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The Winter Blues

Winter training is a massive chore in so many ways.

Big secret, I know; but the grind is real. I pride myself on being a man of principle and have set clear boundaries on what I consider ‘outdoor fun.’ When outside conditions are too harsh by my barometer, I find myself firmly planted on my KICKR trainer, spinning along in erg mode. Perhaps my biggest mistake since moving to Boulder is my complete lack of interest in any snow sports. Something is daunting about picking up a new sport in my mid-30s, especially one where people frequently injure their ACLs. Not to mention, the horror stories of people waking up at 3 AM just to wait hours on a hazardous, traffic congested I70, and then to wait for an hour with rental skis to ride the costly lift. Add in being constantly cold? Not my cup of tea.

Once, when I was 18, I did try to Nordic ski on the groomed trails at the YMCA in Winter Park, and it was a comical failure. Going down the first small hill, I wobbled and somersaulted. That was supposed to be the easy part. Trying to ascend the subsequent tiny hill became one of the most frustrating athletic endeavors I’ve ever experienced. After about 30 minutes of effort, I gave up, removing the skinny skis and opting to hike back to the rental building. I would rather swim laps in the lane next to the geriatric water aerobics class.

I tend to avoid activities where I immediately show a lack of ability. While growing up, I tried every ball sport except lacrosse or soccer. Small-town Kansas isn’t exactly known for its prowess in either of those sports, so there was no access. However, I didn’t have the hand-eye coordination for pitch baseball, taking every strikeout personally. I couldn’t remember football plays to save my life, and though I enjoyed basketball, I wasn’t very skilled compared to my peers. I imagine my performance and interest level would have been similar in soccer and lacrosse.

In fifth grade, we all had the opportunity to choose a band instrument, and I opted for the trumpet. I quickly discovered that I wasn’t particularly adept at playing a musical instrument. My stint in band lasted only a year before I shuffled off to choir. It’s easy to hide in the choir, but not so easy to hide with a squawky trumpet.

So, for the first three weeks of the 2024, I was on the trainer for 12 out of 21 days. The Arctic Blast we experienced this year made me feel like devouring twenty pounds of chocolate and covering my bike with a blanket. I must admit, though, I appreciate the level of quality that the trainer rides offer—there’s no hiding, no coasting, just constant pedaling. To many, the thought of riding a KICKR for 24 hours over three weeks sounds like absolute torture, and I’m here to confirm that, indeed, it was torture. However, it was necessary work. I’m aiming to push my limits on volume this year, and it all begins now. And by now, I mean December.

My personal approach to trainer-tainment (copyright) typically involves watching TV shows with multiple seasons for distraction. I would rather sit on the KICKR and watch TV than be dragging ass, wet and cold out on snowy roads. At least I feel less guilty watching TV while working out. During my first season of winter training in Kansas City, I managed to get through the entire series of Lost, which amounts to over 90 hours of a convoluted story that took far too long to unfold. This year, my first pick was HBO’s Six Feet Under from the year 2000, a dark comedy about a family who runs a funeral home in Los Angeles. I would highly recommend it. The energy and pacing are perfect for a long zone 2 ride, and the humor is dry enough not to be distracting.

Now, I’m not an absolute hermit when it comes to winter riding. The absolute joy I feel seeing a window of three days at 40+ degrees on the forecast after a miserable 6-day stretch of trainer duty is immeasurable. I am a man released from the bounds of his sweaty and motionless prison. My first ride back outside is animalistic and usually over the top.

Local gang of unpredictable teens terrorize local mountain town. More at 6pm.

I consider myself a man of principle because I set strict rules about riding in the winter. While living in Arkansas, I set a firm 40-degree rule that I would invariably draw derision from my friends. My own satisfaction came from when they returned looking miserable. In cycling, there’s already enough toughness involved without subjecting oneself to inclement weather “for fun.”

In Colorado, establishing firm rules has been a bit more challenging due to the proximity to the sun, which greatly influences conditions. At 32 degrees with a UV index of 4, it’s basically the Bahamas with piles of snow. While riding, I do my best to overlook the brackish road spray from the melted snow, ignoring the fact that it’s essentially a mixture of road debris and farm runoff splashing onto my bottles and hands.

