The plan today was to ride hard for an hour, doing repeats on Joy Road, a ribbon of rolling hills amid horse farms and McMansions in Washtenaw County. The unknown factor, though, was the snow. Before the ride, I envisioned myself hammering along, my ‘cross tires digging into the layer of white powder that covered southeastern Michigan the past two days. When I got to Joy Road, I found a bianca strada. Oh yeah, it was plenty bianca. The unfortunate thing was that it was the bad kind of bianca. There was no powder. There was just a hard layer of hard-packed snow with strong ambitions to become ice. This made the crowned roads a bit treacherous. If I didn’t ride exactly in the middle of the road, I was riding on a slightly off-camber slippery patch. A few times I hit a weird rut and almost lost control. Instead of riding to get a good hard workout, I was riding not to crash.
When I got to the end of Joy Road, I didn’t turn around for a repeat, as I had planned. I took a right onto a paved road clear of snow. Scuttling my plans to ride the remote snow-covered roads was a disappointment, but there was no real good choice. I ended up riding on pavement for an hour, then doing repeats up a long hill near my home. It was a cold day, with highs at -4 degrees C and lows at -8 degrees C. It didn’t bother me much. My old self, the one that spent the past 10 years in the subtropics, would have froze his butt off. But I guess I’m finally getting used to the North.
I shut my left eye and pedaled a few strokes, then closed it and opened my right eye and pedaled a bit before switching back to my left eye. Sometimes, I shut both eyes and rode blind. It was all I could do to protect myself from the frozen pebbles of rain that were stinging my eyes. It was freezing. There was a wind advisory in effect until midnight. It was a miserable day for cycling. Still, I had a blast. It was just the kind of conditions I wanted for the first ride of 2012. I wanted the ride to be memorable and indeed it was.
I didn’t go long. The ride lasted about an hour on my ‘cross bike over the dirt roads outside of northeast Ann Arbor. Just getting out and doing as many kilometers as possible was the goal for the day. I was close to staying indoors and doing a roller workout. There was a great temptation not to ride at all. I slept in until 8 a.m. When I took my dog out for her morning walk, the temperature was perfect for a ride, but there wasn’t enough time to go out before church. The forecast called for plunging temperatures in the afternoon along with freezing rain or snow showers. And that’s exactly what happened. After lunch, I tried to psych myself up for a ride, but I ended up sitting down with a mug of tea and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which I can’t seem to put down. At 2 p.m., I took a cat nap and woke up at 3 p.m. I stepped outside and the weather was absolutely wicked. Blustery winds, chilly, a dark brooding sky. “Screw this winter riding. I should just ride indoors until March,” I thought to myself. But as I mentally prepared for another roller workout, going outdoors became increasingly appealing. Then the dark clouds parted and there was a burst of sunshine. I started putting on my cold-weather gear and that lifted my spirits even more.
Once I got on the road, the sun disappeared, dark clouds re-emerged and strong winds began whipping me around the road. One gust nearly knocked me over. About five kilometers from home, just when I turned off on the dirt roads, the sleet began to fall. My black tights looked like someone had dumped sticky rock salt on them. The icey rain wasn’t melting and soaking my clothes, so I wasn’t too worried. The roads became wet with cake-batter mud, and my booties were quickly coated with the stuff. The sleet seemed to be coming down horizontally, finding its way through the top of my sunglasses and slamming into my eyeballs. Damn that hurt. It was a good pain, though. And the crazy masochist within me loved it.
It was the insidious kind of cold that seeps into my mouth when I smile and chills my dental work until it aches. I stopped at a red light to talk to a cyclist next to me and all that came out was, “Iiiit pffuuunnn wiiddiin otwide iwwsn’t et?” I was trying to say, “It’s fun to be riding outside, isn’t it?”
A motley group of 12-milers gets ready to push off.
I was suffering a severe case of face freeze. My cheeks and jaw muscles felt like someone injected them with an icy syringe of novocaine. I couldn’t feel them move and had no control over them.
It happened Sunday during the ”Worst Day of the Year Ride” in Ann Arbor, sponsored by the local Wheels in Motion bike shop. It was another one of those events that I really wanted to do, but I was absolutely dreading it. I’m not sure that makes sense. All weekend, I was thinking that it would be a special experience but one that was going to be extremely unpleasant. Both turned out to be true.
