This is the small tale about the second dumbest ride I did all last year. The actual dumbest one wasn’t worth writing about. It was a mere 35 miles to a friend’s Christmas party out in Idaho. It was icy as all get-out on the side streets and back roads while the main roads had no shoulder on account of the mounds of snow and ice piled up there, leaving me no place to ride but out in the lane . . . on a Friday night . . . in the dark. I did fall and bust my rear end about a mile in, and continued on to find out that the brand-new winter riding tights I was wearing were not meant for weather quite this cold, leaving me with a very enjoyable windburn on my hips. Oh yeah, did I mention that I had a camp toilet strapped to my back? I was riding to a white elephant party, and this thing definitely got the most laughs.
Anyway, 2022 was chock full of rides vying for that “dumbest ride of the year” status, but I managed to sneak that one in right under the wire. And while that was by far the easiest and shortest ride up for top honors in this newly emerged category of rides, it was the clear winner on account of my complete bypassing of the “oh, this is HILARIOUS” stage of the ride, and proceeding straight to the “oh #%*¡!, this is dumb, I should really go home now” stage of the ride. And really, that ride was a double win if you consider that I fully intend to devastate that camp crapper on a trip with my friends next summer.
But anyway, here’s last year’s runner-up.
Distance: 109 miles, 3,700 feet
Ride time: 8 hours
Weather: A lot of freaking fog.
The plan was to leave early and get a big ride in that day. I opted for lolly-gagging over breakfast with my wife Lynn and rolling out the gate a little after 1:00 p.m. It was a sunny January day and there was a little snowmelt oozing into the road, so I was glad I threw some fenders on the Bluegoose Looney (my bike).
I had no particular destination in mind, but I left the house without a cycling cap, which for me is like Tarzan leaving home without his loin cloth. Never fear, the Bike Hub had a pretty sweet merino wool cycling cap I’d been eyeballing, so I definitely had to pop in and visit Justin Covey and grab that hat. He gave me the drop on the Rocket Bakery across the street where a Ben Tobin encounter was waiting to go down. Plans were made with Ben to pop wheelies and hit some sweet jumps, then I was off to my next destination to visit Mojo Cyclery where I kind of feel like Norm from Cheers anytime I walk in.
Again, with no particular destination in mind, I headed south down into the Palouse, and that’s when it got foggy. I stopped to pump up my front tire; the Bluegoose Looney is rocking a new set of WTB Nano 700 x 40’s, so they’re still a little leaky. After I got going again, I saw a sign saying that Oaksdale was 40 miles away. Oh, I guess I’m riding a century today, I thought.
So off I went into ever thicker fog, creeping my way through the Palouse, now in the dark on a road with no shoulder. I had three blinkies blinking their hearts out on the back of the bike, but I stopped and got off the road any time cars came. There weren’t many cars out there, and they were barely going 30 miles per hour, rather than the usual 60.
The towns of Latah and Tekoa still had their Christmas lights up, and I was hoping they’d keep them up at least until late March in keeping with the Shel Silverstein poem that ends, “No one’s talkin’ brotherhood // No one’s givin’ gifts // And no one loves a Christmas tree // On March the twenty-fifth.”
Lynn called when I pulled off to take a photo of the Tekoa Trestle, “Where the hell are you going, love? I see by your Garmin inReach beacon that you’re getting damn close to the Idaho border.” The Tekoa trestle is getting veeeeeery close to opening for bike traffic later this year.
I rolled through a valley after Tekoa where the fog cleared up and the temperature dropped about 10 degrees. I didn’t mind at all, not only because the full moon was reflecting off the snow-covered rolling hills of the Palouse in the dark, but also because I was testing a prototype set of “Drogies,” drop bar pogies designed by the one and only Shiggy, a bike guru of sorts from Wenatchee.
I spend a lot of solo time on the bike inventing things in my head that would make riding a bit more enjoyable, i.e., less uncomfortable, and occasionally someone comes along and creates it. Last year, Redshift Sports finally made the Cruise Control grips for drop bars that I’d been designing in my head for years, so I put them on all three of my drop bar bikes and my hands have never been so happy. Well, until early December when I froze my hands into a nerve damaged state on the Evergreen Grinder in Olympia, Wash. I was also rocking BIKE IOWA’s Pogie Lites on that 36° rain-soaked fiasco, and they were as good as I expected. They kept the wind off my hands which was nice, while my rain jacket sleeves drained right into my gloves.
If I haven’t done my due diligence and inserted some context clues and you’re not sure yet what a pogie is, it’s a cover for your hands that mounts to your handlebars for winter riding. And pretty much every drop bar pogie under the blotted-out sun leaves your hands stuck in one position, rendering the whole purpose of drop bars, namely having a myriad hand positions to keep those hands comfy and reduce repetitive pressure injuries, useless. Shiggy and I have yacked about this cruel irony on a few rides in the last year, so he went ahead and invented Drogies and sent me a set to test. They are open in the back and basically just keep the wind off your hands without limiting access to the full drop bar: tops, drops, and all. I’ll have a full review at a later date, but I’ll just mention here that I’m giving them, like, ALL THE STARS. WOULD DEFINITELY RECOMMEND.
Anyway, on that night of my second dumbest ride, pedals were turning, huge ice formations were growing on body and bike, and I was getting closer to home. My energy level felt good, but I had a sinking feeling that I was pedaling and going nowhere. Sure enough, now the back tire was sagging. So I stopped to pump it up on the side of highway 195, which is a busy road by Palouse standards, but there’s a huge shoulder that was clear of snow (thanks, Patty Jo Struve, for that bit of intel). As I was pumping the tire up, a highway patrol officer pulled up to see if I needed help.
Me: “I’m good, just putting a little air in my tire.”
Him: “You’re pretty brave riding this road at night.”
Me: “There’s a fine line between being brave and being stupid.”
Him: “You said it, not me!”
And a fine ride was had by all. I basically wanted to check out the Bluegoose Looney to see if it was ready for the Huracan 300 in Florida in a few weeks. It felt smooth and buttery, though I might swap out the tires for Mavic 40’s, which I think will float on sand a bit better than the Nano 40’s (I’m talking tire jargon here, a topic among gravel riders that far outweighs the gravity of discussions that philosophers have about the answer to life, the universe and everything. And while the answer to the all-important tire question can also be “42,” that invariably opens a colossal can of worms involving cold war spy tactics to find out optimal air pressure and the formation of political alliances based on the supple riding ultra light casing vs the more robust but heavier and not nearly as supple endurance casing.) I did not find out, however, how the current setup will hold up to an alligator attack, though there was one rather large dog that was definitely part WOOF who gave me a run for my money.
We here at OTO wish you a happy and healthy 2023 filled with rides more intelligently composed than this and most of the other dumb rides I end up on.
Justin M Short will be out there this spring shoulder season navigating the freeze-thaw conditions in the dirt WITHOUT rutting up the trails. Find more of his writing at Outthereoutdoors.com.