet Ed most of me is tolerably comfortable. The index fingers in both hands are truly cold. Can’t seem to warm them up. I wish I had mittens instead of gloves.

11 miles later we are in Lake Forest at our turning around point. Normally I do not like to take long breaks during rides but I insist on heading to Starbucks. By now my entire right hand feels like an ice-cube. It hurts.

A round of hot tea for all — all being Ed and me. There are other bikers in the place. Lake Forest is a wealthy north suburb of Chicago surrounded by other wealthy suburbs. I could not afford a house in that town. Maybe 1/3 of a house. The point being that while Ed and I have a hodgepodge of clothes on, these other bikers have hi-tech winter riding gear. From the fancy jackets to outsized riding shoes, (probably with electric, computer controlled warming devices inside — just a guess) they look ready for any weather.

As we warm up I suppress the urge to scream as my right hand thaws. The pain is intense. But the warm of the room and the tea does its magic. I am ready for the 20 miles back home. As a pleasant surprise, the temp has risen by several  degrees and the cold is not a problem for the remainder of the ride. The fact that I am out of shape and my leg muscles ache is another story for another post.

Of course, as I pen this post the next day, it has been a beautiful day with a high of sixty. Much better riding weather. But not as good of a story.

Road to Exhaustion

No, not a remake of an obscure Hope/Crosby movie (does that date me or what).

No, I rode the road to exhaustion today.

I had been riding stronger. Each of the last two weeks I had finished my 52 mile North route. Last week with good weather and little wind I even finished at a 15.6 mph pace which is good for me.

I have been wanting to ride 60 since that would be an indication that maybe I could compete and complete a century ride this year. I had skipped last year after 2 years in a row. I did not have the legs for 60 last week. This week, I am bach-ing it for the weekend so I could go to sleep early on Saturday and not worry about being tired on Sunday.

Also, it was time to switch things up. I had not ridden the South route yet this year. The Southern route is more crowded as it goes through the Chicago lakefront path and even early in the morning it is lousy with bikers, runners, walkers, skaters and dogs. On the other hand it is far more scenic so South it was.

I flew from my house to the South Shore Country Club 22.5 miles away. Being an experienced rider I knew that I had not suddenly become Lance Armstrong on steroids (forgive the redundancy). No, I knew that the 17.5 mile pace was due in large part to the wind being at my back. Unfortunately I now had to ride into it for 22.5 miles home. And it was fierce.

I averaged about 12.5 mph on the way back. Each pedal cycle took incredible effort and sent needles of pain through my thighs. Not much fun.

As I finally willed myself to within a few miles from my home, I started thinking, “can I go 60 today?” “Nooo” was the response from my legs. “Do not even think about it.” “What about my normal 52 or at least 50. How can I justify riding only 45 today?”

My legs just laughed in that guttural hyena laugh that implies something other than humor. “You tortured us long enough, we are headed for the couch and you should really think about coming with us.”

What else could I say? What else could I do?

Today I rode the road to exhaustion.

Six Weeks, But Never Too, Late

Went on my first bike ride of the season Saturday. A bit over 20 miles. Normal aches and pains from a first ride.

The first ride should have been early April. Since I plan to complete a century ride in late September I am way, way behind schedule.

Something is happening that has been making me less passionate about my passions. Readers fo this blog know how important biking has become to me over the last several years. Despite careening past 50, and no 50 is NOT the new 40, at least for 2 years in a row I could say that I rode 100 miles. That was a source of pride and gave me some bragging rights.

But not last year. Never got the legs in gear.

This year is worse with the late start. No excuses, at least no good ones. I had some modest fears about how my body would respond but if there was going to be trouble, no reason to wait 6 weeks to find out. Will need to make more time than once a week if this is to work out.

I may need to give in and join a bike club so I can run in a pack. Maybe that will bring some of the fun back.

20 miles down, 1000 to go.

…No, It Is Me

How often do parts of your life  not go as expected? When that happens to me I question why. External forces, some person or machine not working as expected…or is it me.

