By Vernon Felton
“You’re going out there?”
This, I assume, is a rhetorical question on my mother-in-law’s part. I mean, who sits down to watch the Seahawks game, dressed in a balaclava, lobster mitts, thick neoprene tights and an Antarctica coat?
Yes, I’m going out there. In a few seconds, I’m going to open that front door, knock the ice off my chain and proceed to clumsily pedal my bike for a couple of hours in the snow and slush. When I come back home, I won’t be able to feel my feet. My hands will be frozen into arthritic claws and I’ll probably sport a snot-cicle or three.
Now that I’ve taken the time to think about it, I guess I can see her point: pioneer families and jumbo jets full of soccer teams have eaten one another in balmier conditions than this… Who in their right minds would want to ride a bike during a winter like this one?
Us. Cyclists. That’s who. This is what separates the casual “Yeah, I have a mountain bike too” people from the real riders. Some of us can’t stop riding. Not even when mother nature is trying her best to tell us that it’s time to take up ping pong or Parcheesi.
THE WISDOM OF BON JOVI
There’s a term for this: cabin fever—a kind of hysteria, according to urbandictionary.com, brought on by spending too much time indoors. Whatever you want to call it, I’ve always had it. As a kid I’d squirm at my desk while teachers tried to impart proper penmanship and basic math skills. My mind was always far away from the blackboard, fixated on blowing up frogs, catching rattlesnakes or doing something else equally stupid and thrilling. College wasn’t much different—I graduated early, not because I couldn’t wait to crack open the next 500-page treatise on socialism in Latin America, but because I was dying to bail on the library and get back onto the trails.
Being indoors sucks. Plain and simple. Sure, there are times when it’s unavoidable. If you’ve broken your leg or contracted typhus or the mafia has put a hit out on you, staying tucked in bed makes sense. But, and I fear that I’m about to quote either Jon Bon Jovi or Jesse “The Body” Ventura, I’ll lay down and sleep when I’m dead.
Right now, I’m alive. I want to feel that way…and watching George Forman sell another one of his grills on channel 34 isn’t exactly what I’d refer to as “seizing the day”.
SUNNY IN BUFFALO
After spending four years in sunny southern California, I did what most rationale people do: I moved to Buffalo, New York. It’s a long story, but here’s the relevant point: Buffalo doesn’t fuck around with this whole winter thing. Parts of Erie County got about four feet of snow in single day last week. I watched the news reports and I had to smile. I remember those times. The lake-effect snowstorms just sweep in and lay the pimp hand of winter down on the place. There are entire weeks when you’d better have a pair of snowshoes or a snowmobile if you want to “run to the store” and pick up a loaf of bread or a half-gallon of milk.
And I still loved riding in those conditions. I’m not suggesting that I rode well or fast or “rad” or anything along those lines. My winter riding was, and still is, something more akin to hobbling or stumbling or miming having sex with an elephant. There’s a lot of sliding and crashing and cursing. I always finish these days tired, exhausted and a little concussed…but also thoroughly pleased with the whole experience. I feel alive.
Look, winter riding is painful and awkward and none of the things that make riding during the saner summer months so awesome. There’s no denying those facts. You might be tempted to throw in the towel and take up a more comfortable sport during the following three months. But if you do, you’re missing out on a great part of the cycling experience.
It’s hard to appreciate life’s joyous highs, if you haven’t also experienced its bitter lows. Cycling’s no different. Riding a bike should be fun, sure, but it can’t all be cruising buff singletrack under bluebird skies full of cotton-candy clouds. That’s great and all, but it’s only a part of the cycling experience. Taste the whole thing. Grapple with Mother Nature. Take a few lumps. Give as good as you get. It’ll make the first springtime ride all the better. At the very least, it’s a hell of a lot better than sitting on your couch and watching other people live the life you are currently missing out on.