Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cyclist vs. Cold Front

As every cyclist knows, every ride is an adventure. However some stand out among others. Yesterday was one of those days.

2PM. Leave my house for a 3 hour training ride under beautiful skies. I plan for an easy effort as my training hours have been greatly hampered this spring by family obligations and a lot of traveling. Coming up a hill on Mt. Olive Church road, I see a middle aged man walking toward me with his Golden Retriever. He puts his thumb out like a hitchhiker, “Can I get a ride?” I laugh with him and say, “I got plenty of room on my handlebar. Hop on!” Nice, it’s gonna be a good day on the bike. Sigh.

1 Km later, I hear a big vehicle pull up behind me. “Get your ass out of the way!” I hear someone scream. I round a bend as the vehicle, a school bus, comes around me. There is a scrawny junior high school kid hanging half his torso out the window yelling obscenities at me. This kid doesn’t even have a license yet and, presumably, doesn’t know the traffic laws, yet he’s pissed that I’m on the road. Must’ve learned it from his parents. Lovely.

Continuing on, after about an hour of riding I come to a stop light. I can’t help but notice the sky has darkened rather quickly in the direction I’m headed. I contemplate turning around and heading home but decide against it. The storm looks to be coming from the west so if I can get to the top of Spencer Mountain before the rain starts, it’ll just be a foot race between me and the clouds to get home. So, at this point, I’m looking at a 2 hour time trial, essentially. Great, let’s get started.

The light turns green and I turn the pedals once before my left calf cramps up. I bring the bike to a stop and massage the Charlie Horse. That’s weird, I think to myself. I don’t normally get muscle cramps. In fact I can count on one hand exactly how many I’ve had in my 28 year athletic involvement. I continue on, regardless. The sky grows increasingly darker and the winds have started to gust like crazy.

Heading up through Mount Holly I start to see lightening and hear thunder in the distance. “What the FUCK?” I hear myself screaming as my hand involuntarily reaches for my chest. Something had flown in my jersey and stung me on my sternum. As I fidget around trying to get whatever is in my jersey out, I hear an old lady yell at me as she passes me on a hill. “Get the hell off the road!” What is with people today? 500m down the road, it happens again. “What the FUCK?” This time my hand was reaching for my neck. Apparently, I’m not just pissing off humans today.

OK, now I’m about 5 miles from the bottom of Spencer Mountain and although there is thunder and lightening, there is no rain…yet. Flying along at 25 miles an hour, several huge raindrops hit the ground around me. Here we go, I think. But it stopped. Then several more. Oh, crap. But then it stopped. I just…might…get…lucky. Then it poured. But only for about 15 seconds. I picked up the pace trying to outrun what was coming up behind me. I came around a corner only to find a long line of traffic stuck behind a school bus. I rode into the grass – brakes don’t work as well once they’re wet. I stayed in the grass until I passed most of the traffic and then continued.

As I made the left turn onto Spencer Mountain, the sun came out and the temp rose quickly. I had a hard time with the hill, having been pushing myself for the past hour trying to outrun the rain, which I had assumingly accomplished. As I made another left turn at the top of the Mountain to head back home, I looked over my left shoulder and saw the black clouds of a thunderstorm off in the distance that I had very narrowly escaped. Looks like Mountain Island Lake is getting pounded. I was now paralleling the storm. The threat of imminent death was greatly reduced. Now I could relax.

Well, relax as best as I could. The winds had been battering me for over an hour now and they hadn’t stopped. It’s Murphy’s Law for cyclists – I call it Merckx’s Law. The wind will always come from the front and very rarely from the back. You have to push much harder and you go slower than ever. And when you’re tired – expect the winds to pick up even more. It’s a little joke Mother Nature likes to play on her children. Every direction was a headwind. I’d lean into a gust with my left shoulder and then it instantly turned and comes from my right. It’s a good lesson in bike handling, but my legs are killing me and the wind just means I have to pedal harder to get nowhere faster.

20 minutes from home and the sky starts to darken again. This time Lake Wylie is about to get hit, which means I’m back in the path of the storm. I push as hard as I can to get home. I make it home with about 3 minutes to spare before the down pour – calf still cramping, eyes bloodshot from the road grit blown into them and 2 swollen sting marks on body. Echos of angry drivers circle my mind and the hitchhiker that made me smile. A quick look at weather radar reveals thunderstorm warnings in effect for the areas in which I had been riding. Close call.

One huge deep breath and it’s into a bubble bath with a glass of wine for me. Finally time to relax…for real.

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