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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Too dumb to stay home

“This is stupid,” I thought as I squinted through the curtains of snow replacing those my windshield wipers had just chased away. Driving in the snow is one of a long list of things that scare me, and in deference to that I’d packed my plastic baggie wallet with not only cash, my license, and a credit card, but also my medical insurance and road assist cards. If my slow departure hadn’t doomed me to being late, my overly cautious driving surely would. 

I’d woken up on time and stared for a while at the falling snow before texting Mickey to bail on our planned ride, one which wouldn’t thrill me under good circumstances and was a definite no in this weather. “How about the Katy?” he countered. “How soon can you be there?”

In truth, the roads were fine and the temperature, hovering around 32 degrees, was nowhere near the coldest I’ve raced and trained in this year, but somehow that never matters when it’s time to get out of bed. I’d dithered around trying to decide which layers would be best for a long flat ride instead of the protected trails I’d anticipated. Only after leaving the house for the third time did I realize I should have brought a rain jacket, but I wasn’t going back in again. 

A few miles down the interstate a grudging appreciation for the morning beauty kicked in. I’m a sucker for snow-covered trees, and they lined the first part of my drive. Pulling into the parking lot an hour later I had to smile at the cluster of cars. We were idiots, but we weren’t the only ones. 

I pulled on my riding gear — shirt and wind jacket over my base layer, boots, buff, and gloves — and stuffed extra layers in my pack in case I’d guessed wrong. Waving to the mountain bikers just returning to the lot, I headed down the Hamburg trail to meet Mickey, who’d started ahead of me with plans to double back. I hoped his head start had given him enough bonus miles that he’d hit his intended 50 without me having to ride extra. 

Snow still falling
I wouldn’t have driven an hour to ride alone, but I liked starting that way, easing into the cold with a few photo stops. Warm weather earlier in the week meant there was no ice under the fluffy snow, so I'd left my fears with my car and moseyed happily down the trail, waiting for the cold to numb my face enough that the pelting snow flakes would stop stinging. By the time I met up with Mickey near the Hamburg/Katy junction, I was comfortable and happy to be out on my bike.

The swervy tracks aren't mine, but they could be.
We spent a few miles talking about our upcoming adventure race before I began to drop back from our decidedly non-aggressive pace. I'd been excited about the ride; coming off an accidental rest week my legs should have had plenty of zip. Instead, they felt lousy, bad in a different way than normal. 

Sometimes you just need to resign yourself to being uncomfortable and settle in until suddenly you realize you feel fine again. My method of this is generally to pedal at whatever sad pace I want until the better feeling kicks in. I'm not one to push and suffer when I'm already feeling bleak. Is that a good attitude to take competitively? Probably not. Will it change? Also, probably not.

Wishing I'd brought a cycling cap to shield my face since the sunglasses just got covered in droplets.

"So are you just going to ride behind me all day?"


I ticked off the landmarks and mileage on the way to the restaurant. Defiance, 7 miles. Augusta, 13 miles. The stretch of Katy after Augusta is not my favorite, even covered with a light snow blanket, and a paved option was tempting. "If it wasn't so gray out and I had a taillight and wasn't wearing black, I'd vote to ride the road here."

Near Dutzow, Mickey mentioned, "I'd like to get to 30 miles before we stop."

I looked at him suspiciously. "What's your mileage now?" 

It only cost me another four miles, so I didn't put up much resistance. We made the first bike tracks after Dutzow, and we had a scenic bridge as our turnaround spot.


We left our helmets and wet jackets on the restaurant's porch, and I immediately replaced my damp top layers with the extra shirt I'd packed along. In the process, I dragged the sleeve of the shirt I'd just removed through the toilet. The water was clean, but still...ew. Guess I'm not wearing that back.

The only available tables were between the front and back doors, so every time someone came in a cold breeze hit me. I sat shivering until I realized I'd also brought a fleece jacket. Overpacking, like membership, has its privileges. 

The trail was no less soft on our return trip, but initially I was too distracted by how cold I was to obsess over anything else. Soon, however, I'd warmed enough to regret the (blessedly dry) fleece jacket I'd replaced my damp shirts with.  What pairs best with overheating? In this case, renewed struggle on the soft surface. This makes you stronger, I told myself, it’s good for you to have to work hard. Beneath that positive thought, though, was familiar self-doubt: I thought I was in better shape. 

Trailing far enough behind Mickey to avoid his gravel spray, I gasped out, “Road!” as we approached the Augusta Bottoms intersection. He pulled aside to mess with his taillight. Knowing he’d easily catch up, I kept riding. After 30 miles struggling to hit 14 mph, I sped along the pavement at a near-effortless 17. Relief swept over me;  wasn’t slow— the surface was. That’s right, Katy Trail...it’s not me, it’s you. 

The pavement helped the first third of the ride pass quickly, and when we pulled back onto the trail I was at peace with the sloggy pace. This time it was me stopping at the Augusta trailhead, giving Mickey the time to develop more ways to torture me. "Ok...Klondike Park, Matson hill, or the Lost Valley gravel: you have to pick one."

"None!" I scoffed, but he's pretty good at, if not convincing me, suggesting things I know I should do and then waiting for me to take the bait. I did some quick calculations in my head: Klondike would require a slog through soft gravel at the bottom, Lost Valley would require two wet gravel climbs, Matson was a long gravel climb -- that I'd almost certainly walk -- and then lovely pavement. "Fine...Matson."

Mickey peeled off to ride through Klondike as well, and my easy pace left plenty of time to enjoy the view and appreciate just how beautiful this part of the Katy is, sandwiched between towering bluffs and the river. My pace also left him plenty of time to catch me before Matson despite his extra miles, probably in part because he didn't fully trust me to take the detour.

I walked part of the hill, getting off the bike even before I absolutely had to. I can't remember if I've ever made it all the way to the top without walking. I should make that a goal for this year, should stop avoiding things that are hard, should stop hiding from my trainer and binge-watching old episodes of Modern Family...

We rode a few more bonus miles and then splashed our way through the lower part of Hamburg.  The subsequent climb was nothing after Matson Hill. We rolled back into the parking lot with bikes camouflaged in layers of gravel spray and a little over 50 miles for me. All in all, it was a pretty good day, especially considering I almost stayed in bed.

I just got these things cleaned from last year's Land Run! Also, my feet got soaked.
What got me going? It used to be the joy of going out in what many people would consider stupid weather. Today my main motivation was commitment and resignation. I'm not sure if that means I'm growing up or just getting old. Regardless, I'm glad I went.

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