120 wet kilometers

I wish I had a camera when I rolled back into town last night after 120 kilometers of riding in the rain. I was caked in sand and mud from the bottom of my rib cage to the ground. There were little stream-like channels cutting through the dust layer where the water running down my body had preferentially eroded the layer of sediment. It was worthy of Paris-Roubaix.

I was attending a research conference/retreat 60 kms north of Edmonton and opted to send along some dry clothes with a friend and ride out there on my bike. I guess I was just giving myself an opportunity to test out the rain gear. On the ride out I got wet from above but then proceeded to ride the next 50 kms without a ton of furthur precipitation on roads that weren’t terribly mucky. The result was a relatively wet-but-clean individual arriving 10 minutes late for breakfast due to the wind.

The same can not be said for the return trip. I changed out of my comfortable dry clothes and pulled on wet bike shorts and knee warmers, put on shoes that were still slightly damp, put a damp beanie on my head and sinched up all of the drawstrings on a wet rain-jacket. I rolled out onto the road and was greeted by some of the hardest rain I’ve ever ridden in and a headwind to work against all the way back into town. I got pretty cold right off the bat and decided that I would warm up if I worked harder. Working harder when there’s a headwind is tricky, I’m still learning to gauge it. Within 10 minutes I had gauged incorrectly, I wasn’t going to make it home at that pace. The sand began to cake on my legs and the water streams made their way into my booties and my feet were then fully soaked. I reverted to old habits of spending alot of mental energy on calculating all sorts of stuff. I calculated garbage statistics on the ride almost continuously for the first 45 minutes as I worked my way through “percentages complete” and “average speeds” and “arrival times” until I turned south following a little west-directed jaunt and was blasted again by the headwind. I considered trying to recruit one of the many pick-up trucks to give me a lift back to the city-limits. I considered taking a break from the rain in some unattended machine shed. After a really rather brutal 15 minutes crawling along at less than 25 kph into the wind I stopped at the side of the road to help water the grass even though the rain was doing a sufficent job of soaking everything anyhow. I decided to take a drink from my water bottle even though I wasn’t thirsty knowing that I had been working pretty hard and was still going to get dehydrated in that weather. I got a mouth-full of grit even after doing my best to wipe off the sand. Rather frustrated by my inability to spit out a spoonful of sand from my mouth I decided to just get going again I pushed off and started pedalling. I soon realized that some bits and pieces of sand had, in the process of stopping and restarting, worked their way under the leg grippers of my bike shorts and were going to chafe and rub for the next 32 kilometers on the way home.

I opted to try and quit calculating at this point because I know it’s a bad habit. I crouched over and put my chin on my handlebars as I tried to gain every ounce of speed that I could rolling down a big hill and barely managed to get up to 40 kph with the headwind, argh! (it’s at least a 60 kph coasting hill with no wind) While I had already rhetorically asked myself plenty of times why in the world I was doing this, it was at about this point (now at the bottom of a hill of course!) that I decided I was going to try and answer the question.

I realized I could sit on the gritty bike seat and answer the question philosophically, or I could try and do it honestly. I figured the honest route was probably harder and since I still had about 70 minutes of riding left I’d tackle that one first (I never can quit calculating that stuff). Besides, the philosophical route is the easy one, I just figured I was out there because it was good practice for the summer. I’d need to ride some wet days and giving the rain-gear at least one full fledged trial run was a good idea.

Honestly though, I had stuff to prove. I had offers to get a ride back into town with people at the retreat that I refused. I wanted to maintain a certain image: the guy who is crazy enough to wake up an extra hour and a half early just so he can bike to the retreat, and will even do it in the rain. The image that I experienced no discomfort from the weather (as the sand worked it’s way further up my thighs), that I was so well-adjusted that I appreciated the beauty of a rainstorm even when taking it head-on. (I had suggested to some people that watching the sun come up through the rain was great that morning – which it was). I wanted all of the people in cars driving past me to have respect for the determination for the cyclist at the side of the road. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to build fitness. I wanted to be able to tell the story of the time I rode 120 kms in pouring rain and cold and mud even though I didn’t have to.

So, the honest version isn’t particularily glamourous, it’s more than a bit selfish and to be honest it takes a bit of courage to write it here for the whole world to read. Luckily I suppose, I wasn’t nearly home yet. I was at 206th avenue and needed to ride to 79th. Another opportunity presented itself, calculate my pace-per-block on the way back in and then reverse calculate the average block length. I resisted the temptation (completely this time) and figured I had better listen to what the Big Guy was suggesting. I had a lot of terrible reasons to be out on the road in the rain.

I was going back to a house that would allow me to hose off the mud in the back yard. I had a change of clothes inside that were dry. There was a shower that was going to be warm. I could probably manage to get my hands on a big fat pot of tea within the hour. I wasn’t going to have to go back outside that day unless I wanted to. I’d be able to get the grit out of my teeth with water that was certain to have no grit in it. I had everything working to my advantage and it was pretty obvious once I figured that out.

My discomfort was pretty insignificant once I considered it. Sure, I was the wettest person within Edmonton’s city limits (even people in the shower weren’t wetter than me) but I had a massive list of reasons why I’d be warm and dry within the hour. The list of people who couldn’t get warm and dry that evening kinda sickened me.

I suppose that’s where I’m going to quit the story though, my conclusions aren’t completely formed yet anyhow. So much for thinking the philosophical answer was “testing out the rain gear”.

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