The Hardest Ride of the YearJan Heine
With the new year, our cycling season has started again. Training now will get us in shape for the wonderful rides we’ve planned for later this year. During my “winter rest,” I have ridden very little for eight weeks. So these first “long, slow” rides always are hard for me.
It helps to ride with friends. Last weekend, we met at 6 a.m. for our first ride of the season. I enjoyed seeing faces I hadn’t seen in a month or two.
It was a gorgeous morning, and by the time we dove into the Skykomish valley, the sky above the Cascades was turning orange. All of us were looking forward to riding up there, high in the mountains, in a few months’ time.
At least for me, there also was some trepidation. Every little hill on this relatively flat ride felt hard, so it was difficult to imagine climbing mountain passes! But that is how it is every year. My body needs to rest over the winter, so it can regain its former fitness. Trying to maintain the same fitness year-round is counterproductive, and you get slower and slower with every year. My goal each year is to reach peak fitness for a few big rides, and that means that I must be out of shape in January.
We were a bit concerned about ice on this chilly morning, so we selected a route with fewer hills. There is no way to avoid descending into the Skykomish valley, so we went slowly. Fortunately, the road was clear of ice on this twisting descent.
In the valley, we hit fog, and it was cold! Fortunately, we were dressed for the occasion, so it wasn’t a problem. This early on a Sunday morning, traffic was light.
As we rode through Snohomish, I noticed that icicles had formed on Mark’s beard.
Mark laughed and pointed out that the front of my wool jersey (one of four layers I was wearing) was covered with hoar frost. As moisture was transferred to the outside, it froze on the surface of the outermost jersey, only to be pushed further by additional moisture coming from the inside. This created little columns of ice. Inside all those layers, I was perfectly warm, so warm in fact, that I had taken off my shell mittens. We joked that the freezing water released heat that helped keep me warm. (The effect is probably too small to make a difference, considering how much air goes by our bodies as we ride.)
The sun came out, and the scenery was beautiful, but I was having a hard time keeping up. Whether I had been more successful in my quest to get out of shape, or whether I just had a bad day, I lost contact with the rear wheels in front. My friends were kind enough to wait for me time and again.
It may be hard to imagine that a flat ride at 15 mph is harder than the Raid Pyrénéen or the Volcano High Pass Super Randonnée, but it’s true. We rest during the winter and suffer during these early-season rides in part because they make the big rides so wonderful. It’s an amazing feeling when your body is in shape, and you can soar up mountain passes like an eagle playing in the thermal updraft, while the valley recedes in the haze below.
On this ride, the lunch stop was welcomed by all. The stops are longer on these early rides, which partially makes up for the time on the bike being harder. I wasn’t surprised when I discovered that my water bottle was almost frozen solid, despite containing apple juice (1/3 with 2/3 water), which has a lower freezing point than pure water.
It was warmer when we left the café. The fog had dissipated, and the icy conditions of the morning seemed like a distant memory. Some of us started taking off layers. As we left the Skykomish valley, I was focusing on trying to keep up with the others, when I heard Ryan at the front saying “Woah! Ice!” But it was too late for Ryan and me, as we both lost grip and fell. The entire road was covered with slick black ice. We were lucky, and no damage was done. We noticed some car tracks that led off the road, indicating we weren’t the first ones to get in trouble here. We walked up the hill (photo above) until we realized that we could ride on the grassy side, where traction was better.
We returned home well before dinner, having ridden a little over 100 miles. It was a great start to the season, and most of all, I look forward to the fact that from now on, the rides will be getting easier.