Friday, February 15, 2008

My Harderst Day on a Bike...Ever!

I had to return the rental car in the morning so I got a late start. A cold spell had come in so I didn’t think it was so bad as it would give the day a chance top warm up a bit. As it was supposed to rain, it reinforced my thinking that it was a good idea to wait until it warmed up. It would cost me later though.

I had spoken to someone at a bike shop yesterday to get some advice on getting out of Phoenix. I hit the jackpot on the route getting out of the city. There was a series of bike routes that connected the 40 miles out of Phoenix and its suburbs.

I felt awfully sluggish in the morning. So much so that I checked to see if my brake pads were rubbing on my tires. No dice. My legs were concrete. It was probably the worst day for a dog to bolt after me, which happened. When he came close I yelled as loud as I could, which seemed to get him to back off. It was a good thing as well as I didn’t have time to get my foot unclipped in the event I had to defend myself.

It rained on and off for the first few hours of my ride. The temperature started in the low 50’s and dropped as I gained in altitude. Not pleasant in the rain.

Eventually I had no other choice but to get on a two-lane highway. There was only one way to get to the town I was going to. As it was Friday afternoon, traffic leaving Phoenix was rather heavy. While there was a small shoulder to ride on, it was covered in rudder strips. Those are the things that make noise when you drive on them, in the event you doze off in the car and start heading off the road. I rode on the highway for the most part. There were at least several times that I pulled in my left elbow fearing it would be clipped by a car closing in on me.

Later in the day all of the cars coming over the pass in my direction had their lights and windshield wipers on, so I knew what to expect. The rain came down heavier until I was fairly well soaked.

I rode through Tonto National Forest, which obviously isn’t traditional forest with evergreens and the like. I really wished it wasn’t completely overcast, as I am sure the park was beautiful. There was some greenery growing and shrubs taking up the space between various types of cactus.

Mile 76 was the longest mile of my life. It seemed like it took an hour for my odometer to click over to 77. I knew I had about another 20 miles to go and just kept thinking back to a 20-mile loop I regularly rode back on Long Island. Only 20 more miles. The only difference was that Long Island is devoid of mountains.

For the day I had climbed over 4,000 feet and my legs were feeling it. It had gotten colder, so much so that when I exhaled I could see my breath as a big white cloud. I was sucking wind on a couple of the climbs. At one point a saw a sign that was pointing out a 6% grade for the next 12 miles. Foolish me thought that it was downhill. Perhaps it was the picture of the truck going downhill. It was just pointing out that the hills coming up would be at a 6% grade, both down as well as up.

It was getting late in the day and being overcast, light would soon be fleeting. I still had my share of climbing to do and I was soaked. Water was absolutely pouring down the sides of the road. I now see how flash flood can catch people off guard.

I kept climbing. The rain turned to snow. It was my 2005 ride all over again. While the snow was sticking to the ground, it was not sticking to the road, so I was able to ride on. I was at the point though that when my brain told my body to do something, the odds were a coin toss whether my body could/would do it or not, with the exception of turning the cranks. It would be my only savior. When I had stopped to grab something out of my bag I had cut my hand, but didn’t even realize it until I got to my hotel.

It was nearly completely dark and there were no lights. I was now frozen and had to blast down hills in the dark. It had to hit the brakes to keep it below 30 miles per hour. The wind-chill of traveling at 30 miles an hour subtracts 15 degrees from the temperature. Assuming it was 30 degrees, I was in wet clothes in 15 degree weather in the dark. I had to stop to put plastic bags on my feet as I had lost all the feeling in the toes on my right foot. I would have put bags on my hands as well, but I just didn’t have any more.

I would periodically have a car creep up from behind me. I had no lights on my bike, so absent some reflective material, I wasn’t very visible.

I had no choice but to pedal on. When I somehow finally got to the near side of the town I passed a Dominos Pizza. I stopped in and ordered a pizza to be delivered to my hotel (no I didn’t catch a ride with the driver). I kept riding on.

To add to my day, I got pulled over by the police before reaching my hotel. The first time in all my days riding a bike, I got pulled over by the cops. His beef was that I was riding in the dark without light. I agreed with him, as I hadn’t planned on riding in the dark at any point in my trip. He pointed out a route I could ride through town that was lit and would get me to my hotel. Of course I got lost. Now I was hoping that my pizza didn’t beat me to my hotel, as I hadn’t yet checked in.

When I pulled in the parking lot of my hotel it was 7 o’clock and the thermometer read 41 degrees. I was never so happy to be finished riding. I was exhausted. I was shaking as I was checking in and by the time I got to my room I had to keep myself from throwing up.
I was just shot, but I couldn’t neglect my bike. I had to rally and spend an hour cleaning it. The bike was just filthy and needed some serious maintenance.

I heard that some places got up to 18" of snow, so I consider myself lucky, but I hope to not have too many more days like this one. Oh, and I have about 115 miles planned for tomorrow. I hope it stops raining.

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