Cold Weather Clothing: What I Wear at +20°F

I recently had a friend reach out and ask me if I’d share what I wear while cycling on really cold days.  He lives in Mississippi and he said that it’s sometimes uncomfortable for him to cycle when it gets cold.   He knows what I ride through and so he asked if I’d share how I dress for it.

Let me start by setting the stage.  I rode about 25 miles the day I shot the video below.  It was in January, 2018…a particularly tough month around here.  The temperature was about +10°F.  The wind was blowing out of the northwest (330° compass heading – straight over the top from Siberia via the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Dakotas) steady at 20 mph with gusts to 30 mph.  Wind chill?  Beats me.  I don’t do wind chill.  If I did, I’d probably cry.  Suffice it to say that it was cold…but not all that unusual around here.  Now you know.

I was actually pretty comfortable  The ride home from this point was six miles into the teeth of that wind.  That which does not kill me, yada, yada.  It was slow going, but I made it…no worse for the wear.  Those of  you who know my story know that I don’t let this sort of thing stop me.  I haven’t missed a day of cycling in over two years now.  I ride no matter the weather, and not just a little. Some people think that’s tough.  I appreciate the sentiment, but I honestly don’t think it’s that big of a deal.  It seems like it used to be bigger than it is now.   Like most things, the more you do it the easier it becomes.

But still… a lot of people want to know why anyone  would do such a thing.  That’s a fair question.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but this is why I do it.

6

5

Winter in these parts is breathtakingly beautiful.   Nobody’s out there in it except for me.  It’s all mine.  If Iowa was Colorado, Minnesota or Utah, this would not be the case.  In those places, people don’t let winter stop them.  Here they do and that’s fine with me. In an increasingly crowded and resentful world, I have solitude.  Rilke wrote that “it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.”  Either you understand this way of thinking or you don’t.  Either way is fine. I’m not trying to convince you to do anything you don’t want to do.

Let’s leave the really cold out of it for purposes of this post.  Let’s talk instead about how I dress for what I consider to be a normal winter day around here, which is to say around +20°F with the wind blowing out of the northwest between 5-15 mph. For those of you who like wind chill, that’s zero to ten above.

So how do I dress for success in weather like this?  Well, for me, it all starts and ends with the feet, hands and head in that order.  These areas get colder faster because of limited blood flow.  They’re a long way from the power plant.  Keep them warm and toasty and you will be comfortable.  If any one of them gets cold, you’re in for a miserable time.  You might even be putting yourself at risk for some serious harm, so that’s where I’m going to focus.

Take your feet, for example.  The first thing I’m going to suggest is that perhaps you should stop dressing like a competitive cyclist.  You don’t need to wear cycling shoes on really cold days.  Put some platform pedals on your bike and wear boots.   I wish this was my original idea but it wasn’t.  It came from a friend in Minnesota.  For a long time, I tried sophisticated sock and  bootie combinations to keep my feet warm while I kept on clipping in.  Now it seems kind of funny in hindsight.   The stuff cost a fortune and none of it worked.  I’d get home and my feet would be uncomfortably numb.  Frostbite was close more than a time or two.  Not good.  Ridiculous, in fact.  I switched to boots and my feet haven’t been cold since.

9

This is the best possible thing you can do if you ride in the cold.

These are my boots.  They’re nothing fancy, but they’re comfortable and they don’t restrict movement while pedaling.  They’re made by Salomon, a company better known for ski boots.  My feet have never been cold while skiing.  Hmmm.   They’re rated to something like -30°F.  Better still, they only cost about $60 and they’re as durable as the day is long.  I wear one pair of Merino wool work socks underneath. They were $8 at a place named Theisen’s.  You probably don’t have Theisen’s where you live, but you probably have somebody else just like them.  Here’s a tip.  Even if you don’t have snowmobilers and ice fisherpeople where you live, you probably have hunters and farmers.  These folks stay outdoors all day long.  Buy your gear where they buy theirs and chances are good that it will keep you warm.    One more thing on socks.  My feet never sweat when I wear Merino wool.  If I wear synthetics, they do.  You don’t want your feet to sweat on cold days.  Just saying…

3

Hunters and farmers shop here…people who are out in the cold all day long.  A cyclist can do a lot worse than simply copy them.

