I know. It’s a bold entree for anything having to do with cycling. But I think about it a lot. Sunday’s ride added to the depth of my mortality in a number of ways and left me with a profound feeling of solitude that I haven’t felt in years. This is not a bad thing as we all have a point that we must reach, a level that we must attain, an Everest we must climb. Even if it is just the Causeway.
I haven’t been feeling well, as you may have been able to surmise from the lack of posts for a couple of weeks. I haven’t been joining the weekend rides at the Bakehouse. I am better now, thanks, but 7 days off the bike, or with just a smattering of spinning on the trainer without much direction really isn’t a good maintenance program. But this is not my first rodeo and I know that a short absence, well positioned can be positive as well. It’s a long season.
I didn’t take too many pictures this weekend because I just didn’t have the wherewithal to de-glove, stick the glove in my jacket, find the phone/camera, take it out of the plastic bag, ride no hands at the back of the group with my hands slowly going numb, type in a passcode, frame the image and take a picture. It’s an effort that takes miles to recover. I did, however, take this picture at the house on Sunday before I left.
It’s the barometer in my office portending a change in the air pressure from Fair, through Change to Rain. It’s uncannily accurate as I was to discover a few hours hence. I arrived at the Bakehouse at 11:30, after getting thrashed by a headwind on the commute over. The temperature was near 45 and I was in a light jacket, but took the precaution of tucking a rain jacket under my seat in the event of inclement weather. I saw the weather reports for the day and the call was for rain after 3:00 or so. The Doppler told the story but the bands were well to the west and south. We should be able to manage this. But the wind was easily 20+mph out of the south. I envisioned the group turning back at the first flashers, content with a hard effort to this intermediate point. Perhaps providing a small offering to the bicycle gods in return for safe passage home.
It was a good group that assembled at the Bakehouse. Fred Rose, Chris Kroll (Upland), Graham Dewart (Nuvo), Drew Coelho, Colin Allen, Liz Cobb, Emily Palmer. I had met a woman at the counter by the window. She politely asked if she could plug in her power cord in the corner where I was sitting. Instead, I gave up my seat, allowing her easy access. She thanked me and asked about the ride and the group. Small talk, really. She seemed genuinely interested about the concept but when I told her where we were going and how long it would take she became distant. I could feel the conversation change as if a line was crossed where we left the realm of athletes and ventured into a freakish unknown. I could have very well been Jason and my companions, the Argonauts after the golden fleece.
We left at noon and what sun there was had given way to generally overcast conditions. A few raindrops fell but we dismissed them with nervous laughter. Colin and I took the group out of town into headwinds and crosswinds to 446. We kept our turn at the front well onto 446, just past the west Knightridge loop, then relinquished to the others. We were two by two, paired off for a steady, hard but sub-threshold effort into the teeth of the wind. At the causeway, Emily and Liz had seen enough, and after a great effort by both, turned for home. The six of us climbed steadily up the causeway and stayed together as a group. We were two abreast for the longest time. Drew was my partner mostly and I knew that I was holding him back. Fred and Chris were a pair and Graham and Colin were the third. In the wide open spaces well out past Chapel Road, the call was to transition to single file. The value was that those who felt strongest could pull longer and those who couldn’t (me) could take a shorter turn. While this is fine in theory, in actuality, in a headwind there is little place to seek shelter. The weakest will be culled from the herd. It’s just a matter of time. By the time we reached the first flashers we had gone through just a few brief showers. The group really didn’t say anything about turning back. I had made the determination that if the group was going to the end, then so was I.
We made it to the end of 446, stopped briefly for nature’s call, a bit of food from our pockets and then turned with a favorable wind back for home. We were half way there. Chris had run into the store on route 50, Fred circled back to retrieve him. I was beginning a slow climb out of the valley and Drew, Colin and Graham were near the top already setting tempo. I soft pedaled until the duo behind were upon me at 30mph! I latched onto the back and we connected with the three ahead. We were just about to break free of the gravity of the turn when Graham broke a spoke in his Nuevation front wheel!
I took the opportunity to snap this picture of the less than 5 minute repair. Fred also completed a headset repair as well. I was grateful for the respite, but could feel the change in the temperature as the first few raindrops fell. Quickly sorted, we got back into line, heads down and challenged the light rain. At first it was a bit invigorating. The scene in its entirety was really something. I wish that I could have taken a video of the beautiful precision of this incredibly fast moving thing that we had created. But I couldn’t. We were too fast, It was too cold and now the rain was falling harder and the riders in front were throwing rooster tails off their wheels, soaking those behind. I had taken my gloves off to keep them dry for later but my hands were slowly losing their feeling. At the peak of the next climb we donned our rainjackets on the fly. Once buttoned up, we resumed our maniacal surge towards home. By now, I was in the back, completely wet, barely able to hang on. Despite the tailwind, which had diminished with the start of the rain, I was in great difficulty in the back of the group. Directly sitting on a wheel was an invitation to get a thorough soaking. Sitting left or right took you completely out of the draft, forcing you to work as hard as the stronger riders ahead. It was a no win situation for me. At the base of the causeway heading home Colin was having some issues with his vision and the water and salt. I made my last contact with the group and said that I was waiting for Colin and we would ride back together, removing any responsibility from the four others to wait. That’s part of the code. The four hard men rode away.
Colin was able to sort out his vision issues. I offered a spare cycling cap from my back pocket while we were riding back, but my hands were so knumb that I couldn’t get to it! I said I would have to stop to get it out, but we decided to keep on going. Such are the decisions we make in these situations. We didn’t say much after that. We just kept riding. Not side by side, but Colin, the stronger of us was just ahead, setting the tempo and I was diagonally behind as the spray from his rear wheel hit my right shoulder most of the way home. My feet were completely unresponsive and numb now. But it didn’t really matter. I remember looking down seeing them spinning around wondering how this was all happening. Rain dripping off my helmet onto the handlebars. I was shaking my hands occasionally, but it hurt to do it, so I stopped after a while. We made it to Moores Pike and Colin turned here. I think that I said “Thanks” but even if I didn’t he knew what help he had provided. I was determind to find the shortest way home. So I went up to Third Street. I stopped at the light and retrieved my dry gloves from my pocket, grateful for the small convenience. I had to look down as I carefully put my foot on the ground. I wanted to take my helmet off to put on the dry hat that I had brought with me, but my fingers couldn’t work the clasp. The rain slowed, and then stopped as I got closer to home. There was a brief bit of cold sun coming out, low now in the western sky. It was looking like it might turn into a nice day afterall.