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.