Hands are next.  Here I prefer lobster mitts.  They offer the warmth of mittens yet allow the manual dexterity of gloves.  I have two pair.  The first ones were from a Swedish company named Craft.  I recently added a second pair from Giro.  Both are wonderful.  They are all I need down to about +10°F.  I also have a pair of Pogies on my fatbike.  I typically find that I don’t need them until it gets really cold.  Mine are BarMitts.  I highly recommend them.

8

Kraft lobster claw mitts – January 2016, central Indiana, -10°F.  I don’t look like I’m having all that much fun.  This was back before I knew what I was doing in bitter cold.

As far as my head goes, I typically just wear a beanie under my helmet.  I have two that I really like.  One is Alaskan Hardgear brand from Duluth Trading.  I also have two Outdoor Research beanies with Gore bands around the ears.  All of them are comfortable.  They cost around $20 each on sale.  The Alaskan Hardgear beanie is newer.  It has been my go to this winter. We’ll see how it lasts.  The Outdoor Research beanies are indestructible.

When the temperature falls below +20°F or if it’s especially windy,  I add a Hoo-Rag (aka Tubular Bandana) under the beanie.  Somebody (don’t remember who) was giving them away at their booth at the Iowa Bike Expo last year.   I didn’t know what to do with it.  Fortunately, my wife explained it all with easy to follow Ikea-like precision.  Now I love my Hoo-Rag.  It covers my ears and I can pull it up over the bottom part of my face while going into the wind.  It also gives me serious winter mountain biker cred which is a good thing when you’re my age.  Best of all, it eliminates the need for a balaclava unless it’s sub-zero.   I am not a fan of the balaclava, but when it gets really cold I tend to wear one anyway.

As far as everything else goes, it’s just layers.  Critical components are a quality base layer and a windproof shell.   My preferred base layer is UnderArmour ColdGear.  I wear a pair of lycra shorts over the bottoms…that’s it.  Up top,  I add a thermal layer.  This is nothing fancy…usually just a thermal undershirt like the ones they used to wear back in the day .  On top of that goes a Nike Dri-FIT pullover and a windproof shell as the final layer.

My shell this year is a PearlIzumi Select Escape softshell jacket.   PI has it discounted from $125 to $93 on their website, but I got mine on closeout at BikeWorld in DesMoines for around $50 thanks to my wife’s keen eye.  At first I was going to pass, but I really, really like this shell.  I intentionally sized up since it goes over all the other layers and I’m really very happy with it, though I suspect it would be too warm for me at any temperature above freezing.  That said, this is one area where I’d stick to a bike product.  The fit on this shell is really nice and it doesn’t constrict movement in any way.  It’s well put together and I think it will probably serve me well for years to come.

That’s pretty much it as far as clothing goes.  I hope it helps.  If you think you want to do this, let me share a couple of other things with you that I think are important.  First and foremost, you’re probably not going to like it the first few times you go.  Just being honest.   It’s not the same as cycling in the summer.  You don’t go as fast.  It takes twenty minutes to dress and another twenty to undress.  People you pass look at you as if you have a loose screw.  Here in Iowa, they used to stop and ask me if I was okay.  Now they know me, so they don’t bother.

You’re also going to have to experiment.  Just because something works for me doesn’t mean it will work for anyone else.  As long as you remember to focus on your feet, hands and head, you should be just fine.  Get that right and then you can tweak everything else if you stick with it.

And I hope you do stick with it.  Winter cycling is an acquired taste, but like a lot of acquired tastes, it’s very special.  I can’t really put my finger on just what makes it so, but I do know this…When the day comes that I can no longer do it, I suspect that I’m really going to miss it.

Happy Trails!

Advertisements

Bob’s Bucket List: Carhenge

I read this morning that former Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher has passed.   Herb was one of my heroes.  In a sense, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.  He was 87 and had been struggling with some health challenges.  Still, the man was a lion.

I don’t know how it is for you, but as I’ve aged I have been surprised to discover that I fear death a lot less than when I was younger.  Maybe it’s wisdom, but maybe not.  Maybe it’s just a natural defense mechanism we’re wired with.  I don’t really know.