The free event involved five group rides, staggered an hour apart. The first pack left at noon for a 40-mile ride, the second group rode 20 miles,
Free hot chocolate from big brown boxes was provided at the sign in. It was already lukewarm when I got to it. Should have known that only wine tastes good out of a box.
the third wave did a trail ride on mountain bikes, the fourth group did 12 miles and the final bunch did six. All the rides finished at the Ann Arbor Brewing Company in downtown Ann Arbor, where we de-thawed by slurping down free soup. There was a cash bar well stocked with local brews.
Early in the week, I was planning to do the 40-mile ride. But that was before a cold wave set in, sending Sunday’s lows plunging to an arctic -15 C (5 F) and highs at a frigid -9 C (15 F). Although 40 people did the long ride, I wasn’t one of them. My default plan was to do the 20-mile tour, but that didn’t happen either. I stayed home and enjoyed two extra bowls of steaming vegetable soup. I showed up for the 12 miler along with about 20 other
The guy in the coveralls sure had a good sense of humor.
semi hardy souls. One guy was wearing insulated cover alls. When I complimented his practical fashion tastes, he said, “Yeah, I feel like I should be carrying a hunting rifle.”
The first 10-15 minutes of the ride were spent trying to get out of congested downtown Ann Arbor, pedaling for a block before stopping for a red light and waiting as the wind tried to pry open my layers of clothing. I had on my heavy-duty Pearl Izumi tights over thick Vermarc bib shorts. My core was wrapped with a Patagonia base layer, thick Vermarc jersey, Assos arm warmers, another pair of Gore wind-stopping arm warmers, a Gore fleece-insulated long-sleeve jersey, fleece neck tube thingy, balaclava and a Pearl Izumi wind jacket. Until now, I’ve never completed a ride without ripping off the wind jacket. The thing is a hot box. But on Sunday, it stayed on the entire ride. It saved my life.
On my hands I had polypropylene ski glove liners and double-layer cable-knit wool mittens. One guy was only wearing what looked to be glove liners made of some type of wind-blocking material. He kept saying, “My gloves suck!” After the ride, I saw him standing in the free soup line at the brewery,
The paceline waiting for soup.
and he was still rubbing his hands together trying to get them warm. I had a similar problem with my feet - always my weak link. I was hoping I’d be OK wearing a super thick rag wool sock under a neoprene booty. I also dusted off my old Carnac shoes, which are like sweat lodges for the feet because they’re 10 percent mesh and 90 percent vinyl. Well, they didn’t work well. My feet started getting chilled even before the ride started. They were numb half way into the event. After the ride, as I stood in the soup line, my feet ached so bad as they thawed out that I thought I might have to stop at the hospital on my way home to get them checked out. Fortunately, the pain subsided after about 15 minutes. But it nearly convinced me that I need to buy a pair of insulated winter cycling shoes if I continue living in a cold place like Michigan.
Despite the bitter cold, it was fantastic to skip the torture sessions on the rollers in my basement’s lonely pain cave and ride with other human beings. Unfortunately, it was too cold to chat. Everyone was quiet and seemed to be just concentrating on survival. Our group was so large that the pack kept getting broken up by traffic lights at big intersections. The leader often just pressed ahead and didn’t wait for the group to come together again. I briefly got dropped when I got stopped at a light just before a stretch of road that was covered with bumpy ice with frozen tire ruts, covered in grainy brown slush. A few people on mountain bikes just
It's all I want - soup with a nice piece of bread. I'll ride for free soup any day.
hammered over the slippery stuff, but the roadies had to dismount and push their bikes. The hazardous patch was just before a long steep hill, and the lead pack was half way up the monster before I got to its base. I started channeling EPO-juiced Marco Pantani, but it just wasn’t happening. It’s been too long since I’ve done some hills, and I didn’t have the legs to mount an attack. The bright side was that I completely forgot about the cold as I rode hard to catch the lead riders. I finally caught them when they got stuck at a red light.
When I finished and got off my bike at Ann Arbor Brewing Company, there was a long rack outside where everyone was hanging their bikes. A guy was guarding our rigs, and he gave me a numbered tag and a plastic tie thingy to attach it to my bike. I stood there for about five minutes trying to get my frozen fingers to attach the damn thing to my handlebars. My cheeks were as red as slabs of freezer-burned raw sirloin.
Inside the brewery, the atmosphere was great. It’s a beautiful building. Old, worn hardwood floors with exposed-brick walls covered in vintage posters. The soup was mighty tasty - vegetable bean loaded with kale, I think. There
A long bike racket. The ride brought a lot of business to the brewery on a frozen Sunday afternoon when most sane folks stayed at home.
were lean young guys in team kits hanging out with paunchy old guys in wool jerseys (They did the 20- and 40-mile rides!).
