Thursday, December 10, 2009

Blow, Winds, and Crack Your Cheeks!

I am not sure which of we two was the Mad King, and which the Fool, but on Sunday last my friend Vincent Muoneke and I demonstrated that neither of us has the common sense that the gods gave a goose. Naturally enough, our folly involved a bike ride. This time it was 202 kilometers in sub-freezing temperatures and gale force winds. Okay, maybe not gale force, but strong enough to knock me across the road more than once, and steady enough to drop the wind chill down to the low teens for the entire day. That may be old news to randonneurs in Saskatchewan, but we Pacific Northwesterners are more used to being waterlogged than frostbitten. For those who care, here is how the story unfolded.

As regular readers will know, I have been chasing my second consecutive R-12. I needed one more - December's - to complete the streak. My calendar being a bit crowded these days, it appeared that the 6th was going to be the only day in which I could afford to be on the road for 12 or so hours. So I e-mailed a few friends to see if they would join me. In addition to Vincent, Joanne H., Elise R., Ray O., Ken M. all signed on, and so it looked to be quite a party.

This time of year the weather is less than predictable. Not that PNW weather is ever completely predictable. At the beginning of the week, the forecast was for partly cloudy skies, with temperatures in the low 30s. Not bad. As the week progressed, however, the meteorologists started muttering things about "arctic cold fronts" and "Canadian wind chills." Weather Underground forecast steady NE winds of 15 mph, with occasional gusts of 25 mph plus. I started inventorying my wool layers. Luckily, the annual Bike Craft show was being held on Saturday, and I was able to pick up a new pair of S'Mittens from Natalie and a matching pair of Helmuffs.

When I woke up at 4:00 on Sunday morning, I could hear the wind whooshing through the cedars in my back yard. I looked out the window to see them bending in the wind. Mind you, these are ENORMOUS cedars. If they were bending, then I can guarantee the wind was stiffer than 15 mph. I checked the thermometer outside the kitchen window. 27 degrees. Nice. I ate an extra serving of oatmeal, and filled my thermal carafe (fits in a bottle cage!) with a mix of hot tea and Gatorade powder.

Life Saver

I then proceeded to dress myself for a bike ride of Shackletonian proportions. Starting from my toes and heading upward:

Wool socks
chemical toe warmers
Pearl Izumi Gore-Tex winter boots
Ibex wool knickers
GoreWear leg warmers
Shebeest capris
Ibex wool camisole
Icebreaker L/S wool undershirt
S/S wool jersey (felted)
L/S Craft winter jacket
Bontrager wind vest
Specialized "Equinox" gloves
Wool S'Mittens
chemical hand warmers
Smartwool beanie
Wool helmuffs

It's a wonder I was able to move my limbs freely enough to walk, let alone ride my bike.

Having suited up, there was nothing left to do but load the car and head for the ride start in Newberg. I had chosen the "Three Prairies" permanent route, which is usually a pretty safe bet for a winter ride. It is a double-loop course with very little elevation gain, and the roads are familiar to me. Unfortunately, because it is on the flats of the Willamette Valley, it is not the best route choice when the wind is up. And the wind was most definitely up. I could feel it buffeting my little car as I drove south.

We planned to start riding at 7:00. I got to Newberg by 6:30, and saw two trucks in the parking lot with bicycles in the back. One was Ray's, and I guessed the other one was Vincent's. I could see Ray sitting in the front seat of his truck, but there was no sign of Vincent. I got out of my car and walked over toward his truck, and saw through the rear window a form huddled in the back seat. He was taking a nap. He told me later that he had done the same thing a few hours earlier in a rest stop near Winlock.

It was freaking freezing, so after saying "Hi" to Ray, I got back in my car to try to warm up. I took the opportunity to install my chemical digit warmers, not that I was too optimistic that they would work. It felt about 5 degrees colder in Newberg than it had been in Portland. I drank some tea. That helped. I had brought a heavy wool sweater with me to put on after the ride, and decided that perhaps I should bring it along, so I bungee-strapped to my rear rack.

A few minutes later, Joanne drove up. She got out of her van, walked over and said, "I'm not riding in this." Elise had already bailed, and Joanne did not want to fight the wind. Ken did not show, and Ray began to equivocate about riding, as well. He made it as far the Thriftway on 1st Street, our traditional opening contrôle (a distance of 4 blocks), before deciding that he was not going to ride after all. And so it was down to me and Vincent. Well, that's one more than has been on my last few rides, and I was happy for the company.

I was also happy that my company was Vincent, who is living proof that there are people crazier than I. You question that? Well, consider this: the day before our ride, Vincent had ridden an icy 200K in Seattle with quite a few certifiable SIR members, and less than a week before that he was riding a 1200K in freaking AUSTRALIA. The jet lag alone would have kept me from riding in perfect weather, never mind the gale that we were setting off into this day.

Despite the sub-freezing temperatures (25 degrees at 7:00), the first segment of the ride was surpisingly pleasant, because the wind was at our backs. We rode southwest out of Newberg through the Red Prairie to Dallas, passing through Dayton (stopping briefly at the weigh station outside of Dayton to weigh ourselves on the truck scales), Amity and Perrydale along the way.

Our average speed from Newberg to Dallas was well over 18 mph, even though this was the section with the most climbing (fabulous rollers between Perrydale and Dallas!). We made it to Dallas so early that they were still serving breakfast at McDonald's, where we stopped to get receipts and nourishment. Vincent astonished me by drinking a milkshake. Brr.

