I was excited to ride on a dreary Wednesday in the first week of September. The thought of the temperatures being in the mid-sixties and the idea of not needing to apply sunscreen was strangely exhilarating. The wind was blowing strong out of the southeast and rain was falling lightly but steadily. By most people’s standards this day would send most people to their indoor training bike. North Dakota has not seen much rain this summer and this was a moment to celebrate. What better way than on a bicycle! With all the dry, hot days this summer my go-to triad of bikes has been my road bike, mountain bike and my touring bike. This ride would definitely be different starting with the selection of my steed.
A house brand mountain bike from the 90’s clad with fenders and aggressively knobbed tires. A bike I like to think of as an urban assault vehicle. No curb is too big nor is any puddle too deep for this bike. No fancy accoutrements are found on this bike: just a matte black aluminum frame slightly oversized for me, a mid-level suspension fork with Planet Bike fenders ready to do battle with oversized puddles and general road wash from the tires. The transmission is set up in the old-school three-ring chainring configuration with nine gears in the rear to carry the day. Braking is provided by cable actuated Avid disc brakes. The cockpit is relaxed and upright with room for a headlight (set to daytime flash mode), a Crane bell (with beautiful maple leaves painted upon it) made of steel with a moderate, well-mannered resonation, a no-name stem as well as a handlebar of the same lineage. The leather saddle has served me well but it is not the most comfortable I’ve used due to a bit of a rounded nature to it which does not mingle well with my sit bones. A better fitting saddle is not far off in this bike’s future.
The selection of riding clothing was certainly a different experience versus all of July and August. Cycling shorts with a jersey came with added enhancements. I threw a pair of fleece pants on and added a long sleeve polyester shirt under the jersey for extra warmth. It was safe to say I was going to get soaked but if I could hang on to enough heat then I would be warm and wet as opposed to cold and wet which would surely end up shortening my ride considerably. With safety and visibility, a top consideration, I slipped on my neon yellow Pearl Izumi wind/rain jacket. I now felt confident that I would be comfortable and visible.
As I began the ride, light rain immediately glistened my glasses and my face. Within minutes, my legs were warm and wet as was my upper body. The southeast wind carried me along with ease. Shifting through low and medium gears was smooth and effortless. The cable actuated disc brakes worked smoothly and powerfully. The initial operation of physical and mechanical systems suggested a pleasing ride with the opportunity to go as hard as I desired without catastrophic failure in either system. This was going to be a fun ride even if I did have to battle the wind on occasion.
I had set an hour limit for the ride because I had a meeting at 4:30PM that afternoon. It was 2:00PM and I knew how easy it would be to lose track of time if I didn’t stay focused on being home in one hour. There was a pang of anxiety deep in my body because I needed to get an errand done prior to the online meeting. I felt a familiar sense of frustration, feeling I was under the gun to get the ride completed. At least I had made sixty minutes of frolicking in the rain on two wheels available to myself. It would be the quality of the ride not the quantity of the ride that would put me in a calmer state in fifty-eight minutes.
My route took me north past the Red River Valley Fairgrounds and into the industrial park north of Main Avenue. The run up 13th Avenue West toward Main Avenue West was smooth and quiet as the wind was primarily at my back. Trailers sat quietly in the Red River Valley Campground as most of their tenants were busy at work in the FM area. Today’s ride was such a departure from the sunny and hot conditions most of July and August served up that the excitement I felt while preparing for the ride had not diminished. All systems were running smoothly and effectively. The thin layers that covered my body were my armor against the elements that were just millimeters from my bare skin and yet I felt comfortable.
As I headed into the industrial park, my fenders worked quietly and diligently to keep road wash off me and my water bottles. So simple yet so effective and important. They truly make a wet-weather ride so much more enjoyable. The Planet Bike fenders on this bike have mud flaps which add a level of protection which is truly brilliant.
As I entered the right-hand turn onto 8th Avenue Northwest, I noticed workers at a construction site plugging away in bright yellow rainsuits. It felt great to know I was not alone on this wet day. That things get done in the rain and that the weather can be embraced. North Dakota is certainly not a state for the faint of heart.
The number one weather related feature which can bring a person to their knees in North Dakota is the wind. I find it interesting that Chicago is nicknamed the windy city. Apparently, whoever came up with this name had never visited North Dakota. Minnesotans speak of their state as if it is the coldest state in the country. By discreet temperatures this may be true (think International Falls), but I would lay a heavy bet that North Dakota averages far colder wind chills than Minnesota. You need to be hearty to live in North Dakota. You need to embrace the weather here or it will send you running to southern climes. The clothing you select on any given day in North Dakota is the make-it or break-it comfort factor without question.
Today’s fabric technology is astounding. Fleece pants are a wonder of humankind. They can be purchased for very little money. Fleece retains heat and dries quickly. There are numerous weights of fleece which allows the outdoor enthusiast to create a true arsenal of cold weather gear. Many speak of Gore-Tex as a go-to wet weather material. I prefer fleece for its durability and easy washability.
As I moved gradually through the rain, I was met with the occasional wave from motorists. It felt great to be recognized in a positive way. Maybe their waves were a “hello” or a “go-gettem, wish I were out there with you” wave. Whatever the meaning behind the waves, I felt an unknown camaraderie with these motorists.
The ride home was slow with a strong southeast wind blowing and my legs feeling the strain of pushing my body through the wind. Rounding the final corner toward home brought on a feeling of excitement. Excitement that there was a warm shower waiting and the completion of a ride that was as fun as I imagined it would be.
photo credit: havefunbiking.com