In recent years we have all been spoiled by Toledo winters. There have been very few December through February weekend mornings where the chairs in the back room at The Family Affair in Grand Rapids were not littered with extreme weather cycling outerwear, gloves, shoes, and booties thawing out next to the heater. Riding every weekend, or riding as many consecutive weekends as humanly possible, has become something of an obsession. Eons ago (back in the seventies and eighties) there was a small handful of us spoiled by adequate snowfalls into thinking that cross country skiing could be–not only a viable winter training method–but a competitive sport in and of itself. Racing skis and accessories, interstate road trips to big-time races like the American Birkebeiner and Vassa. The whole weekend warrior thing á la neige. Whether it was global warming or just a normal climatic cycle, the latter conviction has been replaced by the former. But white winter’s back, at least temporarily. So here, without further commentary, I offer for perusal two first person narratives of white winter training, the first authored by Mike Faehnle, the second by me, David Teall.
A DAMN COLD RIDE X 2
I woke up on the morning of Dec. 9, 2000 and turned on the Weather Channel to see if the temperature was as cold as the 15 degrees the weather people had predicted. Well, much to my dismay, the temperature was only 3 degrees, so I said to my wife, "I think it's a little cold out; I don't think it's safe to ride at this temperature."
Her response was, "Just dress warm, you'll be alright." Connie is a very supportive wife when it comes to my ride time, but the truth of the matter is she enjoys her Saturday and Sunday mornings to herself without me there to screw things up!
So here I go heading down McCord road from Sylvania to the Fort. I actually felt fairly comfortable as I wheeled in the Ft. Meigs parking lot on my Fixed Gear.
Steve Sams was there to greet me and asked where was the snow storm I road through? My head was completely frosty from the moisture of my breath. Just about that time Steve Clark drove by in his Jeep and yelled, "Are you guys crazy?"
Al Bowersox was there, and then Tony Gwyn shows up.
After walking around a few minutes to get some circulation going in my feet we decided the temperature must be hovering around 0 degrees, so we decided we might as well take off. You know how your head feels when you eat ice cream too fast? Well, our heads felt that way till Dave Komives’s house where he joined us on his mountain bike. By the time we made it to the Waterville bridge Steve Sams did a very smart thing. He turned right and went back home and ended his misery while the rest of us pressed on towards Grand Rapids. We were so damn cold that no one spoke till about a mile out of Grand Rapids when Tony asked, "Are we there yet Mom?" Unknown to us three on road bikes poor Dave Komives was struggling to just hang on and was exhausted and sweating like a big dog by the time we made the sprint sign. At the restaurant no one spoke; we just bolted in to the back room and started downing coffee. Hot tea for me. We all faired pretty well, but Dave's toes were looking a little white. A good breakfast, good conversation, and we were heading back home with a slight tailwind and a balmy 10-15 degree temperature.
So at breakfast on Sunday (yes I rode out from Sylvania again) I asked Karen if I would receive any extra points for extreme cold weather riding and Karen's response was, "There are no points for stupidity." I couldn't argue with her!
So I'll bet your wondering what the X2 is all about! Christmas eve I road out from Sylvania on fairly clear roads to meet up with John Safian at the fort. It was just John and I on fixed gears heading straight into 15 to 20 mile an hour winds towards Grand Rapids. By the time we hit Nazareth Hall the sun had come out, and it ended up to be a beautiful ride except for the wind. I left John at Waterville on the way back home, and as I started going north on Albion Rd, I experienced one snow drift after another with fierce crosswinds that made it very difficult to keep myself in an upright position, but eventually I made it back to Sylvania.
I suppose some people think I may be a little nuts, but winter riding sure makes my wife happy, and beats the hell out of riding down the basement on a trainer!
[Editor’s note] At 12:05 P. M. December 9, I was on the way to pick up my daughter Brittany at Girl Scouts. Through the windshield of my Volvo 745 I saw the surreal: Mike Faehnle pedaling toward me up King Road. Having ridden home with Mike several times when the temp was a bit warmer, say 20 or so, I knew that he was right on schedule for a return trip from Grand Rapids. Earlier that morning I never gave the breakfast ride so much as a remote consideration, the temp being in the low single digits. I was so shocked to see that anybody had gotten his bike out let alone somebody like Mike who has such a long initial ride to the Fort that I couldn’t even tap the horn.
Hard Wax and Cold Fine-Grained Snow
My day-after-Christmas plans were to meet California transplant Joe Holmes and 1976 Club Champ George Pheul for some traditional (i. e., non-skating) cross-country skiing. As I pulled into the Evergreen Lake parking lot at Oak Openings Metro Park, Joe was the first to greet me. "Hah! My friends back in California must think that it’s miserable here in the Midwest with single-digit temperatures," he said, waving his outstretched arms and taking in a deep, exaggerated breath. "This is great!" George and another skier were still inside George’s conversion van, engine running, putting the final touches on their wax. Joe and I caught up on old times while waiting for them emerge. The other skier turned out to be Tony, a twenty-something who had met George through running and apparently had gotten cajoled by Training Animal into trying a little cross-training. It was too cold to stand around, so we shook hands and mounted skis.
George disappeared immediately up the trail. I was able to stick with Joe for about a kilometer or so before going into serious oxygen debt. Joe showed some compassion and held up for me every now and then at the top of a hill. George, once he had gotten out of sight plus several hundred meters, did his trade mark training move: ski back toward the stragglers, do a perfect skid-turn stop in the middle of the trail about 30 meters away, turn around, and take off like a mad man, again. It was only Tony’s third time on skis, and he, though obviously cardiovascularly fit, had fallen out of sight off the back. Realizing that I was holding Joe back, I took it upon myself to provide Tony with the same tutorial I offer neophytes on the bike: If a fat, out-of-shape slob can go this fast, there must be an enormous canon of technical know-how that I need to learn now. Tony attacked the straight, flat sections with an aggressive feet together, high tempo double pole, but he had to slow down or stumble through the more technical sections. I skied with a relatively lethargic tempo, working the glide of each stride to its max, kicking hard only when I landed on a little bump in the snow, saving energy for short up-hill bursts. Interval training with plenty of rest between intervals.
Snow and temperature conditions were nearly perfect for hard wax diagonal skiing. The skied-in track was firm and well-formed, polished smooth by X number of touring skis, reflecting the sunshine off its mirror finish in the open sections. There were no foot tracks in ski track; the ski-only trail designation, the remote location, and, dare I say, respect for skiers? left us a virgin track. We were all using waxable skis, and we all had plenty of grip and glide. When the temp is in the teens or below and the snow is only a few days old, there’s no great secret to waxing. Any combination of glide or polar on the tips and tails with green or special blue in the kick zone applied in thin layers and polished smooth works.
Of the metro parks Wildwood, Secor, and Oak Openings, the latter is by far the best for diagonal track skiing. The Evergreen Lake area is off of SR-295, just south of the main park entrance and Obee Road. On the 29th I skied in Ann Arbor at the Huron Golf Club, which has machine cut and groomed trails for diagonal skiing with a parallel groomed skaters’ lane. There’s a rental set up in the golf pro shop and skiers with their own equipment are asked to pay a trail fee. There is a variety of terrain and it’s worth the drive if you’re in for several hours of serious skiing. In recent days I’ve skied at Secor, which also has a designated skiers-only trail and a decent track, and Wildwood, which gets too many walkers for pristine track skiing and presently has too much untracked snow for comfortable skating.
Too much snow. Twenty-six point two inches for December, an all-time record. Until the roads clear and all of this snow melts, it’s time to ski.