What I do know is that as time passes I feel more of a sense of urgency to take some rides while I still can.  One of those rides is to a mythical place on the high plains of western Nebraska…a place called Carhenge.

800px-carhenge

Carhenge. Everything about it is eerily, spot on accurate when compared to Stonehenge.  Photo by Jacob Kamholz from Wikimedia Commons

I’ve mapped the route on RidewithGPS.  It’s 520 miles one way from Jefferson, so roughly 1,000 miles round trip.  That’s a good distance.  I could get there and back in a week.  It’s all uphill (literally) on the way out, which means it’s all downhill coming home.  Roughly half the route is along Nebraska’s Cowboy Trail, another ride that should be on every cyclist’s bucket list. I’ve wanted to ride the Cowboy Trail for some time, but the town at the far end (Valentine) is just not a compelling enough draw.  True, there’s a bookstore there I want to visit but that’s not enough in and of itself.

carhenge

The route to Carhenge.  I love the elevation profile…Great Plains problems.

Carhenge, on the other hand, is.  I’ve wanted to see this replica of Stonehenge since I first heard about it, but it’s located out in the middle of nowhere and a long way from anywhere.  Most people who cross the high plains complain that they’re boring, but that’s because they cross them in a motor vehicle.  I can’t help thinking of Robert Pirsig’s quote in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”  If only they knew what I know.

 “In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” -Robert M. Pirsig

I’ve cycled not far from here and the sounds, sights, smells and feelings are among my most visceral and real.   I find the countryside starkly beautiful in an Edward Hopper -esque way, and while cycling here it occurred to me that Bruce Springsteen knew what he was doing when he named his most genuine album “Nebraska.” This is a place unlike any other.  If you don’t believe that, check out the pictures that accompany this article in Bikepacking.

img_20160402_140648195

On a previous bike adventure not far from Julesburg Colorado.  The Bike League rates Nebraska #49 out of 50 when it comes to bicycle friendly.  That’s fine with me.  They can stay in the city and battle motorists.

img_20170430_171343741_hdr

I sampled the rocks south of Sidney a year later.   Seven  miles south of here, I  crossed into Logan County Colorado on an unmarked road.   Cycling here is as close to being truly free as you will ever be.

If you visit the Carhenge website, you’ll learn that the sculpture was intended to be art rather than political commentary, but like the Cadillac Ranch located just west of Amarillo Texas on Interstate 40 it has always struck me as an automotive graveyard.  In the grand scheme of things, cars haven’t been around all that long.  We tend to inflate their importance and permanence because they’re all we’ve ever known.  If we step back and take a broader view of history, it isn’t so hard to imagine a future without them.  Arriving here on a bicycle would be, I think, deliciously ironic.

I could do this trip on my Fargo or even my Rove, but I’m starting to think long and hard about getting a Salsa Cutthroat frameset and building a bike around it.  I’m not getting any younger and I’m willing to grudgingly admit that although steel may be real, carbon fiber is the better material for bicycle frames and forks that are going to carry the rider over very long distances.  That said, I don’t like the gearing on the fully built Cutthroats.  I understand that they’re designed for climbing the steep grades of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route under heavy loads.  As appealing as that is in the abstract, it’s not where I’m going to do most of my riding at this point in my life. After surviving encounters with moose, bobcats and rattlesnakes on previous rides, I don’t really feel the need to be up close and personal with Grizzly bears and big cats.

If I do this, the plan is to travel lightly and stay at some of the old 1950s roadside motor courts that are so common across the Great Plains.  I’d refuel at local dives with virtually no Yelp reviews.  I’ve had good luck with these places on previous Great Plains passages.  I’d bring my 35 mm camera and some clothes to deal with changing weather conditions.  That’s about it.

Now that I’ve publicly stated my desire to do this, it’s just a matter of time until I do.  I can’t explain why, but that’s just how it works with me.   If you’re heading out this weekend, ride safely and have fun!  Until next time…

A Cold Start Awaits

Happy New Year to you and yours.   Here in central Iowa, the year is off to a cold start.  We’re currently sitting at 6° F in Jefferson. The temperature has fallen three degrees since I woke up at 4:00 AM.  The wind is relatively strong out of the northwest, and so the wind chill factor is  -11° F.  I supposed I could just stay in and skip today, but nahhhhh.  That simply is not going to happen.