While most of the time I save this introspective analysis for the really important things. Sometimes not.

For me, biking is somewhere in that grey area between important and not. Life threatening, life changing, on the same scale as illness, work, family or plague? No. But it remains a focal part of my personal story. So it is not just something I do but part of who I am.

Two weeks ago I fell. Last week I just had no energy. No idea if the fall was more traumatic to my system than I initially thought or what the deal was. There were times last week when it felt as though the legs pumped hard and my speed was good and then I would glance at my trip computer to sees that I was more than 2-3 mph slower than usual. That’s a lot.

There were two potential reasons why the computer was showing a slow speed. One, that I was riding normally and the computer was damaged in the fall, this could be a technology issue.  Two, that it was me.

I held out hope for the former explanation all week. I rode this morning and discovered truth.

It was me.

A Most Dangerous Sport

Name the most dangerous sports. Football, rugby, mountain climbing, wrestling (the real stuff not the professional acting on TV), X-Treme fill-in-the blank. Think again.

Bike riding is up there. At least it would be if you saw me at about 9:30 am yesterday. And no, I do not mean bike racing where high speeds, hairpin turns and group crashes await. I just mean peddling. By yourself.

This is my second fall of the season which is two more than most. The first one just led to scrapes. Painful ones but no serious damage. I walked, or actually hobbled, away from this one so I cannot claim major injury. It just feels major.

It happened fast and was just one of those freak accidents. At the 17.5 mile mark in my normal ride I bike up a modest incline and take a right turn onto a bike oath. No cars. The turn is at best modestly sharp. My speed is only in the low teens since I am climbing. I have made this very turn dozens of times.

Not sure if the path has changed in a week or if I just never take the turn so sharply. There is a crack in the asphalt that starts out just a little wider than a bike tire and closes in a few inches. My tire found that crack. The next crack was the sound of my bike helmet as it hit the pavement. (Insert bike safety promo here. NEVER ride even 5 feet without a helmet.) Then my left side, bone just below the hip, landing next and I skidded on my side for a while. No one else around at the time. I lay there and just took stock. Head was scraped but not bleeding, leg hurt. Some blood on my leg. Conscious enough to take stock. Good signs. I slowly got up. Found my left leg to be in pan but I could move. Picked up the bike and moved off the path.

Fortunately the helmet and not my head cracked. I had cuts but no serious blood flow. My left bike glove now has a new airway to cool off the Knuckle of my index finger where fabric once existed. (I have filed a patent on this new bike glove design. Truly revolutionary.)

Over the next 15 minutes I licked my wounds, figuratively not literally, that would have been gross and required some amazing flexibility on my part. I fixed my bike adjusting brakes and putting the chain back into place. I was now 17.5 miles from home, both my wife and son were engaged in activities in which they would not be hearing their cell phones.  And I had no cash–which was rare since I know things like this can happen and I might need a cab.

I got on my bike to see if I could ride and whether it was in condition to be ridden. The answer to both was more or less yes. The injury to my left leg had more to do with weight bearing than the cycling motion. So I began to ride.

At this point in the story most people being of sound mind would assume that I headed in the direction of home. No, not me. I have so few opportunities to ride that I cherish each and every one. On holiday weekends I try to ride twice. Ideally with a day off in between. This weekend I could not ride on Friday and had to limit my ride to a quick 30 miles on Saturday. While the distance was short, I pushed myself hard on Saturday. Even as I left the house on Sunday, well before I fell, I had no idea how my legs would hold up over a planned 50 + mile ride. No I had the trauma of the fall to contend with as well.

Bottom line. 53 miles completed. Lets stress completed. It was slow and painful. Hard to tell how much of the pain was the fall versus the prior day’s ride. As much as I felt physically limited, the trauma of the fall clearly messed with my head. I rely on pushing myself. There was no push yesterday.

Today I am scraped and sore. My neck hurts from the whiplash and I walk like Chester from Gunsmoke. That’s what can happen when you take on danger. That’s me. Mr. Danger.