“No appreciable change in our surroundings…we can only attempt to go south in our crippled state…still, there is a sporting chance and luck may be with us!” Shackleton. Ship’s log. South. The Endurance Expedition. 1917.
I have a barometer on my desk at the house. It’s the 1800’s equivalent of today’s weather app for your smart phone. The barometer indicates the change in pressure in millibars over a given time and has a dial that suggests states of weather; Fair, Change, Rain, Stormy. Since I last set it, the dial was moving from Fair to Change as the pressure was dropping. So was the weather despite the sunny day today.
It was very cold when I left the house but Cascades was particularly beautiful now with heavy snow clinging to the old oaks along the way. Our thermometer read 20 degrees when I left but there was little ice along the way on the trip over. The western tributary of what I imagine is Griffy Creek was meandering low and silently in the opposite direction. Ice was forming neatly on its edges and a few crows were foraging near its banks. It was nearly 11:30 and no one was on the road. By time I got over the hill by the Scholars Inn, the thermometer on the Champs Elysee’s was 23 degrees. I arrived at the Scholars Inn Bakehouse and was treated like royalty to a cup of coffee by the kind staff there and waited for others to arrive. I had received a text from Aaron Pilling that he was coming, but he wanted to get out ahead of us and put a few miles in before noon, so he set off on his own. I suspected that we would catch him on the way back, but a 20 minute lead for a rider of his pedigree (and high altitude training!) would likely be an insurmountable challenge. Soon Colin Allen and Tomasz Golas (DRT, on his cyclocross bike) arrived. We left promptly at noon with the cold momentarily searing our lungs and cycled across town with few issues due to snow or ice. The roads were clear and for the most part, dry due to limited runoff. Out on the east side of College Mall and Covenanter, we met up with elite riders Ryan Knapp (Panther/Bakehouse) and Andy Messer (Upland).
The five of us headed out into a modest but present SE (head)wind. We settled into a smooth and tight group right away and talked mostly, despite the frigid temperature. But the sun was out and that was all that we needed to tip the scales in favor of a winter ride on a familiar course. We were two by two most of the way except when safety dictated otherwise. The leaders kept a steady, but just under difficult pace, pulling for miles at a time. While we kept a smart pace, no amount of activity would keep us warm today. Our fingers and toes were numb after an hour and our water was frozen in 90 minutes. But we soldiered on heading south, talking most of the way of training and motorcycles, roadsigns, eagle’s nests, Belgian cyclocross races. We did see Pilling heading back towards Bloomington somewhere near the first flashers. We waved as we passed, but continued as did he. Like ships passing at sea as is the rule for cyclists. We climbed to the second flashers, 4 miles further south. At the turn on route 50 we stopped briefly for some minor repairs and adjustments to Ryan’s bike and were surprised when we were met there by a lone figure coming down 446 towards us. It was Kevin Hays, who had missed the start and had chased solo during the first half! A big testament to his endurance and resolve. This made our little party six, Knapp, Messer, Golas, Allen, Hays and me. We turned for home and settled in for the return trip. Andy let us know that he had a brief power test on his training schedule for today and once we were through some of the minor climbs, he rode away from us for a 20 minute test. The five of us stayed in our ranks and slowly, but methodically worked our way back to the powerful Upland rider (once his test was complete). While we weren’t chasing, or going hard, we were still managing over 20+mph. Despite this, Andy was able to put a considerable distance on our group in a very short amount of time.
All in all, we rode about 55 miles in sub-freezing temperatures with 1200 feet of climbing in what may very well be our final ride of 2012. I often like to think of the bike as a transformative vehicle. And it is, no doubt, during those warm and languid summer days. But today it was a conveyance linking one year to the next. Neatly tying up loose ends as I close the books on, not just another year, but the cumulative experiences of 30+ years of cycling, and hope that there’s just a sporting chance of more road ahead to share with friends and racers in the spirit of competition in 2013.