Today is my birthday. I have this little ritual, that is now becoming a bit unwieldy as I am on the lee-side of the half-century mark by more than a couple of years. I ride my age on my birthday. Maybe it’s counter-intuitive, riding longer, farther as I get older. But I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. Some years, I don’t quite get there for the usual reasons, travel, weather, work. But today I got it or came pretty close.
I planned the ride yesterday late at night. I don’t know why it’s so secretive but it’s done without consultation, a sailor heading across the Atlantic looking at charts. I went to Mapmyride and charted an initial course that took me out to Nashville and back via Greasy Creek and another that created a figure 8 with South Shore as the center, North Shore as the upper circle and route 45 as the lower circle. I thought of texting others to join me but decided on a solo ride instead.
It was wicked cold (as we used to say in the northeast) when I prepared to dress this morning, and I took my time about it. Knee warmers, wool leg warmers, tights, booties, carbon toe warmers, underarmor, two winter jackets, full head and neck coverage, a neck gaiter, gloves and a liner. I filled a waterbottle but knew that it would just freeze anyway so I drank 1/2 of it at the door. I decided to do the figure 8 course mostly because it would keep me close to home and I could check back in if I was in any trouble. It was only 23 degrees when I left but the sun was out and the winds were light.
I set out of the neighborhood and was immediately met with sheer ice across the entire road under a tree-lined stretch! I dismounted and walked, an inauspicious beginning, looking every bit like the Michelin Man I am certain. I decided on the figure 8 loop(s) starting with the less challenging 45 to South Shore. I wasn’t disappointed. I was met with bright sun, few cars, little ice and a light tailwind. I was able to jettison my neck gaiter along the way and manage my heat conservation easily with all the zippers I had onboard to kept my comfort level at cool but not cold. I arrived at South Shore, my 1/4 mark right on time. I headed east on South Shore, one of my favorite places in Bloomington.
The water on both sides of the spit of land creates a surreal landscape. The railroad to the south and the long stretch of road ahead. Despite the slight headwind, I was still warm-ish, only losing one or two fingers to numbness. I had thought back on some of our motorpacing trips to this place and the speed we carried across this road. I wrote once, metaphorically of catching 6 men here, bearing me off to the next world in a pristine paceline. You can re-visit that short story here http://www.scholarsinncycling.org/blog/?p=101. Nonetheless, reality soon came rushing in like a wave bounding over the wall when I was met with ice completely across the road! Years ago, I would have deftly managed the conditions from the top of the bars, but today, I relented. I dismounted my carbon fiber machine and clumsily began walking. And walking. Until I found a clear break in the ice…then I rode, cautiously through the thin bands that separated tarmac from ice, a hospital stay from hot cocoa at home. Again and again I got off to walk, all the way to Shuffle Creek. But the ice never completely abated. So I turned and walked/rode back to the intersection of 45 and South Shore, with the tailwind a welcome guest. I thought of doing the loop twice, adding on a bit closer to home, but instead, I turned left on 45 and headed to North Shore. The roads were dry and clear, save for the tree-lined areas where the sun never met the road. Areas that are welcome in the heat of summer as shady spots to escape the sun. I only had to walk a few times due to ice, but my biggest challenge was the sand on the North Shore climb up to the water tower. I was able to navigate this, just barely staying on the bike, climbing in the saddle and keeping my weight on the rear tire and ultimately making it to Anderson and Low Gap, and head home via Old 37 and firehouse hill.
The climbs were welcome on this cold day, adding a bit of spice and flavor to this life on the bike, neatly summed up today on this personal excursion. As I look back on it now, a glass or two of wine already warming me, I can’t help but to reflect back on the road behind me. An unquestioning arbiter of something we do that’s neither right nor wrong, good nor bad. But it is this thing that defines us to the very core and allows us the luxury of saying to all who ask that awkward question, “what do you do?”, we respond, “I race bicycles,” as our thoughts drift back to heroic feats on warm summer days when what mattered was our indifference to the challenges that lie ahead.