Thursday, March 20, 2008

First day of spring

Date: March 20
Mileage: 100.1
March mileage: 322.6
Temperature: 40

At 9:48 last night, just as I was rolling out the last newspaper pages and preparing the leave work for the weekend, the vernal equinox happened. And just like that, the days became longer than the nights, winter was no more, and the calendar heralded its triumphant successor: The first day of spring.

I lazed about most of the morning, unwilling to commit to any activity, watching raindrops hit the window. But then, just after 1 p.m., the rain stopped. I could see hints of sunlight over Mount Roberts. I thought I should go for a little bike ride. A trip to Thane sounded nice - 19 miles round trip, rolling hills, wind protected. I packed a raincoat, my camera, a $10 bill and a half-empty bottle of four-day-old water. I was good to go.

But as I crossed the bridge, warm sunlight broke through the clouds for the first time in what seems like weeks. I looked out over the channel, so calm I could see all the way to the sea floor. I thought, "I should stay out a little longer than Thane." I turned my bike north for a nice trip to the Mendenhall Valley.

But when I reached the valley, a cool wind began to brush against my face. "That will be a tailwind going home," I thought. "I should stay out a bit longer." And I kept going.

Then at Eagle Beach, it occurred to me that I was beginning to feel hungry. I didn't have any food with me, because I was supposed to be out for a 19-mile ride. I dug around in my frame bag just to make sure. Nothing. The cool wind kicked up sweet, salty scents from the sea. "I'll be OK," I thought. And I kept going.

I rode to the end of the road, skimming my skinny tires tentatively around sheets of black ice. And when there was nowhere left to go, I turned around.

The bonk hit me hard at mile 55. I was 20 miles from the nearest convenience store. I started to feel a strange, involuntary calm, as though I had just taken a strong sedative. I could feel my sluggish legs spinning, probably slower and slower, but my mind rapidly disconnected. I began to think only of two Snickers Bars I had procured in Nikolai during the Iditarod Trail Invitational. At 20 below, one would think a Snickers Bar would freeze into an inedible brick, but just the opposite happens. The candy becomes as breakable as rotten glass. The candy would practically explode with every bite; my handlebar pogies were littered with the shrapnel of nougat and nuts. What I did manage to get in my mouth I would greedily swallow before the thaw, choking as frozen shards of candy scraped down my throat. So today, for 20 miles, I thought only of deep-frozen Snickers Bars and all of their shattery goodness.

Snickers: The bonk food of champions. That, and a Quaker chewy peanut butter and chocolate chip granola bar. Total cost of fuel: $1.41.

Finally fueled with decidedly not-shattery candy, I began to regain my senses. I was still about 20 miles from home, without bike lights, when the sun began to sink low on the horizon. It occurred to me that the camera display I had been using to keep track of time had never been reset for Daylight Savings Time. It was actually an hour later than I thought it was. I began to sprint. The effort felt amazingly good.

I managed to make it home just after dark without being killed by a car. And no, I totally didn't ride loops around my neighborhood in the dark for a half hour just to run up the odometer. OK, I did do that. First century of spring!

By far the best ride of the season. Yeah spring!