Monday, January 10, 2011

White Knuckles and Hot Soup

After a brutish ride last weekend (click here to see the details), I am reminded of the difficulties when riding in a peloton of more than 100 people in conditions such as they were.  Many of us have read the "How To" guides, the tips and tricks of a pace-line, the group etiquette, and all the articles that surround group riding.  But when it comes to extreme elements (or extreme reactions to those elements), we all tend to lose our focus.  Last Saturday was a wonderfully grim example. 
Rag dolls strewn around the table, slowly warming ourselves with spicy tortilla soup, we ached and stretched our shoulders & necks.  This ride had been a test of will and of character. Nothing out there was impossible... but it had certainly seemed so at the time.

I looked around at my friends at the table.  Vacant stares and hollowed eyes, as though veterans of some great battle, they were defeated.

We sat quietly while the soup worked its magic.

The winds had blustered and blown, with gusts upwards of 30mph.  Temperatures had barely broken freezing (thankfully, there was no precipitation).  Still, crosswinds and headwinds (ne'er a tailwind!) battered us all day.  And yet, the leaders - the men up front - drove on and on with frightening speed.  Despite those great invisible gale forces constantly bearing down on us, we rode 82 miles at an incredible 20mph average!

This is the kind of ride one simply survives.

In these conditions, I had to keep reminding myself of some of "the rules" of riding.   For instance:
1.)  When the wind comes from the front left, go to the yellow line.  This enables the people behind you to form an echelon (diagonal draft).  In the same case, if you're drafting and find yourself on the white line, directly behind someone else... again, move into the wind.  Rotate, take turns, pull and share the workload.  Form multiple echelons so that everyone can draft, and gaps don't open up.  Be considerate, and work together - it's the only way to ensure your own safety and continued participation.

2.)  Cold weather and high winds tend to make people tense up.  The stiffer your arms and neck, the more likely that you will overreact - or be unable to react - when the situation suddenly changes (like a gust, a hole in the road, or a crash).  Besides, after 4 hours of a hunched shoulders and locked elbows, and you'll be so sore you won't want to ride the bike ever again!

During that hellish ride, my hands cramped. I was gripping the bars so tightly that they hurt - a white knuckled reaction to gusting wind and chaotic riders.  "Stop it," I kept telling myself over and over, shaking out my hands.  "Don't squeeze the bars - hold the bars!"

3.)  Eat.  Eat and Drink.  Keep fueling and refueling despite it all.  You sweat and you burn calories in cold weather just the same, so be certain to get it back in.

Thankfully, I did remember this important rule, and even though it was difficult to let go the handlebars while rolling, I managed to squeeze in a few gels and bars.  On a ride like this, the best time to eat is at stop signs or traffic lights.  Many experienced riders bonked that day.  They hit the wall because they simply didn't remember to eat!

That night, I was exhausted... and thankful for my warm bed.

-Peter Kay

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