I am about to shock you with a story about a totally wussified achievment that I am nevertheless quite proud of.
I commuted home tonight on my bike. I am quite proud of this.
Now wait, before you break a rib laughing, here me out.
On the ride into work this morning, I noticed my fixie had a little bit of enhanced friction emanating from somewhere in the rear hub. There was enough rub back there, that I had trouble rotating the wheel around at stoplights so that I could start with one pedal high up, for an easier start. I did twenty miles with it like that, but it only ocurred to me to release the rear brake about a half mile from my office. That didn't fix the problem.
I was going to leave work at a reasonable hour, but those plans fell through. So I found myself leaving the office at about 7:30 or so. On the way out, I checked Weather.com. The forecast was for cold - serious cold, like 32 degrees, with 25-35 MPH wind out of the northwest. Coincidentally, I ride in a northwesterly direction for the entire 11 mile ride. I gritted my teeth, dreaded the cold, and wandered over to the elevators to go down to the parking garage to get the bike.
When I got there, I checked the rear wheel and tried to spin it. I could spin hard, but it would stop after a half turn. That was bad. So I undid the rear bolts with my handy Jethro Tule, which is possibly the coolest wrench/bottle opener combo in the entire known universe. To be truthful, I can't think of any others, so the Jethro Tule wins by default, but even if there were others, the Tule wold rock. But I digress.
I took off the rear wheel, fiddled with the cones to the limited extent I was able, then put it back on. My cone fiddling hadn't heled. This was going to be hard. Pedaling around the garage I noticed it rolled about as easy as pulling 53:15 on reasonably flat ground. The only problem is, instead of going 28, I was going 15. This was going to be bad.
Out into the wind, and the first thing I noticed (beside the piercing wind and heavy traffic) was some snowflakes. This wasn't in the plan. I thought for a moment about calling my wife for a ride, but decided I'd man it out, and started pedaling through the excessively heavy traffic. Turns out the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony was held at the White House around 6:00 today, so traffic was well and truly buggered. Nice.
It was hard going. The pedaling was tough and the legs immediately set to burning, and the wind felt like a steady hand pushing back on my chest. I went about six blocks down Eye Street, and found myself in the absurd position of sweating uncontrollably, shivering, and pushing hard on the pedals with burning legs and cold knees. The thought of making the call of shame again crossed my mind, but I kept my head down and kept pedaling.
Eventually I made it across town, past the accidents near Georgetown, and onto the Capitol Crescent. The slight upgrade between the boathouse and Riley's Lock was much tougher than usual, but I just kept my head down. Were those red lights blinking up ahead? Or were tears from the wind screwing up my vision and making me see the car headlights over on River Road as red blinkers?
I started coughing a bit. There was a lot of dust in the air along with the very light snowflakes, and I have asthma. Chunk chunk chunk, went the asthma. It was the deep, belly cough you get when your throat is trying to strangle you. I got an instant back cramp down around my upper kidneys, probably because I'm not eating great in an attempt to lose some weight. Still I kept on. I passed some old codgers on commuter rigs. One said to me, "Adskjbthe. Aonst! Lefflip!" Evidently, I wasn't the only guy who was freezing cold.
Going up the rise between River Road and the old rail tunnel, the asthma cough really set in. The tendinitis in my left shoulder that has plagued me for a week was burning too, but I tried to think positively about it, since that shoulder was the only part of my body other than my thighs that felt warm. Eventually, the coughing got too bad, and I stopped just past the rail tunnel to take two or three hits of my inhaler. That cleared things up, but I had the weirdest feeling in my gut, like it was getting ramped up for some huge coughing fit, but was disappointed that me & Mr. Inhaler just called the show off.
The wind was really bad now, and I started getting some quartering gusts, along with the steady push on my chest. I took off my photo gray sunglasses, since I was going too slow to keep them cleared (15-16) and they were fogging up. Still, I just kept turning over the pedals, legs burning in my impromptu big ring workout.
Eventually I made it up to the two road crossings in Chevy Chase / Bethesda. I passed this Asian girl who was really laboring, said hello, 'tough night for a ride,' and she started going off about it, in a friendly way but really bitching. Yep. Tough night. Wonder if her hub was all screwed up too.
After that, I was in Bethesda, crossed under Wisconsin and down the Georgetown Branch to my truck. Riding down the gravel, in the shelter provided by heavy brush, seemed a relief, though I know the wind was probably only mitigated down to a steady 15 MPH. I got the bike mounted up on the rack, and myself into the truck, and I was on the way home.
But wait, my bike commute doesn't end there.
I was really groggy driving home. I didn't feel great. But I figured I was on the downhill side, so it was cool.
When I got home, the Churchies (a church prayer group that meets at a neighbor's house - taking up every single frikkin parking space in the neighborhood) were all in, so I had to park a block away and walk my bike over. I threw my sweaty jersey and vest on, along with my backpack, and started fumbling with the bike. It semed to take forever to get the bike off the truck, get the front wheel mounted, and start pushing to the house.
By the time I got to the house, I was shivering so hard that it was like convulsions. With each convulsion, some new part of my body, not previously heard from, would go into a 5 second cramp.
I staggered up the steps, fumbled for the keys, got the door open and shoved the bike in. As soon as it was propped against the wall, I returned outside - shambled and shook my way out, really - to pick up the mail and a parcel that had been left on the doorstep. I got that stuff in and literally started walking into the walls, and having what felt like a convulsion.
That's when it occurred to me - I was hypothermic.
Had I turned on the heat in the truck on the drive home?
I'm not sure.
As quick as I could, I staggered upstairs, stripped off my clothes, got into the bath, and turned the hot water on. Within three minutes, I was soaking in a deep tub of scalding hot water.
It was probably burning hot, but I didn't know, and didn't care. My hands, feet, and ass were so numb, I had no idea how hot or cold it was. All I know is that the shivering stopped after a couple minutes, and my skin went from that dark red / purple shade that indicates extreme cold, to that bright red / pink shade that indicates too durned hot.
It felt good to sit there in the tub and soak up the warm. I read a couple chapters in a book I've been reading, and nearly dozed. After, I got dried off with a really rough towel (no fabric softener, thanks, I like 'em rough and absorbent) and slung on a flannel T-shirt and boxers, and went downstairs for a dinner of a leftover hamburger, and a piece of leftover birthday cake along with sugar free ice cream. That wasn't enough, I was shivering a bit, so I made a little popcorn too. I'm just about recovered now, two hours later, and I'm drinking some lovely warm tea, and savoring it, as much as I'm savoring my choice to stick it out tonight.
So that's my lame-ass commute that I'm proud of. It wasn't a race win, it wasn't a long ride, or a fast one, but it is one of the toughest physical challenges I've had in a long time. I'm proud I didn't crap out, because it would have been so easy to do, but instead I chose the much harder choice and feel better for it.
It's a small victory, I guess, wussified by the standards of a lot of hard core riders, but I'll take it. For me, it was a pretty big hurdle.
That's it for now. I'm going to bed. I still don't feel right. Bet I sleep well, though. As long as I can get all the way under the quilt, and at least one of our two cats cuddles up with me, as an auxiliary space heater.