Between hubris, erroneous faith in my equipment, Mother Nature’s snow / melt / freeze cycle and the City of Calgary’s insistence that the pathways be against a slope, I received a lesson in humility – again – this morning. Just south of 16th ave, the pathway detours to the west for a quick jog around a blind corner – on a hill. The bottom of this wee slope has become a pool of choppy, frozen ice (and water depending on the day), and the melting snow that feeds it created a beautifully polished sheet that coated the hill this morning. My much-vaunted Nokian IceSpeed studded tires were no match for Mother Nature’s exceptional ice-making skills and I kissed the pavement before I could get the front tire clear of the ice.
It starts out innocently enough, a favour for others, a gesture of appreciation if you will. Today being Thursday it is of course Doughnut Day. Day of Sugary Carbohydrate Invasion. The Thin End of the Sugary Wedge.
Most days I shuffle these evil things off my desk and out of my office but today I was invincible – no need to move anything. I subsequently paid the price for my arrogance.
It started with a Tim Bit – a doughnut hole marketing scheme and as it turns out, an even thinner wedge end. It is food from the devil. Evil. The bite-sized bit lures you into thinking you can have just one but it is truly the gateway drug. By the time the dust had settled, there was spittle and drool splattered about the place, my desk littered in doughnut-remnants, evidence of the carnage that had just ensued. The look on my co-workers faces was a mixture of horror and disgust with a trace of admiration. I won’t add to you, my dear reader’s discomfort by putting an exact number on the victims, it is enough to know it was sufficient to feed a house of aspiring runway models for a week.
Having not ridden for a week I was already enjoying an overwhelming sense of self-loathing before my hubris had been thoroughly vanquished by the devil’s food. Full of easily-accessible sugary fuel and disdain for my activity level, I took advantage of today’s Chinook – the wind, not my bike – to get out for a ride before the sun went down. I headed north along the canal path, a section I don’t often get to ride. It’s been under construction most of the summer and eventually fell off my ride list which is funny because I don’t have a ride list. From 32nd I headed for Nose Creek Park and its short, steep hills to try to erase some of the day’s earlier carnage that was settling into my waist.
I made it to McKnight before the universe reminded me I know naught about riding in general and less about riding in faux winter. As I came out from under McKnight, in a gentle right-hand corner, I realized the shadow across the path was in fact a thin layer of wet mud. Immediately after that realization I learned that it was in fact a thin layer of very slick mud. The front end washed out and two things went through my head in quick succession: WWTS and; oh man – these stretchy pants are almost new! Luckily for me, the slick mud gave way to a skiff of gravel providing a relatively low-friction surface on which to smash my hip without the added insult of melting the lycra to my thigh.
Remarkably there was no damage to the stretchy pants and no damage to the bike save for more character on the previously-characterized bar end. My pride was bruised but otherwise I seemed to have escaped unscathed. My right hand hurt a bit as one might expect when it’s called into duty to save the elbow. I straightened my bars and brushed some of the dirt off before I hopped back on to continue my ride. Get-off or not I was going on a ride.
As I rode out to Nose Creek Park, I couldn’t help noticing that my wrist was in fact much more tender than having just suffered a slap-fest with the pavement. Putting any weight on it was excruciating but I could pull, break and shift without any drama. I pushed on determined to get a few kilometres in before the sun disappeared and made things more treacherous than I’d just discovered they were. I didn’t get far before my wrist, the rapidly setting sun and an unexpected head-rush that affected my hearing <?!> made the decision to turn around a prudent one.
I cycled home nursing an increasingly tender wrist, wary of anything that looked like it might be shadow, mud, water, gravel…I’d lost some confidence in the stiction of my front tire. As a made my back along the path I’d just travelled, my hearing returned to normal but my wrist did not. I stopped to take a picture of the offending mud before I made the climb back up to Centre. I passed another cyclist headed for the mud and tried to warn him as he went by “it’s slippery under McKnight!” though it probably sounded more like nonsensical gibberish. I imagine him skipping across the same gravel thinking to himself “oh…that’s what that guy was yelling about”.
Upon arriving home nurse Tracey tended to my wrist with a combination of homeopathic treatments. I’m starting to think it may be in worse shape than first thought as it’s rather swollen and stiff. We’ll see how bad it feels in the morning and if it’s worse I’ll get it looked at after the Remembrance Day service. In the meantime I’m extremely pleased with the performance of my MEC Roubaix stretchy pants – no holes, no damage of any kind.
I also have a new appreciation for roadies who turn and flee at the slightest indication of imperfect road conditions. It’s time to – at the very least – put on the knobbies. Studded tires – you’re in my future.
*What Will Thomas Say?
During this week of miserably cold mornings and progressively warmer afternoons, I had a chance to ride in a multitude of differing weather conditions from genuinely freezing to unseasonably hot. Such is the weather in Calgary that this can occur within the same day. As such, I’ve had opportunity to compare and contrast my different riding gear outfits. I say outfits like I have a plethora of selection and choice when only recently I pointed out that I’ve acquired the bare minimum to go cycling every day.
