lessons learnt…the hard way

22 01 2010

The following is a cautionary tale of a stupid man, a bike and a very hot and windy day.

The decline into madness started two days ago (Wednesday). I’d been out for a ride and as a result of a poor memory, I found myself 7kms short of 400km in a calendar month. The more I thought about it, the more it annoyed me. I knew the only solution was to get out on the road again and knock out some more miles.

I was planning to go out for my usual Saturday morning ride with the local bike group – a loop that covers almost 43 kms. Add in travel to and from home and it is around 48kms. I figured that if I could get in one more ride before then, I’d be able to hit 500km in a calendar month, something I never thought I’d ever be able to do.

The solution was therefore clear. I had to do bang out 59 kms on either yesterday or today. As it turned out, I spent a lovely day around town with my wife yesterday, so I committed myself to a ride this morning.

I usually head off for rides early morning – around 5.30-6am – but today I thought I’d let the Mrs sleep in a bit, and I got the girls organised while she slept. By the time the Friday morning routine was done and I was ready to go, it was around 9.40am. The last thing I remember my wife saying to me is “It’s catastrophic today”.

For those of you not in Aus, our summer days are rated depending on the likelihood of a bushfire (wildfire). A catastrophic rating is as bad as it gets. It generally means that it is another very hot day and very windy. A spark will turn into a fire in seconds and if one takes hold, lives are likely to be lost.  More info on the NSW Bushfire Rating System here.

Here is the weather report I looked up when I got home. Like I said, hot and windy. It has been hotter, and it did get up to 41ºC later in the day, but by then I was back inside.

OK, so we’ve established that it was very hot, very windy and that I was hell bent on riding.

I was prepared of course. I had two full bottles of icy cold Gatorade and two gels. I didn’t plan on being out for much more than two hours. It wasn’t a particularly hilly route and had only a few slight uphill runs.

Things started well. Sure the wind beat me about a bit, but I knew that I would soon be turning out of the wind and not too long after that I would turn again and have a tail wind for a good portion of the ride. After the first hour, I’d done about 27kms and when I hit the tailwind, I made better time.

However, it was hot and getting hotter. I’d gone through most of my first bottle. At about the same time, I past a small petrol station. I thought about pulling up and grabbing another drink. Something cold would go down a treat. Nah, I’m almost half way and I’ll be right.

Lesson Learnt #1: On hot days, always fill up your bottles when you have the chance.

Powering on, I started to keep my eye out for the turn. By the time I turned, I’d gone 40 kms and was averaging about 29kph. As I turned, I felt the wind hit me, and it was hot. No cool breezes today. My speed dropped instantly and it took all of about 5 minutes for my bravado to waver and my energy to sag. I pushed on for a while, thinking that I just had to get back to familiar ground. Once there, I’d be able to push on to the end. Problem is, country roads go on for ever, or at least they seem to. I decided the best course of action was to pull off the road under a big shady tree and have a breather, some gel and some more fluids. It had only been twenty minutes since turning onto the road, and I didn’t feel like I’d gone very far at all.

After a 15 minute rest, I hopped back on. It didn’t really suprise me that I couldn’t push. I had nothing left to give, but I knew I had done the right thing by stopping.

Lesson Learnt #2: On hot days, make the most of rest stops.

I plodded along at about 20kph, simply concentrating on maintaining forward momentum. I wasn’t overly hot, but I was dry. I was taking in a mouthful of fluid every 5 minutes or so. It kept me going, but I really wish I’d had one more bottle.

Lesson Learnt #3: On hot days, take an extra bottle (or see lesson #1)

By the time I reached familiar ground, I was spent. I was almost out of fluids and was actively scanning the nearby farms for signs of water. Damn drought. As I finally turned towards town, I started thinking about packing it in. Call in the good wife to rescue me. I decided that it was for the best, and pulled over to ring home.

Lesson Learnt #4: Don’t forget to take your mobile phone.

Sonuvabitch. In six months, I haven’t forgotten the phone once. In fact, I’ve been practically anal about it. There was no choice but to push on. I wasn’t cramping, I had a smidge of Gatorade left and one more gel. I also knew there was a little shop coming up in about 5 kms. As I reached it, I gladly hopped off. I ducked inside and headed straight for the fridge, grabbing two bottles of croc juice. It was then that I discovered I had stumbled into the last remaining shop on the planet that didn’t take EFTPOS. Cash only.

Lesson Learnt #5: Don’t forget to take some cash. Debit cards are fine, but cash works everywhere!

Thankfully and very gratefully, the girl at the shop let me have some warmish water out of the tap. One full bidon later, I downed a gel plus half a bottle of water and sat down for a rest. I figured I there was only 6kms and one manageable hill between me and home. So off I went again.

As I pulled into the driveway, I felt better, the gel had kicked in and I’d been able to get home without any dramas. Once inside, I headed straight for the fridge and had a large glass of ice cold water followed by a long cool shower.

I’ve vowed to stay off the bike until Monday, and rest and hydrate until then. There goes my plan to hit 500kms before the weekend is over.

Lesson Learnt #6: Don’t fixate on your goals so much that you sacrifice your safety in the process.

In the end, the 64.71kms took me 2hrs 41mins @ 24.09km/hr (40.44mi @ 15mph). The last 24kms took me about 90 mins.

I’ve learnt alot about riding on hot days. It’s nothing earth shattering – essentially just be prepared, and pay attention. If I’d travelled with my usual kit, I could have avoided having lessons 4 and 5 reiterated to me. At least I remembered by SPF 50+ sunscreen with insect repellent.

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