Tips For Surviving Winter Riding: A Victory Over Common Sense
A few years ago I was sitting around in my sweatpants with a hot cup of coffee in my hands, a lazy Saturday mid-morning unfolding. The temperature was cold and I had been riding a lot earlier in the week and was resigned to a day off. But an instinct told me to get out there, and now! I didn’t have a vision of any particular ride, but I dashed down to the basement and geared up for a cold one, with just a feeling that something special was about to happen. Looking over my bikes, I settled on the CX, and at the last moment, I slapped some booties over my shoes, too. The air seemed dry enough, but who knows? Well, I guess my body did, because as I rolled across town, all my senses told me it was about to snow, at which point I steered toward Salem Lake. The fat-bellied, mauve colored clouds hanging low across the gray sky, a certain mix of crispness and moisture in the air, and that tell-tale smell. I knew that if I timed it right, this was going to be a special ride.
I think about that ride a lot, since it captures why I love riding in the first place, and reminds me that cycling is about contingent joy. In the winter, that contingency is obvious, as it’s often cold or wet, but if you accept that you will be uncomfortable and that you might even suffer—that this is the necessary contingency—the joys of riding are easily achieved. Not every ride will involve a perfect snowstorm, so I often build in some dependable pleasure. I might pack a couple of oatmeal cookies and ride to a favorite spot to eat them—Bailey Park, lately. Coffee rides are reliable, and beer or whiskey rides at night-time are the best (and with bars in close proximity in Winston-Salem, you can hit several on a single outing!). I might even make the ride something like an exploration. What better way to scout out the many Hispanic tiendas and taco stands on the east side of town than riding slowly past and letting the smell of fresh tortillas guide you?
The joys are plentiful, and with a little care, the suffering can be mitigated. First off, cultivate your instincts about the weather and trust them. Never mind what weather sites say (that day there was only a 20% chance of snow), if you’ve lived here for a couple of years, you can sense what’s coming. With my snow-ride, my instinct (the body’s knowledge before consciousness filters it into language) anticipated snow, but all too often I’ve ignored the reverse—relying on a weather forecast of rain or wind or whatever, remaining indoors and off the bike, when my instincts told me it would be ok.
Every single winter ride is a victory over common sense, and leap of faith in unexpected pleasures, and a belief in a version of your playful, active, spontaneous self that might otherwise slowly burrow into a hibernating cave for the winter. What else are you going to do if you’re not riding? Eat and drink all winter? Ah, but in the winter you can do that while you ride . . .