The bitter cold

I haven’t posted in quite a while, mainly because once the weather cooled off after Thanksgiving I lost my interest in cycling to work, and started walking instead.  Last year I felt more intrepid about continuing to ride my bike in cold weather, and this year my body simply said, “No.”  So, I have been enjoying walking to and from work for the past couple months.

Lately, though, it’s been very cold,  I can’t say unseasonably cold, because after all, it *is* winter.  But, for example, today’s temp started out at 0F, with a god-knows wind chill;   just checked and at 1:30 p.m. the temp is +3F, and according to the weather man it “feels like -23F.”  In other words, it sucks.

But I have to say that when I dress appropriately, it ain’t that bad.  I had a three mile walk to work today, and by the time I was approaching my building I was pulling off my hat & balaclava, & immediately ducked into the restroom to take off my merino base layer shirt before I started sweating.  And I didn’t put that merino shirt back on for successive walks around campus.

All in all, the worst part about this bitter cold is what my brain tells me.  This morning I *dreaded* going outside…but once I was dressed and walking, I felt fine.

Winter is very, very mental for me.

Mixed feelings

I’m going on a club ride today. I have mixed feelings because, while I think it should be enjoyable, a nice day, 46 miles at 13-15 mph on flat roads, and lord knows I need to stretch out on a bike & recover from the past week….I just don’t trust that the ride leader is going to hold the group to the posted pace.

I have had some WONDERFUL slow rides in the past several weeks. Rides with small groups or just one other person, going just the right pace for enjoying nature and conversation. Relaxing. Centering. The rides weren’t even all that slow, but we weren’t trying to bust ass or hit a certain mph target.

I don’t want the competitiveness and need-for-speed of others to harsh my cycling mellow.

I understand that others want to do their personal best and ride faster and/or longer. But that is NOT what I think club rides are supposed to be about. Choosing a club rides is a decision to ride WITH OTHER PEOPLE. Other people who RIDE DIFFERENTLY THAN YOU. And you all stick together.

I am probably worrying about nothing. But this is how I feel as I get ready to go join the others for the ride.

UPDATE:  I was more or less right.  The ride started off fun, but the cool kids rode a lot faster than I…and then the headwinds started, and they got stronger.  The ride became a chore.  I had worked hard all week, and I didn’t particularly enjoy working so hard today.

The fun parts included the snack stop at the work place of a cycling club friend.  His wife had food ready, and we got to see his warehouse of ~50 classic Schwinns.  And talking to somebody I know & like but see rarely, and talking to a new person who coached me to catch up with the group on the second half of the ride.


RAGBRAI’s over; now what?

I was so lazy this past week. No need to get up at 5am to break down our tent, put our gear on the truck, go in search of a toilet. No need to hit the road at 6am so we could be finished by early afternoon. I slept in, relatively speaking (feline alarm clock didn’t let us sleep too late), and didn’t do any serious riding. What a lovely week. I had some very luxuriously slow and leisurely rides to work that made me very happy. I didn’t do anything that could be considered “training.”

This morning we met up with a group from our cycling club for a ~45 mile ride that included a lunch stop. First off, it was an exquisite, crystalline August morning. Cool, low humidity, blue skies, green and yellow corn fields. What a gift from the universe. Second, the group was small and amiable. And while the group rode at a faster pace than I would’ve chosen if left to my own devices, I was able to keep up just fine. We had two appreciable hills, and I was slow. But I got up them without walking.

After lunch we split into two groups, and the faster group of four took off. My spouse and the ride leader and I were the laggards, but we still kept up a nice 15-16 mph pace. It felt good to go a little faster, to be challenged a bit.

Fall is coming. Days are getting shorter. It will become harder to do before-work early morning rides and long after-work rides. Now is a good time to savor the time, and excellent weather, for nice long rides with friends.

