In 1999, my family went on our annual trip to Ragbrai in July to ride our bicycles across the state. For the only time in our 20 years of riding this ride, the midwest was experiencing a heatwave like no other. 112 degree daytime heat, high 90’s at night, extremely high humidity. Also for the first time ever, our family packed up and went home…south to Tennessee where it was cooler. Until today, I would have said that was my worst experience on a bike. Until today.
I expected it to be bad. I expected it to be cold. It was the most bitter, nasty, hateful ride I have ever taken. It was only 10 miles. A cinch, right? 20 minutes out, 20 minutes back. I had on leggings and my bike shorts, sports bra, tank top, 2 long sleeved riding jerseys, a hoodie, riding gloves, socks (non-wool), and my cleats, which happen to be sandals. About 1/2 mile from the house, I knew I was in trouble, but it was only 10 miles, right? I had to stop for 6 or 7 minutes to dig the mud out of my left cleat (live on a farm), so that added those minutes to my exposure.
It wasn’t just the 29 degrees…oh no. It was the 18 mph wind, combined with my 15 mph speed, combined with the complete lack of sun and total exposure on the main road. It was the fact that my eyes water when I ride in the cold, which makes my nose run, which together makes my face wet, which gets me even colder. But it’s only 10 miles, right? So I’m determined to gut it out, and by the turnaround point, I was thinking of everyone I knew with a truck or hatch vehicle of any kind who could rescue me. But I currently have no dirt on ANYONE, so I let that go, and off I went for the 20 minutes back. I was already experiencing excruciating pain in my face, fingers, and toes, and was even worried that I was risking my career. I couldn’t tolerate riding any faster, but I couldn’t tolerate staying out any longer, so I pegged my computer to 15 mph and put my head down. Then, 2 miles from home, I discovered the only thing that could possibly sustain me and help me finish. I started screaming. I had been gritting my teeth and groaning, but I gave in to all-out screaming…I don’t know that it kept me warmer, but it sure helped express how I felt. No sane person was out, so I didn’t have to worry about alarming the community, but the cows all raised their heads, and if some passing driver happened to have his/her window lowered the half-inch it takes to flick out a cigarette, perhaps they commiserated with me for a fraction of a second.
Lesson learned: I do have a minimum riding temperature. It is far above 29 degrees. I will have to resort to those awful bikes in the gym on these worst days. In addition to that, I will be going to see my friend Krista at Fleet Feet for some kind of glove/sock combo that will help on warmer but not quite warm days.
11 hours later, and I’m still not recovered. Not after a shower that drained the hot water heater. Not after an hour under my electric blanket. Not after the glass of wine at dinner, or the cup of tea afterward. Not after sitting in front of the fire for all of Jon Stewart and Colbert.
I cannot tell you about my exertion level, my time, my split time, my heart rate. I vow that this will be the whiniest blog I will write during this training. Hold me to it.
Thanks for reading.