A Season of Atonement

Oh, the feel of spring, as my legs come back to life. Finally, the grip of winter has gone and my legs wake from latency. The tightness in my tendons eases as that the cold north wind turns to a warm southerly flow, and old man winter is but a fading memory. And the anticipation of spring’s warmth is enough to elevate one’s will, and I welcome the change in season.

Everything in my universe rotates around cycling and the lengthening days of spring now offer more opportunities for riding, more regularity daily and none of the hesitation of dealing with the perils of winter. Spring is Utopia for the cyclist, you may say. There is however one caveat in spring: The acrimony that comes from realizing spring doesn’t come free of charge.

Each spring riders must swallow a bitter pill of atonement. Even PROs have to regard this helpless estate. Less daily mileage during winter, Thanksgiving’s pumpkin pie and a daily morning Cappuccino all translate into at least some weight gain during winter. Not to mention the legs suffer without having the long daily rides, or the regular grind we take for granted in summer and fall. Lucky for me (or not), it affects many of my fellow riders similarly, and it is during spring that the rider must pay back for all those extras that have been lavishly enjoyed.

Just as the priest goes before the tabernacle and offers sacrificial atonement for the sins of many, so too must the rider pay penitence now in spring for winter’s excesses.

For some, they may never acknowledge winter’s decline, nor ever ride in their best form come spring and summer. For those riders who are honest though, there is a payback required in spring. Padraig wrote of a similar concept, of being ‘at terms’ during a race, when a few individuals come to the reality that they control a destiny, an outcome, and they are at terms with themselves and with the race. It’s a harsh thing, honesty with oneself, yet a fruitful outcome is possible if one recognizes it. There can be no excuses, no denials, and no transference of accountability at this time.

Atonement for the rider in spring is useful. When the rider comes to this awareness of form or lack thereof, in an honest self-assessment; spring’s work will be obvious. In such an assessment, we move toward being at one with ourselves. It is an utterly essential process, that the rider be ‘at onement’ in order to move up and move on. That is literally what atonement means, to be at one. I have also heard it explained that ‘the end depends upon its beginning’ and in fact spring marks the beginning for each rider each year. It’s a very orderly concept. The rider can focus on those weaknesses that can be mastered, and realize what lies ahead. The sting of self-affliction, the torment of correction, the lactate thrashing, and the effectual gasping for air are all required at the hand of spring.

And now we can accept this because we, in fact, realize we are indebted only to ourselves. Acceptance of this allows the rider to taper the body down, to chisel and to prepare for the season ahead. The dividends of such work will also be paid as we anticipate pulling the group with respect, hanging with riders better than ourselves and dropping our buddies in friendly local ‘world championship’ rides on summer evenings.

The catharsis of atonement in spring enables the rider to master all physical and mental aspects of riding. In the end, atonement liberates us from winter, seeking pardon and purification of those lavish excesses we enjoy. Atonement can allow us to prepare for and anticipate moving us into summertime form with success.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International



  1. randomactsofcycling

    Nicely written Souleur. But the gentile style does not truly represent the suffering of Spring! And is that Theo Bos in the picture? He certainly has some ‘atoning’ to do.
    Down here we are moving through the Autumn and into Winter and as such I am desperately trying to hang onto the form I have built over the Summer. So it’s dig out the lights, arm warmers and warm base layers….wish me luck!

  2. Robot

    Here on Planet Robot, all the atonement happens over the winter. All excesses are checked by the need to travel in all temperatures and all conditions. Occasionally, just occasionally, fun breaks through the cold. I get a sunny day. By the spring, my legs need rest. This year I’ve been practicing going slow, and the result seems to be a consolidation of the winter’s gains. This sort of approach ain’t for everybody. But I enjoy it.

  3. todd k

    What you say is true. Nothing benefits us as much as long days in the saddle. Given the constraints on time that a young family requires, I often must sacrifice long hours of endurance miles that provide us true form. My time is disproportionately spent in the red zones. I often feel unnaturally out of synch with the sun and seasons. I rarely reach the level of atonement you reference as my fitness bell curve is relatively narrow rather than broad. I’m further out of synch in that I tend to highlight fall cross races. I am constantly out of synch with many of the folks riding in groups at any given time of year.

    I’m very fortunate to be heading into a six week sabbatical this year, though. I plan to develop some major atonement during this time. Hopefully here in PDX we don’t repeat our 25 days out of 30 rain we had in April during that time. I think I am done whatever baptismal cleansing we may associate with it for the year.

    Well written piece, Souleur!

  4. Rod Diaz

    So true!

    Nothing harder than still trying to lose weight on the late spring rides when intensity is ratcheting up and our bodies are trying to cope with the first real bouts of breathlessness and trying to hang on to those who didn’t commit as many excesses during the winter.

    Not to mention the slight losses in skill like being able to corner effectively at 50 kph, or to manage slight touches of wheels without panic. It’ll all come back!

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  6. Author

    Thanks all for the comments!

    @Robot: so on this topic we are as similar as…Campagnolo and peanut butter. Thats ok, because I have to admit that in winter my days are not like yours. I puss out when it sleets. I ride less in the dark. And I can never muster a 4hr effort in 15* temps, I am lucky to find 1.5 hr. My 12-15hr weeks become 5-6hrs. And as perennial as anything goes, so is my 10 lb wt gain in winter due to my lovely wife who cooks like Martha Stewart and my very sinful nature of indulgence in it.

    However, I do look forward to those days that I can atone for these things, and so I do.

  7. James

    Todd K., no kidding…yesterday coming to work rain pissed own and then pelted with hail! The one advantage to living in PDX is that one can ride all year because of the mild weather. One just has to scrape the moss from between ones fingers and toes periodically! That is atonement in Portland! I hope everyone has a great season!

  8. Mr. Big Frame

    Preseason to the bigger game is part of the beauty of our sport. The anticipation of the big rides we all put on our ride calander, the all important thurs. night rides that challenge the legs and lungs, the feeling of self satisfaction of higher average speeds during the progress of the season. It has to be earned, worked for, invested into and the result….atonement. I embrace it, immerce myself in it and enjoy the results. Souleur has captured the essence of the season

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