I've done this enough times that it has become a ritual: base layer, tights, wool socks, jersey, arm warmers. Those hand warmer things for my feet, wrapped up in Windstopper shoe covers. A quick assessment of current conditions: Gore jacket, full finger gloves (not the lobster claws today), just enough fuel for a 2-and-a half hour ride. Automatic. It doesn't take me long to get out the door.
The route is familiar, and easy enough even on a fixie. I ride the trail near my home on days like this because I don't want to have to think about traffic or route selection. One of my favorite things to do on a bike, as you well know, is to get lost. But on my winter rides, I prefer to not get off-the-map lost, but to ride where my thoughts can wander around while my body stays with the task at hand.
Typical winter training ride.
Until it started raining.
First there were just a few cold, wet kisses on my face. I pulled my buff up higher, up to my eyes. I cursed my complacency for not packing any rain gear. Let's just cut to the chase and say that, within 10 minutes, I was soaked to the skin, and I still had a long way to go.
I've met The Man with the Hammer before. The first time was many years ago, on a long ride that I wasn't prepared for. That day, underfueled and riding with a group of fast friends, I became dizzy and nauseated, a typical bonk. I had to get off the bike until the world stopped spinning. I vowed never again to meet him this way.
The next time was in the desert. I admit that we meet there frequently. After hours of riding into a huge headwind and not getting very far, I felt The Man breathing down my neck. I pretended not to notice. My false detachment just seems to encourage him; he becomes more persistent.
And there he was again, for one last visit to end the year. Fingers and feet frozen, lungs burning from the fresh cold, snot pouring out my nose and unable to see through foggy glasses, I seriously wondered if I was going to make it back home.
I considered my options:
- Hide out for a while under the shelter of a bridge.
- Cut the ride short and call for a pick-up.
- Stop thinking about it, and keep going.
I kept going.
Next year, I hope for more days on the bike where I have serious doubts about making it to the finish. If you've never had this experience, I suggest seeking out a reason to up the ante, and find opportunities that take you all the way to your edge. I'm not saying that you should actually make a date with the Man with the Hammer; I'm just saying that you shouldn't go out of your way to avoid him.
Riding no-handed for the last few miles, I tucked my balled-up fists under my armpits for warmth. I arrived home with all digits intact (blood flow returns - painfully - under a steady stream of hot water), looking like something that was dredged out of a lake. Dave helped peel off the wet layers, offered me a shot of bourbon, and asked why I hadn't called him for a ride home.
Because I know what he would have told me. And I know how I would have felt if I pulled in to my driveway under anything but my own volition.
The Man with the Hammer has taught me a thing or two over the years!
Here's to a New Year of all good things. Approach it with a clear mind, an open heart, and the courage to keep going.