Salt & Ice: A Cyclist’s Confession

It took a day to thaw to write this. On the eve of President’s Day, I’m tipping back single malts with Triathlete Jay, in close proximity to ex-Cat 3 racer Ron. And I get peer pressured. In a “good” way (photo credit, not of me).

“Going riding tomorrow, Steve?” asks Triathlete Jay, the hint of an evil grin apparent, to which I confidently respond, “Sure!”

This is the hard time of year to be a cyclist. Yes, I’ve cross-trainied on running trails, attended co-ed spin classes, and watched documentaries on Netflix from my Kurt Kinetic.

But it’s a chore. And it’s nowhere close to the fun of riding a bike outdoors.

Yesterday, I was excited to get outdoors for the first time in about a month. At 7am, the mercury’s quivering at 25 degrees. I meet up with Jay, Erik, and Dave—all motivated by fear since signing up for Lake Placid Ironman. Cycle Guru Phil somehow . . . feels . . . no . . . cold.

By mile 15, we pass Great Falls Park on the shores of the Potomac. And the temperature drops. My fingertips, encased in bulky ski gloves, are itchy and bulbous. I am unthirsty, but remind myself to drink. Yet my “insulated” water bottles are frozen shut. Shaking vigorously, I manage to coax out a semi-liquid the consistency of a 7-11 Slurpee. Meanwhile, the ice blocks that were my feet (despite the foot warmers) are taking over my ankle like gangrene.

Stinger Waffles are concrete discs. Slurpee water is in solitary confinement. I make the unwise decision to not eat or drink, and just ride.

My face is crinkly for the dried sweat-salt. I become obsessed with avoiding the patches of black ice on the shoulder of the road. As I bonk, I withdraw, focusing on the pedaling; I flex my cheeks and feel the salt. Salt and ice. Ice and salt.

About 8 hours later, some friends are over for dinner. It’s President’s Day, and what better way to celebrate? Yes, I’m still exhausted from the ride, but I feel myself rebounding after an afternoon of sluggishness . . . Their middle-school son, ostensibly good-natured, opens the stopwatch on his phone. “Are you ready for a challenge?” he smiles. Maybe the hint of an evil grin apparent.

The boy shakes salt into my palm. Then places an ice cube in it. “Close your hand,” he instructs, “squeeze hard, and see how long you can go.”

I’m 20 years removed from science instruction of any kind, so I don’t see this one coming. When the zapping begins, it’s mild at first . . . until its not. After 1 minute and 9 seconds, the stopwatch clicks, and I’m bent over the sink, glorious water flowing, punked by a middle-school science geek.

My blisters are nowhere near what you’ll see if you Google “salt and ice challenge.” That’s good. But today I have to ask myself: Am I too old for such craziness? Am I too old for 50-mile bike rides in 25-degree weather?  . . . Not sure. Ask me next weekend.

Photo from Huffpo article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/30/salt-and-ice-challenge-12-year-old-badly-injured_n_1640429.html

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