It’s not snowing. It’s not raining. And that magical moment occurs where the air and the bicycle are moving together in unison and there’s no sound except the purr of engagement and release of chain on cogs and bladed spokes slicing the night air and I find myself in my very own 70 kilometer-per-hour quarantine, heading for home. – Jim B.Saturday last, your typical Rocky Mountain Spring day. Sunrise is not very warm, and for most of the day it’s looking like snow showers on Mount Werner, but the day is mostly dry and mostly cold in middle South Routt. I spend the day carrying water and splitting wood then in a split decision when Jill decides it’s time to watch Homeland, I get dressed to ride. It’s now 1815h, plenty of daylight left though now the 360-degree horizon has the clouds down on the hills bringing precipitation that’s probably lacking degrees to be rain. But the moment must be seized because I have a plan.
We (Baby Blue Wilier and I) roll down the driveway, she in her fine twenty year-old paint job covering her sleek Scandium-ness and me in those old Pearl Izumi tights that Jill gave me that still have a hint of chamois left and a couple layers under my Molteni jersey and super versatile Lazer winter cap. It’s breezy as we pick our way down the gravel and then north we go on Highway 131 with a noticeable tailwind. Thus the plan: time a clockwise Oak Creek Loop so that the storm that’s obviously not far away only creates some mild headwind battering on RCR14 but then gets serious just as we hit Oak Creek and then enjoy a significant tailwind through the canyon and home.
There are a couple of incidents that inspired this early evening escapade. This winter I read The Emerald Mile, an incredible story of three wild boatmen who decide to set the record for the fastest time through the Grand Canyon by putting in below Lake Powell in their wooden dory during a Spring of record run-off when the water is so high that the river is pouring over Glen Canyon Dam and conditions are so dangerous that no one is even allowed in the canyon. Secondly, this month, one car with several gentlemen aboard, along with auxiliary fuel tanks, left New York and arrived in Redondo Beach some 26 hours later, taking advantage of minimal traffic due to the pandemic and setting a new record for the Cannonball Baker Sea to Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, an event that my dad and I used to read about in his Car and Driver magazine when I was in high school. My plan: quite simple really. Combining aspects of both events, i.e. favorable meteorological conditions and no cars, I hoped to set a personal record for the pedal from downtown Oak Creek to the house.
As I ride past Moose’s place and get the initial hit of headwind and a good look at the ominous skyline to the west, I have the thought of turning around. But really what’s the worst that can happen? It’s too windy, I go too slow and it takes me ’til dark to get to Oak Creek and it starts to rain? Call Jill for a rescue? Not a bad back-up plan, except to save weight and save it from drowning, I left my phone on the kitchen counter. So I continue past Allen’s and head up Yellow Jacket Pass, convincing myself that after this climb it’s mostly rolling and sort of protected and if I can make it to 131 without being soaked I’ll be in the catbird seat, whatever that means. Lucky enough, wind is mild as I cruise past the reservoir, letting the idea of abandoning the attempt and just ride up to Hayslip’s or Meyer’s place go away with the breeze, and with only a few raindrops/snowflakes to contend with, I make it to the highway. At this point I have seen three cars.
On 131, four or so kilometers south of Oak Creek, the crosswind is noticeable. Precipitation increases, the highway is wet but not saturated. When I climb out of the saddle, water droplets sway back and forth on my cap visor, like beads on an abacus. I am warm and comfortable, not feeling wet, there is still daylight and I am thinking this might just work out. I absolutely fly through downtown Oak Creek as the air becomes more favorable, and the rain stops and becomes strictly snow. But minimal. No cars. Road’s not dry but no standing puddles. Into the canyon, full-on tailwind now. Every descent I am in my biggest gear. I allow myself a chuckle. I hear a vehicle approaching from the rear. Doesn’t immediately pass. I did have the presence of mind to attach a flashing red light to the seat post because now though it’s not dark it’s not exactly light. Car behind slows as we approach RCR179 and I glance back to see a Sheriff pulling onto the shoulder behind me. Hmmm. Whatever. Now I am gunning it up the last hill, rolling over in an enormous gear and I notice that the road is dry. It’s not snowing. It’s not raining. And that magical moment occurs where the air and the bicycle are moving together in unison and there’s no sound except the purr of engagement and release of chain on cogs and bladed spokes slicing the night air and I find myself in my very own 70 kilometer-per-hour quarantine, heading for home.