Tab2FileL.png

The National Weather Service has published a wind chill warning for the region just north of Jefferson.   They don’t do this for people like me.  It’s for people who debate whether or not they need a hat and gloves on mornings like this.  After all, they’re just going from their home to their warmed up car and from there to the store or office.  What could possibly go wrong?

I, on the other hand, know good and well what could go wrong.  Discomfort is the least of it, and so I dress for conditions and don’t much worry about the serious looking weather forecaster who is imparting dire warnings. That doesn’t mean that I am naive about conditions.   Trust me…I know what’s out there.  I’ve been out there before.

So I prepare for it.  Before going out, I not only know the temperature, but the wind speed and direction.  By direction, I mean compass heading.  This is much more meaningful than a wind chill factor number that is designed to scare more than inform.  A 330° (NNW) wind in excess of 10 miles per hour on a single digit morning is dangerous if you’re not ready for it.   I wouldn’t dream of going out without knowing all of this.

What this morning’s numbers are telling me is that I have to adjust my distance and my route so that I can cover some miles while staying relatively close to home.  If it was 20°F or warmer with a light wind, the plan would have been to cover 50 miles this morning.  I’d go out into whatever wind there was for 25 miles and then turn around for a leisurely wind assisted ride home.  That won’t work today.  If I got a flat tire 25 miles from home, I’d be hosed.

So instead I’ve altered my route so that it’s one big old loop around Jefferson.  I’ll cover 30 miles and I won’t be going into the wind for more than 5 miles (20-25 minutes) at a time.  More importantly, I’m only seven miles from my front door at the farthest point out.  If I have to abandon the bike and walk home, I can.

Capture

Today’s route..  I’ll get home…guaranteed.

I understand that when faced with weather like this, most folks prefer to stay in and ride their stationary bike.   I’m not wired that way.  I don’t mean to imply that I love this.  It’s something to be endured, but to me it’s better than a stationary bike.

I try to see the good in it and make it fun.  Bitter cold weather turns cycling into a mental puzzle, I tell myself.  It turns it from football into baseball.   Yeah, that’s it.  I really have to think this through before heading out.  It’s all about statistics and percentages and odds and, yeah…

Once I’m out on the bike, I make it a point to be aware of what’s going on around me and how I’m feeling in a way I simply don’t when the weather is more temperate.  I talk to myself a lot.  I have a mental checklist in my mind and I tick through it over and over again.  I know that my brakes might freeze, so I test them from time to time.  My derailleur might also freeze,so I keep the chain centered on the rear cluster. Most importantly, I listen to my body.  If I’m going to have a physical problem, the canaries in the coal mine are my hands and feet.   If they go from painful to numb, it’s time to cut the ride short and head for the barn.

IMG_20171231_071944_514

December 31, 2017…it’s 21 degrees warmer this morning!

20171231_082926

It was snowier, too…and every bit as windy as today.

Why do I do this?  For the same reason I do really long rides in the summer.  It’s an opportunity to learn about myself and what I’m made of.  There’s a real sense of contentment that comes with knowing that if I ever get stuck out in the kind of weather that most people avoid that I probably will find a way to survive.   That’s no small thing when you live at this lattitude.

In a broader sense, getting in my miles on a day like this is the essence of the very things that make cycling so attractive to me.Miss a day because it’s cold?  LOL.  Not a chance.   If you’re heading out, please be safe.  Happy Trails.

The Best Day of the Year

“Ride as much or as little, or as long or as short as you feel. But ride.”
– Eddy Merckx

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

My consecutive day streak turned two years old today.   I rode 25 miles…carefully.  There is some snow and ice on the roads and trails.   The temperature was well below freezing, so slick spots were lurking here and there.  I did the math when I got home.   24,172 miles…almost one lap around the world at the equator…without a day off.