There is a beauty to the dormant, stark landscape of Colorado in the winter.

At the top of my list of the Most Annoying Aspects of Winter Riding lies something highly personal yet universally felt. I absolutely despise not being able to give my bike a thorough wash. Those who know me well are probably chuckling, as my bike is infamous for being perpetually dirty, but winter exacerbates this issue to an unimaginable degree. The outside hose at our condo complex is of limited use, and I absolutely detest the idea of giving my bike a shower in the tub. It’s an awkward and unwieldy process, akin to trying to bathe a Great Dane. We don’t even have a shower wand, so it would essentially be a bike baptism. I think I’ll invest in one of those handheld pump sprayers to rid my bike of mud spray and pesticides.

To avoid being dirtier than I have to be, I try to avert my eyes from the alluring gravel paths and damp dirt roads that surround North Boulder. Instead, I meticulously plan my routes to stick to the pristine paved roads of Boulder County, following the tall boy strewn ditches. I keep a mental tally of electric green energy drinks or boozy beer containers. 3 to 2, booze is winning. A race promoter once humorously referred to an empty Coors Banquet as the “New Mexico State Flower.” It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. My bike nightmares consist of being launched to the moon by a burping and swerving pickup truck. Alternatively, they could be belching and jacked up on taurine while staring at their phone, reading up on how to make someone an astronaut.

The time investment in getting the layers right is significant. Forty-three degrees and sunny presents a whole different challenge compared to fifty-one degrees and overcast. It requires considerable time and laundry detergent to ensure I have long bibs, warm socks, overshoes, a base layer, a jersey, a jacket, a buff, and perhaps a hat. Then, after burning 3 to 4,000 calories, with my brain craving carbohydrates, I return home and slowly shed it all for the laundry bin. It feels like an extra hour just to bundle up and then undress afterward. Three-hour trainer session? Bibs, socks, and maybe a base layer. Sometimes, I find myself wishing I lived in San Diego, where the wardrobe requirements seem so much simpler with constant 75-degree weather.

When I first arrived in Boulder, I consistently underestimated the temperature fluctuations in the mountains. I vividly remember the excitement of experiencing the first sunny day in March. Without a second thought, I charged up Four Mile Canyon to the quaint mountain neighborhood of Sunset, clad only in shorts and a light jacket, navigating a road I had only glimpsed via satellite view. My timing couldn’t have been worse; dusk had settled on Sunset (oh, the irony) by the time I reached the summit, bringing with it a sudden drop in temperature of 15 or 20 degrees. I was chilled to the bone, doubting whether I’d even be physically capable of using my brakes.

Weather shifts in no time!
Honestly, sometimes I can’t help myself. I JUST NEED A LITTLE DIRT, MAN. JUST A LITTLE.

By some stroke of luck, someone happened to be outside their house tinkering with their small pickup truck. I probably looked like a total idiot because I was. “Please can you give me a ride down the mountain? I’m super dumb and didn’t pack accordingly.” Thankfully, she kindly agreed, and I spent the entire descent shivering uncontrollably, resembling Scooby Doo in a comical display of teeth chattering. It was a stark reminder that ambition and preparation inhabit two distinctly separate realms.

After a couple of months of navigating the ins and outs, I started feeling pretty confident. It was May, and the Flatirons were basking in the warm, bright sunlight. Eager to explore Four Mile Canyon once more and head towards Switzerland Trail—a rugged OHV path—I spotted the road for Pennsylvania Gulch and decided to follow it. As I progressed, the terrain grew increasingly technical and challenging, with numerous sections requiring dismounting and pushing. Eventually, the trail leveled off, only to reveal a barrage of ominous signs: “No Trespassing,” “Don’t Even Think About It,” “Firearms Ready,” “I’m a Former Marine and WILL Kick Your Ass.” Proceeding cautiously, I hurried along, aiming to reach Peak to Peak Highway.

