Winter is coming. Labor Day has passed, and in typical New England fashion the days are suddenly shorter and cooler. It’s almost as if Mother Nature flipped a switch. Soon it will be too dark to ride or run outside after work, and I will be banished to the basement. I will still get out on the weekends, and I’ve ridden outside in Massachusetts in every month of the year, but I definitely prefer the beautiful weather better.
While it’s cooler here now, it’s still going to be hot next month in Death Valley. Tomorrow’s predicted high is 113ºF (45ºC). The JDRF ride is definitely going to be the last gasp of summer for me. I’ve been practicing drinking more and refining my insulin/nutrition plan for the ride. At this point of the season, I feel really confident, so I took a little ride last weekend to see how my body felt.
The best route I could think of to test myself was one that was similar to Death Valley—minus the whole desert thing—and a ride that I had been looking forward to for the last couple of weeks: Mount Wachusett. You might remember that it’s one of my favorite loops and the one I did just before going to the Midwest to ride the Tour de Cure with Scotty J, Heather, and Scully.
There are about 40 miles of rolling hills from my house to the foot of Mount Wachusett, and it was a chilly 45ºF (7ºC) when I left my house just before 7:00AM. I was happy that I decided to wear arm warmers and a wind breaker, although it warmed up quickly enough, and I already had my jacket off a couple hours in. It’s gently uphill from my house to the start of the climb, which is about 600 feet higher than where I started, but then it just gets right down to business. The first road on the climb is Mile Hill Road, which goes uphill for—you guessed it!—a mile before it crosses into Princeton from Westminster, where it becomes Mountain Road.
The climb is pretty steep there (between 9-11% for the most part), and I was starting to get rather warm. I still had my arm warmers on, but they were rolled all the way down to my wrists. (I think it’s kind of a stupid look, but it’s better than the other choices of stopping or overheating.) When I turned into the state park to start the actual climb, I took that extra layer off and stuffed them down the back of my jersey where they joined my jacket. (I pretty much carry everything that’s not for bike maintenance on my back.) The previous 1.7 miles was just a warmup for the next 2.4. Even though the first part has more than half of the vertical gain and is quite tough, there are places near the summit where the road gains almost one foot for every five it goes forward. That’s right, we’re talking about an 18-20% grade.
I will confess to like mountain climbing. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s all just a matter of perspective. If you can dissociate the thinking, whining part of your brain—the part that says, “Hey! This is really difficult!”—from the part that keeps the map and sees the big picture and knows that it’s just a half-hour of difficulty with really great rewards at the top, then it’s really not that bad. Of course, it helps if you see value in those rewards. You have to want to see the view from the top. It also helps to cultivate a sense of self-satisfaction in doing difficult things for their own sake or to hold the somewhat stoic, archaic belief that suffering is in some way redemptive or transcendent.
And if those rewards don’t work for you, there’s always the downhill. What goes up must come down. Oh yes it must!
I’m not young enough anymore to be completely fearless on a descent, but I really, really love going fast on a bike. I’m still building up trust with this bike, but I’ve learned over the last two months of riding my Cervélo R3 that it will pay back any trust you give it with an insane amount of responsive and agility in the corners. “Go on! Lean into the corner!! DO IT!!” it seems to be saying. And I’ve generally been listening and having more fun on a bike than at any other point in my life. I carved the most beautiful, amazing curve around a blind corner at slightly more than 40 miles per hour (65 km/h). Yes, I spent twenty-five minutes to climb the mountain and was done with the fun part in just five. It was over too soon!
For a long moment I thought about doing the climb again, but my ride wasn’t finished at the foot of the mountain. I still had around 35 miles to go before I was home. They were mostly downhill; I had a rare tailwind out of the north; and my muscles and body felt great. My BGs stayed very stable—between 90 and 110 mg/dL (5.0-6.1 mmol/L)—almost the whole ride, and I stayed very well hydrated.* Riding home wasn’t no thang. On a few occasions I found myself thinking, “Is that a hill? Let’s attack it!” It wasn’t the perfect ride, but if I’d had friends with fresh legs along with me, it probably would have been.
Yes, friends, winter is coming and I’ll be missing riding outside several times a week. If only I could bottle everything that was fantastic about Sunday’s ride, I would take little sips from it all winter long and have no problem waiting for springtime. I’m going to be
surviving thriving off the memory of that ride for quite a while.
* — For the curious, here’s what happened with my nutrition and diabetes. I started the ride a little higher than I wanted (about 240 mg/dL) due to a miscalculation the night before, so I took a tiny bit of extra insulin with the small bolus for my pre-ride ClifBar and used a slightly less aggressive temporary basal rate of 70%. An hour into the ride, I tested—I’m getting good at doing that while riding—and saw a 94. Worried that I was going to overshoot and go low, I doubled up my first snack (40g of carbs) and then continued to eat 20g in gels or chews every half hour, which was my plan. At the top of the mountain, my BG check read 108, and I celebrated with a Pay Day candy bar. (It’s a poor substitute for a Peterson’s Salted Nut Roll, but it’s still yummy and the closest you can find round these parts. I don’t know what the Peterson folks put in the white center of their candy, but I suspect it’s some kind of opium product.)
At that point I also started drinking a bottle of Skratch Lab’s drink mix along with my every-thirty-minute snack, since I wanted to buoy my BGs every few minutes. The mix is the super secret stuff Derek Lim and friends whipped up for Lance Armstrong and Team RadioShack and then started selling on the down-low to a bunch of devotees before realizing they could probably make real money off the stuff. It, my friends, is the real deal. It has 20g of carbs for 20 oz./500 mL. It doesn’t really have a flavor, so it’s as refreshing as drinking water. And it works! Oh, yes. It absorbs well and gives the right amount of electrolytes. Check it out! My reading at the end of the ride: 97.
So let’s recap: one ClifBar, one pack of ClifShot Blocks, six energy gels, one Pay Day bar, and one bottle of Skratch Lab’s drink (all together = 250 carbs) plus one high BG reading, 1.0 units of bolused insulin, and 70% of my normal basal insulin yields five hours of cycling, four of which were in the “non-diabetic” range. I want that to be part of what’s in the bottle that I sip from over the long, cold, New England winter.