It’s not really a big deal to me at this point.  It was bigger in the early days.  Now it’s just part of my life…something I do every day like eating and sleeping.  I’m curious to see where it goes from here but certainly not obsessed with it.  I think of it a little like an old cycling jersey that I know I’ll have to get rid of one of these days, but I’m not ready to let go of it just yet. Riding every day still feels right to me.  When it doesn’t, I’ll stop.

IMG_20161230_115209907_HDR.jpg

Over the Wind River Range, December 30, 2016. This was the last day I didn’t get on a bike.  I found myself looking at those valleys and thinking I’d rather be down there.

IMG_20161231_101340120

December 31, 2016…Day One on the East Bench, Ogden Utah. 

IMG_20170102_085145489

We had a lot of snow in Ogden that first winter.

 

IMG_20170121_110932228

January 21, 2017…the biggest dump…the hardest day to go.  After this, it was easy.

IMG_20170312_090330930_HDR

Valley snow was gone by March 12, so I got in my first century…a trip to Salt Lake City and back.

IMG_20170328_154855492_HDR

In May we said goodbye to the mountains and headed to Iowa.

I’ve learned some things from the streak, though, and I think they’re important things.  The biggest is that wherever you are in life, you can start over and fix what needs fixing.  Even if you’re a victim of something serious and real, you can choose to rise above it and set your own course.   Lots of people have.  Nobody else has a say in this…only you.

I’ve also learned that what might seem really big and formidable when it’s out in front of you often turns out to be no big deal when you’re in the middle of it.  Truth be told, the streak hasn’t been very hard to maintain.  I’ve never considered stopping due to weather.  The coldest day was in early January of this year, -14° F with a windchill of about -30°.   You have to take precautions on days like that.  You have to plan routes closer to home so that if you get into trouble you can get out of it quickly.  That’s just common sense.  It’s also an easy pivot.  Like I said, no big deal.

 

IMG_20170401_085245959

Weather-wise, glare ice and cold rain are the worst.  Hurricane force winds are a close third.

When I tell people about the streak they talk about dedication and toughness and it’s all more than just a little embarrassing to me because there has been no physical pain or sacrifice associated with any of this.  Riding a bike is play, not work, and I learned long ago that “no pain, no gain” is a destructive mantra.  No matter your age you can learn to ride relatively fast (Seattle to Portland, 205 miles in 12 hours) without pain.  If you want to get faster and stronger, just ride longer and harder.  If you find that you’re tired, ride shorter and slower.  That’s about the extent of my sophisticated training program.

IMG_20170430_171343741_HDR

On the way to Iowa, I got to cycle on the High Plains of the Nebraska panhandle for the second time. 

IMG_20170430_171354089

Truth be told, the high, Western plains are my favorite place in the world to ride.  The aloneness of it is palpable.

IMG_20170502_064315962_HDR

First morning in Iowa.  Lake Anita State Park.  I took it as a sign.

 

imagejpeg_0001002003004.jpg

Finishing Seattle to Portland.  Maybe the most amazing day I’ll ever have on the bike.  We’ll see.

There was a time in early October of this year when I thought that the streak would end.  I was traveling to Dallas on business and I wouldn’t have a bike.  I called a couple of bike shops about renting while I was in town, but decided against it for two reasons.  One, I was starting a new job and didn’t want the distraction.  Two, I simply am not that attached to the streak.  Better to let it end than be a slave to it, I thought.   But then I checked into the Canopy Hotel in Uptown Dallas and saw the two orange bikes in the lobby.  I rode 10 miles along the nearby Katy Trail before work every morning.   The streak lived.  That’s serendipity.

20181008_165947

Canopy Hotel, Dallas.  Best hotel ever!

20181008_192252.jpg

Dutch Cycling Socks…even better!

I’ve read a little about monasticism, both Christian and Buddhist, and so I like to think I understand the importance of routine and discipline in a life well lived.  I understand it better now than I did back in 2016, that’s for sure.  I’ve learned that there’s a certain grace and beauty to be found in completing simple, repetitive tasks over and over again.  This is definitely at odds with the popular message of the day, but I think it’s a very important thing to know.  It completely changes the way you look at life.  It tempers expectations.  That, in turn, leads to peace, contentment and happiness.  These are no small things.  Most of the world is seeking them and they’re right in front of our eyes for the taking if only we’d listen and explore and try to figure it out on our own.

