Saturday, October 27, 2012

It's Not About the Weather

Autumn Birch, Nordavinden
While we wait for Hurricane Sandy to arrive, I am still finding sand caked on my bike from an earlier rainy, muddy ride. It seems that every time I have ridden this bike so far, it has rained. Of course today, on my inaugural ride with fenders, it is sunny and dry. A friend consoles me by reminding me of the approaching hurricane. Surely I will have the opportunity to test the fenders then. I take the idea seriously and begin to mentally map out a route on some local trails, before realising how utterly insane that is. When the townsfolk are stocking up on canned goods and flashlight batteries, I should probably stay indoors.

With the season marching on toward starker days, I find myself thinking of weather. As cyclists we all tend to have an idea of the "perfect weather" for riding. For some it's the height of summer. For others it's that elusive "60 degrees and sunny, with a mild breeze." A few riders I know prefer cooler temperatures, and some even claim to enjoy rain. I think for me, the biggest revelation has been that, when push comes to shove, I can feel good in almost any weather. 

After a recent post describing a rainy ride on dirt roads, a reader wrote: "It's in our nature to want to be comfortable and coddled, but you celebrate the joy of pushing yourself through rain and mud." I felt guilty reading this, because honestly I don't feel as if I am overcoming discomfort or pushing myself when I ride in those kinds of conditions. And I think that is the key to my being able to do it. The secret is to find a way of being comfortable, to just go with it and appreciate the situation for what it is, rather than spending energy on trying to overcome it. Maybe this is just a different way of looking at the same thing, but to me it makes a big difference. Rather than pushing through discomfort, I extract comfort. 

Part of it is of course practical considerations. Figuring out how to dress, eat and drink in different conditions. Over the summer I stumbled upon some tricks that enabled me to ride in heat in humidity like I'd never managed to do before. And last winter, I discovered that riding in sub-20 degree temperatures was also very doable with the help of strategic layering. But equally important is the attitude. We have to be curious, interested. We have to want the experience. 

What is my idea of perfect riding weather... Probably high 40s to low 50s, with heavily overcast skies. I feel most alive then; the raw energy in the air makes me want to ride faster, further. But in the end, it's not about the weather, but about finding comfort in whatever is thrown at me, about feeling coddled by the beauty of the surrounding landscape. 

35 comments:

  1. Peanut butter and bottles/jugs/pots of water will keep you fed longer than you want it to. Which reminds me, this would be a good time to refresh our stored water. Main reason to stay indoors is the wind picks stuff up; even sand does damage in a hurricane wind, and that wind can pick up stuff lots bigger than sand.

    I recommend a pruning saw for after the storm (I've done this more than once, though not after the most recent storm). And if you go out tomorrow, wear gloves, and stop to clean leaves out of storm drains before the storm. Not much in the way of a ride, but very helpful at preventing street flooding.

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    1. FYI, 20 hours later and looking at the nhc.noaa.gov maps, we're unlikely to get worse than very blustery winds (tropical storm force, not hurricane) and rain, except for the coast itself. Still might want a pruning saw afterwards.

      http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/refresh/graphics_at3+shtml/085338.shtml?5-daynl

      It's much worse south of us; NYC looks like they have a 50-50 chance of a surge that would cause some nasty flooding, plus who knows how heavy rains will pile up inland.

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  2. ...It's about not being a wimp. And procuring the best equipment money can buy. And being mentored by experienced cyclists.

    All of these = comfort.

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  3. My idea of perfect riding weather....fall. Oh the colors!

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  4. You should know by now that it only rains when you are on a bike without fenders!

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    1. Applying the reverse logic, my fenders should stave off rain from now on! ...Now that I think of it, it never rains when I use these babies either.

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  5. Indian summer may still be upon us. That said, what are your recently-learned stratagems for enabling more comfortable riding in heat and humidity? In a prior posting? Can you point me towards it, please. Always glad to learn new ones. Thx.
    Cheers,
    M in Boulder

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    1. By the time I got it dialed in summer was over, so I never wrote about it. But here are some of the things that worked for me:

      . Drinking large quantities of water well in advance of the ride. Like start a couple of hours beforehand and just continuously sip until it's time to go. If ride is first thing in the morning, drink a bunch of water before going to sleep, then again in the morning. Made a big difference.

