Monday, January 22, 2007

Sprinting to save fingers

Friday and Saturday were “unsettled”, a word used in arid places to describe times when the normally peaceful weather becomes disturbingly rainy or stormy. I rode my mountain bike for nearly four hours Saturday, though it was chilly enough to make my feet icy cold by the time I returned to the POD at sundown.

Sunday dawned clear. I smiled when I saw the stars above and the light of dawn coming through clear air. There was thick frost, but the promise of a nice, fair day. At some point I heard on the radio that there was lots of snow happening in Arizona, and that it was predicted to come down to the 3,500 foot level. But I figured they must be talking about somewhere else. It was shaping up to be a nice day here.

Around 10:00 AM I got dressed to take a long road ride. It was staying cold, and I figured I would ride down to Tucson and see some warm desert. I loaded up my pack with a wind breaker and my rain jacket, just in case. I also threw my winter weight gloves and warm helmet liner in there.

As soon as I left the POD, the cold wind went right through me. A cloud line that had been north of me had slipped down and now was shielding me from the sun. I could see a sunny place down south. I stopped and put on my windbreaker. That just made it tolerable. I pedaled south, hoping for the kind of temperature change that would allow me to start stripping layers as I dropped down lower toward Tucson.

The wind roared in my ears. I gritted my teeth, my mind focused on the warm place to which I was heading. It seems that I was feeling that way as I left Colorado half a month ago.

The Willow Springs Road seemed longer in a head wind. And the road bed was moist, making my skinny tires roll less easily than last time I rode it with this bike. But my resolve kept me rolling. I hit pavement and some of the wind noise in my ears was reduced since I was now in a crossing head wind rather than dead on, but now I had traffic noise. I was OK though, because it would be worth it when I was down lower and warm.

I fought the cold wind down to Catalina. A little lower, but really no warmer. And thicker clouds. Hrmph. I kept grinding along, down the long hill into Oro Valley. Really no warmer, maybe even a little colder, and now I couldn’t even see any sunshine on the horizon in front of me. My plan started to dissolve. I thought maybe I should just return to the POD and read magazines all afternoon. I decided to go to a Conoco station that was reputed to have a free septic dump. My poop tank was going to need dumping soon, and I was only a mile or two away--might as well make this trip worth something.

I got to the station and found that there was indeed a poop dump. Super. I went to the next traffic light, since the road there was 6 lanes wide and jamming. Everybody probably was ready to get home and watch the football playoffs.

As I crossed over to start my return trip, a raindrop hit my face. For the first time I took a serious look at the horizon back towards the POD. Oh my, it was a dark grey up there. Another rain drop hit.

OK, tailwind now--uphill all the way home, but with a tailwind. Perhaps it would be a good idea to jump on it, get home ASAP and have a good workout to boot. Thirty miles home, probably take at least two hours. Maybe two and a half if the weather turns bad.

Still wearing the windbreaker I put on five minutes from the POD, I looked at my sleeves as the rain got a little more significant. They were starting to get spotted. This jacket is worthless in rain. It gets soaked. The rain jacket is utterly impermeable though, it can almost be worse when you’re working hard. You soak from the inside with brine. I figured I’d stick with this as long as I was warm enough and until the rain got serious.

I passed through Catalina and on toward Oracle Junction. Cars headed toward me started to have their headlights on. Uh oh. That’s not a good sign. Dark grey up there. I kept the tempo up on tried not to let things worry me. Nothing to do but keep going, might as well just do that.

At Oracle Junction the road turns to the east and climbs. My tailwind no longer seemed to be there, nor was it really crossing the way it had before. Sleeves of the jacket were pretty wet now, but not soaking. And I was not cold. I was running at about 93% and drinking my HEED.

Seemed like it took way too long to get to the Willow Springs Road, and once I was there the rain was pretty significant. The road looked really greasy. Luckily there’s a sandy covering along the margins over near the ditches. Bare clay in the middles, but I won’t need to be riding there. As I got started I found that those margins were squishy. I was still rolling in the big ring, but the resistance was non-trivial. My sleeves were soaked now, too. And I needed to pee. But I didn’t want to stop. I could not see the rocky rise behind the POD. It’s normally visible from the highway. Just dark grey cloud. Shit.

I should have stopped right then, peed, bundled up, and gotten ready for what was clearly coming. It was too late to miss getting involved in weather, but I just did not think that way. Momentum was on my mind. Go go go.

After about 15 minutes of grinding up the moist road, the rain started to turn solid. Wet sleet bounced off my arms and face. I would have pedaled harder, but I didn’t have anything more than was I was already giving. In another 5 minutes I was riding through big fat flakes of slushy snow. The road was getting softer and softer. I was looking for the Willow Springs Ranch gate, my sign that I was perhaps 20 minutes from the POD. Vehicles with bikes on top went past me with lights on. There had been lots of folks out riding the race course when I left. Now they were heading home. I knew I could flag one down and beg them to take me to the POD if I got desperate, but I was OK. Cold, damn but I was getting cold, but I was still OK.

When I finally got to the gate, it was snowing really hard. I crossed the road and went through the parking area and onto the singletrack. My chain was grinding away, wet and sandy. When I hit the first downhill section of the trail, my brakes barely worked. The rims were covered with sandy, icy slime. My fingers were getting numb. The thin gloves were soaked, as was my dumb windbreaker. My feet were incredibly cold. I looked down and saw dirty snow spats on them.

After a while it was obvious that I needed to stop and put on my rain jacket and dry gloves. I stopped in the shelter of a mesquite, pulled off my pack, and fumbled with the zipper. I yanked out the rain jacket and glove. Then I peeled off the wet gloves and jacket I was wearing and stuffed them into the pack. Shivering, I pulled on the stiff plastic rain jacket and pushed the velcro seam together. Getting my wet, numb hands into the dry gloves was a trial. But I shoved them into the gloves, put my pack back on, picked up my filthy, snowy bike and climbed on. I had to climb right away, and my slick skinny tire slipped on the snow covering wet clay. The clay wasn’t saturated yet, thank god. I was able to keep things going.

My gloves immediately became wet. My whole front was spackled with wet snow. I could not feel my fingers or toes. I had probably a mile, perhaps a little more, to get to the POD. I was really tired. And I was fighting back the panic. Visibility was maybe 50 feet through the thick, wind-blown snow. I was heading straight into the wind once I got off the singletrack and onto the dirt road that leads in to the race venue. Somebody driving an old 4x4 toyota with bikes on the back yelled something to me as he drove by. I waved and made some kind of noise, but I wasn’t stopping for anything. The snow on the road was perhaps 3” deep and slushy. I pedaled as hard as I could without making the tire slip.

When I finally reached the race venue and the POD I was nearly out of my mind. I quickly hung the bike onto the work stand that was in front of the POD, peeled off my wet pack and fumbled for the keys. It probably took me two minutes to get the door unlocked with my club-like hands. Once inside I peeled off the wet, sandy clothes and put on several dry layers. I turned on the heater and cranked up the thermostat. Then I began eating.

The Trucker after I had been home for less than an hour!

I made it. Damn. Southern Arizona?

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