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. 

One thing I’ve been able to figure out is that there is no finish line when it comes to cycling.   As long as the sun rises in the east, it’ll be a good day to get on the bike.  Nothing is going to change.  If the streak has taught me anything at all, it’s that the streak just isn’t all that important.  What’s important is the act of doing what you feel is important, regardless of why.   We often don’t know why something is important to us, and that’s okay.

So as the new year dawns, I hope that you’ll just get on a bike and go.   The world will be a better place if more of us do more of it.   That’s my wish for the new year.   More people on more bikes more often, especially you.

Happy New Year.

 

Gravel and Society’s Bad Choices

Cyclist dies after crash with vehicle on Creasy Lane” the headline read.  Seeing it was a little like getting hit in the face with a brick.  I’ve taught Bike League classes in Lafayette.  I know a lot of people in the cycling community there.  It’s a small, tight-knit community.  Oh God, no.  Was it one of my students or someone I’ve met?

It wasn’t, not that it makes any difference.  It was a 56 year old man named Donald Stair.  He was just a few years younger than me.   It could have been me.  I know Creasy Lane.  If you live in Lafayette and use your bike for transportation, you really have no choice but to ride on Creasy Lane.  I’ve never cycled it myself, but I’ve cycled a lot of streets just like it.  It’s one of those gawdawful four lane high speed strips that serve suburban big box heaven.  It’s a death trap, and yet nothing is done to make it safer…in Lafayette or anywhere else.  People who have the power to change things just wring their hands.

Capture

Creasy Lane.  The speed limit is ridiculous due to the number of driveways that slow traffic and a design that forces cyclists and even pedestrians into the traffic lane.  

It’s nonsense to think that nothing could have been done to prevent this. A lot could have been done.  It’s all about choices.  It was a bad choice to build a dangerous road like Creasy Lane in the first place.  It’s a bad choice to post it at 40 mph, especially since all the driveways and entryways keep average speed down.  It’s  a bad choice not to fix it now, especially since we know that the road’s design leads to carnage.   Come to think of it, all of Big Box Heaven is a bad choice.   Railroad trains full of containerized imported plastic trinkets that fill those big boxes are another bad choice.  Suburban communities that require 84 year olds to drive just to get groceries are a bad choice.   I could go on, but you get the idea.

20181125_092011

These days.

20180609_134618

Those days.  Gravel is a year-round thing.

Society has made a lot of bad choices and bicyclists pay disproportionately for them.  Those of us who have been on bikes for awhile realize that good choices aren’t going to be made often enough to matter, so increasingly, we are choosing to opt out.  For me, opting out meant moving to a small town in rural Iowa surrounded by 70,000 miles of gravel. People often ask me why I’m here.  This is why.  The paved trail to Des Moines is just the icing on the cake.

I get the feeling more will follow.   Gravel is anathema to the urban and suburban motorists who run down cyclists from behind.   It gets their cars and SUVs dusty.   It dings the high gloss paint.   That’s expensive to fix.  Better to stay on the potholed pavement.

And so gravel is the cyclist’s friend.  Though it is not perfect (what is?), gravel is safer.  Gravel is better.

I just received the most recent edition of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.  They asked shop owners which sales segment was growing fastest in their business.  The overwhelming winner, from coast to coast, was gravel.   Gravel is hot in Bend Oregon, where David Marchi, owner of Crow’s Feet Commons and the High Five Brews said that as the area urbanizes both MTB and roadies are heading for the rocks.  Gravel bikes are even popular in places without a lot of gravel…places like Berkeley California.  What was once a rural Midwestern craze has now gone national.

It’s not surprising.  Gravel is cycling heaven.   Out here, the only people in motor vehicles you’re likely to see are residents.  There’s this splendid isolation.  Your eyes don’t need to be constantly fixed on the rear view mirror.   Those motorists you do run across tend to be mostly  friendly and cautious.  That may change someday.  It probably will.  But right now this is as good as it gets for cyclists who want to crank out the miles.

I’ll be out on the frozen rocks today.  I’m almost certain that I’ll be thinking about Donald Stair and what was taken from him and those who love him.  I’ll ruminate about the inherent unfairness and fickleness of life and mourn the loss of another brother…one that hits a little too close to home.

