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Winter’s Sun

November 17, 2011

Today’s Ride: 32km—Mineral Springs, Weirs Lane, top of the escarpment, Domestique

Weather: Sunny, cold

The beginning of the week’s Belgian sun transformed into winter’s sun this morning. Gone are the bleak greys, replaced by bright sunshine. The clouds, however, had been holding in heat, which dissipated. The mercury was at 0c this morning as I set out. High winds were in the forecast, but they only started to materialize toward the end of the ride. Anticipating them, I stayed close to the escarpment for shelter, riding through wooded land for the most part—less of the fields that had animated Tuesday morning’s ride.

Cold can cut through a rider rendering him/her utterly vincible. The blood doesn’t flow to the muscles, the legs feel heavy, and every rotation of the pedal is an effort. The lungs sting from the cold air. Breathing becomes labored. Maybe the other way around: the breathing, then the blood, then the muscles. Properly prepared, however, the cold is only a toothless threat. Hat, base layer, tights, warm socks, booties, and lobster-claw gloves. Ready to enjoy the fresh air and the solace of quiet and empty roads. They become my playground. And the romance of riding is clear.

Dressing for the cold requires a certain deliberate preparation. Not just in accurately determining what levels of insulation are required, but also the discipline of dressing in the proper sequence. Socks before tights or leg warmers. Arm warmers before jersey. Base layer before shorts or tights. This operation should be automatic by now, but it always requires a bit of thought, and the smoothness of attiring is typically an indication of the clearness of my mind and the state of mental preparedness for what is to follow. This, too, is a part of the love affair that is cycling.

Climbing, too. But climbing is romantic only in retrospect. Or, more accurately, in its anticipation and in retrospect. In the moment, the romance is lost. The pain and the suffering might be beautiful—even needed—but, again, only in anticipation and in retrospect. Reflecting on feeling this alive—through the struggle upwards—is a vital sensation. Only in retrospect, can I consider the quality of the climb. Was I right to stay in the saddle? Or should I have jumped up at the bend in the road to power the bike onward and upward? Did my anticipation of a climb prepare me properly? Did I map out the energy required in an appropriate manner? Was that signpost the right marker for dropping a gear or switching from the tops back to the hoods in order to push the bike forward from a more upright position. Sitting is more efficient; standing yields more power. If I make these decisions in the moment, I’m cooked.

Seasons are fickle things. While I have been describing the waning of the year, Michael Barry’s post yesterday hinted at its beginning. Pro riders are getting “back to work,” and the rides indicate the start of a new year, a new cycling season, a new opportunity to lay the groundwork for a successful season to come. My reading of Barry’s Le Métier interprets this as his favorite time of year; the rider can be pensive, focus on building a base, rediscover what drew him/her to cycling before the stress of racing, traveling, etc., become all-consuming. For the amateur cyclist, the off-season is typically longer. Any winter riding will fill the interstices between the cold and the snow and serve as a form of escapism from the indoors: work, the gym, etc., but the real on-the-bike form won’t manifest itself until the roads are clear and the weather warmer. March, likely. Pro riders don’t have the luxury of greater rest; amateur riders rarely have the pro’s opportunity to ride. Of course, my form is also my own.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Blah permalink
    November 18, 2011 1:04 pm

    Again. Very nice. There are three or so real gems in there. Moments in the writing that made me “Mmmmmmm” or “Uh huh” out loud. VMH asked what was up. I shared. She smiled.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • November 18, 2011 6:44 pm

      Thank you, muchly. Of course, part of me worries that you’re putting added pressure on me to keep trying to put the right words in the right sequence. Upping the ante, like. Maybe blogs are better off without readers…

      • Blah permalink
        November 19, 2011 2:56 am

        Meh; your blog. Bang it out all in lowercase, unproof-read for all it matters. For mine, blogs are more for the writer than the reader (or at the very least, it’s 50:50). At least, that’s what we’re teaching our ninth graders next week.
        I think I like the ideas as much as the prose. “But climbing is romantic only in retrospect” is nicely phrased, sure, but the idea is gold.
        Just keep doing what you’re doing; don’t mind me.

      • November 19, 2011 3:57 am

        Don’t mind the dry humor: I’m very flattered—that you stopped to read and that something grabbed you. It’s exciting to discover that the odd idea here and there translates. Cycling is a lot like writing: part personal experience, part shared pain.

  2. Claire permalink
    November 20, 2011 12:01 pm

    Which is why I usually prefer to think of you stopping for biscotti. I don’t like pain.

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