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“There is no spring in New England” the saying goes. One day you are experiencing the bleak cold of winter (some years lasting well into June.) The next you are in the full grip of summer. Most times not even a day separates the two, the weather going straight from one season to the next. The worst part about it is that you never know when it will happen. One day you’ll be up to your neck in sweaters, pulling on long pants and looking out at the cold, barren landscape in front of you. The next, you’ll be peeling off layers as fast as you can to reveal the pale white skin of areas that haven’t felt the outside air in what feels like decades.
This year, somehow, that switch of the seasons happened on the very same day we chose to do our 110-mile jaunt out of Litchfield, Connecticut and through its surrounding hills. This was painfully obvious from the first light of day. Looking out the window upon waking I knew it was going to be hot and I took this moment alone to ponder the way that this might affect the ride. I was trying to figure out what to wear for the day, and basing it on the frigid night before wasn’t going to do the trick.
The waves of heat ascending off the pavement as I stared out the window were talking another language. One that spoke of sweat and pain, sun and scorch. Having ridden and raced quite a few times under the sweltering sun of the Northeast, the mental checklist snapped to the forefront of my mind. Nutrition, clothing, the length of the ride and the group riding with me were all concerns, as I’ve seen people do some crazy things in the heat.
Nutrition shouldn’t be an issue, being that all of us are like-minded able-bodied fit adults. Yet it always is, especially in the heat. Drinking tends not to present a problem as the thirst levels escalate with the temperature. But, eating is another story as it is easy to dismiss food when it’s hot. Not wanting to choke down a cardboard flavored bar or attempt to stomach the sickly-sweet taste of a GU packet is understandable, however, not acceptable.
It was a combination of anger and frustration that I felt as I dug through my gear bag, looking for the extra bottle that I knew was in there somewhere. “Why does it have to be today?” Why does summer have to swoop in with Helios hot on it’s heels? I could feel it before we even got on our bikes. I knew all too well the choking heat that descends upon you whenever you stop–making for the strange dichotomy of not wanting to ride but not wanting to stop, just wanting to be done.
Having the right clothing would be essential for this ride. More so than the others. In cold weather you can pile on more layers, pull on arm-warmers, slather on embrocation, or throw on jackets. In the heat you can only take off so much, before you’re down to your bib-shorts looking like you’re about to snap on your headgear and wrestle. I switched up my clothing choice at the last minute, choosing the feathery Classic Sportwool Jersey over the Lightweight Jersey for a few different reasons. Full-zip and a looser fit meant that the jersey could (and would) come off at a moments notice- such as the chance to swim in a local watering hole, or the need to be fully unzipped to allow all possible air in. Also, the cinch at the bottom meant that more fluids could be carried without any jersey pocket sag.
So this is the thing about the New England summer. You never know when it is going to happen, and when it does one is never prepared for the extremity. Still, the instant-heat on the ride was about to take eight very competent riders and turn them into mush. Though we were all pseudo-joking about melting, combusting and burning before we even started pedaling, we knew that we couldn’t let a one-day jump from 50 to 95 degrees keep us from riding.
There’s another classic American saying that we also believe up here in the Northeast, “when the going gets tough…”