You never know what’s inside of you until you test the rest of yourself. You can read all of the books, study all of the guides, read every blog, but until you have an experience first hand, you only have an idea. My training partner Indy and I have been training for months for our upcoming bikepacking race. We’ve spent lots of hours in the gym, on the bike, and meditating. We’ve worked on our mobility, reviewed tons of gear, and competed in a number of single day races. The real bread and butter however, is multi-day bikepacking races. So recently we set out to do just that; 3 days, 2 night, and 300 miles of self-supported bikepacking.
Friday night classes were winding down and my ride prep was done. I had my bike all packed excluding the Jimmy John’s I planned on buying across the street on our way out of town. I bought my sandwiches and Indy and I hit the bikepath as a light drizzle fell on our rain gear. We had about 15 miles of path and road until we left town and hit the start of our adventure.
As we turned onto the trail leading out of town, we stopped and took a break to eat. The wind was picking up and the rain was turning into sleet and snow. It was getting colder too. Nevertheless, we pushed on. Heading east with a wind out of the north, we were making good time but not as great as I had hoped; I planned on us making it 65 miles before midnight.
The further we went the more the wind picked up and the colder it got. The sleet started to burn the side of my face and neck. I stopped and put the hood up on my new Patagonia jacket, which was super comfy. We crossed county roads, small bridges, and pedaled through the sand, grass, and moss as we made our way. Indy asked me if the moss felt soft for it being that cold out.
“I don’t know, I guess so, maybe.” I replied.
A few minutes later and his tire was almost entirely flat. I sat with my back to the wind as Indy changed his tire. It only took a few minutes. We can still make it, if we ride a little longer than we originally planned.
Indy got his wheel remounted and we took off again. After a few minutes of pedaling we finally shook off the cold. I was getting used to the sleet. I almost forgot about it pelting me, honestly. I was really losing interest in riding though and I started to dream of my bivy and relaxing for the night. We had a big day coming up tomorrow. Then I heard the womp womp womp of Indy’s tire bouncing as it lost air again.
When we stopped I could heard Indy getting frustrated. It was only a little after 23:00, almost an hour before we planned on stopping for the night, but I was ready for sleep. Indy said he would fix his tube and set up his camp gear if I could find a decent site for us. I pedaled down the path about 100 yards and found a nice spot behind some brush that blocked the wind. I struggled a bit with frozen straps as I wrested my sleep gear out.
I was snuggled in my bag for 20 minutes and hadn’t heard anything from Indy. I wondered if he missed me tucked in the bushes and pushed on down the path looking for me. I sat up and looked back he was still in the same spot. When I climbed out of my bivy and walked down the path, the wind cut right through my clothes. It was getting brutally cold. When I got to Indy he had his mittens on trying to get his tire back on the rim. To me it looked like he was getting too much exposure to the cold and needed to get in his bivy and warm up. He agreed to call it a night and fix the tire in the morning.
I lay in my bag tossing and turning. I was trying out a new bivy sack but it wasn’t quite big enough. With me and my bag inside, I couldn’t close it completely; I could pull it pretty tight, but there was still a pretty large opening right over my face. Sleet hit me right in the face as I lie there. I tried pulling the hood of my jacket over my eyes and my buff up to cover the rest, but it quickly got soaked and uncomfortable. I rolled to my side. The wind was shaking the trees and howling just a few feet above the brush that was blocking our camp area. Whichever side I chose to put up, the wind quickly sucked the warmth right out of me. Tossing and turning, I couldn’t sleep. I decided to wake Indy up and move to a new spot.
I called to Indy to tell him we were moving. He had thought I was comfortably asleep and he welcomed the idea of moving. It was wicked cold getting out of the bag. The straps that held my sleeping pad on my bike had frozen solid. I shivered as I put my rain gear back on to block the wind. I reached out for my shoes and noticed that they had been a nice layer of sleet in the bottoms of them; I took a couple of deep breaths and slid my feet in. So cold! My hands were hurting and the wind was beating the shit out of them. As I slowly packed my gear I took a break every 30 seconds to warm my hands in my coat. Ice formed on my gear in just the few minutes that I had been out of it. Indy packed up and started to fix his tire.
