There’s dedicated, and then there’s… um, this; my first polar roller. I call it the polar roller for two reasons: 1) because with the windchill, the temps we would be riding in would easily be below freezing, and 2) because it’s pretty much the polar-opposite of what we went through this summer.
John invited me to this particular Sunday ride. He keeps trying to convince me that I’m a strong rider like he and his friends are. I keep trying to convince him that I’ma have a heart attack if I try to keep up with him. This is the friend who did his first century ride at the Dam J.A.M. event (a notoriously hilly ride) in just about 5 hours. But, I digress.
As with any interesting invite/challenge, I initially think “Sure!” before my brain starts to work. After checking the temperature and letting him know what it’d be, he said “There’s no bad riding days, just bad riding gear.” To which I replied “Yes, and I thoroughly fall into the latter category.”
But, I couldn’t argue with his logic. He was right. I’d been riding 18 months now, and I didn’t have any cold weather gear. How was I supposed to keep my road miles up without proper cold weather gear? Last winter I rode my bike occasionally, looking nothing more like a circus bear on a bicycle with all my jackets and sweats. So, I bit the bullet (and the cost) and bought myself some Under Armor base layers, a couple of Under Armor cold weather tights, a Pearl Izumi Elite Barrior Jacket, and some toe covers for my shoes.
Cold weather gear? Check. Stupidly cold weather? Check. Slowly getting out-of-shape cyclist who’s been doing far too much running? Double-check. Looks like I was all ready to go. I figured if I wanted to get better I needed to push myself, especially during those times when most people wouldn’t. And this definitely counts as one of those types of rides. Yay for me, right?
Then I met his friends Paul, Stacy, and Gabby. Paul and Stacy were both strong, experienced riders. You can tell those guys just knew how to handle a bike and make their energy reserves last. Then there was Gabby. If I ever start to think too highly of my progress, I’ll just compare myself to Gabby. Only riding a few months, she’s hired a coach and is determined to pull off the Deuce at the 2012 Tulsa Tough. And believe me, with the way she’s going, she’ll do it.
John told me before I arrived that we wouldn’t be pushing too hard, because Gabby’s relatively new to cycling. John’s perception of “too hard” is obviously skewed. The night before, she had spent three hours on her trainer – “Only three,” as she put it, since her coach wanted her to do four. If I didn’t already know that I was in trouble, this woulda been a great indicator.
Last member of our party was Eugene, whom I rode with earlier in the year. Last time we rode together, I had a tough time keeping up with him, so I figured I’d be riding tail for this particular group. At about 10AM, with the temp hovering around 38°, and a pretty steady wind of about 8mph from the North, we rolled out. Into the wind, of course.
The plan was to do the 2009 Tulsa Tough 100k route, which heads out of Tulsa way north to Avant, and then almost a straight shot back south. Since we were starting from the Blue Moon restaurant on Riverside, we’d be adding a few miles to the route. I’d never done this ride, and I always like adding new roads to my ride map, so it sounded like fun. Little did I know that this route had over 3,000 feet of climbing.
The first 5 miles were pretty grueling, as I tried to coax my body into remembering that this wasn’t my first dance and I could manage to keep a fair pace. Once we worked our way through downtown and onto the route proper, I started feeling a bit warmer, and that biting cold North wind wasn’t quite so sharp. We hit some decent hills, and made okay time out to around mile 24, where we took a break at a corner store. Then it was out onto Highway 11, and into the middle of nowhere.
Rolling up to Avant we faced some pretty significant hills, and by the time we hit mile 30, I was starting to feel every roller, but was still managing to keep pace. Gabby was incredible. On the flats, she’d easily cruise at 18-20mph. Hills slowed her down some, but she just dropped the gears and kept spinning. Our next break was about a third of the way to Wolco – not where we were supposed to be going; we missed a left turn that woulda started us back home. But hey, what’s another five miles?
Then came the big one. A huge hill on Javine Hill Rd. that just didn’t want to end. Felt like 10 miles of straight climbing, though really it was closer to two. At this point, Eugene started to cramp really bad. I turned around to see how he was doing, and he wasn’t there. When I rolled back, I saw several cars and thought the worst. I hammered to where he lay in the grass being tended to by an elder gentleman who was expertly stretching his quad and working out the knots. Turns out after Eugene started cramping, he unclipped from the bike, and crumpled – fortunately not on the road. The man who was working on him – a Ronnie Thomas down from Barnsdall – was a first responder, and was just what we needed.
Since Eugene didn’t have someone who could pick him up, I called my wonderful wife who packed up the kids, and drove the 25 minutes out to where we were. After riding back up the large hill to check on how we were doing, John, Gabby, Paul, and Stacy continued on. By the time we got to the parking lot about an hour or so later, the rest of the group had arrived and were packing up for the day.
So my first polar roller was cut short, but by then we had done almost 48 miles, with 2,700 ft of climbing, and the temp barely reaching into the low 40’s by 3 in the afternoon. My gear held up better than I did, but I felt decent when I got home. Perhaps too decent, because I find myself looking outside in this sub-30 degree weather thinking “Hmm, maybe I can get a quick ride in today?”
Before I close, I want to give a massive thanks for Ronnie for stopping to help a random cyclist, giving us a ride into Skiatook, and wanting nothing in return. If there were more people like Ronnie, this world would be a lot better to ride in. Thanks again.