One reason I like
To commute by bike each day
Is that those minutes
In the air remind me that
Wind and water don’t relent
One reason I like
To commute by bike each day
Is that those minutes
In the air remind me that
Wind and water don’t relent
There’s no bad weather,
Only bad clothing, but still
I love when I time
My commutes so that I dodge
The rain coming and going.
Mountain biking seems
To mostly be not braking.
Look ahead, pick lines,
Lean more than feels right, grimace,
Pretend the levers don’t work.
Rainy Day Dog Bite
On a rainy day
I get an itch on my knee
Where that goddamn dog
Bit me while I rode my bike.
Blood ran through the sweat and dust.
Reasons to Ride Bikes
Reasons to ride bikes:
Breathe fresh air. See the country.
Get fit. Get fitter.
Practice cornering. Go fast.
Get some ice cream with the girls.
Crows gouge at roadkill
Daring me to ride closer
Then call out, smirking
Hop jump flutter fly away
Bird-shaped black holes in the air
Laps around the Arb
My longest ride in six weeks
Damp grass, mud, slick rocks
Walkers, runners, screeching crows
Wake up, legs, it’s bike season
Seven stops downtown
Cars back up into my path
Bad racks fight locks but:
Cool misty air, flat wet light
And the comfort of riding
Our seasonally gray weather broke this week, which inclined me to alter my route to work to include a mile or so of the trails through Carleton’s Cowling Arboretum. I wound up taking a slightly different path each day, enjoying the late-winter beauty of the last snow, bare but awakening trees, bristlingly dry grasses, and blue sunlit skies. The snow faded each day, and disappeared entirely before my afternoon ride on Saturday, leaving a thin layer of mud on the trails, fields, bike, and boots.
I haven’t been on my bike in a serious way since the Arrowhead. Partly, I needed the break from riding – physically and mentally. Judging by my shitty efforts at the gym over the last six weeks, my body would have rebelled at a long ride. Partly, I enjoyed the laziness of not going riding two or three times a week. I have done a lot of reading! And partly, I couldn’t imagine going for a ride in little old Northfield that compared in any way to the winter’s racing. I mean, no outing here could possibly include six hours of riding I can’t recall!
But damn if lying around all weekend wasn’t getting to me. Rather than feeling physically rested, I felt tired and wasted. Rather than feeling mentally refreshed, I felt bored and crabby. So today, motivated by the winter storm warning, I decided to go out for an easy ramble around town, hitting favorite spots like the St. Olaf Natural Lands and the singletrack trails on the west side of town.
The outing was easy and fun and so gorgeous. The trails near St. Olaf were especially pretty as the snow started sifting down, with Heath Creek burbling quietly below the blufftop trail.
Riding, I appreciate the way that any dirt gets painted white by the snow. Makes it easy to follow the trail – and to review your lines on the second pass!
If this is the season’s last chance to enjoy the feeling of snow in my face, I’m happy to have ended on a good note and to have a full “off season” in the offing.
Fat Pursuit 2017 (part I): the first part of my race report on the Fat Pursuit
Fat Pursuit 2017 (part II): the rest of the race report on the Fat Pursuit
Fat Pursuit Numbers: some facts and figures on the Fat Pursuit
Fat Pursuit Bike, Gear, and Kit: a look at the clothing and equipment used at the Fat Pursuit
Arrowhead IV – Fast Until It Wasn’t: my race report on the Arrowhead 135
Ultra Effects, or Putting the Hell Back in Health: musings on the physical effects of racing
This week, about ten days after the Arrowhead, I started to lose my eyelashes, one of the classic aftereffects of long races. It’s not like my lashes are all falling out, but every time I wash my face, I lose a few, and I seem to find one of my desk every few hours.
Though bizarre and a little gross, losing some eyelashes is also probably the lamest of the myriad physical effects of races like the Fat Pursuit or the Arrowhead.
The main effect of the races was drastic weight loss, from eating and especially drinking too little during the races. When I got home after the Fat Pursuit (two days after finishing the ride), I weighed something like ten pounds less than I had the day I left for the race, and that was after eating and especially drinking like crazy on the road trip home: literally gallons of water, milk, coffee, soda, Gatorade (lime cucumber is the best!). I can’t say I looked good.
My weight stabilized at my usual level after a day or so at home, but for another week or two I needed to eat about twice my usual amount of food (which isn’t small) to keep it there. Then I did the Arrowhead and kicked off the cycle again. My metabolism finally slowed again this week, just about the time the eyelashes started falling out. Maybe there’s a relationship between the two.
Running in parallel to a big appetite and major thirst is being insanely overheated. Perhaps this hyperendothermism is just my body processing all the calories I’m sticking in it, but for days I’m almost feverish, constantly on the edge of breaking into a sweat. My little girl, always cold, loves it: I’m a fireplace she can snuggle with.
Come to think of it, maybe this heat is a sign that my body’s repair processes are in high gear, fixing various kinds of race-induced wear and tear. At the trivial end of this spectrum of damage were issues like acne along my hairline and dry, lifeless hair (wearing sweaty hats for 55 hours will do that) or deep grooves in my calves from the cuffs of my compression socks (wearing sweaty footwear for 55 hours will do that).
