Wintery This Way Comes
Rosengarth (SingleTracks #65, Originally
published in Dirt Rag)
Lead shadows smashed
office windows as a dim orange sun exhaled a final breath of
frozen copper pennies. Dozing granite telephones shivered silently
against the cold. Today there were no calls to cancel afternoon
appointments, no offers to round up the gang and head out on
the bikes. Those were the messages of summer evenings past.
Five o'clock strikes. Minute hands point to heaven, sending
mole people scurrying. Their feet make the sound of dried leafs
blowing across a frozen river. Urged by thoughts of microwaved
meals, TV shows, lovemaking, alcohol or nothing in particular,
the mole people steer frigid metal boxes toward luke-warm nests.
My urge was for "her" (names are not important). We
met recently and shared an electricity generated by discovery,
surprise and unpredictability. Car-less by choice, I could not
resist pedaling to her this night, despite the winter weather.
I was no mole, damn it!
Digging through my winter closet, I became a squirrel scratching
for acorns, a bear excavating his den—an animal instinctively
reacting to changing seasons. It had been 12 months since the
earth last tipped on its side, cutting my daily dose of solar
radiation to a subsistence ration. But, with experience to guide
me, my plan for surviving-make that enjoying-a long hard winter
of mountain biking was taking shape.
Layering, yes, that was the key. Already sporting the mid-weight
polypro tops and bottoms that would wick my perspiration and
keep me dry, I stuffed chilly dogs into warm wool socks. Nothing
like wool to keep the dogs happy. I chewed the last bite of
a Clif Bar (gotta keep the engine stoked), as I considered my
next move. For rain or frigid cold, Gore-Tex would be the obvious
choice-shell, pants and boots (or socks). This night promised
dryness, so I continued rummaging until I found my Versatech
shell-light weight, wind resistant and ready to deflect a random
splash or light drizzle. No need for a fleece vest or jacket-it
wouldn't get that cold tonight. Plus, I had my beloved ear and
neck gaiters, small scraps of fabric that made a big difference
between suffering and enjoying the ride. It was all coming back
I silently recited my mantra: "If you're warm in the parking
lot before the ride, you're overdressed." One thing for
sure about winter mountain biking—once you were cranking,
the problem was dumping-rather than retaining-body heat. A knowing
grin performed a snappy "jig and reel" across my face
as I recalled my good friend Al's favorite saying: "You
can ride naked in the woods and stay warm." Yes, I thought,
sweat too much during the ride and no fabric will be able to
keep you dry—you'll end up wet, cold and miserable. An
extra riding jersey stashed in my waterpack was my backup plan—just
in case it cooled off or I had to stop and deal with a mechanical.
Winter is manageable, but don't take her lightly.
I debated pulling my tights over the polypro bottoms, or ditching
the polypro and just wearing tights, or layering up with some
windpants. All were viable options, depending on my mood and
the temperature. For routes involving a lot of road sections,
I preferred layering with wind pants. My favorites were a pair
of Patagonia Gore-Tex, with a cycling specific cut. They breathed
amazingly well and never snagged on the saddle like my generic
nylon ones, which had their niche-stuffed into a waterpack as
just-in-case backups. Finally decisive, I shed the polypro bottoms
and slipped a pair of lightly-lined Pearl Izumi tights over
my riding shorts. Heading to the garage, clipping my helmet
strap and sinking my hands deep into Thinsulate gloves—I
was ready. Unlike the mole people, I would not hide from winter.
Astride my mountain bike, I'd meet it head on.
Pedaling, finally. As I stroked through suburban streets, headlamp
burning and taillight strobing hypnotically, I felt warm waves
of surreal memories crash on the beach called my mind. Memories
of mountain bikers in the most unlikely settings, doing the
most unlikely things. New Year's day, six years ago: 24 mountain
bikers on the annual Ride and Spew crunched through fresh snow
to the spot where the ride leader had stashed the champagne
and stale Christmas cookies. Toasts witnessed by bare trees,
thirsts quenched by bubbly swill, a festive impromptu party-complete
with cheesy plastic champagne glasses. If the mole people could
have seen us then, I wonder what thoughts would have fluttered
across their small minds before melting-snowflakes falling into
an open fire.
A dump truck driver staking a solid claim to his piece of the
narrow street flipped my toggle switch labeled reality. Spiked
with adrenaline, my heart rate whirred as rhythmic cadence propelled
me ever nearer to my love-the motivation behind my motivation.
Instinctively, I glanced at my watch, though I knew she'd be
waiting for me. How warm it would feel to embrace her. I wished
all my friends could be here with me-experiencing the warmth
of this moment. So many of them had turned into moles—hiding
from the winter instead of pedaling head-long into its splendor.
What happened to them?
I blamed television. A one-eyed monster, expert at the bait
and switch, promising intellectual nourishment, but delivering
sugar coated sugar-always leaving the marks hungry for more.
More quarter pounders and light beer. I cursed spinning classes-stronger
legs-but what about the mind? The most important muscle for
slogging through icy muck holes or carrying forty pounds of
bike, mud and snow up a greasy death march lies between the
ears. Riding in a gym, the brain says, makes perfect sense in
nasty weather—as it throws in the towel and Mother Nature
pumps a fist in the air while performing her victory dance.
Winter can be brutal. But this is mountain biking—not
to be mistaken with living room biking, day at the beach biking,
I don't want to ride because it's windy biking or see ya later
it's getting dark biking. Preparation mitigates suffering. The
rewards are moments of splendor—tires glued to fresh snow,
wailing the trail faster than possible on dirt, pedaling your
ass off with a big stupid grin on your face. Hey boy, better
wipe off that drool before it freezes to your lips.
Turning my two-wheeled dream machine into the woods, I felt
totally relaxed. Movements flowed like molten metal. Time was
molasses left on the porch overnight. Love was close at hand,
in the air and poised to conquer all. I could sense her presence,
just over the next ridge. Up, over, then stop—savor the
moment. There she was. The most beautiful piece of singletrack
I had ever seen, and the night was ours.
Reprinted with permission from Dirt Rag magazine, Issue #69,