Milkshake #1

I augmented my peanut butter sandwich with some hash browns, thus demonstrating why I do not lose weight on bike rides.

Healthy, Meet Not So Healthy

We spent more time than we should have at the Dallas contrôle, and our core temperatures that had been so nicely raised by cycling had dropped. In addition, we were now turning into the wind for the return trip to Newberg. What a difference! Not only we were suddenly riding much more slowly (single-digit speeds), but the wind chill was almost intolerable. Both Vincent and I suffer from Raynaud's phenomenon (primary), and the cold wind on our hands quickly became painful. My hands eventually became numb, making shifting and braking difficult. I prefer the numbness to the pain, however. For most of the trip back to Newberg, the wind was directly in our face. But every once in a while we would hit it crosswise. More than once a cross gust blasted me into the traffic lanes. Fortunately, traffic was light. We stopped for a few minutes in Amity to catch our breath and get out of the wind; in protected spots, the sun was quite warm, even if the air was chilly.

We got back to Newberg at about 13:30. I usually use the Thriftway as my Newberg contrôle, but Vincent voiced a preference for a "sit-down" restaurant. The Coffee Cottage is very nice, but it is a time-sucking vortex, so we settled on the Dairy Queen (don't tell Rickey that I was in a DQ!). Vincent got another milkshake, and I got french fries to go along with the other half of my peanut butter sandwich. We were a little worried about our time, because the winds had depressed our speeds so much, so after a shorter rest than we would have like we saddled up for the second loop, which would take us out through the French and Howell Prairies to Mt. Angel and back.

I had thought that we would still be riding into the wind on the way to Mt. Angel, and so was pleasantly surprised to find that we had a tailwind from Newberg until well past Champoeg. At least the surprise was pleasant until I realized that meant that we would be riding into the wind on the way back. In the dark. In colder temperatures. Rats. But we were over 70 miles into the ride, and I was not about to give up. Vincent was inspiring. He had to have been exhausted, yet he kept plugging alone. Indeed, the fact that he was exhausted was the only thing that allowed me to stay with him. He is normally a much faster rider than I am on the flats (I can beat him up a hill, but only because he outweighs me by 70 pounds- at last according to the truck scale).

With the help of the wind, we made it to Mt. Angel by 16:00. The sun was starting to set, and the temperature was dropping. Vincent switched from milkshakes to hot chocolate, and I inhaled a bag of Fritos. The Mt. Angel market has a large Hispanic clientele, and had a number of snack chips in flavors that I had not seen before. But I'd already had my Fritos and could not justify trying the Sabritones con chile y limón.

The sun went down while we dilly-dallied in Mt. Angel, and the temperature plummeted. I pulled on my wool sweater under my reflective vest (which barely zipped up over all my layers) and inserted a new set of warmers in between my gloves and S'Mittens. Once again we were off into the wind. I tried to breath through my nose as much as possible, but my lungs were beginning to react to the cold and I developed an unpleasant hacking cough. My hands began to hurt again, and then became numb. They would be numb for the rest of the trip. Whenever I wanted to shift, I had to look down to make sure that my fingers were actually on the shifter and moving. I was worried that I might push too hard and end up riding a fixie.

The last 28 miles were brutal. Vincent and I rode in silence, concentrating our energies on staying warm and staying awake. The miles clicked by ever so slowly, and all I could think about was how happy I would be to see my car. We rolled into Newberg just before 19:00, and made our way past houses brightly lit with holiday lights to the Thriftway. Vincent's hands were killing him, and so we sat inside the warm store for a while, chatting about how cold and tired we were. But happy, too.

Indeed, I was ecstatic. Another R-12 was in the bag, and I could take a rest for a while.


Hans said...

Well it seems that Vincent certainly does have a few Kangaroos loose in the top paddock.

He did say to us in Melbourne that he prefers the cold, but those conditions are ridiculous. The most he had to put up with in Oz was 25mph headwinds forcing riders to pedal down the mountains.

Great blog Cecil. And congratulations on your second R-12.


Cecil Anne said...

Thanks, Hans. Yes, Vincent did mention the possibility that he was a few roos loose, and I concur. Compared to him, the most I am missing upstairs is a small wallaby.

Vincent Muoneke said...

Its all there!
Nothing to add to this report on a memorable day.

Anonymous said...

Yo inspire me to get out and ride in these ridiculously hot 85 degree Miami days. OK..I can suffer too...sorta..kinda.

Cereally......tip o' the helmet to Vincent and you both.

philosoraptor said...

First of all, ouch. And congratulations, I think!

Second, is that bottle really as good at keeping things warm long as advertised?

Cecil Anne said...

Thanks, philosoraptor -and yes, that bottle will keep hot beverages hot for hours. I filled it with hot Gatorade/tea at approximately 5:30 AM. I rode for 2.5 hours in sub-freezing temperatures with it in my bottle cage. At 9:30, it was still piping hot. At that point, I drank most of it, and refilled with hot water - it was still hot at 4 PM.

Anonymous said...

I'll vouch for the bottle. I have one and it keeps my coffee HOT all day, even after commuting to work with it on my bike, unwrapped.

Cecil -- you're a MONstah! Congrats on another twelver!
When you're up for a mellower ride, gimme a call and we'll put together something with a coffee theme. Yes?
Big hugs --Beth

Barb said...

After Ray bailed on you and came home I worried about you all day. Glad you survied.