At the more dramatic end of the spectrum of physical damage were the pains and agonies caused by making the body work so hard for so long. Especially after the Fat Pursuit, my feet were destroyed – pale, wrinkled, and so goddamn sore I couldn’t walk barefooted without wincing. Even now, the bony spots just behind my pinky toes are tender. My ankles, too, turned against me, swelling up so badly that my ankle bones vanished for several days. WebMD says this was “edema,” which sounds slightly better “athletic cankles.”
And though I escaped both races without any especially bad leg or back pain (problems I’ve had after other long races but tried to mitigate this year by cross-training to build strength), I could not escape truly ridiculous weakness and soreness, especially in the big muscle groups taxed to the limit by 22 or 55 hours of exertion. The day after the Fat Pursuit, for instance, I needed twenty minutes to put on my socks because I could neither bend my legs enough to reach my feet nor pull hard enough with my arms to yank the goddamn socks up. My traveling companion Ben thought this was amusing. Later, when we stopped on the drive home, I almost fell out of his minivan because I couldn’t unbend my legs in time to swing them under me as I leaned my torso out of the open door. Getting back into the minivan, I had to grab my thighs and hoist each leg up into the vehicle.
This lack of strength went deep. I limped around for maybe five days after the Fat Pursuit (only a couple days after the Arrowhead!), but a week after I finished my attempt at that first race, I went to the gym for my usual weight training class, thinking that I’d feel okay. Not great, but okay. I didn’t. I struggled with loads well under my normal working weights, and got dizzy from even a few reps. I’ll just sit down over here out of the way for a while.
Paralleling that lack of muscle strength was the loss of my voice. Scratchy the day after the Fat Pursuit and croaky two days later, my voice disappeared entirely on the third day and only started to return after about five days of not talking – during which I drank even more ridiculous amounts of water. I suspect that dehydration was the main cause of the laryngitis, but I’d also guess that exposure to cold, dry air for those two days – and to -20° F air that first night of the race – also played a big part. Honestly, I was a little worried, as I creaked out fragments of sentences during the week after the Fat Pursuit, that I’d permanently damaged my vocal cords. I see now that I didn’t. Close call though, and one I’ll have to prevent by covering my nose and mouth during future races in cold temps.
The other main effect of being outside in the super-cold temperatures at the Fat Pursuit was a touch of frostbite. My toes were fine, but the tip of my right index finger got burned when I had to barehandedly use my wrench to adjust my seat (an adjustment necessitated by some unpleasant chafing that’s best left to the imagination), and I pretty badly burned my upper lip. The lip required weeks of care: a topical ointment (thanks, Leah!), then ounces of petroleum jelly, then tube after tube of Carmex – five or so? Over the course of three weeks, the skin went from burned to horribly raw to badly chapped to really dry and then finally to normal, except maybe for the pink spot right in the center. Thank goodness my mustache does a good job of hiding it!
The frostbit fingertip took just as long to heal, and if anything passed through even more stages of healing: dry white flesh turned pink and hard, then reddish and inflamed. This skin grew increasingly tight until the fingertip basically molted, revealing fresh new skin underneath. Interestingly, none of the healing states were alive enough to register on my smartphone screen! I was glad when I molted if only because I could use my phone without seeming to be flipping off everyone.
Everything I’ve heard and read on frostbite says that the burned spots will always be more sensitive to cold now, and I think that’s true. My lip was very tingly even in some moderately cold weather before the Arrowhead, though not during the event. I did get my hands pretty cold during that race, though, and sure enough that right index finger got mad: tingling, then burning, then feeling as if it were exploding in my glove. It wasn’t – just warming back up.
That sensation hasn’t happened again, thank goodness, but most of my fingertips still feel funny. Not painful, but stubby and slightly numb. This happened after my first Arrowhead, too, and subsided after a couple months. I’m guessing that this dull feeling is due not to frostbite but to holding onto my grips for something like a total three days’ worth of riding. It’s an odd sensation. Not unpleasant, since it’s likely to go away, and even kind of perversely pleasing as a lingering reminder of the races, but also a reminder that – as with my vocal cords and lips, I’ll have to be very careful in future races to protect hands.
And then there are the ongoing disruptions to sleep: crushing bouts of exhaustion, extended spells of overnight sleeplessness, and wacky dreams. In the first few days after each of this winter’s races, I slept much less than normal – five or six hours a night, waking up sweaty and hungry and thirsty. The body just didn’t know what to do with the freedom to sleep again! After those few days, I shifted back to something like a regular pattern, but I still don’t quite know when sleep will crash down onto me at 3 pm or 8 pm, or lift off at midnight or 2 am. I just roll with it, five weeks after the Fat Pursuit and two after the Arrowhead. I’ll sleep when I can, and caffeinate when I can’t!
When I can sleep, though, I enjoy very vivid dreams about, or sort of about, the races. I’ve always had very literal dreams, and now – as I have after all my longest and hardest races – I’m having numerous dreams that are more or less replays of parts of the races: riding off Two Top in a whiteout; pedaling through West Yellowstone to the checkpoint, only it’s not West, it’s my hometown in Upper Michigan; walking up some Arrowhead hill…
I’ve also had some weirder dreams, like one – riffing on The Empire Strikes Back – in which I was riding in a long line of other fatbikers – many of whom I just knew, in that unspecified but certain way of dreams, were the folks who stayed in my same cabin at the Fat Pursuit. Riding over a snowy trail along the edge of a ridge, we encountered a group of Rebel soldiers on their tauntaun snow lizards, heading back to their Echo Base. No biggie. Maybe next year’s Fat Pursuit will include some miles on Hoth.