The thing I like best about these types of events is that they do a great job telling us who really loves the sport. Cycling is hip and fashionable nowadays. Everybody seems to be doing it. That’s great and makes me happy. But some days, it’s great to be able to see who’s really dedicated to the sport.
Saturday’s ride was a 60-kilometer round trip from Ann Arbor to South Lyon. I rode most of it with a huge grin on my face. The road was mostly flat with some mild undulations. It took me past farm fields, red barns, rural mansion ranchettes and plenty of funky signs and street art. There was some mechanical drama and nasty weather on the later half of the ride. Overall, it was just the kind of mellow, mind-clearing outing that I needed.
I wanted to stop at the German Park to fill my bottles with hefeweizen and grab a brat or two for the road. It’s just a few kilometers from my home, and on Saturdays they have a German-style picnic. Admission is $5. I plan to take the family next weekend.
The German Park’s gates are guarded by these jolly axe-wielding German gnomes. I wonder if they could beat a Belgian gnome in a bike race.
Last week, I went for an after-work ride and passed this place just after they had fired up the BBQ pit. The air was full of the sugary, smokey, savory smell of BBQ that drove me insane and nearly knocked me off my bike. It appeals to our most primal tastes and appetites. There’s an outdoor dining section, and a bunch of people were already digging into an early dinner. If I had any money on me, I would have ditched the ride and ordered some food.
I’m a huge sucker for painted plywood sides on country roads. Nice detail: the eyelashes on the pig. I also liked the way they painted the flames. They almost look real!
Barbecue. Weddings. Toy soldiers. China. Much more! I can’t figure out the name of the “chef de cuisine.” Where might he be from? I’m also not an expert on scary-looking bird logos. Is this German or Russian or something else?
Michiganers love big barns. They take good care of them, too. I guess the winters are so harsh that the barns have to be big enough to house every head of livestock.
Homegrown fast-food joints are cool, especially ones that are more famous for their root beer than anything else.
Welcome to quaint little downtown South Lyon, near the turnaround point of my ride.
Tuscan food in southern Michigan. I’ll probably stop here for a cup of coffee on chilly autumn rides.
Another cool manhole for my collection.
The Spiderman motif seemed unusually popular. There was a pawn shop that used it, too. They didn’t use Bob the Builder, though.
The shopowner offered to sell me the Pee Wee Herman-style cruiser bike for $60.
A great country allows its citizens to take to the skies. Not possible in China for most folks.
Cider and donuts – two important building blocks of the food pyramid. Fruits and breads.
If you can’t think of a cute or clever name for a road, just call it what it is. I like this no nonsense rural approach.
When life looks like easy street there is danger at your door. My bike tire goes flat just after the turnaround point. Luckily, I have a nice place to fix it as rain starts falling.
A fragment that looks like piano wire pierces my Specialized Armadillo Roubaix tire. They’re fantastic tires, but they’re no match for something like this. A simple repair becomes complex when I realize my spare tubes are the crappy tubes I bought at Decathlon in Guangzhou. The stems are ridiculously short, and my Topeak hand pump can’t grab onto them tight enough to inflate the tube. I spend 20 minutes wrestling with them before I walk the bike two blocks down the road to South Lyon Cycle & Sports.
A friendly mechanic let me borrow a Shrader valve stem that screwed on to my Presta stem, extending it so a pump could inflate the tube.
A monster truck! God bless America. It’s always great to see someone who has a hobby that’s 100 times more expensive and ridiculous than mine.
The skies were overcast the entire ride and a hard rain fell for the last 30 minutes of the outing. It was my first rain ride of the summer and I welcomed the change.
On Mondays, I usually like to provide a colorful, action-packed report about my weekend rides. But I don’t have much to offer today. That’s partly because I did a long report immediately after my ride on Saturday. I certainly don’t feel like revisiting that issue. I also don’t have much to report because I decided to stay off the roads on Sunday.
On Saturday night, I was sitting up in bed thinking about my ride the next day. Usually, I look forward to it with eager anticipation. I love the feeling of being outdoors, exploring the city, meeting up with new and old riding friends, shredding every muscle fiber in my legs, drinking a hot coffee and eating a nice lunch afterwards, crashing out on the sofa, enjoying a cold Leffe sundowner.