RAGBRAI days #6-7

Thursday night we got to stay in a church in Oskaloosa, thanks to one of our camping group members. Pro: we were indoors during the overnight rains; spouse and I had our own bathroom. Con: even with my yoga mat and Thermarest, sleeping on the hard floor of the church nursery left me very stiff in the morning. Fortunately the rain stopped by the time we all got on the road, and despite cloudy skies we never got rained on. It was a cool, cloudy ride that I now barely remember! But when we got to Fairfield, IA, the clouds blew off and it got nice & sunny.

Our camping group ended up in a park…next to the train tracks. Fairfield has a no-whistle ordinance for the trains, but apparently the ordinance was lifted for RAGBRAI. And in the afternoon trains went by every twenty minutes, even more often than our first night in Council Bluffs. Therefore, we were happy to accept an invitation from Cathy and Mike, who live about ten miles from Fairfield, to stay overnight at their house. Spouse and I got to sleep in a luxurious bed, on a night when the temps dipped down into the low 50′s. It was the best night of sleep I got on RAGBRAI this year, with bonus coffee in the morning.

Today was day #7, the last day. It was very cool in the morning, unseasonably cool, and I was happy I brought a merino undershirt. Today’s mileage was 63, with some hills, but they turned out to be longer, less-steep hills for the most part, hills that I can ride up at a goodly clip. The last day of RAGBRAI tends to be fast and furious, as everybody is keen to finish up and head home. I was doing 18-20 mph on the flats, and getting passed by more people than I passed. But we had plenty of time to get to our bus for the ride home. Had to stand in line *forever* to dip our tires in the Mississippi River, but eventually our turn came; ironically that was probably the longest line any of us had waited in all week.

Overall, I had a really fun time at RAGBRAI this year. A week or so before we left home I felt really negative, and even told my spouse I didn’t think I’d be interested in doing RAGBRAI again after this year. But now I feel like RAGBRAI is an option on the table for future vacations. Sure, there were moments I was *slogging* up hills at 4 mph. Sure, my butt is kind of sore. Sure, I had to use some smelly portajohns. I got hot, I got cold, I got some scratches from tinkling under a tree. But the fun outweighed the downers. I met some great people, and felt really at home with our adopted cycling club from Ottumwa.

Now it’s time to put RAGBRAI to bed, and put myself to bed while I’m at it. I might as well abide by my 9pm bedtime one more night. Thank you for reading!

Day #5 has come & gone already!

Wow, two years ago my first RAGBRAI lasted a loooooong time, LOL. The first or second day I could barely imagine how the next five or six days would pass. This time the days have flown by!

Today’s ride was hilly again, big surprise. And I found that I was tired. My hands and wrists hurt, my foot was getting fatigued in the clipless pedal, my leg muscles are tender. But again I rode up all the hills as slowly as I needed to. Others in my camping group spoke of being tired today, so I was gratified to know it wasn’t just me. That said, I know I’m in nowhere near the discomfort I was in this time two years ago (thanks in large part, probably, to heavy use of Chamois Butt’r!).

Our first pass-through town was Pella, a very cute little Dutch town. Lots of good food! We fueled up on Dutch traveler’s sandwiches (big slabs of bread, ring bologna, Gouda cheese, & a fried egg) & Dutch letters, almond paste-filled pastries. Passed through a couple other towns. Ride was scenic, but the weather was not as good as yesterday. It turned hot today, and a little humid. We just drank and pedaled, drank and pedaled.

You can see just about any kind of biker on RAGBRAI. Well, demographically, mostly rich white people (and here I’m talking about rich by world standards, not necessarily USA standards). But you see all kinds of bicycles, and all kinds of bike riding styles, from the fastest guys riding the most expensive carbon fiber bikes in pace lines, to an 86-year-old woman riding a comfort bike “just for kicks.” Yep, I’ve seen her every day. So, even though I feel a kind of kinship of cycling with everybody here, I also have to acknowledge that not everybody rides like I do. I don’t have to keep up with anybody, and nobody has to keep up, or down, with me.

