Bundle up, it’s spring training time in northern Maine

Posted April 18, 2013, at 2:02 p.m.
Spring riding in northern Maine means being prepared for all conditions. BDN writer Julia Bayly bundles up for a typical April training ride.
Spring riding in northern Maine means being prepared for all conditions. BDN writer Julia Bayly bundles up for a typical April training ride.
On nice days, there is pavement and sun to be had for cycling in northern Maine. You just need to bundle up.
On nice days, there is pavement and sun to be had for cycling in northern Maine. You just need to bundle up.

FORT KENT, Maine — My, my, my, what a lovely winter we are having this spring up here in the north.

Those of us who live in the upper tier of Maine have long since resigned ourselves to being sort of an afterthought for Mother Nature when it comes to the changing of the seasons. Certainly, that slight — intended or otherwise — seems more pronounced when that change should be taking us from cooler to warmer temperatures.

According to the calendar, spring began several weeks ago.

According to what I see looking out my front window, winter is holding on with greater tenacity than an irritating party guest who refuses to leave despite the lateness of the hour and the less than subtle hints to leave from the hosts.

So far, it’s been a chilly, damp and discouraging April here on Rusty Metal Farm. Days of snow, hail, rain and wind have far outnumbered sunny and warm periods.

Now, normally this would only have me in a mild, “Gee, when is it really going to be spring?” funk.

This year is different. This year I really needed Mother Nature to be on board with my training regimen.

Forty days — give or take. That’s how long before I and a friend depart on what is thus far, the most epic cycling adventure of our lives.

June 2 kicks off the annual Bike Ride Across Georgia — BRAG — and this year Penny McHatten, my cycling buddy from Presque Isle, and I will be in the thick of it. Well, more than likely in the thick of the back of the pack.

But the point remains, after a long winter of indoor cycle training — which no matter how sophisticated your training equipment is does not equal real road conditions — we need to put the rubber to the pavement and start logging some serious miles.

This can be tricky when that pavement is snow or ice covered.

BRAG is six straight days of riding 50 to 65 miles a day. There is an optional rest day built in at the halfway point which, to be honest, is looking like more and more of a possibility for yours truly.

Thus far, the training miles are racking up painfully slowly as our tolerance levels for what constitutes acceptable riding conditions lower with each passing day.

Normally, if the thermometer outside the house reads anything below 60-degrees, I find something else to do other than cycling. Yes, I am somewhat of a fairy princess when it comes to riding.

But as the countdown to BRAG marches on, it has gotten to the point where, if it is above freezing and not raining (or snowing), I’m riding.

Good thing I’d not yet put away my mushing gear.

Same thing goes for Penny, who takes keeping warm while riding very seriously.

“I’m still waiting for spring,” she told me recently, but does agree we need to get those miles in, so she, too, is going the distance to make it happen.

Which basically means spending more time getting dressed than actually riding.

“First is the regular biking gear — bike shorts, wool socks then the tights, undershirt, overshirt, windbreaker layer, neck warmer, long fingered gloves and the special covers over the bike shoes,” Penny told me this week. “Then I pull the Buff [headwear] over my head to protect my ears and put [chemical] hand warmers in my bra and then I guess I am ready.”

I must confess, in all my years of cycling, skiing and mushing, that is a use for those chemical warmers I’d never considered. I’m guessing the same could be said for the manufacturers of the chemical warmers, too.

Be that as it may, on the days when the temperatures struggle to rise above 32-degrees, I am pulling on base layers and wind-protection layers and heading out.

Because I refuse to spend money on actual winter-cycling apparel, it means modifying my existing winter garb for cycling.

And let me just say, few things look as fetching as a wool stocking cap with ear flaps and string ties worn underneath a cycling helmet.

When it comes to cold weather cycling, practicality and warmth beat out style and vanity every time.

Early on in the cycling season, my normal daily ride consists of biking into town from my house for a cup of coffee, a round trip of about 15 miles depending on the route I choose.

The first six miles are pretty much all downhill, easy on the legs when it comes to pedaling, but murder on the body when it comes to the windchill these past weeks.

The other day I really thought it was warm enough to ditch the stocking cap under the helmet, but by the time I’d reached the end of my road, and thanks to the cold air rushing in through the vents in that helmet, I had the worst ice-cream style headache ever.

I’d also forgotten to put some cash in my pocket, but luckily the nice people at the store let me charge a cup of hot coffee to fuel my ride home.

All of the weather sites I routinely visit online predicted a cool, damp April for northern New England and they certainly seem to be spot on.

However, these same sites are predicting a warmer and drier summer right through September, I am optimistic that planned events coming up, including a sprint triathlon, a cycling time trial and my first ever “century” ride [100 miles in a day], will be under sunny skies.

But before all of that looms six days and close to 400 miles in Georgia where, according to my friend Hope who lives there, they have ditched the closed shoes and are now in shorts, T-shirts and sandals.

By June, we will likely be riding in temperatures flirting with 80 humid degrees or warmer.

With only 40 days left to train for those conditions and looking at the snowbanks in my yard, I am seriously considering putting my indoor cycling trainer in the sauna to log some hours.

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by e-mail at jbayly@bangordailynews.com.

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