Date: Dec. 13
December mileage: 311.4
Temperature upon departure: 38
My goal for this Thursday and Friday is two back-to-back "medium" rides. Because today was supposed to have the marginally "nicer" weather (more rain than sleet, and less wind), I decided to go out for the harder one today. My hope was to log a lot of elevation by riding up to Eaglecrest and back, again and again, for five hours. That probably sounds pretty boring, but believe me, when the weather is like this, boring is almost a good thing.
After my experience with the Eaglecrest climb on Tuesday, I heavily overdressed for the ride. I figured a little sweat was meaningless in the grand scheme of the layer-soaking slush shower I was facing. It actually worked, but I sure was uncomfortable during the first climb, gazing wistfully at the snow-packed slopes and daydreaming about splashing my overheated face with cold powder. But for the ride down, my clothing was nearly perfect - much better than Tuesday. Unfortunately, the road surface was much, much worse. Everything was either former packed snow that had been rain-glazed into a wet slick of glare ice, or it was gravel-sprinkled slush. From any distance, it was hard to tell which was which. But tires do completely different things in slush than they do on ice, so the threat of losing control of my bike loomed constantly. I had to ride my brakes for five miles, until my hands went completely numb, often moving slower than I had been during the climb and clenching my butt cheeks the entire time. When I finally made it to the bottom, for some reason known only to my slave-driving subconscious, I turned around to do it again.
So I actually made the climb three times. It was a good example of just how short the selective short-term memory of a cyclist can be. All the climbs were a lot of fun, but the descents were treacherous and slow. By the third one, my layers were no longer protecting me from the windchill, so I scrapped the all-day Eaglecrest idea and headed north.
North Douglas was nearly deserted as I pedaled hard across the ice, trying to build up the heat I had lost. Sea birds peppered the calm surface of the channel, and I turned off my iPod so I could hear the surf lapping on the shore. In the distance, I could see dark triangle shapes bobbing in and out of the water. At first I thought they were birds, but they were too big, and then I thought dolphins. But as I moved closer I could see sleek brown bodies rolling through the water like waves. Sea lions. And there must have been a dozen, maybe more, swimming no more than 50 yards from the shore.
As I rolled up beside them, one by one they turned their heads toward me, their ghost eyes hovering just above the surface. More triangle-shaped profiles popped out of the water and disappeared just as quickly, and as I coasted along the ice they rolled with me, locking gazes with mine, making water-blowing noises and diving again. Then, suddenly, a small sea lion toward the front of the line knifed half-way out of the water, its sharp nose pointed in the air like a circus seal, and I could actually see its flippers flapping back and forth. I burst out giggling like a little girl. They were playing with me.
"Hey sea lions," I called out. "Catch this!" And with that, I launched into the pedals and rocketed down the ice. I glanced over my shoulder and could still see the group bobbing in and out of the water, still moving forward but completely uninterested in chasing me. I continued pedaling to the end of the road. But when I approached them again on the return ride, the games commenced.
I actually doubled back on the road three or four times, just so I could ride by the sea lions and call out to them and laugh as they turned to me with their hollow, skull-like stares. It was probably completely inappropriate, a harassment of wildlife, but they didn't seem to mind. You know, sea lions actually make pretty good riding partners.