Tuesday, January 17, 2012

California Winter and the Wind Tunnel From Hell

Well, since I've posted so much about how nice the weather has been here, it seems only fitting that we finally received some California-style winter. Sunday brought us some light misty cold rain off and on through the day and evening, followed by a very cold (for SoCal) night and Monday morning. It was cold and windy, but not too much for a ride ... and the misty rain was gone, so I dressed warmer than usual and headed out.

The blue skies were nowhere to be seen, instead coated with varying shades of gray. The warm air was also missing, replaced with a chilling wind. Nevertheless, I pressed on ... seeing images like this:

Remember when this was pretty blue sky just a couple of days ago?
I rode past the beach to the entrance of the bike path that leads inland, wanting to check up on the path closure status. When I got there, I found the underpass flooded. You see, when we get rain here, no matter how small the amount, it all runs downhill from the mountains through the creeks and water channels to the ocean. Since the path entrance is at an underpass at the mouth of the water channel, it gets deep ... and floods the path at that lowest point.

This water is about hub deep ... and I was wearing sandals with wool socks.
Since I was without my river-fording knee-high boots, I decided to turn around and take a different route. There's a short detour that leads further south along the beach and connects to a separated bike path running between Pacific Coast Highway and the Amtrak train tracks, leading almost all the way to San Clemente. The path itself runs only for about 2 miles, but with the detour and beach sections leading to it, it turns out to be about a 6 mile round trip from the starting point at Doheny Beach. Being that it was cold and windy, I thought that would make for a nice little ride, combined with the 3 or 4 miles that gets me from my house to Doheny and back.

After a leisurely cruise by the  beach/RV area, I connected with the bike path and began the ride south.

It's cold. It's dark and cloudy. There are no motorized vehicles. And I'm wearing sunglasses.
It was relatively peaceful along the way, but a rather dull and non-scenic ride. It did seem nice and smooth, though, and with a nice relatively new path surface, the pedaling seemed light and easy. After the 2-mile stretch, I reached the end of the separated path. You can continue along PCH in a bike lane to San Clemente, but I decided to turn around and head back. Did I mention it was cold?

Turn around here or join PCH traffic to San Clemente
As I began to ride back toward Dana Point, I suddenly remembered why I don't ride this route more often, and realized why the pedaling seemed light and easy on the outbound portion. The return trip was what I can only describe as "The Wind Tunnel From Hell". It seems the combination of the rock cliffs on one side, houses and ocean on the other, and the path itself bound with tall-ish concrete barriers on both sides creates a super funnel for the wind that seems to always head south along this path. Needless to say, I was not excited to be riding into the worst headwind ever ... and did I mention it was really cold? I suddenly felt the familiar bite of winter on my fingers and face, my lips were becoming numb, and the fact that I had no handkerchief or tissue for my nose was beginning to concern me. Was I somehow transported back to the Midwestern winter?

With a lower gear and a determined heart, I pedaled the 2 miles back to the beach/RV area and snapped a photo with my frozen hands to document the evil path for you:

Remind me to remember this next time I decide to ride here, okay?
In the direction the photo is taken, the ride is fine ... but the return trip will feel twice as long and require several times the effort. Somehow I managed the "Wind Tunnel From Hell" ... and the cold ... and got back to Doheny Beach, then back through the hills and home. It took most of the day to recover from the chill. And for us here in Southern California, that's a traumatic experience. Do not worry ... I will survive.

I know ... for most of you out there, winter means snow, ice, and temperatures below freezing for at least 2-3 months. I used to live in a place like that. I think California has softened me, because what I'm describing above as frigid cold would likely feel downright balmy for many of you this time of year, and would have to me when I used to live in the upper Midwest. Times have certainly changed ...

I can't complain, though, given the amazing weather we've had for the month leading up to this cold snap. Last year brought us some horrible storms, and as a result, we were in the midst of repairs for most of last January. So a little cold and some very light rain is just fine with me. I'll just have to remember to save the "Wind Tunnel From Hell" for a warmer day ...

Hope your winter is progressing quickly into the coming Spring and that you can at least get out for some kind of ride, despite the weather!

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