A Mid-Winter Bike Ride

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January 12th 2004
Published: January 12th 2004
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So far my transition to a life without a personally-owned automobile has been pretty smooth, although the last week has been a real test of my resolve, what with temperatures dropping below freezing, heavy winds, rain and snow. But with my body almost completely sheathed in waterproof gore-tex, I’m pretty much immune to precipitation. I often arrive at work wearing my bike clothes, and so I slip into our photo studio darkroom and change from bicycling casual to business casual. During the day I stash my bike gear underneath my desk, and at night I exchange my office shoes for my bike shoes before pedaling home.

At the end of last week a client invited me to travel with him on a private jet to a museum opening on the other side of the state. I quickly agreed to go, but I was on my own to get back home. I ended up renting a car and driving back to Norfolk. When I got back into town I went by home, attached a trunk rack to the back of my rental, and mounting my bike and bike trailer onto the rack before heading out to the rental office.

The Budget car rental office on Military Highway closed early on Sunday night, so I had to drive another two miles down the road to the airport. The warmth of the sun had long since slid beneath the horizon, and a still chill lay over the ground as I hooked up my BOB trailer to my bike. In the distance I could hear the simultaneous roar and whine of jet engines, and the sweet smell of aviation fuel piqued the air. An attendant came over to pick up the keys before rushing off to another car and another customer. I began strapping the bicycle trunk rack onto my bike trailer when an attendant from a competing company came over and began talking to me. "Oh, I know dedication, but I've never understood how someone could be dedicated enough to ride across the prairie on a bicycle when the towns are a hundred miles apart."

Sounds like a quiet ride, I thought to myself,

"Now don't get me wrong," my unintroduced companion continued, "I did my own share of hiking and camping growing up in the Dakotas, and I've headed out into the snow on many an occasion to clear the traps or hunt a deer, and look at me now! Why people ask me how I can walk around with my coat unbuttoned in this cold, but I'm wearing LAYERS."

"Oh, I understand," I said, interrupting his stride, "I grew up in Vermont myself." I looked down at my own jacket, which, like his, was hanging open. But of course, I was wearing LAYERS. But my northern comrade continued unhindered by my bonding comments,

"Well it's been a few years since I've done any serious camping or hiking. Just can't do it anymore. 25 years of working on a carrier flight deck ruined my knees. Nope, no more running for me. Now they always said that I was too big in the Navy, but I say it's just genetics. My family has always had a good-sized belly.

I snapped the last bungee cord into place before strapping on my helmet and looking up at my new companion,

"Course now, I saw you coming in, and it was nothing strange."

In truth I suspected that I would get plenty of wary glances as I rode my bike around the airport on a 30 degree night in subtropical Virginia, and I quite expected that I’d get a chance to be interrogated by the airport police,

"Oh yes,” my new friend told me, “During the summer we often get people in here, dropping off their cars & riding away on their bicycles, but when I saw you I said to myself, now there's someone who's not afraid of the cold.”

And he was right about that. I wasn’t concerned about the cold, wearing only a few thin layers of clothing that nearly equaled a week's salary. What my clothing lacked in bulk they made up for in expense, hydrophobia, wicking and warmth. The tights and the jersey I wore were designed to move the sweat away from my body, while my socks and jacket were water-proof and wind-resistant. I was a pedaling testament to the wonders of modern chemistry, a sampler of synthetic fibers.

“Yup, it’s a good night for a bike ride if you like the cold. And I can tell that you like the cold.”

“That it is,” I agreed as I waved goodbye to my fellow northerner and rode away, the wind biting at my cheeks. Everything but my lips, cheeks & nose was shielded from the wind. Even my beard created a layer of insulation on my face. And as I rode along the bridge across the lily pond in front of the airport, I realized how alive I felt in the cold. While my knees creaked occasionally with the chill, I felt alive, and the miles seemed to slip away behind me. I skipped around the patches of ice and sand along the road, and felt an extra thrill as I rolled down overpasses, the cold wind accentuating my speed. At each red light I clasped my hands to my cheeks, averting frostbite for a few more blocks. The streets were practically devoid of traffic, and what cars were out gave me a wide berth. It occurred to me that I had assumed an extra hassle in riding my bicycle everywhere & giving up my car. With my own car I could have avoided a mid-winter’s nocturnal bike ride. But then I thought of the beauty of a crystal-cold night on a bicycle, and I gave up all thoughts of automotive regret.


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