Athlete Journal: Andrew Read, Entry 29 – When It Snows, Turn Around

After seven weeks of nonstop work, I had one of the most miserable bike rides of my life – and learned an important lesson about riding in the snow.

Click here to read other journal entries and articles by Andrew Read, and look for his new journal every Monday as he trains for Ironman Melbourne.

Journal Entry 29 – When It Snows, Turn Around

This week marks the end of a long spell without a day off from work – seven weeks. In that time, I’ve run three Primal Move certifications (one at home, one interstate, and a third in Korea), taught at a charity fundraiser, run an RKC. Frankly, I’m exhausted!

Since the last journal two weeks ago there have been some interesting developments. I actually write these journals on a Friday in Australia so you can read them on a Monday on a U.S.-based site. That means I usually make a few assumptions about what is going to happen over the weekend. The previous weekend was scheduled to be a little bit of hill climbing. The weather was forecast to be fine and the day should have been uneventful. The emphasis here is on “should have been.”

I was already a bit gun shy about the bike, having been displaced from mine by an elderly lady only a week prior, and this mountain had nearly done me in before. Lake Mountain isn’t a hard climb. In fact, of the mountains near me it is by far the easiest. Only the first few kilometers are difficult. The previous time I had attempted it, after only riding for about three weeks prior, I was forced to stop three times in the first section because I was worried about my heart popping out of my chest it was beating so hard. My only real memories of that day are of my poor girlfriend trying to get me to continue, only to be met by me yelling at her. On the fourth stop, I told her I was done and to continue without me. Realizing that I was beyond persuasion, she turned and kept going. Eventually, after the fear of a heart attack had abated, the new pain of self-loathing rose within me. So I wobbled off up the hill in pursuit of her. Luckily it flattened out a bit to a measly five percent gradient and the rest of the ride was actually fairly easy.

But it had taken its toll. Close to home in the car I cramped so badly I could no longer drive and had to get out to stretch my legs. When we got home I promptly fell asleep for a couple of hours, totally spent.This time I felt confident knowing I’ve put a lot of miles into my legs and that I’ve ridden much bigger and harder climbs. At the bottom of the climb, remembering how drenched in sweat I had been last time I opted to leave most of my warm weather gear behind. It may have been only 15 degrees Celsius (about 59 degrees Fahrenheit), but this was Australia in November – surely it couldn’t be too much colder even at the top, right?

We crushed the first section of the climb – even managing to speak during the “hard bit” that forced me to rest four times only a year ago. About halfway up it started to rain. That wasn’t pleasant but we were still in the trees and it wasn’t so bad. The effort of climbing kept me nice and warm and on we slogged.

And then it got interesting.

As we came out of the trees a few miles from the top it started to hail. That was definitely unpleasant. I’d taken my sunglasses off as they tend to fog up climbing because you’re simply not going fast enough to get airflow over them. So our conversation became something like, “Wow, now it’s hailing – ow, ow, ow.” Neither of us even mentioned turning around.

And then it got downright stupid.

A bit further up, the hail turned quite wet and I thought it was back to rain. But I looked to the side of the road and there was all this white stuff there. Snow! It’s not like I haven’t seen it before, but seeing snow in Australia in November is like hen’s teeth. And yet again, nether of us even thought about turning around.

The top of this climb is deceptive. From the finish of the tree line to the summit is maybe another twenty minutes of climbing. So there we were riding in wet clothes in the snow, getting colder by the minute. When we finally got to the top there was bad news – the café at the top was closed and the place was deserted. We wouldn’t even be able to go inside, dry off, and wait out the snow. Realizing we were caught up there and getting colder by the second we turned around and started back down. I’m not going to lie – what followed was one of the most miserable experiences of my life.

Neither of us could ride in a straight line we were shivering so much and my hands had completely lost feeling before we even got to the top. To use my brakes I physically had to look at the handlebars and make sure my hands were doing what I was asking them to do. To make it just that little bit worse we were into the wind on the way down.

By the time we got back to the relative sanctuary of the trees we were both shivering uncontrollably and it took a good few minutes of standing there in the “warm” rain to get some feeling back into the hands. We continued down slowly because of the wet roads and the fact that neither of us could feel our hands, which made controlling our bikes difficult. On this next section I ended up quite a bit in front of my girlfriend and eventually stopped with about 6km to go as I was worried.

Good thing I stopped. It took her about five minutes to catch up and it was clear that she was in a bad way. My girlfriend is easily the toughest person I know. There is not one ounce of quit in her, but today she was nearly in tears and I knew I had to leave her if we were going to finish safely today. We cuddled to get her a bit warmer and I gave her all the clothing I could spare – my little wind proof vest to add a layer to her vest and I took off as fast as I could to get to the car and get her warming up fast. The trip down was no problem but arriving at the car was an issue – I could barely operate the keys, the door, get my shoes off or even open the door my hands were so numb.

It must have been somewhere between fifteen and twenty minutes from the time I left her to arriving back. In her delirious state she told me she thought I’d be gone for about five minutes and I must have ridden really fast. I already had the seat warmers going in the car, the heater on and we got her in some warm clothes immediately. Adding in some hot food and a hot chocolate it still took over an hour for her to stop shivering. Two weeks later, both of us are missing some feeling in our fingers from the cold. Lesson learned – when it snows, turn around.

In other news I am still waiting for my fast bike to be paid for by the insurance company AAMI. Despite taking responsibility for the claim, the driver being ticketed by police, and undergoing a license review there seems to be a hold up with them. From lying about when they’ve sent off the quote for verification, to not even have the decency to call back customers, to not even following their own policies regarding handling claims, they’ve really screwed the pooch on this one. I’ve had to resort to using social media to even get a response from them and while at least the giant has stirred that has so far not gotten a result either. So a word of warning – if you’re a cyclist and get hit by an AAMI insured driver, be prepared for more bad service and poor communication than you’d think was humanly possible.

Two weeks until my first triathlon – Canberra Half Ironman December 16!

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