Elsa pulls on a tauntaun coat

80 miles on a bike is a long start to any day, especially one where the finish line is at 110 miles. Add rain and you’ve got a recipe for misery, unless you add a dash of hope, a pinch of purpose and a cup of context.

So, after I learned about love, we rolled out. I was with the bulk of my team, PHAT Tuesday, and with only 20 or so miles to the finish, I counted on being with them to the end of day one. Even though we only ride together once a year, I know how they ride–aware, careful and strong.

We hit the road at over 20 mph, hovering between 21 and 23 mph, as soon as we left the Pedal Partner water stop. I’d been at the water stop long enough to cool down somewhat, which was a welcome respite most years, but which would almost undo me this year.

It was soon after we restarted rolling that the rain came pouring down. Again. By this time, I was soaked with rain, road spray and sweat but now the new rain was falling cold, in bucket loads. I wouldn’t have been chilled so quickly or thoroughly had I pulled on my vest and arm warmers as we rolled out of the water stop, but I took a chance. It hadn’t been raining for awhile and I’d been overheating with either of those layers on.

Now, however, that a cold, heavy rain was soaking us, I debated–stop, put the layers on and lose the team, getting to the finish warmer, but much slower? or keep riding with the team, without the layers, and get to the finish faster?

I opted for the latter.

Honestly, at that point, anything that would have gotten me to the finish faster–paceline, bionic legs, jetpacks–was welcome. Under other conditions, I might have attempted layering on the go, but in a heavy downpour, with increasing car traffic, after that many miles wearing down our reflexes, it wasn’t worth it. If I stopped, though, I was sure I couldn’t catch back up to that train. The locomotives were too strong.

But waiting to layer was wearing me down too. I started to notice that a few of my fingers were tingly, and then I realized that I couldn’t really feel them as well as I could, well, when they weren’t numb. With layers that made as much sense as the sudden slit up Elsa’s dress that appeared while her ice castle rose from the mountainside, I couldn’t count on my clothes to save me. I started moving them around on the handlebars more, flexing my arms (don’t laugh, there are some muscles in there) and doing whatever I could to get blood–warm blood–flowing to my hands.

Whatever I did was just enough to get me to the next water stop, where I didn’t need water, but I pulled in with the team anyway. Usually we stop and chat a little, but I had only three things I wanted to do there, and talking over tea wasn’t one of them. First, I dropped off some water I picked up earlier. Second, while I was doing that, in out of the rain for a moment, I pulled on my extra layers. Finally, I got some water and poured in my recovery drink powder, so it would be all mixed in by the end of the ride, in 10 miles.

Before I could finish those three tasks, PHAT Tuesday was already back on the road.

I scrambled to catch them, through some of the worst road conditions–weather and surface deterioration–of the entire route. Fortunately for me, they got caught at a red light, so I was able to roll right up and latch onto the back of the train as they pulled out.

The rest of the way, with my extra layers, was smooth sailing. You know, smooth sailing through a gale. My hands returned from numb to tingly, and I stopped looking for a tauntaun to slice open and hibernate in. My teammate and roommate wasn’t so lucky, though, as I found out after I arrived in the dorms at the end of day one.