“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
– Groucho Marx
With loose gravel churning, the dirt road sloping this way and that with deep ruts generated over years of truck tires digging in, I pedaled my way at a steady, blistering pace of 10 miles an hour. Going down these hills on loose gravel with a cross wind wasn’t getting me anywhere particularly quickly and my undeserved punishment continued for over 8 miles. Three turns, four near wipe-outs, and two dog “attacks” later and I finally found my way to a civilized, paved road only to have my big sigh of relief buffeted right back in my mouth by a blasting head wind. Suffice to say my longest winter ride to date in 16-degree weather did not go as well as one would hope but it did go and that’s always half the battle.
Whenever I am lacking familiar bike routes because I’m in a new area or perhaps I am just bored of my usual routes, I head straight for Google Maps. I like to pick a distance, find a random town that looks like its thoroughfare might have a nice shoulder to bike on, and I save the route, also making sure to plot a slightly different route for the ride back. This is a great way to explore a new area and quite possibly discover a new favorite ride.
What’s not great about it, however–and this is more of a shortcoming of Google than anything else–is that you never quite know what type of roads you’ll be biking on. Unless you have enough time to Google Street View the whole trip (looking at you, Jacob), you are, for the most part, pedaling blind. That’s how you end up on a dirt road in the middle of Iowa for over 8 miles, like I unfortunately did.
Aside: mountain bikers deserve all the credit. No part of that type of riding seems enjoyable to me.
While on the dirt road, weaving back and forth trying to find the best, smoothest path to take, two dogs chased me down. For those of you who have never really spent time biking the countryside and haven’t yet had this experience, it’s quite terrifying. I understand that most people believe in the mythology of dog being Man’s best friend and all that nonsense, but with teeth bared, barking as loudly as they can, running at you at full speed, you don’t know if this is a nice dog just protecting the boundary of their property or a psycho dog that will actually harm you.
Before you walk all over me with your angry shoes, I don’t mean to highlight how pointless dogs may or may not be with their slobber, hair loss, constant use of your property as mouth exercise equipment, surrogate white noise machines, and ridiculous body odor. Rather, I’m merely pointing out how helpless you can feel when a large dog charges at you while you balance precariously on two wheels going, often, at great speeds.
Lucky for me, neither dog was of the vicious variety.
There are nearly 4.5 million dog bites in the United States each year, according to Bicycling.com. That’s enough for me to justify fear when I see a dog coming at me. Add in the fact that one great tip for escaping any dog advance is to out sprint it, which I could not do on the shifty, gravel strewn dirt road, and you are left to very little in terms of options to avoid being attacked. Obviously, the majority of dogs probably will not bite you and will just chase you for a bit, but you just never know.
As I mentioned, a ridiculous headwind as I turned south was really difficult to pedal through, as it would push me back a bit even while going downhill. Turning back east was helpful in reducing the head-on onslaught, but it resulted in a heavy cross wind that was powerful enough when gusting to push the bike off line. When that happens, you have to be ready to correct the trajectory of the bike without over correcting. Any ride in heavy-ish wind conditions requires so much more work, not just because of the increased power required to pedal, but because of the level of concentration and precise movements required to compensate for the wind.
I do not want to spend too much time on nutrition here, as that will be covered more in-depth in a later post, but I want to mention that I am right now in the process of figuring out the best timing for eating before, during, and after a ride to keep my stomach as happy as possible. For this first training ride on a Saturday, I ate more than usual Friday night, woke up at 5:30am and had some oatmeal, and then I would leave two hours after that. At the 20-mile mark, I ate an Init granola bar, and post-ride, I made myself a chocolate, banana, and avocado smoothie.
My stomach growled a bit on the ride and I should have perhaps had the granola a little earlier, before hitting the hard head-wind stretch. Otherwise, that particular eating structure went relatively well. I will have to see if that same regimen will work with a longer mile trip.
For gear, I need to shout out once again to Bar Mitts, which again helped keep my hands toasty warm, even when battling against my poor circulation. My feet still suffered, begging for me to invest in some replacement my shoe covers and my solid black of a water bottle was anything but cooperative. I will try the following weekend’s training ride with a hydration bladder pack instead of just a standard water bottle to see if that helps keep the ice at bay.