kingdomexperiences

Ode to Winter – Jane LeMasurier

It’s always this time of year in New England when the weather courts us with thoughts of summer — each day patches of matted brown grass grow greener and larger. Road salt is in full seasonal fade. “Come out and play,” I hear it say to me. Those first few spring rides outside on the road offer the most brilliant feeling of freedom. Of freshness. Of newness. Of a dirt season in the near-distance.

It’s also this time of year when I want to say, hold up. Am I really ready for winter to be over? It takes winter to appreciate spring, that’s for sure. But what can be so fun about donning winter gear to go out for a ride knowing I’ll be snot-nosed, teary-eyed, and frozen in a matter of minutes? Sure, a little discomfort can actually make us feel more alive. It can make us slow down and take a look at what’s important. Like fingers, for example. As bikers, we need ‘em and I never notice my fingers more than when I’m starting into a downhill on a cold winter ride and they’re nearly uselessly frozen. Why would I embrace this? Why hold on to this?

I went for a mountain bike ride in the woods behind my house a few weeks ago. The snow had frozen into a thick undulating layer of hard crust and a dusting of new snow had fallen overnight, making the ground grippy and fast. It was 20 degrees and overcast, which usually affords me about a 30% chance of getting outside to ride. But I motivated, geared up, and decided to give it a gamble. I started to follow a summer trail I’d built that leads out from our land. The ground was sufficiently firm, but not icy, and the trail was recognizable. I set to follow it out to a tract of power line land and then turn around and ride back. But despite knowing the trail from memory I missed a turn without noticing. I just kept riding, straight ahead through the woods, with no trail under wheel, just firm packed snow, like concrete–and wavy, like a wading pool. Suddenly the woods were free game, a biker’s paradise! I could ride any line my handlebars could fit through. I spent two hours alone out there in a state of playful joy. Leaving no tracks, no trace.

The next day the temperatures rose above freezing and the snow thawed. The following day it snowed half a foot. My bike playground had vanished, just like that.

For a brief afternoon, those poor winter conditions lined up perfectly. Right there in my backwoods a whole world of new riding opened up to me, offering an experience on a bike in New England woods that I’ve never had, nor can ever have, in the summer: so unrefined, pure, and fleeting. That’s why, when the birds start to sing songs of dirt days to come I say, hold up. Am I ready to move on from this?

Please, Winter, and your motley goods: don’t go too soon.

Quinn Gets Excited for Summer!

New England winters are arguably more brutal than those of any other location in the United States. The unfortunate combination of length, temperature, and severe vitamin D deficiency make spring– and the beginning of bike season– that much more tantalizing.

February has graced those of us here in East Burke, Vermont with a surprising number of pow days, and I will admit, they make the heart of winter substantially more bearable. But no matter how many turns I carve on soft groomers, or cliffs I jump in hardwood forests I can’t replicate the excitement of bike seasons first pedal strokes.

By late April, Darling Hill, sleepy and trimmed with feet of snow in the winter, is replaced by a bustling scene of locals and tourists who’ve pulled their bikes from the shed, oiled their chains, and made their way to the Kingdom Trails. There’s a constant, palpable excitement which presents itself through customers face splitting grins and muddy shins after the morning’s first miles.

As opening day wears on, my excitement will grow exponentially, and for the last hour in the bike shop I can hardly contain myself. I sneak glances at the clock. Thirty minutes, ten, five, and the first “open” sign of summer is rolled up and brought inside. With the jitters of a six-year-old on Christmas eve I’ll tie the familiar laces of my riding shoes and plot a mental map of the trails I love so much. Threading my handlebars through the shop’s door frame as my cleats settle securely into the pedals, I’ll crank towards the trail head and into the new season. There will be countless afternoons during the summer that start just like that, but for now I’m waiting in anticipation of opening day, sucking wind on a stationary bike and wishing the turns I make in the woods were atop two wheels and a ribbon of dirt.

Quinn