I now have 2 sport shirts ostensibly made with some super technology that allow me to sweat comfortably, never be damp and never smell. I have no problem sweating in these shirts though I’ve never had a problem sweating in any other shirt so I’m not sure what the benefit was supposed to be. The instant I stop moving, two things happen: the evaporative action of the breeze is gone so instead of being mildly sweaty, I look like I’ve just walked out of the shower; this is quickly followed by a general cooling from no longer trying to propel my fat self through the air, which is greatly aided by the yards of now-wet fabric, wicking away all the heat in my body. Which is a long way of saying they lied – my shirt is damp. My co-workers have assured me they lied about not smelling as well. Still, I have 2 shirts which is more than I had 6 months ago.
For Christmas last year, my mother-in-law gave me a fantastic MEC long-sleeve zippered T, designed to be a base layer. Unfortunately the slim fit design rendered it virtually impossible for any use in public where I might retain some sense of dignity. It’s like she knew what was coming though as today it fits perfectly, even a little loose. I’ve worn it as a base layer and also as a mid layer over the not-very-smart fabric t-shirt and my purple MEC shell. It is fantastic.
I’ve spent the entire summer riding in my Levi cargo shorts, at first in normal underwear (and once commando which I strongly, strongly advise against) before graduating to cycling-specific, chamois-equipped underwear. Also from MEC. These lend themselves to riding in almost any sort of below-the-waist garment though I’ve not yet tried them with a kilt. Perhaps next year.
Best Wife rewarded my moaning about frozen knees with a pair of stretchy pants, properly called cycling tights but I just can’t bring myself to say to anyone ”no, it’s not cold when I wear my tights” so stretchy pants they are. They are fuzzy-lined (technical term), wind-proof from the front, breathable in the back and slippery. These are also from MEC. As is my bike (though I bought it at a pawn shop). I’m starting to feel like a MEC shill.
In the course of the past week, I’ve used all of the above in addition to my Running Room (hey – they’re not MEC!) 2-layer winter running socks and generic pseudo-leather winter gloves. Friday was the culmination of all of this – a cool morning departure with all 3 top layers, the chamois-shorts and stretchy pants and leather gloves and the omnipresent headwind. In all fairness, I’m not certain there’s been a headwind every ride or even every morning however the density of the cold air makes it feel that way (rough calculation of the difference for power at the same speed between the hot and cold days is 6-7%, equivalent to a 2% grade). Friday’s forecast called for +26°C and I couldn’t help checking the 3 flags at the end of the hall at every opportunity. The limp and lifeless flags promised a windless afternoon. I was looking forward to a smoking ride home.
I’d brought my cargos to replace the tights as Thursday’s adventure showed even 18°C to be too hot for them – 26°C would surely fry me. Despite an overwhelming desire to bail out early on such a nice Friday afternoon I was still at the office after 5 when I heard the outside buzzer ring. I ignored it at first but after several minutes finally relented thinking perhaps one of the guys had locked himself out. Such was not the case and I immediately regretted opening the door. The courier was apologetic about being late but was finally here to pick up a large shipment – long after our shipping department and staff had called it a day. We messed around to sort things out and finally got the truck loaded and on it’s way. I grabbed my gear to get changed for the ride home when what to my wandering eye did appear? Angry, angry, billowing flags. I’d been rewarded with a headwind for my troubles.
I slipped into my not-very-smart fabric shirt and chamois shorts and pulled the cargos over top, pushing the rest of the riding gear, lunch kit and dirty laundry into a now very-stuffed pack. I was no longer excited about the ride home and after wheeling around the corner and getting the headwind full-on, I momentarily debated the call of shame, such was the level of my disappointment. My energy level was coincident with my disappointment.
I slogged on thinking about how miserable it all was, how I’d been cheated out of a brilliant ride home and how I was sick to death of fighting the wind every ride. Reality eventually prevailed and I thought about how lucky I was to be able to ride to work every day, to be able to ride at all, to have a great wife who supports my weekend disappearances with the bike, and kids who have expressed an desire to join me. Really, I have nothing to complain about.
Once I’d sorted myself out, I had time to take in the ride and the very first thing I noticed? My cargo shorts. While they have indeed been a decent entry point for cycling, I believe I will, as I suggested Thursday, join the ranks of the lycra-shorted cyclists come summer. The riding experience of the chamois shorts & stretchy pants combo is splediferous, in such subtle-yet-significant ways. The back-to-back comparison Friday – as I’d not ridden with both stretchy pants and cargos the same day – showed there just might be something to all that cycling lycra besides sheep-like behaviour afterall.
I spent the remainder of the ride finding solace in the suffering but my knees are starting to disagree with me. They’ve been aching more than normal lately and I’m not sure if it’s age, recent temperatures, bike setup or a combination of the above. I do know it concerns me.