By Judson Hand April 8, 2006
Editor's note: This year's Princeton 200k was one for the record books, at least on the weather front.
Here's how NJ/NYC RBA Laurent Chambard described the conditions: "Riders enjoyed about a half hour of dry-ish weather after the start. Rain appeared then, stubborn, relentless and fierce, and would stay with us for four continuous hours—maybe more. It would then change to sleet, just at the moment when many riders were negotiating the steep and twisty ups and downs between Frenchtown and Asbury. Sleet would then give way to actual snow, bad enough to cover the road at the top of Rte 519S and see the salting truck in action over 519. As if that were not enough, hail appeared when snow stopped. And riders eventually enjoyed a timid sunshine just as they finished the ride, completing a typical April review of all seasons on the same day."
The weather apparently took a heavy toll on the finish rate, with 12 of 36 riders, or one-third of all starters, abandoning. One of those was Judson Hand. His account follows of what went wrong on that icy day.
As for next year's ride, Chambard commented, "Now that it has gained a history, this event will be known as the Princeton Classic 200."
Good morning fellow sufferers. Yesterday was not fun for me. I dropped out at the top of the hill at the Delta gas station on Route 519 and Hawks Schoolhouse Road at mile 55. My fingers and toes had gone numb and I found it difficult to grip the brake levers, especially going down the steep side of Shire Road. As anyone who takes a good look at me can see, I am a tall, thin, lanky person and staying warm can be an issue, especially with my fingers and toes. To compound things, the weather was even colder and wetter than forecast and I did about everything wrong from a preparation standpoint. Essentially, I dressed for speed and not for comfort and warmth. Big mistake. I won't make it again on a brevet with questionable weather forecasts.
What threw me off was the relatively benign conditions at the start. Yes, it had started to rain, but only lightly and the temperature still hovered at near 50 degrees. By the time we reached the first controle at Frenchtown, we had plummeted to the mid-30s and it was 32 degrees (and snowing) at the gas station where I stopped. I can handle cold temperatures down to about 25 degrees if it's dry. But heavy rain and temperatures in the 30s and low 40s I find extremely difficult to handle.
Mistake No. 1. Brought the Trek 5200, left the Fuji touring bike with fenders at home. The fenders keep a lot of water off your feet. The fatter tires handle better in the slush. Hello?
Mistake No. 2. Wore Pearl Izumi pittards gloves, instead of more water resistant gloves. Those pittards are like sponges. I think they absorb twice their own weight. My fingers got soaked and rapidly began losing feeling.
Mistake No. 3. Wore cotton socks, instead of nice, thick wool or Smartwool socks which still have some insulation after they get wet. Doh! Again, cotton is very absorbent. My toes went numb quickly, too.
Mistake No. 4. Left booties at home. True, they let water in from the bottom but they still repel a lot of rain and wind.
Mistake No. 5. Leaving extra pair of wool socks at home. It doesn't take much extra room to carry them.
Mistake No. 6. Worry too much about pacing and not enough about comfort. The weather blindsided me. It never occurred to me that I would drop out of the ride until I suddenly knew I was chilled to the bone and endangering my health and safety by going on. As proof I had made the right decision, my fingers and toes screamed in pain for 15-20 minutes after I went inside and I didn't stop shivering for about an hour. I could have waited and hoped conditions would improve, but the forecast called for continued rain and cold. No luck there, unlike in the 300k in 2003, when the start was similar but it warmed to 70 degrees later in the day, drying things out.
I am told that in Norway there is a saying that there is no weather so bad that one is forced to stay indoors, if one has the right clothing. I suspect that in brevets the same may hold, up to a point. I'm not recommending riding in ice, for example. But I suspect that rain and cold can be dealt with. I just failed the test. And I was so proud of the way I handled all that heat and humidity in the 600k last summer.
Frankly, I found it embarrassing that I was so poorly prepared and that my physical condition deteriorated so rapidly. This is my fourth brevet season and I should have known better. It's ironic because, until the weather got ugly, I was actually feeling pretty good. I know this course extremely well and thought I could finish it in my sleep. Not yesterday.