Last winter during the cold dark depths of January I was itching for a long ride outdoors. On that particular Saturday morning, I woke up feeling more introverted than usual and also a tad pessimistic about the weather and my ability to successfully power a bicycle. I said to heck with it, I was going to go ride my bike anyway, cold weather and crankiness be damned. When I get in that sort of mood it’s usually better for everyone involved if I keep to myself!
As I mentioned before, I wasn’t REALLY in the mood for biking, but those are the days that I tend to need my bike the most. I convinced myself that I had to get dressed, get on the bike, and roll out the door. I gave myself permission to turn around wherever I wanted; however, if I made it through the whole route I would be rewarded with a pit stop at my favorite donut shop!
I got rolling. I rolled down the street, the first few miles of the route on pavement, questioning my decision to ride. I wanted my warm comfy bed back, my hot coffee, maybe another bowl of oatmeal or some scrambled eggs. I fought the voices in my head and kept rolling. After a while, I got settled into a rhythm. I hit that meditative state that is often brought on by an hour or so of steady, methodical pedaling. I tend to be an anxious type, overthinking everything. It’s only on a bike that I can reach that blissed out feeling of an empty and clear mind. I prefer rides like this one – no time goals, pedaling in my happy zone where I can breathe fairly easily. You’ll often hear me singing or humming when the ride gets good!
Just like that, I was snapped out of the zone by an aggressive dog chasing after my rear wheel. He bolted out of a nearby ditch, silent, determined to get me away from his land. I jammed on the pedals to gap him, and luckily he gave up quickly. (Lest you fear gravel because of scary “attack dogs”, you should know that I have met and stopped to pet dozens of friendly farm dogs on rides, just begging for a head scratch. 98% of the time if you’re friendly to the dog and announce yourself, they will respond like the loving animals they typically are.)
Back to my rhythm, back to the occasional beep of the Garmin telling me when to turn. The route was new to me and I was far from home now, so I blindly trusted that little gadget to direct my path. I stopped for a “nature break” in the middle of nowhere and to eat a banana while contemplating the world, and as I looked around I thought I saw a figure off in the distance. No way, there is definitely no one else out here. Huh, still there. Ok, maybe a walker or runner. Maybe. Walking or running when it’s cold out is viewed as a somewhat sane activity. Then, I noticed the figure was gaining on me quite fast, faster than a runner could. HOLY HECK!! ANOTHER BIKER!!
I decided to fight my introversion and wait for the biker to approach. As he got near, I hopped back on my bike and rolled slow until he caught me, then picked up my pace to stay with him. We made a quick introduction, and I asked if he minded if I hung with him for a while provided that my little gadget directed me on his path. He was happy to have company. (The same etiquette applies in the middle of nowhere as on your road rides – if you come across another cyclist and want to ride with them, ask before latching on to their wheel or ruining their peace and quiet!)
Our routes coincided for only a few miles, but it was enough to give me a critical boost of energy and get my legs churning a little faster again. The cold had been taking its toll on my energy and drive. Luckily by this point I was near my pit stop, my oasis in the middle of barren farm fields. I arrived at the donut shop and promptly ordered two donuts and two coffees and bolted all of it down quickly.
I jumped back on the bike and was utterly unprepared for how chilled I had gotten during my brief stop. I began to shiver and shake, my teeth chattering noisily. I pulled over at a gas station on the edge of town, rummaging through the shelves and sighing with relief when I found packets of hand warmers. I purchased them and started trying to shove them into my gloves, but my hands were so non-functional at this point that I couldn’t do it. I shrugged my shoulders, feeling defeated and likely casting a pitiful look at the gas station attendant. She smiled and said that she had chronic issues keeping her hands warm so she understood my pain, and could she help me get the warmers in my gloves? I was embarrassed at my predicament but very thankful for her kindness.
Just as I was hitting my stride again, I crested a small hill only to look down and see beautiful but terrifying sheets of glare ice covering much of the gravel. The sun had sufficiently thawed large sections of the road, only for it to refreeze again in pristine sheets.
I picked up the effort level in an attempt to generate more body heat. As I got rolling my body temperature regulated and I felt much better. Just as I was hitting my stride again, I crested a small hill only to look down and see beautiful but terrifying sheets of glare ice covering much of the gravel. The sun had sufficiently thawed large sections of the road, only for it to refreeze again in pristine sheets. I would hold my breath and roll through the icy sections, trying not to flinch or pedal or make any sudden movements. I had been taught that if you’re caught riding on ice AND you’re able to hold a steady line, it’s not likely you’ll crash. I got lucky that day — usually I’m a clutz on ice and end up on my butt at least once!
On the final leg of the route I was rewarded with solid, grippy, snow covered gravel again. I picked up speed as I hit the final pavement portion, happy with my epic accomplishment for the day. This was my longest (almost) solo ride to date, and in the cold AND on gravel!