The last time I remember being this miserable on a bike would be a few years back while marooned on the roadside north of the Arctic Circle during a bike tour. Never would I have thought I’d experience the same degree of near hypothermia in the state of Arizona.
Today was to be a four hour endurance ride through the desert landscape. Two days before, the temperature was near 80 degrees. This morning dark clouds hovered over the mountains and the days high was predicted for 60F at best. When my coach Chris dropped by, Peter and I looked him up and down to see how we were dressed in comparison. Its always a gamble to see how little clothing you can get away with. I put on a heavier jacket and naively thought I was set.
Two hours later, when at the furthest point in the ride from the hotel, we realized that none of us were dressed properly for weather that swiftly descended upon us.
With the drop in temperature, light rain turned to painful daggers of water. With it came the heavy gusts of wind straight in our face. It was to be a long ride home.
After an hour my fingers could take no more. The cold metal of the Di2 shifters only made things worse when I tried to slow down for each dreaded red light. I looked back at my husband shivering uncontrollably, his tanned face the color of burnt umber from the biting wind and rain. I looked over at Chris and saw that though he was the best-dressed of the three of us with leg warmers and a thick rain jacket, his advantage was nullified by a lack of hat or booties.
That’s precisely when I decided to exit stage right to the nearest Walgreen’s Drugstore. My reasoning was they at least had garbage bags for sale to put on chest and hands. To my shivering delight they had a small display of ‘winter clothing for sale’. In Tucson this means brown fuzzy gloves and Arizona State toques. I bought enough for all of us and came out with a stash of plastic shopping bags to stuff up our jerseys.
The endurance ride turned into a hammer-fest out of sheer survival. Any attempt to gauge the power output was thrown out the window when my coach was beside me, giving it all he was worth to generate some body heat and get the hell home.
The warmth the hideous brown gloves gave lasted about fifteen minutes. Each digit turned from flesh and blood to ice again. It was too cold to stop and we decided to just put our heads down and keep going. Stoic is the word to describe us, the three ‘Hosers’ from Canada too dumb to (a) stay inside and wait a few hours for the sun to return in Tucson or (b) dress warm enough for a rainy ride in the desert.
And then the rain turned to snow. And ultimately, the skies opened again to the sun. A dusting coated the Catalina Mountain range emphasizing it’s pastel hues. It was difficult to appreciate this beauty while convulsing with shivers. The plastic bags I’d stuffed up my jersey were now covering my hands. I don’t want to know how ridiculous I looked on the ride home.
Nonetheless, we made it back. It was a good two hours of suffering ending the four hour ride. We received some cheers along the way from random Tucsonians waiting at the bus stops.
Back in the hotel room was where the fun really began. It’s next to impossible to get out of tight fitting riding gear when it’s soaking wet, let alone with frozen fingers. I still had some of my training clothes on when in the shower. I sat on the floor of the tub under the hot flow of water crying, wondering how long it would be until the pain in my fingers subsided. Peter had the fingers and the toes to deal with. Over in Chris’s room, he was unable to get his helmet off. Simply couldn’t get the buckle undone because of failing fingers. He had to hook it on the door lock of his hotel room to try and get it unclipped and almost took a shower helmet and all.
Such is a day in the life of a cyclist. The only solace today has is that unlike the last time I remember being this cold, today I came back to a warm hotel room, in the arctic, we had to get water in the tundra, boil it on the cookstove, drink as much warmth as possible to reverse the onset of hypothermia and set up the tent. It was so windy that day I had to sit in the tent with big rocks in each corner while Peter tied the thin nylon shelter down. This bike racing thing is plush compared to bike touring.
Each is an adventure. To share in this kind of suffering lends a story we each can tell. Never a dull moment in the life of a cyclist.