I didn't find this one in a cursory search of CycleDog posts, so I may be repeating myself, an occupational hazard of middle age. This was my column for October....Ed
Wheel Issues October 2007
It was just a little hill as hills go in western Pennsylvania, not particularly steep or long. It was a nice fall day. I went out for a long ride and although I didn't specifically plan to spend a lot of energy on hill climbs, it's something unavoidable due to the terrain. The area was glaciated long ago, so the hilltops are wide and flat, with steep-walled valleys in between. The type of climb you do depends on both the terrain and the whim of PennDOT engineers. Oh, and let's not forget cows and goats. Some of the roads seem to follow old livestock trails. They're never flat or straight for more than a few yards.
I rode through a couple of glaciated valleys characterized by flat bottoms with a trout stream meandering side to side. They're usually easy climbs until the valley gets too narrow for the road. Then it would go straight up in a gut-buster climb. Think of it this way, you're climbing easily up a long valley when suddenly the road tilts up a wall. Your heart rate had been steady up to that point, but then it rockets into the stratosphere as your speed drops off.
There were a couple of climbs like that behind me. The temperature and humidity had been rising all day, and as I approached that last hill, the wind was starting to fade. It was going to be a broiler. On one side was a cow pasture. On the other, a mature hardwood forest. The combination made for sprint trainers in abundance — horse flies and deer flies.
Everyone in Oklahoma knows the common horse fly. They lurk in packs, waiting for an unwary cyclist. They're fond of landing on one's cycling shorts just above the saddle and they're quite capable of biting directly through the fabric. If you're riding in a group, other cyclists will pretend not to notice the voracious insect until you yelp. Remember this when you see a horsefly land on them.
(Image from ncsu.edu)
Deer flies are similar to horseflies, but they're smaller and they prefer exposed flesh and eyes. They'll buzz around your head driving you slowly insane while their buddies land on the back of your neck or your arms. One fisherman's trick is to put a white button on the back of a dark hat. Deer flies will land on it and leave your face alone.
The last hill was going to be a steady climb up to the state highway. From there it was a downhill run all the way home. The climb rose up from the valley floor at an angle across the slope. It was probably a wagon road at one time, because there was still a horse watering trough half way up where a spring crossed the road. I was out of water and the idea of refilling my bottles at the spring was very tempting, but there was the cow pasture to consider too. I passed. The breeze stopped, and I felt waves of heat rising up from the pavement. The humidity and lack of water made it worse. I was being slowly steamed to death.
That's when the flies pounced. It was almost like one of those cartoons where a swarm rises up, forms into an arrow, and attacks mercilessly. I could see dozens lined up behind me in a landing pattern. The deer flies were the fighter planes, swooping around my eyes and ears, distracting me from the lumbering attack of the horse flies landing on my back. I shook like a dog trying to dislodge them. They simply re-formed and attacked again. I dodged side to side on the road. It didn't help. The only way to shake them was to go faster. My legs and lungs burned. My head felt ready to explode.
I learned that maximum airspeed of an unladen horsefly is 15 mph, and I never rode up that hill again.