35F on the bike feels cold! And then it got colder

Initial Air Temperature in Portola Valley

The Searsville Cycling ride meets at 6:25 every Tuesday and Thursday morning for a 20 mile spin through Menlo Park, Woodside, and Portola Valley. The group first formed in the late 80s. I joined them five years ago. The group includes former racers as well as mere mortal riders like me.

Under ideal conditions, I barely hang on. When it get's cold, I get dropped. Today was no exception.

Eleven of us met in a dimly lit gas station parking lot on Sand Hill Road - mostly regulars and a few regular guests. Having just gotten over a cold, I knew it was going to be a tough ride. We rolled out and began the first climb up Sand Hill Road.

Within the first quarter mile, I slid to the back of the pack. My fearful mind took over and filled with self-doubt. Would I make it over the first rise with the group? If I got dropped now, where could I shortcut and rejoin? What if nobody would join me for coffee because I couldn't keep up with the gang? The last question motivated me to push a little harder as we crested the first hill together. One hill down, one more to go.

While recovering as we descended the hill's backside, my rational mind reclaimed its rightful place and my confidence returned. We had one more hill - the climb over Horse Park. As we approached the hill, I moved toward the front of the group. Knowing I would fight to keep pace, I planned to slide toward the back as we climbed and then crest at the tail end of the group. Sure enough, my plan worked. The group stayed together as we got to the top.

As I recovered on the descent, the group pulled away from me. Before I knew it, there was a ten-yard gap separating us. I tried to call out, 'HEY GUYS, WAIT FOR ME'. But I couldn't form the words because my heart hadn't stopped pounding from its peak rate. Then I thought about the coffee and closed down the gap. Two parts down, three to go.

I break the ride down into 5 parts:

  1. Sand Hill Climb
  2. Horse Park Climb
  3. Manzanita Sprint
  4. Olive Hill Sprint
  5. Guard Rail Sprint
If I can make the first two climbs, I stay with the group, usually.

So far, so good. We headed toward the Manzanita Sprint. The group strung out in single file as we barreled across Manzanita Road toward the uphill sprint. I was last in the line. Not a good situation. Again, self-doubt took over. Should I shortcut? Could I hang on? Why am I freezing? I downshifted and gave it all I had. Sadly, all I had wasn't going to cut it. I got gapped again as we crested the small rise at the sprint point. 

The group slowed, arguably for me to rejoin. Then we headed to Canada Road and turned on Olive Hill. My plan was to move to mid-pack and draft off the wheel in front of me to the top of the Olive Hill sprint. What was I thinking? This group must have gotten a better night's sleep than I had. They probably all had their personal trainers and masseuses do extra sessions to prepare for this sprint. They dropped me again as we crested the sprint point. 

Sometimes, the group slows as we roll through the chicanes on Albion road. Not today. They continued to hammer hard. Or more likely, I continued to hammer hard to close down the latest gap. It worked, and I rejoined the group as we turned on Kings Mountain Road. We turned again, this time onto Tripp Road where we usually back down a bit. It felt like they turned up the gas AGAIN! I could barely hang on as we continued onto 84. 

At this point, the temperatures had dropped to 29F on Portola Road. With only one part left to the ride, I was in trouble. On my best day, I barely hang on at the Guard Rail. Today felt more like my worst day. When I checked again, the temperature dropped to 27F. 

Irrational fear took over. Would they wait for me at the stop sign? What if the morning ride - the really Fast Kids - passed me before I rejoined the group? Would they be laughing? Would they let me sit in their draft? Who would join me for coffee?

As we approached the Guard Rail, I was done, spent, effete, and dropped. Dr. Bob took pity on me and rolled along my side offering words of comfort and encouragement. I put my head down and kept pedaling. Bob and I passed over the Guard Rail sprint point about 45 seconds behind the pack. As we approached the stop sign, we saw the group waiting for us to join them on the final leg down Alpine Road. 

When we approached the coffee shop, the pace increased. I was dumbfounded. How come they continued to push the pace? Wasn't anyone going to stop for coffee? As they pulled ahead and another gap formed, Marcia rolled up alongside me. She must have taken pity on my sorry riding and joined me for a hot cup of coffee and a great conversation.

The more I ride, the more I appreciate the coffee and conversation after the ride.


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