      . Pouring water over chest/upper torso during a ride. As soon as my jersey would dry, I'd pour a bit more. Did wonders to cool me down and make humidity more tolerable. Females might not want to wear a white jersey if they plan to do this.

      . White cycling cap with visor + white road helmet combo really hits the spot for me. The combination of the light, well-vented helmet and the cap underneath it did a great job keeping my head from heating up in direct sunlight and high temps. Wearing a cap sans helmet or helmet sans cap did not keep me as cool as the combination of the two. The cap also soaks up sweat from my forehead, so that less of it leaks down my face. The visor protects my forehead from sun (can't put sunscreen there, it will leak into eyes).

      . Super-light, breathable, wicking fabrics. Got a couple of tissue weight wool jerseys that really work for me.

      . Bananas as snacks, pretty much chewed on them continuously before and during rides. Salt in waterbottles (see: salty lemonade for cycling).

      Basically, I found an optimal way to keep myself hydrated, my body temperature comfortable, and my head protected from the sun. Considering that I do very poorly in humidity and get heat stroke very easily, I was amazed that this summer I was able to ride on 95-100+ degree days with high humidity.

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    2. Out here in Arizona the common wisdom is to start hydrating a day or two before a big ride. It takes time for water to seep into your tissues.

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    3. Best very hot weather riding tops: Hawaiian shirts made from rayon. Wunnerful. Wool below 70*F.

      Hot weather water tactics: Yes, drink early and often. I once drank, literally, a gallon for a 15 mile home-bound commute including a 28 oz bottle before leaving and more than a bottle (including beer) upon arriving after draining my two full, 28 oz bottles before the ride was over. Close to 100 degrees with 4% humidity and the usual hard headwind out of the west with fixed gear.

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  6. Last Thanksgiving I did a 90 mile ride in Central Illinois, heading directly west. Overcast, foggy, cold morning. It stayed cold. A bit of sloshy gravel roads from the rain the previous day. 9+mph headwinds, chapped lips. But I sang to the wind; imagined the land as it was when the buffalo roamed; and by the end of the day felt very satisfied. I was racing the sun, and it won, but my relationship with it and this amazing world of ours is better off. We're learning how to relate better to each other from rides like that.

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  7. Rocking a Berthoud bag I see! I remember you didn't like them last year, what made you come around?

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    1. It's a loaner Velo Orange bag.

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    2. PS: That said, I have nothing against Berthoud; they are well made and come in a variety of sizes. For myself I would not buy one, because for the price I'd prefer a lighter bag (not so much leather & metal buckles) with customisable options from a company like Swift Industries, Dill Pickle, or Ruth Works.

      I also really, really liked the Ostrich bag I had on my former Rivendell. Unfortunately it is way too big for the new bike, sticks out like 2" past the handlebars.

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  8. Good gear equals comfort! I like these cool fall mornings after the heat of Summer. I like the warming days of Spring when the land comes back to life. I like the magical feeling of a winters ride at dusk through softly falling snow. And the soft, warm summer nights cycling around downtown with friends, stopping at little bars and cafes might just be the best of all.

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  9. "But equally important is the attitude. We have to be curious, interested. We have to want the experience."
    "But in the end, it's not about the weather, but about finding comfort in whatever is thrown at me, about feeling coddled by the beauty of the surrounding landscape. "

    You and your readers may recall that one of the elements of stress hardiness noted by psychologists and others is described as "a commitment to the vividness of daily life experience" or similar wording (I don't recall the original author of this phrase I found in a book some years back but it's a rather popular wording now as google will show.)

    This blog is a celebration of your commitment, Velouria, and that of many of your readers to the vividness of life and is what makes a daily stop here so addictive. Robust curiosity, imagination, resilience, a love of beauty and setting one's cap for the challenge, yeah, a fun game, that's the healthy, wholesome model you have fashioned here and you show every day what fun it can be. Thanks. Jim Duncan


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  10. Cool and overcast is great. I do not like sunscreen. Name a brand. I've tried and despised it.

    No problem with rain per se. But I am near sighted and cannot wear contacts. Water covered spectacles make seeing difficult.

