Saturday 4 July 2009

Friday's ride

I could not blog about my ride yesterday - I was in bed by 7.30pm, passed out - stone cold dead from from exhaustion.

I knew it was going to be windy before I started, but not how windy. In my interlude from riding to work, I have not been riding on windy days. If I look out the window and the tree limbs are swaying too and fro, I go back to the couch. Therefore, I am totally out of shape for riding into the wind.

Getting to work was not too bad. It was chilly - a brisk 10 degrees when I suited up - but not evilly chilly. It's odd that I felt colder on the way home, when the bike thermometer was reading 20, than on the way to work. Then again, the thermometer seemed to wake up a kilometer into my ride and rapidly plunged to 17, then 15 degrees. That was more like it.

Except that I had believed the temperature as given by the thermometer to be correct, and had stuffed my jacket in my backpack, and gone with fingerless gloves rather than the full length gauntlets. My jersey was still damp with sweat from riding in that morning, and I was soon having trouble grasping the brake levers due to numb fingertips! I have been issued a locker at work, which will allow my wet gear to dry properly during the day, but have not been issued with a key.

The only way I know I have a locker is that I walked past them and saw that my name had been put on one of them. I have been told not to approach she-who-issues-the-locker-keys, as that is the best way to have my locker rights revoked. I have to wait until she feels that it is time to pay me a visit and hand over the key.

The problems really started when I hit the ANZAC bridge. The ANZAC bridge is fine to ride over when heading into the city - the bridge is reasonably steep, but from the Balmain side, you have this long, straight downhill run before it starts heading sharply upwards. Sensible riders go hell-for-leather on the downhill part and try and build as much speed and momentum as possible before tackling the rise. That sometimes means scooting between pedestrians at 50km/h on a confined path, which can be a bit hairy, but that generally gives them the idea that they should keep left, rather than filling the path from side to side.

The city side of the bridge is altogether different. Some wise engineer at the RTA came up with the idea of building a zig-zag approach for the bike path, so by the time you have ascended to the deck proper of the bridge, all momentum is gone. The zig zag path is also fairly steep - it's common to get stuck behind mountain bikes going zshh-zshh up the path in low-low gear, which equates to walking pace for most humans.

And when you get to the top of the zig zag, you find yourself facing the steepest part of the bridge. Somehow, that engineer with a wacky sense of humour managed to design a bike path that is most off-putting to beginner riders. Bike paths are supposed to be easy to use in order to encourage fat, unfit bastards to start using them. Building a path on one of the most heavily used routes into the city that has a degree of difficulty that would not be out of place on the Tour de France is not the best way to tempt first time riders to come back for a second attempt!

I don't mind it now of course - I usually come up the zig-zag a few gears up from low, and have the stamina to push up and over the steepest part at a reasonable clip. Thin, young wiry bastards occasionally go zipping past me, making me feel like a lumbering hippo trundling up the ascent, but in the main I find it an every day challenge to see if I can improve my time from the base of the zig-zag to the crest of the bridge.

Yesterday was different. As soon as I emerged from the zig-zag, which is in a wind shadow, I rode straight into a ferocious head wind. I was suddenly in low gear, pushing for all I was worth to get up to the crest. Every rotation of the cranks was an effort, and I didn't have the luxury of getting into a really, really low gear like mountain bikes do. I just had to grit my teeth and bear it, hoping that my spleen would not explode out of my side halfway up the hill. It was push-push-push-gasp, push-push-push all the way to the top. I even had to push on the downward slope, so nasty was the headwind. Normally, I coast down under brakes. This time, I had to pedal to keep moving!

Once I was over the top, the fun didn't stop. Apart from a nasty headwind, I was also being buffeted by strong gusty side winds. They were enough to push me sideways a bit every now and then, and I am not as light as a feather. I was giving everything a wide berth, worried that I'd be going around a pedestrian when I'd get bumped sideways enough by the wind to force a collision.

I got a feel for the strength of the wind when I hit the Bay Run. The Run loops this way and that, so sometimes the wind is in your face, others at your back. I came around a long bend and the wind was now behind me. I pushed up through the gears until suddenly there was no noise - the roaring in my ears was muted, and I was riding in the Cone of Silence. I was barely putting any pressure on the pedals, yet I was tonking along at 40km/h.

About 500 metres later, I was doing zero. I'd had another flat.

I found a park bench, and sat down to change the tube. That went ok, until I removed the pump after inflating the fresh tube. The bit that lives inside the valve stem came shooting out under pressure and disappeared into the grass, leaving me with a very flat tyre and no spare tube.

Thank goodness for mobile phones. J came and picked me up.

I woke up several times during the night and had to scrub bits of sand and grit out of my eyes. It was even worse this morning - I had a crust on my bottom eyelid of crud that had worked its way out overnight. On windy days, you really need to swap the sunglasses out for a set of goggles.

Such is life in the saddle. I am about to head out to buy some more inner tubes.

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