Rest in peace, Donald Stair.  Via con Dios.  I hope that wherever you are this morning, you wake up to a titanium frameset, wide tires and a trail of rocks that leads to the horizon and beyond.

 

 

 

The Freeze Returns

It was 40° F when I headed out at 5:30 AM on Wednesday morning for my daily ride.  I decided to celebrate by taking the paved Raccoon River Valley Trail down to Herndon.  The ice would mostly be gone, I figured, on the heels of a couple of days of warmer temperatures and a night that didn’t see a freeze.

I was wrong.  There was still plenty of ice.  What’s worse, it was slicker than it would have been if the temperature was in the mid-20s since it was coated with a thin film of moisture.  Down I went.  Hard.   My shoulder is still sore.  Thankfully, it already feels a little better.  I’m pretty sure that nothing’s seriously damaged, so I’m not going to spend the money and involve America’s broken health care system.  That’s not how I’m wired.

Some people think that’s crazy, but I’ve spent too many years in places like Texas and the Rocky Mountain West surrounded by people who are among the most self-reliant anywhere to involve third parties unnecessarily.  Years ago, I slipped on ice on my porch in central Texas.  I went to get X-Rays because I was pretty sure I messed up my ankle.  Nope, they told me, you didn’t break it.   Then they called a week later and told me they’d read the X-Ray wrong and that it actually was broken.

“What should I do now” I asked them.   
“Have you been walking on it?”
“Yeah.”
“Does it hurt much?”
“Not too much.”
“Then there’s probably no point in putting a cast on it now.”

And that was that.  I recovered, no worse for the wear. I also was thousands of dollars ahead.   Did I have a case for medical malpractice?  Beats me.  That’s not how I’m wired, either.   I had learned a valuable lesson.  Health care is overrated.  Now I only consume it when I actually need it.

20181219_150315

Gravel muck is as gritty as heavy duty sandpaper.  Not good for moving parts or the bike’s finish.

This wasn’t an isolated incident.  I fall from time to time.  I suppose it’s inevitable with the sheer number of miles  and the type of terrain I cover.  My riding style (reasonably hard to unreasonably hard) probably contributes as well.  Most falls haven’t been a big deal.  This one was.

That said, it wasn’t a matter of carelessness or recklessness on my part.  It was just one of those things.  The only way of avoiding it would have been to stay in, but who’s going to do that on the nicest morning in weeks?  Stuff happens.  We are not consulted before it does.  The way I see it, there’s no choice but to pick yourself up, make sure everything still works and then finish the ride.  That’s what I did.

And so even though I knew it would be a sloppy mess, I changed my plans and headed for the gravel.  Wet, loose gravel is slippery, too, though not as slippery as ice with a sheen of water on top.  I could hear that grit grinding on the chain and the rings.  That can’t be good.  It was like having teeth pulled, listening to that sound.   Not my best day in the saddle.   I waited until daylight and washed the bike off.  The next day was pretty much the same.

But then the wind turned around to the north and the thermometer plummeted.  For the first time since I’ve been back in the Upper Midwest, I didn’t dread it or shiver just thinking about it.  I smiled.  My gravel will be frozen and fast again this morning.  I’ll make time.  I probably won’t fall.  The bike will be relatively clean when I get home.   All good.  The journey continues.

Ride on.

Almanzo

I was talking to a local bike shop owner in Iowa today and he mentioned that he rode Almanzo last year.  I’d never heard of it, so I looked it up and it looks like fun.  It’s unsupported and free.  The rules are pretty simple.  You are responsible for you.  No snowflakes, even though it often snows in Minnesota in May.

I sent my entry in via postcard this morning.  It will be a good test for Steamboat.  I plan to ride the steel Kona Rove on Panaracer Gravel King 35s.  If I can average 16 mph or more over 100 miles with 8,000+ feet of climbing, that’s the bike I’ll take to Steamboat.  If it’s a mucky mess, I may have to reconsider what I ride.

I’ll worry about that then.  For now, it’s enough to have this on my calendar.  May 18, 2019.  Northfield Minnesota.