“Desperation Ride” was the title of the email my friend, Jon, sent to me and a few of our riding friends yesterday morning.  It’s January.  Real winter for once in northern Illinois, the kind of winter that makes you think twice before going outside for any period of time.  Cyclists get real stir crazy this time of the year, anxious for the warm months that still seem so far away, tired of the treadmill existence of indoor bicycle trainers.

Unless you are my friends.  Jon meant it when he sent the email to us asking if we would be interested in a Saturday morning ride –“let’s go early — the day gets worse this later it gets”.  Grab the cold weather gear, set the air pressure in the studded tires on our mountain bikes, go for a ride.  Even better let’s make our destination Lake Ellyn, a small lake in Glen Ellyn (Illinois) where they actually clear the snow off of the lake and make it available for skating.

I said yes, count me in.  No one else besides Jon could ride.  Jon is a much better cyclist than I am, better than most people.  But I like to ride with him, especially on days like today.  He doesn’t mind that I am slower, just that I like to ride.  So I dressed in heavy cycling tights, layers on top, shoe covers, helmet liner, face mask and rolled out of my garage by 7:45 this morning to meet Jon a few miles away.  The temperature was a comfortable 28 degrees F, cloudy with a brisk wind to my back as my tires crackled on the icy pavement as I pedaled away, a bit apprehensive knowing the morning ride was going to be a challenge.  The weather report said that it would be getting steadily colder by the hour, predicted to be below 10 degrees by noon, the time we likely would be done riding.  With the wind at my back, I didn’t care, the blood moving through my veins warming me as the exercise sent it coursing just a bit faster.

Jon was waiting for me at the designated spot, greeting me enthusiastically as I pulled up, already pedaling towards the path we would be taking to start out.  The night before had brought a blowing snow, leaving a few inches of fresh snow on the path, patches of ice hidden beneath.  That snow made riding a bit more challenging, the added resistance against our tires giving a grueling work out as we strained at times to keep our bikes moving, the metal studs on ours digging in and giving us the traction we needed.  Even more of a challenge for me was fogged glasses when my breath warmed the face mask I was wearing, the mask directing the breath into my eyes.  In order to see the path in front of me, I had to pull the mask down.  At one point we had to pull over to the side of the road as snow plows passed, the spray splashing against our legs.  It didn’t matter.  We were riding outside, enjoying the peaceful quiet of the morning, the comraderie of two cycling nutcases as we braved the elements.

I forgot how much of a ride it would be to our destination.  It’s not a long drive by car, but it can be a long ride, especially when zig zagging along side streets on heavy mountain bikes.  However, we were rewarded by the sun coming out, shining brightly on the snow around us, warming us a little more.  Even better when we reached Lake Ellyn, the lake almost completely free of snow, the crews finishing up their job of clearing the lake as we pulled up.

Studded tires are FUN on a frozen lake.

We zipped around, the carbide studs on the tires digging in.  Jon and I raced to each side of the lake, intentionally sliding sideways with one foot down as we reached each end.  A crowd of children watched from the dock, bundled up and preparing to skate, occasionally yelling “FASTER!!!” or “COOL!!!!” as we raced by.  When we were through riding the lake, a couple walking their dog along the lakeside path stopped us to tell us how fun it was to watch us enjoy the ice, something unique, impressed that we did not let the cold stop us from getting outside.

It was a great ride.  We stopped on the way back for coffee, people curious to see us pull up on our bikes, interested in the clothes we wore to survive and wondering if we were warm, if our riding our bikes on the ice and snow was dangerous.

And then we turned back, the wind colder and in our face, fatigue setting in.  We had been out riding more than three hours.  Jon was OK, but I had surgery in the middle of November.  My fitness is a bit behind.  For the last half hour, my knees hurt and I began to get very cold.  It took everything I had to keep pedaling.  But I did.  I had to or else I was going to freeze.

Mir took one look at me as I stumbled in the door.  The clock read 12:06.  I had ridden nearly four hours.  Yikes.  No wonder my body was complaining.  I took some time to warm up before getting in the shower, had some warm soup and coffee, then took a nice long hot shower followed by a half hour nap.

It was wonderful.  Fantastic.   Cold.

And so much better than sweating bullets indoors on a trainer!