Thursday, January 24, 2013

Birkie 200K


Leaving Forest Grove at the late hour of 8:30am, I steeled myself for a cold morning, afternoon and evening   Even with the delayed start time, pavement was slick with white frost and a thick freezing fog hung in the air.  My mood was low; my mantra "pedal, head down, pedal, head down".

Less than five miles later, something miraculous happened.  Suddenly, the fog spit me out into a surreal sunny valley with a blue sky ceiling. The rest of the daylit hours, although bitterly cold, stayed sunny and clear. 

Timber Road featured a pleasantly warming climb and stunning views.  The air was too cold for my phone so I wasn't able to snap any pictures.  I'd been here before but couldn't recall the descent into the town of Timber, "no services".  Big winding switchbacks with diagonal tracks at the bottom and about a billion barking dogs refreshed my memory.

On to Vernonia.  A quick control rest stop to warm toes revealed that the little hotties' promise of eight hours was a lie.  They barely lasted three.  A fun little info control spur took us out on Keasey Road.  Pretty and peaceful, I regretted turning back after finding the clue. 

More miles and abundant daylight lulled me into a relaxed pace to Birkenfeld.  Almost there, we encountered a spot where a car had slipped off the curving road and into the ditch.  It laid there on its back like a dead bug.

Full fat milk at the Birk, along with nuts and chocolate and chips, spelled stomach ache for the next hour or so.  It's a continuing lesson to eat less than I'd like on these endurance rides.  Back, past the flipped pick up truck, back, back to the Black Bear cafe. 
Fresh hotties and hot tea felt well-deserved.  There was time to rest my stocking feet against the big central stove before hurrying back out.  On our way again, the mountains robbed us of a sunset, forcing early goodbyes to that beautiful golden orb.  Bye bye sun.  Come again tomorrow, won't you please?

This is where the hard part starts.  There's no way to beat a plummeting temperature.  It races down faster than my fastest speed on my fastest day.  The cold enveloped me.  There was nowhere to hide.   Numb toes gave way to numb feet.  The parts of me that were warm earlier were long gone now.

Another icy corner tossed a car in a ditch.  The little family of four stood in the street in appallingly little gear.  Offers of help from cyclists probably seemed empty to them but we would've given up candy for the kids and a blinky for safety.  They shooed us away anyway, confident that triple A would be there momentarily.

A flat tire at the top of Timber did me in.  The cold seeped up from the ground, past my feet, into my ankles.   Finally fixed, the descent began.  The streets looked like someone had painted them solid white.  My normally consistent fear receded behind my cold, shaking shoulders.

The Glenwood control created a communication cluster that had me in tears.  I am learning that I gather up problems until they overflow me.  More important, I am learning how to access the logical part of my brain no matter how cold or miserable or unhappy I feel.  Stopping to freak out only makes things worse.

It's an important skill to separate physical and emotional discomfort, suffering, even crisis, from the coherent, analytical thinking required in extreme circumstances.  One approach is to plan ahead: practice reactions in your head.  If hypothermia threatens, having your brain readily available can prevent panic. Learning to think when thinking seems out of touch is pivotal. 

What it all really boils down to is this: pedal or not pedal.  Go back or go forward.  The answer is almost always pedal.  Go forward.  Continue ahead and leave everything else behind.

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