Bike the Blizzard 4: Arctic Road

Results from my 2016 winter cycling adventure

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January 19th 2016, 12:00 pm

Last year's event went very well. The weather was mild and wet, but manageable. I ended up riding a total of 70 miles last year, and I was convinced that I could do better this year, since a good chunk of time was spent rescuing a friend's stolen bike.

This year's Bike the Blizzard was fun, but also a learning experience.

The adventure began on Saturday, January 16th, which was basically an entire day of preparation for the 24-hour adventure ahead of me. Saturday's preparation included a trip to the bike shop to pick up a new bike rack for my car, followed by dinner at Bob Evan's to load up on carbs for the ride, and ended with me picking up a beautiful new bike.

As Saturday rolled over to midnight, however, I realized that I was not as well prepared as I would have liked. The new bike I picked up was not completely in riding condition, and my touring bike had been packed up in a bag since October. I worked against the clock to get the bike put together before midnight, but when it was completely assembled, I noticed that I had a bent wheel and a broken spoke. I messaged my team and let them know that I would not be able to make it for the first run, and to go on without me. Little did I know this would happen quite frequently over the next 24 hours.

A technician at Back Alley Bikes helped me repair my wheel, and I was in good shape to go. I found a group of riders who were about to ride to Belle Isle and I decided to join them; a quick and easy 16 miles to start out … or so I thought.

The weather turned out to be more treacherous than I had imagined. The temperature was around 12 degrees, which is enough to make your lungs nearly collapse after an hour or so. If that wasn't bad enough, the strong westward wind made at least half of the trip more than twice as difficult as the other half. This is also where I began to realize how badly out of shape I have become.

By the time I got back from Belle Isle, I had clocked in about 20 miles. I decided to take a nap, and later in the day I would come up with a better game plan. Long distance, East-and-West trips were not going to cut it.

I awoke from my nap to find that the temperature had dropped even further, and it was now literally snowing like a blizzard. When I got back on the road, I found out quickly that the snow cover on the road was hiding patches of ice underneath. I fell three times before I made my way back to come up with yet another new game plan. I was going to have to fix my new bike.

I spent about an hour working on my new bike, and after the repairs were made, I was ready to get back on the road. The new bike has smaller, knobby tires, and a lower center of gravity. When I hit the ice on that bike, it might slide from side-to-side, but it would stay upright. Unlike my top-heavy touring bike, which would slip and fall instantly on any small patch of ice. The sacrifice for a lower center of gravity and better handling in the extreme weather was speed and efficiency. It would take me more pedaling to reach the same speed, and I wouldn't be able to ride at the same speeds as before.

At this point, I had given up on riding with any group. I was too slow and unable to go long distances, so I was just going to hold most of the other riders back. I was determined, however, to continue to ride and get as many miles as I possibly could before the end of the day, even if I had to do it in small distances, and low speeds.

Detroit Soup had been scheduled at 6:00pm, so I decided that I would bike there and support the event. It was about a 2.8 mile ride along mostly north-and-south roads, so I would avoid the wind. The north-and-south strategy turned out to be a great solution that helped me clock in about 10 more miles that evening.

Soup was packed with more people than I'd ever seen at the event before. The winner of the nearly $2000 in donations that were taken at the door was Street Medicine, a local charity that provides on-site health care for persons afflicted with homelessness in Detroit. The money, they say, would go towards pediatric health care equipment that they needed for their mobile health care operations.

After returning from Soup, I realized I finally had a solid strategy, and set a goal to reach 40 miles by midnight. I took small, short rides along north-and-south roads, used building cover to stay out of the wind as much as I could, and took 20-30 minute breaks to warm up.

At around 11:55pm, Sunday evening, I arrived back at the Community Center to clock in my final mileage at 40.05. With a duration of 5:07:17, I managed an average speed of 7.8mph for the day. According to my app, I burned a total of 3,576 calories.

My team clocked in a total of 220 miles between four members in the group. Our best rider took a bad fall 1.5 miles into the day, and ended up in the hospital to get 2 stitches in his face. He picked up the 2016 Beast Mode Award after continuing to clock in 105 miles total. One team member got 15 miles in before saying, "FUCK THIS SHIT" after watching Kyle bite the pavement. So I didn't come in last in our group. I am rather proud of that.

Lessons learned for next year: Smurferation. Next year I will avoid injury and overcome fatigue by being better prepared. This starts with getting into better shape, especially through more regular winter riding. I will also make sure to have better prepared equipment, gear, and backup in case something goes wrong.

All-in-all I'm still proud to have pushed through the obstacles for a strong finish.

I raised a total of $225, with a team total of $1000 raised for Back Alley Bikes. To quote one donor, "Kids need bikes, and skills to fix those bikes," and I'm proud to participate in this event as an annual tradition.

Thanks to all who donated. Please check out Back Alley Bikes' annual report below to learn more about where your donations will go.

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