Before I could make it there, however, a sudden storm erupted, the temperature plummeting by 20 degrees as hail began to pelt down. I realized with dismay that I hadn’t brought a jacket. It was yet another lesson learned the hard way. Stranded and soaked, I couldn’t fathom riding any farther. Miraculously, I managed to get a sliver of cell signal and frantically called my girlfriend, Heather, pleading for a rescue. She estimated she’d be there in 40 minutes. In the meantime, I sought refuge under a meager aspen tree, huddling with my knees tucked under my chin.

As a few cars passed by, their occupants gawking at the sight of a drenched cyclist sheltering under a tree in the mud, I couldn’t help but feel like a foolish child throwing a tantrum about the inclement weather. By the time Heather arrived, I was a sopping mess. Fortunately, we had a stash of dog towels in the Subaru, which I gratefully used to clean up. I certainly felt deserving of the dog towels after that ordeal.

Last year, I was so utterly fed up with that particular season that I escaped to Northern California for six weeks. For the first couple of weeks of my trip, I found a bargain $25-per-night Airbnb just north of Ukiah. On the cheaper end of the scale, you always get what you pay for with Airbnb. My lodging was a modest one-room “shed” equipped with electricity and a cozy Casper mattress. It was so snug that there was barely enough space to fit my bike inside each night.

Every morning, I embarked on a pilgrimage to the main house, navigating through the overgrown backyard adorned with various cannabis and garden plants at various stages of life and decay. As a Poohdist (sorry), I mindfully watched every step to avoid the dog turds that littered the yard like a stinky minefield. The main house was a veritable harem of random females living inside. Some had their own rooms, and some just posted up a mattress on the floor in the living room. The owner, in and out throughout my stay, also happened to run a Brazilian jiu-jitsu studio in town and was preparing for his annual ayahuasca retreat in Argentina by the end of my visit. I even got to meet his melancholy pre-teen offspring, running errands with his dad before he left for his grand spiritual awakening.

It was a surreal experience, yet somehow perfectly fitting. My humble shed contained nothing but my bed, my bike, my clothes, and an abundance of carbohydrates in every conceivable form. I felt like a modern-day Shaolin monk, diligently honing my skills day by day. Interestingly, my little abode in Redwood Valley happened to be a mere six miles from an actual Buddhist monastery nestled at the head of the Russian River.

My dojo
I had room for a space heater and a bookshelf with the Kama Sutra.

Every day, I would drive off to a separate part of the Clear Lake area to go ride for a few hours. There were only a few routes that I could actually ride out the front door because everything in Northern California is connected by 75 mph highways. Over those two weeks in the shack, I packed in over 670 miles and almost 65k of climbing, crawling all over the narrow backroads of Upper Lake, Ukiah, Longvale, Point Arena, and Healdsburg. As much as I ate, I still ended up a lean 159 lb. I was just so hungry to ride big days.

Following my time in Mendocino County, I embarked on a few weeks of exploration along the Mid Coast before eventually making my way to the Heartland and Mid South in Oklahoma. I managed to avoid the mind-numbing Colorado winter and get in some great early-season racing at the Grasshopper Adventure Series.

This year, I didn’t win the fabulous Six Week Californian Cycling Getaway. It just wasn’t in the cards for me. I can’t help but envy those who escape to Tucson for winter training. There are days when I grow so tired of the trainer that I find myself lost in daydreams, researching month-long stays in the Mexican mountains. I’ve come across several apartments on Airbnb priced at $500 a month, with promising cycling heat maps in the surrounding area. I envision dusty, tranquil rural roads in Mexico with minimal traffic, followed by evenings indulging in plump tacos and homemade corn tortillas.

I’m thankful for the short winter this year (knock on wood). Early January looked like it was going to be a rough, mostly trainer season but then that trusty ole varmint Punxsutawny Phil came around to tell us all the good news. On the Front Range, we had brief chunks of tough weather, dumps of six inches of snow, with roads covered in ice or slush.

Mid South will be my first race this season, coming up in just a few short weeks. The race has always marked the definite end of winter, only a couple of days before the official first days of Spring. Being the shoulder season, Mid South can either be the best of weather or absolutely atrocious. It’s a gamble, but I think I can start to stuff my thermal layers further back in my dresser drawer.

I don’t take much seriously in life, but fortune cookies are the exception. I mean, who wouldn’t trust life advice from a crispy piece of paper stuffed inside a dessert

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