Shivering, we climbed on our bikes and headed back to an overpass we had seen just a few hours ago. As we pedaled, I shook the shakes, and everything started feeling good again, other than my hands and feet. 20 minutes later we hit heaven; a dirty overpass blocking most of the wind. We leaned our bikes and sat back in between the pillars. Just having the wind off us was like taking a portal to a tropical paradise. I unzipped my jacket, took my gloves off, and had a good laugh with Indy. As we were sitting back we could see the waves on the canal pushing upstream, and hear the trees still shaking, but we were covered and comfortable. We ate a quick snack and decided to sleep until the sun came up to get some extra warmth. I laid out my sleeping gear and climbed in. Out of the wind, I didn’t even have to zip my bivy up all the way to be comfortable. My eyes were heavy and sleep came easy this time.
I woke up to Indy’s alarm going off. What the fuck? The sun isn’t even close to being up? I yell at him to turn it off. He yells back that it wasn’t his. I got my phone out and that wasn’t it. What is it? I yelled at Indy again, and he replied that it must be crickets. I was fairly certain that there aren’t crickets in winter in a 0 degree windchill. It was pretty rhythmic too. Half asleep I tried to sort out what it could be. A few more cycles of the sound and I remember that I set the alarm on my Garmin Etrex to see if it would wake me up. It did. I crawled out of my bag, walked over in my socks and shut it off. I climbed back in my bag and immediately fell back asleep.
The next time I woke up, I saw the reflection of the sun coming up. I sat up and looked over my shoulder at the crisp landscape and soul warming sunrise. There is safety in the light. Something mental changes when the sun comes up. You just feel more at ease. The wind had shifted a bit but it was still amazing to be a troll under the bridge. Indy and I packed up again and decided to back track to the gas station we had passed late last night. According to the GPS it was only 5 miles away. We took off riding into the wind.
As we pedaled we discussed where things had gone wrong and what we could do to improve for the future and the upcoming race. The wind blowing in our face sucked but it was only a short way to be indoors. My left shoe wouldn’t lock in straight and I figured the cleat had come loose. As we pulled up in front people stared at us like we had something wrong with us which is debatable. I had been dreaming of foot warmers the whole way there. I leaned my bike, grabbed my wallet and headed in as Indy made a video to post. I cut a line for the foot and hand warmers. I grabbed them and made a circle by the counter to drop them off. The attendant looked at me like I was an alien. I made another lap of the store and grabbed a whole pile of food and a coffee.
Indy came in as I was sipping coffee and taking my shoes off to put the foot warmers on. As we ate we discussed the plan for the day. We checked the forecast for where we were headed up north. It was supposed to be the same conditions we had last night and 20 degrees colder. We went back and forth and ended up deciding it would be better to pull the plug and head home to fight another day than to push on and risk getting injured. We were to have another 250 or so miles in the loop or we could head back directly into the wind for 50 miles and learn from what we had done the previous night. 50 miles it was. We settled on a plan of riding the 35 miles to the next town and taking a break to warm up again.
Out the door and moving, my feet were warm and the sun was on my back and the wind was in my face. Nice and steady we paced around 7.5 mph. 20 miles in we stopped to eat a bit from our feed bags. I took a leak in the bathroom and sat down outside to eat a half frozen sandwich. I didn’t want to be in the wind. I went back in the bathroom and stood and ate my sandwich. I would rather smell piss and be out of the wind. Food done, we got back on the bikes. There was a guy getting ready to go fishing as we left. We joked about who was crazier. On we went.
35 miles down, 15 to go. We hit the next town, ordered the top notch $5 breakfast pizza and got some Gatorades. All warmed up we hit the road again. A mile down the road and I was thirsty again. Good news, I had 2 of the 3 liters of water left in my bag. Bad news, it was frozen solid. I considered stopping every time we passed a store. I also knew that I would be home in a few hours and all would be well. Slow and steady we made it back.
I walked inside my house to the greatest feelings; warmth and food. I ate until my stomach hurt, took my wet clothes off and showered. I napped on and off for the rest of the afternoon and slept all night.
There’s something to be said about getting out of your comfort zone. It makes taking it easy so much nicer. If I were to just wake up and get on the couch, I wouldn’t appreciate it. After a hard fought ride in the cold, sleet, and wind, my couch was one of the most amazing things in the world. We tend to take for granted the amazing things we have in life when they are available all of the time. Take a minute and be thankful. Thanks for reading.
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