I, like many cyclists, was introduced to the sport by a friend. He did triathlons, knew all about the Tour de France and bugged me to give it a try. This friend, I noticed, had several bikes. As a rookie, I asked him about that and he pointed out that he had to have a “rain bike.”
Once I became addicted to riding, I often asked him to ride with me. Over the years, I have noticed that this particular friend does not actually ride his “rain bike”, or any other bike for that matter, when it is raining. This, of course, means that my friend doesn’t ride his bike at all.
I do not understand that. Cycling is not entirely about comfort. On many occasions, it is about enduring. We do it because that is what cyclists do. I know that sounds ridiculous. I imagine some would say it is cliché. They don’t ride.
On Saturday, I rode the Tour de Blast, a 80 miles out and back ride that climbs to the Mt St Helens observation center. In good weather, it is a hard ride. The ride has a big dip in the middle which is Latin for “you climb on the way out AND the way back”.
This particular ride, was particularly “cliché”. My new word for “miseable”. For all of my followers in California, it has rained a lot in the Northwest this year. (In the Northwest, there are four cycling seasons “Rain,” “More Rain”, “Still Raining” and “Road Construction.”) This year has been about the worst.
The ride started out with an annoying mist. Getting ready in the parking lot, I ran into my 5th grade daughter’s teacher. She is new to cycling and was riding with her husband and another couple. I, of course, had to be cool and refused to wear winter gloves. She, I thought, is new. She is overdressing. I was arrogant.
I started out blissfully happy as we motored along. I was climbing well and road with team mate, Tom Hackleman. I used the wrong verb. Hackleman tortured me until bored and then handed me my lunch. Actually, Hackleman dropped me not once but three times. The first time, I just popped. The second time, he got a flat and I was too cold to do anything but holler at him as I passed "Are you ok?" After he caught me and shelled me again, he stopped to pee only to fly by me near the final summit. I responded with words that can not be repeated here but “riggin” and “frickin” were two of the words I remember.
After climbing an hour and a half or so, we began the first big descent. This descent sat in fog and the temperature dropped. There was no spectacular views. In fact, there were no views at all the entire day. Nothing but the despair of a fog that Jack the Ripper would have found homey. Through the fog, one could hear the faint but increasingly louder wail of ambulances, shuttling hypothermic riders from the mountain.
But, suffering is a meal best served with company. On the descent, Hackleman and I shivered so uncontrollably, we could not control our bikes. The speed of the descent and the inversion, forced me to pull over and break out my backup gear, all of it wet. Tom's lower face was a deathly blue but, urging me on, he got me going again in search of the final climb. Relief! As the heart rate jumped, so did our core temperature. I have to say, this was the first massive ride like Tour de Blast I have done in which I preferred, by far, the climbs to the descents.
(Cycling Tip. You can descend faster in a tuck that you can pedaling. But, on cold weather days, DO NOT TUCK on a major descent. First, the faster you go in bad weather, the colder your body becomes. Second, your body is pissed at you and pays you back when you pedal again for the climb. I don’t know where the blood goes during your fancy tuck but it has definitely left your legs. The bloodless, blue clumps of bone and flesh attached to the pedals become worthless.)
Through a few breaks, I could spot the weather. In some cases, below us in the valleys, dementing clouds hovered like hawks looking for mice on bikes. Fog to the left and above, something else. If you have ever seen "Ten Commandants" with Charleston Heston, you will not doubt remember the scene where a dark and sinister cloud descends upon Egypt to strike the first born son of any home that not marked for the passover. In the movie, this cloud was the Angel of Death. Above me, I imagined the Angel’s hand outreached. Over the remnants of the 1980 blast zone, St. Helen’s hand made the Angel of Death’s grip look infirm by comparison.
Yet, there is something about weather. In 1988, American Andy Hampsten wrote himself into the history books because he assaulted the Passo Gavia during a blizzard. Covered in snow, riders abandoned and he pedaled on. He literally passed competitors cowering alongside the road.
I am not comparing the 2010 Tour de Blast to the 1988 Giro. However, I did remember Hampsten’s effort and it gave me encouragement. Bad weather days are the days to do something great. The sky is not blue but it is dramatic.
I am clearly not the only one that feels this way. Despite the conditions, there were lots of riders. People on weird bikes. A hand pedaled bike lumbered up the slope. A few recumbants. Occasionally, a mountain bike. Yellow, red and blue cycling jackets worn by silent men and women of all ages. Scores of humans on the slope, all of them tough. I saw a guy with a plastic bag on his head and thought of my friend at home with his rain bike in the basement, nice and warm. What is worse? Riding in the rain for six hours or sitting on the couch for six minutes?