With so much travel from M-Th, I don't get to make many of the night rides so I always try to make them when possible. This week's ride was scheduled for South Boulder, a great network of trails that I always like riding. Quick check of the weather.....Hmmmm.
20 degree temps. Cold but I've got good riding gear for cold.
25 mph winds. Uh oh. The area of the trails is notoriously windy, so much so that the national center for wind research is at the southern edge of the trail system.
Combined with the wind, NOAA says single digit wind chill values.
Send email to The Punisher explaining how my ovaries tend to ache in the wind showing link to National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration weather report (NOAA.com who happens to also be located in Boulder on the northern edge of the trail system). NOAA isn't usually wrong, especially within 24 hours.
The Punisher rebuts with "No wind in Boulder right now, see you there"
So I load up and head to South Boulder to meet up with the crew. 6pm comes and the crew of 6 rolls out on the bike paths for a mile or two to get to the trailhead. I had ridden with 2 of the 6 before, The Punisher whose exploits are well documented and the other guy (on a Singlespeed which is the first warning sign) who I know is Breck100 finisher. Two others are big time cyclocross racers, who are just slightly removed from cross season which means they are rested and carrying some fitness.
The first uphill of the night was on the paved portion to the trailhead, and I was careful not to chase the group too hard. I rode my pace which was just slightly off the back. I was on my 5.5 inch travel Turner with big 2.4 tires from and rear, coil shock and platform pedals (probably 31 pounds at least, maybe 32).
We hit the trail and things were much better. A ribbon of 4 inches of fresh, powder dry snow that was untouched was in front of us. We zipped east on the trail starting out on what is affectionately referred to as the "Dirty Bismark" (dirt version of the Morgul-Bismark road race). The snow was perfect and my Turner with the big, meaty tires was railing the corners and clawing up the climbs.
The group of six took turns off the front to give each of us our own turn at freshies (for you Okies - being the first to put tracks down on a snowy trail). The temps were great, the trail fun and the wind just as The Punisher had promised was negligible. We made good time, and before long we were getting to the short section of pavement we had to hit to connect the trails (new connector coming this Spring to avoid all pavement).
As we headed south, so did the weather. Without warning, as we crested the climb and started downhill on McCaslin Blvd the weather unleashed. Looking ahead at the roundabout intersection, we could see tumbleweed, plastic sacks and snow blowing sideways across the street in the glow of the street lights. We were now at the furthest point from our cars and we were in the middle of it now. We had a decision to make, with neither of our choices being favorable. We could either turn around, climb back up the hill we just descended and trace our way back to the car or keep going in out clockwise fashion and ride directly into the wind which was now blowing at 25 - 30 mph constant speeds with gusts that had to be approaching 50 at times. We chose to keep going forward rather than back track, which I still don't know if it was the right choice or not. I think both choices would have sucked equally.
As we turned back west, the snow was blowing so hard that without clear glasses on (which I had) you would not have been able to look up at all. Out of necessity, we formed a pace line to try and conserve energy. We were 10 miles from the car, climbing a steady grade of 6% straight into the teeth of the 30mph winds. Unfortunately for me, the other 5 were stronger riders, weighed less and were all smaller bodies that were much more effective at getting aero than I was. I didn't take long before I got popped off the back.
I'm off the back, solo and wondering "How did I get myself into this spot?" I just kept trying to focus on keeping moving forward, although it was very hard to not get demoralized when you are in a 22x32 gear spinning as hard as you can in your easiest gear and at times feel like you are literally going backwards. Every couple of minutes, I'd look up ahead to make sure I could still see the remnants of the group. Trying to speak was useless, the wind was whipping so loudly even if someone was 3 feet from you and you were screaming directly at them you could hardly hear them. If I had a mechanical problem, there would be no yelling at the group to wait up, I was on my own (at least till they noticed that I was stopped).
We kept trudging along, sections that normally go quickly were seemingly endless. We turned from straight west to a southwestern direction, but things only got more interesting with the crosswinds. Numerous times I was blown completely off the trail, having to grab both brakes to keep from hitting the dirt. Twice I got absolutely blasted by huge tumbleweeds that just exploded when they hit me.
Slowly but surely we knocked mile markers off and we were nearing the intersection of the two major highways (128 & 93). I could see the traffic light at the intersection in the distance and just kept that as my goal. It would still be another 4 or 5 miles to the parking lot from that point, but we would finally get the wind at our backs for a bit.
When we turned back north, we stopped to regroup a bit. One guy picked up his bike and the wind literally blew it at a 45 degree angle away from him. We all just laughed and started our push up the final climb. The winds were now swirling a bit, and as we started the climb the gusts were at our backs. We were now ascending a steady climb with minimal effort at a quick pace, at least until the winds decided to switch direction again. This quick change in direction pushed people off the doubletrack trail and another rider directly into me (he had been 3 or 4 feet to my left), causing us both to stick a foot down to avoid another pile up.
photo by Sue Prieto
We eventually did find our way back to our cars, 20 miles and 3.5 hours after we started. What should have been a relatively easy ride, and that had started as a glorious snow ride had turned into an epic death march that left me totally destroyed with absolutely nothing left in the tank.
A quick look at the AVERAGE wind speed (not gusts, but average) shows you how it was out there. When the average gets over 30, you know its a rough time.
I've done some big rides and I've been very deep in the pain cave many times. Last summer, I did 70 miles and 7k feet of climbing in the 90+ degree heat in Laramie with no conditioning and fighting cramps. I suffered immensely on the Tulsa Tough 100 (which we turned into 112 miles accidentally) with Jason Brandt a few years back. I have slogged myself up and over Kenosha and Georgia passes (at 12,000 feet), but the difference between these sufferfest rides and the night ride was the unintended epicness of the night ride. This is not an epic ride, its a 20 mile loop with only around 1500 feet of elevation gain. However, on this night the ride was epic. What normally could be done in 1.5 hours was a 3.5 slog for us on this night. There were several times when I seriously considered calling Jill or Sarah to come pick me up.
When I got back to the house, I was so utterly spent that I literally sat down in the shower while I tried to get my core warmed back up. I had spent so much time over my threshold level that the thought of food was making me nauseous despite having not had any solid food since 11am that day.
I crawled into bed, utterly spent, still chilly and just happy to still have 10 fingers, 10 toes and to have not had to call search and rescue to come pick me up. When you live to talk about it, then you can look back and laugh...