Red leaves, taut skin in the cold air, water vapor as I exhale. It’s fall for sure. When I left we were caught between Indian Summer and fire season, which is to say, dry, warm and windy. It’s a different season now. The contrast between that last season and this, between the cliff and the drop, between life with someone and without—we navigate by edges, steering between them. Nothing illustrates fall so well as going to a land of perpetual summer.

Little can make me yearn for a coming season as an overdose on the current one. A week of sun-blazed temperatures and humidity like a greenhouse can make anyone long for sweater weather. Once all my clothing had spent a full day stuck to me, I realized I’d under-packed.

Before cycling, I understood seasons, but not weather. I didn’t appreciate that June doesn’t automatically mean beach weather, that leaves may turn Labor Day Weekend. I completed enough three-hour rides in the wrong clothing to learn to pay attention to the weather, not the season. I began looking at thermometers, weather forecasts, to understand that 50 and humid is different than 50 and dry.

Following the daily whims of the weather gave me an intimacy with my homes that I didn’t know before. But it also taught me how to watch the minute hand. In that, the change of season began to sneak up on me, but it also taught me how to recognize that first day that hinted at the next season. I relish that September day when I first detect that scent of fall. Just what it is, I know not how to define. Is it the first whiff of decay? Perhaps something in the way the ground holds moisture once the temperature drops? That change sits above my threshold of perception and yet below my ability to discern. It’s like wine tasting for a novice. Only I’ve been experiencing this change annually for as long as I’ve been alive.

The change of seasons has taught me something that New Year’s never could. A resolution is only as strong as will. But I can’t fight a change of seasons, at least, not without ongoing discomfort. If I try to ride in shorts and a climber’s jersey in December in Northern California, or most of the U.S., the ride will either be short or miserable, and probably both. The lesson is not to fight the change.

Leaves will cover the trail. Movers come. Cold weather is ahead, but spring is never far behind.



  1. Chuck

    Padraig – Last Monday, I was able to ride in shorts (albeit Gore Windstopper shorts that are a little more “substantial” than summer kit and have a built-in base layer) and a short-sleeve jersey. By week’s end, I was wearing bib knickers (again Gore Windstopper … the stuff is just made for this time of year) and a long sleeve jersey (with a base layer underneath), as well as a vest and shoe covers (BTW, I’m an ectomorph kind of guy of tropical heritage so feel the cold). The temps were nippy (33F at the start of one ride!) and there was enough wind to still make it feel chilly even as the temps rose. The first ride when fall arrives is the hardest just because you still haven’t acclimatized to the colder weather. But once you get the right kit on and your head in the right place, I love riding during this time of year. And then there’s the fall foliage (I live the DC area). Except for the brilliant color of leaves, I’ll be welcoming these exact same conditions sometime in March because it will mean it’s about to get warmer.

    1. Author

      I suspect that one of the truths of cycling is that we all dread the arrival of fall, of surrendering summer, but once we adjust our wardrobe and get out there, we all recognize that it is a special time for cycling.

  2. Michael

    Paddy, You did not mention the later part of autumn, when all is waiting for winter. I lived in CA for a bit, and remember November as the waiting time. The autumn comes, you change, you wait for winter, winter comes and you enjoy that change – the movers come, you move, you wait, wait for it to be home, going through the motions of living. Then it is, one day. You are coming back toward your house and you realize it is your home now. It is the first part of spring, and you learned a lot riding those wet winter roads. You are fit, in a way that might not be quite ready for a race.

    1. Author

      That’s a terrific observation. It may be that some of that sense of waiting for winter has to do with one’s perspective. How much a given rider dreads winter may have more to do with wardrobe and the riding behavior of friends than it does one’s actual attitude. I think there have been years when I’ve dreaded its arrival more than others.

    2. Mark

      Having lived in NorCal most of my life, I see the time between September and December as really two autumns. The first is the end of summer; shorter days, different light, but still warm temps. The second half takes place after the first substantial rain; Damp leaves on dirt, gray skies,a wool cap under my helmet, arm/toe warmers and base layers. Nature determines when the second part of fall starts. Looks like this year it will be late. In recent years and the devastating fires, there is also the anxiety of waiting for the rains. True winter is short, and sometimes non-existent.

  3. JH

    I’ve started my second autumnal riding season in Northern GA, and the cool misty am riding will still require more acclimatization. I appreciate and enjoy the end of the rides because I’ve been so softened by ten years of riding in Pasadena and the SFV.
    Humid and misty 50 degrees here feels like 30 degrees colder than 60 degree rides in SoCal. Changing seasons, and riding very difficult roads should eventually facilitate the feeling of home… Hopefully soon.

  4. Dave King

    There is something restorative about the transition from one season to the next. Like you said, a yearning for the next season when the current one has dragged on too long. Then, too, there is the restoration comes from a full cycle of four seasons when one has experienced a significant loss such as death of a loved one, divorce, climbing out of the hole of depression, etc. In my case, I re-experienced the memories of that person or event in each season until a year had gone by …. somehow the clock had turned after 4 seasons had passed and I could feel a raw but fresh beginning emerge.

    People from other parts of the other country love to say how California doesn’t have seasons. But having been a cyclist here for most of my life, I have to disagree. The changes of the seasons can be subtle but that only makes them all the more poignant and special when you do experience them. In the autumn, leaves do change and fall to the ground, the sun may still be warm but shadowed areas are cold. Rains arrive in winter, but so does green grass giving one the sense that it is spring. There is that magical day in spring when it is finally warm and wild flowers start popping. Summer can vary dramatically – scorching heat in some areas, cool, grey and frigid blankets of fog on the coast defer any thoughts of summer.

  5. Alanm

    I’ve learned that wind speed and direction is more important to me than temperature. I can happily ride my 1 hour commute in single digit temps, but 75F with a 20mph head wind is misery. I read the daily wind forecast and adjust accordingly.

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