    Thought you would be in Philadelphia for some reason.

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    1. "Name a brand."

      Obagi NuDerm physical UV block. A reader who is a dermatologist recommended it 2 summers ago and it's what I've used since. Seems expensive but lasts a long, long time. And it works.

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    2. As it happens, I haven't tried Obaji.

      From the packaging and reviews, it appears it may mostly be sold in stores or parts of store single guys are reluctant to enter. Available on line though, so what the heck.

      40's and overcast today in Chicago. Will be going to waste as I have to head up to Milwaukee to pick up my new bike.

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    3. Yes, I buy it online; never seen it in a store. New bike?

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    4. New travel bike from Clockwork Bikes. Raws filleted stainless. So I can roll it on Amtrak and the local train service without destroying paint. Builder has some great shots on his Flickr and this week's VSalon FNL.

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    5. Congrats on the new bikes. I have finally joined VS so will check it out.

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  11. Best riding in Vermont is during nature's kaleiscope of color in October. Dirt roads or paved; doesn't make a difference.

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  12. When the hurricane hits you can try doing the Wizard of Oz thing and pedal your bicycle whilst being sucked.

    Just a thought

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  13. I prefer cool, overcast weather at a seashore. I like the brisk feel of the air in such conditions, and I like the light, which is easy on the eyes as well as the body.

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    1. Well put, the light is indeed easy on the eyes.

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  14. You're right, to be curious and interested is the key attitude. Otherwise one is dominated by some preconceived thought which usually kills the experience and creates frustration. I also agree with being prepared with regard to clothing. Those who think they can cycle in their everyday clothing often have a difficult transition from cars to bicycles. Appropriate outdoor/active clothing makes a tremendous difference. Sorta tongue in check, I don't particularly like any weather until I'm a mile or two into my ride/commute when my heart starts beating and my body has adjusted to the conditions....Then it's bliss.

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  15. Anything with a tailwind is great! In my opinion, Iowa is too subtle to be enjoyable if you are going much faster than 30. (Ram 15,000 bikers on it for Ragbrai, and it's exhilarating) It's lovely country if you give it a chance.
    The "pushing" that I was referring to is like biking 50 miles for the first time. You'll probably be worn out when finished and ready to be done with the bike, but afterwards, the 30 mile ride comes easier. Same with weather. If I can do a ride comfortably when the temp is in the 40s, maybe 30s are possible. The world for a rider becomes ever larger as your growing experience and changing perspective tell you that what once was unpleasant or even impossible before becomes comfortable or even wonderful.

    I hope Sandy isn't too harsh on all of you! It may be a good few days to spend on the trainer:)

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    1. Not done the whole state, but have had some great rides in Northeast Iowa. Driftless area presents some real unique vistas. Hope to take the new bike there again soon.

      Last time I went, got rained on 2 days straight. Still willing to do more.

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  16. Given the weather, maybe now is the time to dust off the plans for Lovely Boat.

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  17. High 40s to low 50s without rain seems like a nice range as long as you dress for it. I'm happy with anything above 45 and can tolerate upper 80s into the 90s as long as I am not riding in direct sun. I have enjoyed riding in southern New Mexico in August (hydrating as described above is key) but prefer cooler temps. But very cool cycling works for me only with proper clothes. Being cold really drains my energy.

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  18. "The secret is to find a way of being comfortable, to just go with it and appreciate the situation for what it is, rather than spending energy on trying to overcome it."

    That's the core of my rain philosophy (it rains most days here): It is a folly to try to stay dry--dive right in.

    Just Pedal™

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  19. Learning to prepare and being prepared is "pushing through", but in a responsive, long-term way. Getting the right equipment and clothing is just preparation. But when you are 60 miles from home and the weather breaks unexpectedly, or when the store you were counting on for food is closed and the next one is 20 miles up the road, well, I just have to "push through" and realize that this inconvenience should be considered adventure. I consider that this is one of the stories I'll tell, and then instead of fighting all the discomforts and inconveniences, I realize that in the telling, the story will make these even more so. Then I concentrate on collecting them all, for the story, for preparation measures, and for character training for the next time.

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  20. Here in Seattle we define perfect riding weather is "not snowing." If we had hurricanes we might have to revise that definition slightly.

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