Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Wipe Out

I had been psyching myself up all weekend for a frigid morning bike ride. A low of 4° was predicted for the night before so I was preparing for the worst. I found a balaclava to augment my head wear and I figured an old pair of rolled up wool socks could cover the toes of my bike shoes underneath my neoprene booties. When the temperature is in the 20s, my toes tend to tingle a bit. With a potential drop of 20° I figured I had to do something. I also decided to wear Underarmor thermal undershirt and pants that I got through work instead of my old REI polyester long underwear.

At 6:00 am it was 10° with a light dusting of snow and frozen rain from the night before. So I expected the roads to be a little slick. For some reason I forgot to leave my usual suit, shirt, shoes, tie, and coat, etc at work. I had to stuff all of that in my pannier which probably at least doubled my usual load.

I decided to take Green Bay Road into Wilmette instead of the Green Bay Trail in order to avoid the steep on ramp north of Tower. The roads were kind of slippery in places and I wanted to avoid crashing right out of the gate. Green Bay Road was very quiet which made me consider taking this route all the time.

My Underarmor felt a little weird. It is twice as thick as the stuff I usually wear but it's fabric is so smooth against the skin that I actually felt colder. I'm sure it was keeping me warmer but it wasn't keeping me very comfortable. Maybe if it was a little nubbier it wouldn't feel like plastic wrap. Aside from the weird long underwear, I was pretty comfortable considering it was so cold. My jerry rigged wool toe caps got in the way of my clipping into my pedals but after a few adjustments I was OK. There were strong winds from the northwest, so I enjoyed a nice push. A stiff headwind would have been much more bothersome with the cold.

The Lakefront Trail had been cleared of most of the weekend's snow and was heavily salted. I had a slight fear that I'd puncture one of my tires on a sharp chunk. Between Foster and Lawrence my left middle finger was getting really cold. It was feeling kind of numb and unlike the rest of my extremities, I just couldn't get it warmed up. I still had nearly an hour of biking ahead of me and having little experience with frostbite I didn't know how long it would take before it was more than just irritating. With no options that didn't involve stopping somewhere I decided to pick up the pace in hopes of increasing the blood flow to my freezing digit.

At Addison the path wasn't salted anymore. Frankly I didn't really mind. The snow was pretty dry and didn't hinder my traction. It was also kind of cool watching the powder spitting out from under my front fender and puffing off to the side.

I was enjoying biking at a good clip with the wind at my back when I came to the downhill section just south of Fullerton where the path goes right by the lake. The thin layer of snow hid a very thick sheet of ice that was glass smooth in some areas but rough and rock-like in others. Of course I didn't learn this until I was well on my way through it. If I could keep my cool I might manage to ride it out or at the very least come to a controlled stop. Instead I slightly freaked. I ended up sliding sideways and laid the bike down in front of me. The bike and I then slid side by side for a good distance. Since I was still heading in the right direction I decided to at least enjoy the ride. I lifted my feet and hands and let momentum carry me southbound until I slowed to a stop. My bike and I were both undamaged. I gingerly hauled myself and my ride up to a parrallel running path well beyond the sea wall and continued on.

Naturally the path south of the Oak Street Beach was blocked off due to ice. I biked under Lake Shore Drive at the Michigan Avenue underpass for the first time and eventually found the underpass back to the path at Ohio Street. By this time my frozen finger was beginning to sting a bit so I knew it was coming back to life. I should buy some mittens.

The rest of my ride was uneventful except for my growing thirst. Back home I filled my bottle with hot Accelrade but it had mostly frozen by the time I thought about taking a drink. All I was able to manage were a few slushy sips.

Distance Traveled: 24.5 miles
Distance to date: 1657.1 miles
Price of gas: $2.46


Catalonic said...

Great site. We did a bike tour last year through the Willamette Valley, the farms were beautiful: www.mtjeffersonfarms.com

You should check it out if you have the chance.

Steve said...


One of the guys I went touring with is from Albany OR. He isn't quite the biker I am but I'll float the idea by him. In the mean time we're considering touring the C&O Canal tow path from Cumberland MD to Washington DC.

SueJ said...

1657.1 from what date?

How do you know riding into a headwind is colder? (I was chilled last night because the tailwind kept me from working up the heat... my fingers were not happy.)

Steve said...

I've computed my mileage from my first blog entry back in August.

A stiff headwind really only makes my fingers colder. Since I don't wear mittens, the wind zips around my digits and there is really no way to warm them up and still keep my hands on the bars.