But this time, I was filled with dread as I thought about the ride. It was the last thing I wanted to do. I had that awful feeling that something bad was going to happen. I often tell myself that I rarely crash because I’m a decent bike handler and I’m a master at reading the danger on Chinese roads. But I guess Saturday’s incident dented my confidence. It made me face up to the reality that in many ways, I’m helpless against idiot drivers. My skills and expertise only provide a certain amount of protection.
It must be nice to be a golfer. All you need to worry about is lightning and getting clocked in the head by your golf club-wielding supermodel wife.
When I start thinking like this, I become superstitious and fatalistic. I start thinking that my luck can only last so long and that I’ve had so many close calls already that my number is bound to come up soon. This is what was going through my mind over and over on Saturday night. I couldn’t get to sleep, and I finally canceled the ride, went out to the living room and stayed up past midnight watching a National Geographic documentary about how the Nazis looted art museums throughout Europe.
On Sunday, I slept in and had a couple cups of coffee with Nutella on toast. I didn’t feel guilty about missing the ride. I really needed to take a break from the roads. In the afternoon, I did a 30-minute session on the rollers and lifted some weights. I’ll keep riding the rollers the rest of the week, and I’m sure in a few days, I’ll be itching to get back on the streets again.
I want to apologize for this gloomy, whinny post. I hope I can make up for it by sharing a few pictures of the live monkey show that was going on outside my office building when I went to work this morning.
I wish I would have shot from a lower position so that I could have shown the massive crowd that gathered. I had my hands full with my work bag, newspapers and a couple bottles of mineral water. Part of the guy’s schtick was to smack the big monkey on the head, and the animal would immediately slap him back. The crowd thought that was hilarious.
It was definitely a low-budget show. One of the monkeys wore a hat crafted out of the top of a plastic drink bottle. He would occasionally take it off and fling it into the street.
I’m starting to get the feeling that the pathetic monkey show will just add to the sense of gloom in this post.
He saw me in his rear-view mirror and his leathery moon face lit up. He threw open the door to the cab of his banged-up blue flatbed truck and scrambled down to the ground. “Yao wenge lu! Yao wenge lu!” (“I need to ask for directions!”) he yelled in a frantic voice with a thick northern accent.
It was 6:30 a.m. and a freezing blustery wind was blowing off the Pearl River. I was halfway into my training ride on an empty frontage road near Guangzhou’s sprawling convention center, which looks like a curled up lasagne noodle made of steel. I’m not sure how long the truck driver and his partner in the passenger seat were parked there waiting for help. He was hauling this massive hulk of steel – some sort of pylon – covered in brown rust. I imagine they had been driving all night.
They were so desperate that they were seeking help from a foreign devil reeking of wintergreen-scented embrocation and wearing red booties, white Belgian kneewarmers and a funky Ommegang Brewery jersey with black, gold and brown diagonal stripes. I must have looked like an extraterrestrial to them or some sort of crazy clown on a bike with ridiculously skinny tires. But it didn’t seem to phase them. They didn’t even bother to ask if I could speak Chinese. There they were in my face yelling, “Yao wenge lu! Yao wenge lu!”
The funny thing about this part of southern China is that it’s harder than hell to get accurate directions from anyone on the street. That’s because most of the people you run into are migrants who only know the way from their room in the factory dormitory to the assembly line. The locals who really know the city are the ones zooming past you in shiny new cars.
Like a typical migrant, I couldn’t tell the truck driver where to go. His sidekick had a rumpled piece of paper with directions on it, and their destination was supposed to be the intersection of Binjiang Road and Yiyuan Road. “Wo bu qingchu,” I said (“Duh, I dunno.”). Then, a street sweeper walked by and they pounced on the guy, and he began giving them directions. I was quickly forgotten.
Another funny thing about China is that most people don’t seem to use maps. I’ve hired so many drivers who don’t have a single map in their glove compartment and show no interest in consulting the ones I often carry in my bag. They usually say, “Well, we’ll drive to the general area, then we’ll ask for directions.”
It could be that most of the drivers are working-class folks who are semi-literate and aren’t comfortable getting information from pieces of paper. They prefer word of mouth. Another theory I have is that China has been changing so rapidly in recent years that most maps are outdated as soon as they’re printed. I’ve seen so many roads appear and disappear or get blocked or rerouted in the past couple years. With so much change, the best strategy is to ask around. Just deal with it when you get there. That’s problably the best strategy for life in general in China.