On Day 21, I woke up in a hotel room in Duluth Minnesota. It was 37 degrees outside with a 9mph wind coming out of the east.
When you're in Duluth and the wind is coming from the east - straight off "the big lake they call Gitche Gumee" - you can expect a wind chill. This day's "feels like" temperature would be 30 with a stronger wind and an increasing chance of precipitation for each hour I waited to start my ride.
Thirty degrees with a chance of snow.
I had already forced myself to ride four days in the forties - two of them in the very low forties with strong, cold winds out of the northwest. Thirty would be a whole new sensation for me. I had never pedaled when it was this cold before (yes, I tend to be a fair weather rider).
I was conflicted.
30 Days of Biking is merely a personal challenge. There's nothing official about it. There's no award issued for the accomplishment. There are no prizes. It features no pledge to raise money for any worthy cause. It's simply a personal challenge issued by a group of cyclists in Minneapolis who think it's a cool thing to do.
I wouldn't be letting anyone down if I remained in my toasty hotel room. I could easily rationalize an extra hour of recuperation before I headed to another weekend bike shop event. No one would ever think any less of me for taking a day off after riding twenty consecutive days in uninspiring April weather.
No one, that is, except me.
As much as I try, I can't rationalize my obsession with completing this challenge. I love bicycling. I ride for exercise. I cycle to clear my mind. I bike for the adventure of exploring new places and experiencing the ever-changing outdoors. If I let bicycling become yet another obligation, will it lose its significance in my life?
A rational person would seriously have to worry about the long term implications of compulsory cycling.
Me, I was just worried about being cold. As the saying goes, "there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad bicycling clothes." The knit gloves I wear under my fingerless cycling gloves on chilly days had both ripped at the thumb. My tights had no insulating properties nor did my wind shell. Supplemented with a long sleeve merino wool jersey, my cold weather gear was good to about 45, but more comfortable around 50. I would have to sandwich in a layer of fleece and slip on some sweatpants if I wanted to chase off the chill.
It was a moment of truth.
More specifically, it was a moment of introspection. A gut check, if you will. Was I going to let a little snap of crappy weather keep me from earning my "perfect attendance" star? Was this going to be another of those life challenges where it was easier or more comfortable to just give up or take a break? What was I really getting out of this commitment, anyway?
I needed to think this through. Ask myself the tough questions. Give myself the honest answers. I needed to go somewhere and think. What better place to think than on my bike?
It wasn't long before I was bundled up and headed out the door en route to the bike trail I'd found on Google Maps. After a mile riding into dead-ends chasing down the trailhead, I finally found myself at the start of the Willard Munger State Trail.
As I pedaled southwest along this smooth, flat, perfectly paved path, I no longer noticed the cold. The crisp air was quite refreshing. The wind was at my back. I moved effortlessly along this former rail corridor, peering into the backyards of West Duluth's working class homes on my right and the wooded preserve overlooking the mouth of the Saint Louis River on my left.
This day's ride was no challenge at all.
My mind was clear and I was perfectly satisfied with my decision to brave the elements. The only unanswered question was how long and how far should I ride. Fifteen minutes out and another fifteen back? Thirty minutes out? Did I have enough time for a full hour if I wanted to arrive at my event on time?
After only five minutes on the trail, I no longer had a choice as to how long this ride would last. A bright orange "trail closed ahead" sign made that decision for me. With no detour signs, I explored the surrounding neighborhood for a route around the bridge construction. I couldn't find any. Dejected, I rode back to the parking lot with a mere four miles on the odometer.
Rain drops were just beginning to fall as I slid the bike inside my minivan.
Four miles was not my shortest riding day. It was not my most unpleasant day on the bike, either. It was now simply "Day 21" - another entry in the log. It was sandwiched between an 18.5-mile ride on the Munger Trail in Hinckley Minnesota and a 12-mile ride on the Bearskin Trail in Minocqua Wisconsin.
Twenty two days down. Eight days to go. What will today's ride bring?
Keep riding and be safe!
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