Monday 21 January 2019

To the sea and back in January. A winter ride through Drenthe and Groningen + PPPPPP

We have installed triple glazing in some
of our windows. These ice crystals were
on the outside when I set off yesterday.
Yesterday was the date of the Noordelijke Velomobiel Tocht - a winter recreational ride starting in Groningen and heading to the coast and back.

The distance of the ride was supposed to be around 80 km, but it ended up a bit longer and when I added my ride from Assen to Groningen and back again my total distance for the day was 152 km. Some people came from somewhat further afield, one rider adding about 60 km on top of this.

We've had a mild winter until the last few days, but it was -9 C in our garden when I set off yesterday. The peak temperature in the afternoon was around freezing but it dropped again to -6 C by the time I had got home in the evening. Even with the weather protection offered by a velomobile the temperature does take something out of you if you're out in it all day.

A Dutch scene: Windmill, cycle-path, frozen canal, velomobiles. It's cold but there was no ice on the paths because there's not been any precipitation over the last few days.
One of several stops out in the countryside between the very pretty villages of rural Groningen.
Our lunch time destination - probably the most Northerly cafe on the mainland of the Netherlands
Most people had hot chocolate with apple cake. Significantly higher in calorific content than the vegan alternative of black coffee (more on that later).
Quick stop for a photo on the dyke
A "make your own postcard" view of the sea, with ice.
And then we began the return journey, first heading to the west along one of the roads nearest the sea.
Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance (the knock, the bonk, hitting the wall)
A fabulous day out, well organised, friendly and enjoyable. And yes, while what I'm about to write about might suggest to some readers that I didn't enjoy it, I can assure you that I most certainly did.

Unfortunately, it went a bit wrong for me at the end. All my own fault. The ride back from the organiser's home was in darkness, it was cold and I ran out of energy about 15 km from home. Most people who have ridden any distance will know how this feels. Having run out of available sugar to burn your body tries to keep going by burning fat, but because this is not so easily available you simply can't keep up the same effort. Trying to do so results in feeling quite awful. If you've ever felt like you wanted to vomit during extended exercise this is quite likely why. Depressing thoughts about perhaps never getting home at all can also follow.

There are two possible solutions:

  1. Stop and eat something
  2. Slow down.

Both options will cost time. Ultimately, slowing down will cost more time if there is a long way to go and the remainder of the ride won't be very enjoyable. For me that was the only viable option  because this came on when I was in the middle of nowhere and pretty much everywhere around here is closed on Sunday evenings so there was nowhere sensible to stop for food which didn't involve a detour. I didn't have far to go so I slowed down to the low 20s km/h and kept going. It's important not to let your body temperature drop and at least I could still work hard enough to keep myself warm.

Luckily I didn't have far to go and I wasn't alone. Three of us were riding towards Assen together. One of them needed to go somewhat further and he wisely kept his speed up and continued onward. Peter and I live very near to each other and he was kind enough to accompany me back to Assen at my speed. I was at no risk of getting lost as this was the last section of my old commuting route but it really helps a lot to keep your spirits up if someone rides with you.

A refreshment stop on an organised ride last summer. A top up of energy drink and food were available at regular intervals. It was also warm. This makes it much easier to cover distance.
It's been some years since I made this mistake and I should have know better. Knowing the symptoms is a good thing as at least you know what to expect and how to react, but I if I had planned ahead I wouldn't have had a problem. I should have had the right food and drink with me, but I did not. I took sandwiches, water, a couple of cartons of soya milk and some snacks. By the time I ran out of energy I didn't have anything left which was attractive and which I wanted to eat. I needed easily available sugar, not a packet of nuts. One more sandwich earlier on might have been enough to address the problem. I should have planned better for a lack of vegan food and drink at our stop in the countryside as that's standard and I should have been more self sufficient. A drink which contained sugar would have been better than plain water. Real sport drinks work well (not the horrible cough mixture flavoured stuff that teenagers like). That could have made a difference but I find it is difficult ever to drink enough when it's cold - because all drinks are cold in your mouth and while feelings of thirst come quickly in hot weather, I never feel thirsty in cold weather.

You live and learn. This was a great day out. I've taken part in this annual ride most years since we've lived here and I certainly intend to do so again. Next time, I'll prepare better instead of leaving it to the last minute !

Sunset in winter
Winter jobs
I've once again fitted Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tyres to the front wheels of Judy's and my own city bikes. These are the bikes that we ride in any weather over short distances and while our local authority is mostly incredibly good at removing snow from the cycle-paths, there are sometimes little pockets in corners which can be dangerous and a few patches of old-fashioned tiled surfaces are a bit treacherous. For early morning cycling when you can't necessarily see ice, these tyres work as an insurance policy against falling. Schwalbe's Winter and Marathon Winter tyres are amongst our range of recommended products for winter cycling.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Netherlands, people are getting ready for the first ice-skating Marathon this year.