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Friday, May 20, 2016

Compelled to Evaluate

A good pilot is compelled to evaluate what's happened, so he can apply what he's learned.  Up there, we gotta push it.  That's our job.  Viper, from Top Gun.

While far from a Navy fighter pilot defending Western civilization, I cannot stop thinking about my run at the Black Hills BackBone shortened by freezing rain.  There are so many variables to weigh when selecting gear to carry for 300+ miles on a bike ride.  I thought I'd struck the right balance.  I was right, and wrong.

All smiles at NoWhere, North Dakota, for the noon start, a nod to the old 24 hour mountain bike races.
The first 100 miles or so of the BackBone starkly expose one to the elements.  With a noon start, this day offered a fabulous start, with mild temperatures (75-85 degrees) and relatively light winds (15-20 mph).  Bison, deer and antelope.  And the skies were not cloudy all day.

For those 8 hours, I wore a basic mid-summer kit of a short sleeve jersey, shorts, wool socks, cyclocross shoes and short fingered gloves, with a wind jacket in a jersey pocket.  That was plenty.   Before the sun and temperatures dropped too much, I stopped to add another layer to core and hands.  Again, that was plenty for the next 30 some miles into Spearfish for a midnight snack.

On the roll, with the Black Hills on the horizon ahead and a hint of Bear Butte between the spokes.
Enjoying some hot food and drink at a convenience store, I emptied my Revelate Designs Terrapin bag.  Just for the core:  arm warmers, a Voler long sleeved thermal undershirt, a Voler thermal winter jacket, and a Showers Pass rain jacket.  For legs:  leg warmers and Showers Pass rain pants.  For the head:  a polypro head band, cap and balaclava.  For the hands:  wool gloves and rain shells.  For the feet:  rain shells.  Everything goes on.  With a forecast of upper 30 degrees, no wind and no rain overnight into the Black Hills, I'm confident I'll stay warm for the 30 mile climb to O'Neil Pass.

Shortly after leaving Spearfish, however, the wind awoke, the temperatures plummeted and the freezing rain attacked.  Not expected, but not a big deal.  I was ready.

About an hour and a half later, I was shivering and on the hunt for any kind of shelter.  What happened?  The freaky freezing rain failed to penetrate the exemplary Showers Pass rain gear, but exposed an unsuspected chink in my gear armor:  the rain shells for my hands and feet.  Both were generic rain shells I have carried for years without a problem, but I rarely used them in the arid West.  I simply did not realize that their useful life had expired.  Hands and feet got wet, then cold, then frozen.  The rest of the body followed.

Time to update and upgrade.  Showers Pass rain covers for the feet and Marmot Mountain Works rain shells for the hands.  With that simple addition to my arsenal, I believe I have the right gear for another run at the Black Hills BackBone later in the summer.  We'll see.

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