Since Tuesday’s 30+ mile per hour wind gusts and -25˚ wind chills moved on, we here in central Michigan have been treated to a few days of brilliant sunshine and blue skies. Of course the lack of cloud cover also means that temperatures are struggling to get out of the single digits until well after lunch. Unfortunately, my time slot to ride is around 10 a.m., when the thermometer is grunting, groaning and moaning to get above zero.
Because of those high winds earlier in the week and the frigid temps that followed, I spent the first three days of this week hunkered down in the Stankment™ putting in miles running on the treadmill and riding the trainer. You would think that after forty-three years of living in the cold winter climates of Pennsylvania and Michigan I would be used to the cold and snow and would have learned to love it. Nope.
Like many of my cycling friends in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota I try my best to be active through it, but unlike many of them, I always fail to embrace or love the winter. For me the result is always the same; I tolerate winter and merely try to survive it with my mind and liver still functioning properly and my pant size unchanged come spring.
But enough of that winter hating hyperbole, lets’ get to the winter riding hyperbole…
The indoor, fake exercise madness finally ended on Thursday morning when I let too much coffee convince me that I should totally ride outside in the sun, despite what the thermometer said. “I’ve ridden in worse, I can totally do this!” I muttered to myself as I schlepped the Farley into the back of the xB and took off towards the small park just north of town which I utilize as a launching pad when riding my fat bike (thus saving a few miles of expensive rubber shaving, stud wearing pavement). Despite my best attempts to avert my eyes from the car’s outside temperature display, there was no ignoring how f*cking cold it was and when I inevitably caved and looked down, I was to see that it was a balmy three whole degrees.
I continued on though figuring that I rode the trail at Hanson a few weeks ago when it was 1˚ and had a blast, how different could 3˚ be? Choosing to ignore the fact that the ride at Hanson was done in the woods, sheltered from the wind, and through fresh snow at much slower speeds. Selective memory indeed.
“What the f*ck am I doing? This is stupid, scary, cold shit!” I grunted out through my chattering teeth as I unloaded my bike and put the last layers of winter gear on. The next couple minutes became a mental exercise more than a physical one as the muttering continued… “I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.”
I turned out of the snow packed parking lot and onto a brief section of pavement as I headed towards the snow-covered dirt to the north. That brief section of pavement was made briefer when the cold breeze coming from the north change my mumbling mantra of “I can do this” to a loud “F*ck this shit!” growl and I did a U-turn and headed back to the car.
That U-turn then turned into another U-turn as I admitted to myself that if I went home the chances of me riding the trainer or running on the treadmill would be about .0001%. There was more tourette-like cussing and more and more Birdman-like inner monologue as I lurched northward into the cold, anxiously waiting for my hands to warm up.
Hitting the snow packed roads was like having a mental weight lifted off my back. The loud whirl of fat, studded knobbies on cement ended and I was now being treated to the wonderful styrofoam rubbing, velcroish sound of fat tires on snow alternating with studs digging and gripping into solid ice. I was stoked with my brief mental victory, now all I had to do was complete the sub-two hour loop without losing any digits or freezing the very tip of my rather large and pointy nose off. The only part of my head (or body now that I come to think of it) exposed to the cold.
“I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.”
It took about fifteen minutes, but my hands warmed up and I settled into a ride rhythm. It felt great to be outside in the brilliant sun, even if it was only three, going on five, degrees!
About a half hour in I went to take a drink only to find that my bottle’s valve was frozen. So I stopped and unscrewed the cap so I could get a drink of the slush inside. Good thing I stopped then because a half hour later that slush was frozen solid. Oh well, hydration is overrated.
Many miles of the loop were done in near silence, with nothing but the sound of my wheels beneath me and my occasional fat man panting on the climbs. No cars, no tractors, no noise of any kind. This time of year the open, rural Michigan landscape really does become “lunar” like and without fail takes me back to watching The Empire Strikes Back and the scenes on Hoth. Scenes that were acted out so many times as a kid in the Pennsylvania winter. Suddenly I found myself feeling like the late, not so great, Derek “Hobbie” Klivian of the Rebel Alliance…
I completed some brief recon just outside the northern boundaries of Echo Base today. No activity to report other than some Wampa tracks which looked to be at least two weeks old, possibly. The tracks were not fresh, but with temperatures struggling to reach the single digits and ice-free water a premium, my tauntaun and I returned to base soon after encountering the tracks just to be safe.
– Derek “Hobbie” Klivian
Wow, this winter really is causing me to lose just a little bit more of my already feeble mind.
A few stretches of the roads were void of snow and ice all together. While it was nice to see dirt, it was less nice to be riding over it on big, fat tires with a mere 7 psi of air in them. It felt sort like pushing a giant water balloon filled with jello up hill.
In the end, the ride was done without incident. I completed the loop that only takes about an hour and a half on my mountain bike in a slugglish two hours on the fat bike. I burned a shit ton more calories than I would have on the trainer and I got outside in the sun. It was a real mental victory and did wonders for the mood of what Wifey calls “Winter Jason.”
While I wouldn’t say I exactly had a ton of fun, it felt like a small victory with some lessons learned about riding on open dirt roads in 3 to 5 degree temps.
- A layer of tights should have been worn under my Craft pants for some added comfort to the nuggetal regions and ass cheeks. I’ve done this before with good result. Not sure why I failed to do it this time.
- I should have used my Bar Mitts in addition to my doubled up glove.
- I need a better bottle for these temps.
- I need to get better about actually keeping my full face balaclava over my full face OR invest in something like Dermatone for my beak’s tip.
Each winter I learn a wee bit more about (mentally) surviving it . Sooner or later I may even learn to embrace it like many of my friends do. However that may include a move to Arizona or New Mexico.
Once back to the car, a quick check in the mirror revealed that my nose was going to be just fine and would sadly not be in need of reconstructive surgery. A bit red and snotty, but just fine. However a look into my eyes reveals a whole other story that may or may not included more mumbled cussing, more Birdman-like inner monologues and more flashbacks to my time spent defending Echo Base on the ice planet Hoth.
Winter… I hate you but you are THIS close to having your 2014/15 ass kicked out the door. I’m pretty confident I’ll survive. Unless I get eaten by a Wampa during my next ride.
Hoping to get out again this weekend. If not, workouts in the Stankment™ will have to do… and maybe I can convince Wifey to play “Luke and The Wampa” with me!!! It’s been a few days since I fired up the ol’ lightsaber.