Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Slow snow

Date: Jan. 15
Mileage: 25.1
January mileage: 355.3
Hours: 3:00
Temperature upon departure: 32
Precipitation: .48"/3.5" snow

Holy cow, I had a tough ride today. It wouldn't appear that way on paper. I rode to the end of the North Douglas Highway and back.

That’s right. A 25-mile road ride with a mere 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The ride I know by heart. The ride I’ve done in as little as 1:20 on several occasions, mostly windless days in July. The ride I could barely recognize today through windblasted daggers of icicle snow as I bumped and bounced over a heavily plowed-in shoulder. The ride that kicked me endlessly sideways with wind gusts that stopped me in my tracks and constant effort that left me wheezing up the smallest of hills. And when I sat down to lunch after three hours of tough riding, I really believed I earned it.

I brought my GPS to play with the new electronic map I just received in the mail. I had a ton of fun watching the contour lines roll beside my virtual dot. I rattled off my stats as Geoff was leaving for work. “Wow, my top speed was 20.6 mph!” I told him. And then, “Wow, my average speed was 8.3 mph.”

Geoff just frowned. “That’s like running speed,” he said.

And just like that, three hours of tough riding were quantified. I felt deflated, and little bit cheated.

There’s a few truths in snowbiking that I think most would find frustrating: The truth that you will never be fairly reimbursed for your efforts, and you will never ride the same "trail" twice. I find that aspect of snowbiking intriguing, but I think that much uncertainty turns some people off. How could I be happy with 8.3 mph? On pavement? (Well, if a deep and slippery slurry strewn with hidden blocks of ice counts as pavement) Especially when I know I got so much more worked over and pedaled so much harder than I ever did during any and every time I averaged 19 mph along the same route? In a society that values speed as an absolute measure of quality, I, the snow biker, have truly failed.

And yet here I am, happy. Go figure.

On a gear-related note: When I posted about my food ideas, I received some good suggestions. So I thought I’d run this plan by the InterWeb and hope for similarly good advice. Basically, it’s a lot of clothing in a big handlebar bag. I ran through my list of potential Ultrasport clothing and packed all but my most basic layer in a random stuff sack. Then I lashed it to the handlebars and rode with it today. I was surprised to discover that all that extra bulk up front didn’t seem to affect the bike’s handling at all. There was plenty of clearance everywhere (brake area is a little tight once the pogies are on, but still perfectly workable.) Plus, that particular stuff sack was packed pretty loosely. I envision even more capacity in a compression sack, and weight doesn’t seem to be an issue (I'm not sure how much this bag weighs. Maybe six pounds?). I’m interested to hear others’ thoughts, whether or not it’s a bad idea to put that much stuff on the handlebars. Most people use front racks. I don’t think I need one, and I’d rather not buy one, but I don’t want a simple handlebar bag to become a fatal decision, either.

If you’re curious, here’s a list of the stuff I had in the handlebar bag: Down coat, heavyweight fleece pullover, base-layer polypro tights, base-layer polypro shirt, lightweight polyester longjohns, heavyweight polyester pants, liner socks, 2 pair Smartwool socks, heavy wool socks, extra liner gloves, lightweight polyester balaclava, heavyweight fleece balaclava, fleece hat, neoprene face mask, earband, underwear, big mittens.

Another interesting tidbit: I don’t use chamois. I basically haven’t for more than two years. I still own a couple pairs of ancient bike shorts that are technically padded, but the weather only allows me to wear those maybe 10 or 15 times a year. The rest of the time, I just wear whatever I want. I like the versatility. And I’ve never had any issues with the nether region. I have been thinking about a chamois for the Ultrasport, if only because the event is so, so long. But I’m almost more inclined to just stick with the stuff I know works for me. A chamois on a well-calloused butt may only cause misery.