Monday, February 06, 2006

Hitting the Window

(to the tune of "Jambalaya")

Jam your gear and have no fear of dirt-road gumbo.

It was your choice to take this ride, you addicted dumbo.

Take your lumps, you biking chump, and don't look back.

You could have stayed at home and done the Nordic Track.

Weather has permitted a couple of rides. Yesterday the morning and early afternoon rain gave way to partly sunny skies. As I hammered along the shoulder of Route 25 with a tailwind, a guy on a motorcycle coming the other way gave me a big wave. Yeah. We bad.

The warm, wet weather had thawed the dirt roads so they no longer had their solid winter surface. Streaks of ice hung on in places, but most of the rest felt like riding on two flat tires. Gobs of wet grit flew up despite the fenders.

One of my favorite dirt roads traverses a spruce and tamarack bog. Before the town built it up with more dirt you could see its history in the fragments of different surfaces. It had once been a corduroy road of tree trunks laid side by side. Later, in a sketchy attempt at improvement, road crews had simply laid asphalt over the tree trunks. When that inevitably failed, they went back to dumping gravel on it to keep it barely above the water level of the bog. Somehow, miraculously, the water never seemed to overwhelm the road entirely.

A couple of years ago the town built up the surface quite a bit, though they left it dirt. It took some of the fun out of it. But we've had so much rain since autumn that now the water laps at the road again. What surface remains is just a chain of potholes in chocolate pudding. I missed the old corduroys. They at least would have stopped my tires from sinking so far in.

Anyone idiotic enough to go out on a bike in the winter, even a mild winter, is obviously looking for adventure, so I have no right or desire to complain. Most of the 21-mile route was paved anyway.

Today the temperature had dropped ten degrees and the wind had come up about 20 knots. I planned the route so I could enjoy that godly tailwind along Route 25 for more than six miles. The highway is about as flat as any road in New Hampshire. Riding the gusts made me think of "Ride of the Valkyries" and the noisier and more boisterous movements in pieces like Mendelssohn's Fourth Symphony (the Italian) and Beethoven's Seventh.

Dressing is tricky in cold windy weather. There's no way to avoid perspiring, especially grinding into a headwind. I did about four miles of grinding at the start, to get to the part where I got to exploit the tailwind. Starting dry, that was just a good warmup.

Turning downwind felt like climbing into a capsule and shutting it. Suddenly there was no wind and I did not have to work at all to maintain 18-20 miles per hour in a 63-inch gear. Even though the clouds had closed back in I felt warm.

The wind helped keep the roads dry. The cold night before had stiffened the dirt roads again, though not to full hardness. It was good enough, and better than the previous day. Snow squalls blotted out the view of the high peaks to the north, and most of the lower peaks disturbingly closer, but only one ever came all the way through to fall on me. It's atmosphere.

On windy days I like to try to do all the upwind first and finish with a tailwind, but that gives me few options around here. The next best choice is to make the parts against the wind as indirect as possible, taking roads at an angle and seeking tree cover. That allows for some very pleasant routes that are basically downwind from home.

Aside from a few highlights, often the best part of a winter ride is finishing it. However, I am still an idiot, and the forecast looks good for one more masochistic outing tomorrow before I go back to work. If Nordic ski conditions continue to disappoint us, what else do I have?

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