Rocky Road

What you are about to read involves no bike. In this case, it really isn’t about the bike, because there isn’t one. There is only snow and ice and slush and wind, narrow, choked roadways, invisible sidewalks, copious amounts of wool and down, rock salt and sand.

Here in New England we are enduring a winter that failed to read the record books before unleashing its snowy fury on us. I could wax all hyperbolic about it, but suffice it to say that even the hardiest souls have nowhere to ride their bicycles. Mine are hanging from the rafters of the garage. I’ll not mention them again.

In the morning, I take my oldest son to kindergarten. Normally, this is a short walk across a beautiful park, but this isn’t normal and the walk, despite remaining the same distance, is no longer short.

Just today, my boy and I were inching our way down the street (the park is waist deep) clinging to the four foot snow banks to keep passing cars from spraying us with a syrupy mix of salt, sand and melting snow. I had the dog with me, because he hasn’t been out except to answer nature’s call in three days. Every few feet we had to stop to scrape the salt out from in between his paws. It collects there and stings until he’s limping and whimpering and sorry he didn’t just stay on the couch. Even with two cups of coffee sloshing around in the tank, I was struggling to put a happy face on the day.

And then it occurred to me.

This is just a different flavor of suffering. And I know about suffering. In better weather, this is a thing I seek out, cultivate and measure myself against it. It is an essential ingredient in my sanity, such as it is.

So beneath my hood and under my wool hat, down between my ears where I am always warm, I simply shifted gears. It is true that life is all headwind at the moment, but if I down shift and keep my head down, if I hide in the peloton and keep the pedals ticking over, eventually I will arrive.

I know how to suffer.

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  1. trev

    Pish Posh. Get on your bike and ride your loop like normal. I live in Toronto and we just got the same storm you guys had. Yes its cold, yes there’s a lot of salt and snow on the roads. This is what makes us harder than the ladies down in SoCal. Get your mountain bike out, go ride and go to a car wash later and spray it down. Thats not that much suffering. Driving rain is much worse. I rode a few days ago around my local Tuesday night crit course. It was snowing and I all I could hear was the sound of salt being ground in to dust by a 10sp Record chain/cassette. The Belgian Hardmen laugh at this weather.

  2. todd k

    I’m going to be in the Boston area for a business trip in a couple of weeks. Sounds like I while I am there I may be able to get my suffering in off the bike Rocky style(thinking the one with Dolf Lundgren.) Also trying to find a way to justify carving out a couple hours to visit the Seven folks.

  3. Author

    @trev – I would gladly do as you suggest, but the roads are so narrowed by the snow, that there is literally no where to ride. My usual loop doesn’t exist. I fear no weather, but you can’t ride where there’s no ground.

  4. Randomactsofcycling

    Just to add a different perspective at this time of the year, in Sydney this week it has been HOT. Sweltering, in fact. Staying inside with the air-con is preferred but I’ve been out there. The weekend is predicted to be 35C+ again. Plenty of places to ride but not enough faces with A/C! I’m sure you’ll tell me to harden up, but we’re melting down here!

  5. craig

    I hear ya Robot. The tires on my road bike has not touched pavement since the 2nd week in January and it’s killing me. I too have scouted out my local loops (north shore) and the combination of narrow ice-filled streets stuffed with new potholes has tempered my enthusiasm to get out and ride. I have had to content myself with sufferfest vids on the trainer while mixing it up on rollers to stave off the boredom as much as possible.

    Oh New England weather, you are a cruel mistress.

  6. Author

    @craig – I rode the Monday before the storm, and I found it very difficult to get more than two blocks without putting a foot down. There were a few sections I had to walk, and that was before the additional ice and snow. It looks like we might get some melting at the weekend, but it remains to see whether or not that will yield any more pavement.

    @randomacts – I prefer to ride cold rather than hot, so I appreciate where you’re coming from. I just need some pavement for winter riding. Any pavement.

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  8. lady from so cal

    I much prefer not to endure conditions that make you men hard.

    Save winter for its intended sports. Ski anyone?

    But alas, yes the season, must begin. Crit’s this weekend, supposed to be in the 70’s. Delightlful.

  9. Jon

    Robot, If you’re not riding I don’t feel so bad. I’m in Central MA and the roads are too narrow to even risk it. Break out the snow shoes and hit the woods! That gets the quads burning!

  10. Bikelink

    Not as bad in Philadelphia but still sheets of ice. I have studded snow tires to commute on and get some road time on (spending more time on trainer too)…sounds like others should invest, too.

  11. Author

    Interestingly, I was in the field near my house this morning, and I discovered that there are some decent paths packed down in the snow. I’m thinking of taking the mtn bike out there this weekend and seeing what a mess I can make. There are like three feet of snow down. How bad could it hurt to fall?

  12. Mike

    Here in Ohio we’ve had a colder and snowier winter than usual, but not as bad as our eastern and northern neigbors! There is 80% chance of snow tomorrow which means I’ll head out for the trails on the MTB (riding when it is snowing is a wonderful experience!). Other than such outings, I have to admit to having become soft by riding the trainer (did 100 miles on Monday … this is a sure sign that I’ve lost a screw or two along the way!).

  13. Pascal

    There’s an expression we use when referring to winter riding here in Ottawa, Canada:
    Some days are better than others.
    This is especially true if you need to cyclo-commute everyday out of necessity. I set myself up with an old fixie with some cross tires and pizza-cut my way through the snow and crap. The winter of 2008 was the snowiest on record for us (similar to this year for you North-East Americans). I fully empathize with you. I know that some days can be crushing. Keep in mind that riding everyday that winter improved my handling skills, kept me fit and helped me transform the misery that some long spring rides offer into bliss.
    I concur that your gear shift is the way to go Robot. Hang in there and you will be a (somewhat) better cyclist/person.

  14. Jeremy

    Robot –

    I feel your pain – I live in Somerville, and have a 10ish mile bike commute to Woburn. I’ve ridden through this winter so far, owing to 3 things.

    First, is the lack of a drivetrain on my commuter – I can’t imagine a derailleur working properly given the incredible amount of rock salt on the roads out here. Second, studded tires – Nokian A10’s still roll more like road tires than mtb tires. 30-45psi if it’s slick, 60psi if it’s dry. Third, and most important, is the combination of the low speed limits on the roads I ride (35 or lower), and my own willingness to just take over the right-most tire track. If I really pin it to keep up with in certain sections, I have very little actual impact on traffic flow.

    At this point, I can’t imagine both adding an hour plus of driving to my day (and the associated need to find parking in Somerville), and having to plod away, marinating on a trainer indoors. To each their own, but riding outside keeps me motivated and sane.

    Here’s to an early spring!


  15. finbar

    There’s nothing noble or worthy about “suffering” for suffering’s sake. A cold and miserable walk across the park and not doing any riding isn’t going to make you a better rider come spring, however you dress it up.

  16. Brett

    I’ve been taking the single-speed-crosser out on the (relatively) packed trails through the park. Tons of fun and I feel really beat down when I get back in the warm room. Beat down in the best way.

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