I’m grateful that my spouse chooses to keep pace with me. A lot of people come to RAGBRAI with friends, but they split up on the road and meet in towns or at some other point, like Mr. Porkchop or Beekmans ice cream. As for me, I think i would find that most lonely! I love cycling, and I love my solitude, but I’ve never been drawn to solitary road rides. It’s a social event for me. I feel the same way about traveling. Sure, I can do it by myself, and I have done it, but I enjoy it so much more when I’m sharing the experience with somebody.

Never believe anybody when they tell you,

“One more hill, and after that it’s pretty much all downhill to ____________.”

That’s what Iowans say to RAGBRAIers. Iowans who probably haven’t ridden a bike since they were kids. Iowans who drive everywhere & don’t recognize a hill in their car.

Dang! There were more hills today. But you know what? I now look at hills dispassionately. They are there, and I downshift and pedal up them.

Very steep hills will tire me out. They will strain my muscles. But I just do them, usually in granny gear and usually at 4 mph. And usually with one foot free of my clipless pedals, just in case I need to stop.

Long hills that are less steep are pretty much a piece of cake to me. Many people still pass me, but I’m not the slowest one, and I’m not exhausted at the top.

Today was a really nice day. The weather was great! It got really cool last night, and the coolness stayed with us until at least ten o’clock. And even after it warmed up, there was a dry, cooling breeze. I cycled well, although after several hills my butt muscles started to feel really tight, so we stopped for a massage by Julia. Julia & her husband Lynn set up a massage tent on the RAGBRAI route every year. This year they’re sharing farm space with Mr. Porkchop. Anyway, Julia worked on my muscles for twenty minutes, and I was on my way. I didn’t want to get any more relaxed than that when I still had twenty or so miles to go.

We had the BEST piece of blackberry pie at a Church of the Brethren way out in the country, several miles west of Monroe, IA. We later had good pie from the Kiwanis in Monroe. Later still, good pie at the Living Word Church pulled pork dinner–they admitted their pie wasn’t homemade, but from a very good bakery in Pella, which we’ll pass through tomorrow.

I still find it hard to believe how much more fun I’m having on RAGBRAI than I did two years ago. Some of the variables are quite out of my control, especially the weather. But It is gratifying to see my own changes, both in strength/endurance, as well as skill in cycling.

A short day turns long

RAGBRAI Day #3. Short: 50 miles! Cool weather, courtesy of last night’s cold front moving in! Easy, breezy!

The first half of the day did feel easy & breezy & fun. A hill or two, lots of flats, a little sun that became cool & overcast. And several pass-through towns were close together and we took little breaks to eat and use the KYBO. But somewhere along the line I started to feel tired. I think it was yesterday kicking in. My hands hurt, my butt felt tired of the saddle, and I kept thinking about taking a nap. One long stretch of road was hard concrete with a bump every ten feet. Very tiring. Oh, and the head winds!

We had a nice stop in Valley Junction, IA where we ate lunch before our final five mile ride to Des Moines. The plan was to stay with Rory, a Spoke Folk member who offered his yard & house for our use. Rory’s house was a couple miles farther than the end of the day’s route, with a huge honkin’ hill right at the end. Hill? The nerve of someone to buy a house at the top of a hill, and then open his house to cyclists! I had top stop halfway up that %$#@! hill and rest for a moment, but I refused to walk it.

Well, Rory lives in the cutest house you ever saw. It’s spacious & comfortable & seems to have endless hot water for dirty cyclists in need of washing. I took a lovely nap in our tent, which is set up on the front lawn, took a shower, and now Rory is cooking up a ton of burgers & brats for the gang. I believe I saw some potatoes baking in the oven, too. It’s such a reprieve to not have to go into town in search of food, especially after a tiring day.

P.S. I will add pictures to these posts after I get home & can merge content from the iPad, iPhone, and camera.