A Day of Reckoning

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Finally, spring is in full swing in the midwest after what was an agonizingly long winter. For cyclists, spring brings hope like no other. It’s a fresh start. More time to ride in better weather and longer days. We all feel it, racers and non-racers alike. This year spring sprung about a month later in many parts of the country, with large swaths seeing snow into the first week of May.

Back in my youth, the first real sign of spring was the Good Friday Road Race that kicked off the racing season in Ontario. There was always something magical about the lead up to that race. The tension and excitement was as palpable as the scent of liniment permeating the start line. I put in the most amount of work possible during the winter to ensure I was in the mix at the end of that day. How you did on Good Friday set the tone for the rest of the season. Were you on track, or did you need to pile on the miles and speed? The race and your legs would let you know.

I spent the waning hours of daylight from November to March sprinting against the sunset. The cold of winter always gave way to miserable dampness. I was happy to put in the work though, dreaming of Good Friday glory. In the extremity numbing cold and darkness, thoughts went beyond local races. A teenagers dream of tifosi lined roads against the backdrop of blue sky and snowy peaks passed the grinding miles.

Riding in the elements of the harsh Canadian winter was as good for my soul as it was the legs. I imagined the hard men of the hell of the north training in similar conditions, brothers, separated by an ocean, joined by similar resolve. When the weather was too inhospitable, I sought refuge in the basement. On the rollers for hours, stoking the fire were thoughts of souplesse perfection. I suffered for the promise of spring and the possibilities Good Friday would bring.

25 years on I am no longer fueled by racing or dreams of Europe. My riding time is defined by daylight savings, the elements, work and family. I try not to slug it out in sloppy weather, raging winter winds or anything below freezing. I don’t own a trainer or rollers anymore. Running and xc-skiing take up more of my fall and winter now. If its windy and snowing, I seek solace on groomed tracks in the forest. If its cold and raining, a quick run does the trick. Maybe I have gone soft.

While I love running and skiing, the first hint of spring sees me dropping them like a bad habit. I welcome the coming of spring with as much enthusiasm as I did 25 years ago, even if it means something different now. Except this year, spring never came. But Good Friday is still a psychological point on the calendar, it lets me know I will be riding soon and allows me to gauge how my fitness is shaping up.

So when in mid-February I realized I had not sat on my bike in almost 3 months and Good Friday was only six weeks away, I started to get the itch. The weather had something to say about that though. Temperatures 20 degrees below normal is frigid in the upper midwest. When it wasn’t cold, we were hammered with a series of snowstorms. I thought when daylight savings time hit things would change. It didn’t. I started to question whether I had clinical Seasonal Affective Disorder and convinced I wouldn’t throw a leg over my bike before April. Day after day, I passed my bike in the garage, thumbing the slowly deflating tires which matched my mood.

As Good Friday approached, I decided I’d had enough and forced myself to ride in conditions that were less than optimal for the older, wiser me. Suffering from lack of time in the saddle and whatever mother nature wanted to throw at me, I actually didn’t feel too bad save the the tenderness of those first few rides around my sit bones.

On that Friday I awoke to blue skies, a forecasted high of 50 and no wind. The same weather report stated we set an all time record: the most snow on the ground that late in the season, which coincidentally, lined up with my own record of least miles that late in the season.

No matter, the roads were dry and I soaked up a much needed 50 soul quenching miles. And then, we got more snow, roads un-ridable for two weeks and weather uncooperative for two more.

Its now late May, more than two weeks from our last measurable snow, and I just got back from a long ride and turned it over fairly well, the sit bones no longer aching. I couldn’t help to think back to Good Friday and how, as in years past, I still use it as a silly gauge as to how I am coming along. It was 89 degrees today, I have the tell-tale tan lines on my arms and legs and the winter from hell has already subsided into a distant memory.

There is one thing I do remember though: that Friday, the break in the weather and that ride. It was a victory and good Friday indeed. Bring on the summer.

8 comments

  1. Andrew

    It’s been a miserable Spring here in MN. I was riding yesterday in full rain gear, including rain pants. Just awful. I think we’ve had maybe 10 decent days since April 1st, something like that. Some days training in the crap makes me feel “hard”- some days I can’t figure out what the point is of training and training and training if it’s never going to nice enough out for a fun ride. Rode INDOORS today, even though I swore I wasn’t seeing a spin bike until November. Johnny Thunders on the iPhone, 340 w ave for 60 mins, nice not to be wet or cold for a change.

    Bitching and moaning….

  2. Rod

    Here from Ottawa, ON. That was quite a winter. I still got snowed on the day before my first road race (Calabogie, April 20th. Carbon wheel trials after not being used for about 1/2 a year and all.

    I actually rode lots more this winter. Got a fatbike. Felt awfully silly, but haven’t had as much fun on two wheels in a long time. And going 10km/h definitely cuts down on the windchilled bits.

  3. Michael

    It was a pretty lousy winter here in Southern Ontario too. Usually by mid March I don’t need insulated bottles or extra electrolyte (to prevent the water in the bottle from freezing) – this year I had a few cases of frozen bottles in April. It’s still not that pleasent. Oh well, more time with the kids I guess. :)

  4. bigwagon

    Here in Wisconsin, if you let the weather dictate your life, you will be in for a miserable time. Best thing to do is embrace the suck. Enduring all the cold, wet and windy rides in the early part of the season just makes the beautiful days that much sweeter.

  5. Ron

    I can never, ever complain about the weather. I grew up in upstate NY and played a lot of sports, including lacrosse outdoors. Our season began in January. Not fun to try and keep your hands and head warm in 15*F.

    Luckily I met my gal and now live 615 miles further south. I no longer ride rollers. I no longer have any use for knickers. I ride year-round outside and love it. I got lucky. I do miss winter but until I give up cycling I’m okay exchanging my snowboard for my bikes. Though I do miss ice hockey.

    And I do miss the salvation of spring when you’ve lasted another winter. I’m used to spring arriving in mid or late May. In NC it arrives in, oh, February or so.

  6. Ron

    bigwagon – Yup, you gotta work with, and around, the tough weather. Sometimes you go play hockey or ski or snowboard, sometimes you ride bikes.

    And waiting it out definitely makes the spring seem like magic. As nice as it is to ride year-round in bibs + arm/leg warmers, I lack the joy of feeling spring come alive, then summer warm me.

    Is it too easy to appreciate? Maybe like a climb you fly up when you know you’ve been doping in the off-season. Your DS is pumped, but you wear the bemused look of a cheater on the podium.

  7. Aaron Anderson

    I’m lucky to live where I do (SFO), but we do get some nasty weather over the winter that I just have to buck up and ride in because I commute daily to and fro to work on the bike. The good news is that the newer technical fabrics and gear make nasty weather bearable. The other upside is that come spring, I can be more fit than most. The worst riding was during a hail storm (doesn’t happen often, but it can hail here). Turns out it hurts on the bike, and in particular, falls through the spaces in one’s helmet and hits right on the noggin.

  8. Khal Spencer

    Spring in New Mexico means wind. Gusts to 45 today and a wildfire above Santa Fe is sending a big plume into the sky. Ugh….maybe a mountain bike ride later as I can hide from the gusts.

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