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October 29, 2010

Cold, Dark, Wet, and Flat

Today was my first truly cold ride of the season, 45 degrees with an effective temperature of 38F with the wind chill. I reluctantly broke out my cold weather kit which consists of wool socks and shoes instead of my Keen SPD sandals, full-finger gloves, running tights, a neoprene jacket, and new for this year - Under Armour "cold gear".

I bought the Under Armour in hopes that it would replace a bulky wool sweater from the Goodwill store that I used to wear under the jacket. What I learned today is that while UnderArmour is great at 50 degrees, it's insufficient at a wind chill of 38.

Riding in the cold isn't that bad; in some ways, it's better than riding in August. If you get too warm, you can open your jacket and cool off. You drink less water in the cold, and you don't get sweaty. There's no gnats. The trail isn't nearly as crowded when it's cold. Militants who obsess about their appearance (and followers of Rule 82), however, can find it difficult to ride in the cold.

I can ride in the cold, I can ride in the dark, and I can ride when it's wet; I'm just not wild about the combinations - cold and wet, dark and cold, etc.

When I was in my 30's, I used to say: Cold, Dark, Wet; I can do any two out of three. Back in the day my definition of "what sucks" was having all three factors simultaneously.

Now in my 50's, my definition of "what sucks" is any two at the same time. Today I added a new factor to the formula: Flat, as in flat tire.

I had ridden 18 miles of my planned 26 when the bike started handling differently and I realized I had a leak in the rear tire (my third flat this year). It was an eight mile ride to get back to my car, and the sun would set in +40 minutes. I had planned the ride to end at sundown, and now the flat tire presented a misadventure.

I was about to be Cold, Dark, and Flat, and I realized that would suck every bit as much as much as being Cold, Dark, and Wet. I didn't have a light with me, and I was leery of changing the tire for two reasons - I'd get really cold when I stopped riding, and the time spent changing the flat would move the rest of the ride into darkness. My lights, of course, were back in the car.

Fortunately, I had a potential silver bullet. I carry a gas-powered tire inflator, which usually runs on 25-gram CO2 canisters. Buried in my bag I also had a can of "Big Air", a 40-gram CO2 cartridge that I'd bought at REI. I had resisted the thought of spending $8 on a mondo CO2 cartridge but I thought that someday it might come in handy.

Today was that day. Three times the tire went flat as I rode back to my car, and three times the can of Big Air reinflated my tire. The $8 price was a bargain.

I got back to my car at 6pm, about 10 minutes before sunset. It was a good ride, and it showed me I wasn't really prepared for a flat tire in cold weather when it was dark out. It also gave me a new definition of what sucks: any two of {Cold, Dark, Wet, Flat}

Tomorrow I've got a few errands to run while waiting for the temperatures to rise before I ride: I've got a flat to fix, and I think I'm going to REI to get a new can of Big Air and maybe some wool.

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