Thanks to the Tour de France, many non-cyclists are familiar with pelotons. While they might prefer to avoid biking in the midst of 100 other cyclists, they marvel at the ease with which Tour riders navigate the course together. And boy do those pelotons fly. But this post isn't about that.
It's about the marvel of the flying pelotons through which cyclists in this area must ride during a good portion of the summer. It's all thanks to a comparatively small lake called Winnebago. Now, for those born in the Fox Valley of Wisconsin (Neenah, Menasha, Appleton, through Oshkosh, down to Fon du Lac), Lake Winnebago is fairly sizable. Going around the lake is a good way to accomplish a century ride. But compared with the Great Lakes, Winnebago is more of a puddle, a mere swelling of the Fox River.
Winnebago is, however, very effective as a breeding and proving ground for lake flies. If you've never had the privelege of being around a body of water infested with the red worms that develop into lake flies, consider yourself lucky. Any cyclist venturing too near the lake might do well to take along a snorkel. An open mouth courts disaster if you happen to pass through a flying peloton.
This morning was a beautiful time for a ride. It was about 65F, with no real wind, and just a bit too much humidity. Apparently, this is also perfect conditions for the lake flies. It's warm enough for them to be out. The lack of wind allows them to frolic around the roadways, just waiting for passing cyclists. And the humidity we dislike is like a well deserved sauna for the short lived flies.
It was into this minefield of bugs that I headed. Oh, it wasn't on purpose, mind you. My misguided mind failed to consider their presence. Well, at least until about the fifth mile of my ride. That was when I hit the road that runs fairly close to the lake. It was impossible to ignore them, at that point. Like I said, just breathing while cycling through lake fly territory is an open invitation to a sudden choking fit while passing through a swarm. It was suddenly like I was swimming (with the breathing pattern in reverse). Deep breath in through the nose, exhale quickly through the mouth, hopefully keeping all flying miscreants out of the oral or nasal cavities.
The signs of poor breathing technique are unmistakable. The sudden hacking and coughing as the kamikaze bug hits its target. The victim attempting to get said attacker out of their mouth, generally by spitting anything and everything out of their mouth (hopefully, they are not in a true peloton of bikers). And the worst case scenario, a direct hit on the windpipe.
That can lead to a truly adventurous scene as the biker is thrown into spasms designed to dislodge a bug from the windpipe. Breathing, while still possible, becomes undesirable. It's better to turn blue, fall over, and continue trying to get the bug out then to breathe a lake fly.
This is what I drove into, this morning. And one thought kept popping into my head. Michael Jackson wouldn't have this problem. His little masks (you know, the ones we all think are so silly) would work wonders against marauding lake flies. He would be able to breeze through the assault while other cyclists are diving for cover.
And that is why I was laughing for the last 10 miles of my ride. Images of Michael Jackson leading a stage of the Tour de France, not because of any biking skill, just because of that silly mask. And you know what, it's just as hard to bike while laughing your head off as it is to bike through pelotons of flying bugs.