Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cold Weather Cycling: The Leschi-Auburn-Leschi 200k Permanent

We knew it was going to be cold. And I suppose we knew it could be windy. But the combination was pretty tough.

My friend and companion, Vesteinn, and I left the Leschi Starbucks, and it was predicted to be colder than it turned out to be. It pretty much stayed 30 degrees all day. But windy.

In the photo above, you can sense that the sun is there somewhere. While that photo was taken at dawn in Renton, it gives a pretty good feel for the quality of sunlight: dim and chilly. We did actually see our shadows a little while before sunset, but other than that it was mostly a thin day puncuated by a dim, cold orb assumed to be the sun and dozens of cars with Christmas trees strapped to their roofs, accompanied by the cold, cold wind.

Thus began my restarted R-12 attempt (after failing on month four) and Vesteinn's first ever 200k. For my account of how I couldn't get past month three, go to this previous post. For an account of Vesteinn's first ever century, go to this previous post.

I chose the Leschi-Auburn-Leschi permantent (RUSA #0401) because of its close proximity to our homes and its lack of serious elevation as illustrated below.

Despite the flatness, we still found the course a challenge. We were nearing the first controle in Ravensdale with only about eight minutes to make the next kilometer or so. Doable for certain, until we came to the final iced up and curvy descent. Vesteinn led and kept one foot unclipped as he rode along the snowy road edge. The cars hadn't beaten the snow skim into ice there so we had traction and made it to the controle with two minutes to spare. Later it was a fierce headwind that prevented us from putting more time in the bank, so I flirted with DNF most of the day.

As for the course, I like that country. I enjoy the rivers and I would have taken more photos, but I was both too wary of lollygagging that would yield a DNF and just too damn cold to want to stop.

At one point, I took off my fleece pants and replaced them with capilene tights under my shell. My fleece pants were soaked with sweat, but I traded a sweaty warmth for a dry chill. Not a great trade.

Same with my light fleece vest. I took it off (sweat-soaked) and went with just my capilene upper, SIR wool jersey, and shell. All good until dark when it got a little colder. I took my vest out of my front bag, and it was a frozen carcass. I had to uncrinkle it to put it back on, and my fleece tights were similarly frozen so I chose to stay with the lower dry chill. Brrrr.

Vesteinn had one numbed foot that never did quite warm up, and so it went. A course map is below.

What worked well? Smartwool socks and the booties I referenced in a previous post. The Smartwool glove liners under my wool mittens under my mitten shells (also referenced in the post on wet weather cycling) also did the trick. My helmet shell (similarly referenced) was great as a wind break, and the Smartwool balaclava was perfect.

The thing about a 200k for the R-12 series is that I keep thinking that since I've done several 200k's before (and longer ones to boot) that a 200k isn't that big a deal. Well I don't mind admitting that it is. Even under the best of cirumstances, 200k is a long day. Add a chill, swish in a wind, sprinkle in some rain, or drop a mechanical issue and you've got a real ride. And of course if it is winter and you aren't real fast, you've got the veil of nightriding to deal with.

All this is not to complain, just to be real about the endeavor. As blogger Dr. Codfish said in his RUSA newsletter article on Top 10 Tips for Completing Your R-12:

"A 200k once a month; just one lousy, stinking 200K, every 30 days, how hard could it be? I mean after all you’ve ridden a bejillion kilometers over hill and dale since March, right? A 200K is a cake walk! You could do that on the neighbor kids sidewalk bicycle, right? It might seem so, especially when you consider the shorter mileage of these events and the fact that you only have to do one 200K each month."

I like the R-12 challenge. It requires that you plan and consider. It is making me very critical of equipment and clothing choices. It leads me to be clearer about nutrition, recovery and training.

On the clothing choices: I'm beginning to ponder whether woolen base layers aren't superior to capilene base layers for temperature modulation during cold weather. Any comments from you veteran randonneurs?

As for Vesteinn and me, we shared our little epic ride, and he notched his first 200k!! Go Vesteinn!

I can try to capture the essence of our ride together, as I have attempted here, but nobody will ever know what that ride really was but Vesteinn and me. No one can fully appreciate how the way a Christmas tree cinched down to a luggage rack riding down the road ahead of you and getting smaller and smaller just makes you feel colder down deep somehow. Maybe it's the knowledge that the tree will likely warm up inside a cozy home and be tended to by little hands proffering ornaments several hours before you'll ever near your cozy home. That feeling, that peculiarly winter certainty that you'll never warm up even though you know you will, was and is Vesteinn's and mine for that particular ride forever. It is ours to share as ours alone. That's a pretty good thing right there. It cost some suffering and discomfort, but we grabbed life by its cold, cold horns and went for the ride.

It does give one pause though. As Vesteinn and I parted ways (this was the first brevet or permanent in which I rode, instead of drove, to and from the start!), Vesteinn pedaled up the very steep hill to his house. He had told me he'd be pushing his bike up the hill, so I cheered him in the cold, now lonelier darkness when I saw him go for it after all. As I continued along my little "bunny path" shortcut through Genesee Park in Columbia City, I came across a homeless woman just settling in on her bench for the night with sleeping bag and belongings. I was about a kilometer from my cozy home and its warmth and recovery drink. Suddenly my self-imposed "suffering" came into sharp focus. As we are sometimes wont to do on cold wintry eves (though we're officially still a few weeks from Winter), I slipped. Not on the icy roads, but into that certain philosophical geography where the universe is frigid and vast, our particular place is minute, and we pause to wonder what it means, what I am for...?

Après brevet at the same Starbucks 13 hours after our start. Taken with a fogged up camera phone.

Keep it warm and toasty...for us all,