Monday, November 20, 2006

I stop being such a wimp

Date: Nov. 20
Total mileage: 36.0
November mileage: 197.9
Temperature upon departure: 19

The first rays of the 8 a.m. sunrise nearly filter through a mass of featureless gray that has become the sky; it's nearly cold enough to ensure hardpack and it hasn't snowed in nearly four hours, so it seems like a good morning to ride.

I swerve across the unplowed street as my gray-faced neighbors dig through mountains of snow. Some are looking for their newspapers, some for their cars, some for their kids. Most regard me with surly grimaces, but the few smiles I see are like a shot of Red Bull. It is early, and Monday at that. I head north beyond the idling garbage trucks, the hulking snow plows, chained-up tow trucks and the cars they're pulling out of ditches. After eight miles, I'm far enough north to be almost completely alone.

Blocks of ice and chunky snow keep me on my toes, but I ride as hard and as fast as the drifts will let me because the cold sweat against my skin feels good. Thick clumps of snow drip off tree branches like gooey cake frosting; across the flat muskeg, powder mounds remind me of air-puffed marshmallows. It doesn't surprise me that I'm thinking about sugar, but I do wish I remembered about they way water bottles can freeze shut in a nanosecond. So instead of dwelling on thirst, I think about the way the landscape reminds of my childhood, walking through a Christmas tree lot with row after row of white evergreens, the kind coated with spray-on permafrost. I laugh about the way the real thing makes me nostalgic for the imitation.

A man in a big truck stops just to ask me how I can ride through the snowy shoulder. I show him the studs on my tires and explain that with one-wheel drive, the thin powder actually adds traction over the glare ice on the road. "Yeah, but you can't do any hills, can you?" he asks, and I tell him that I just came down a 1,300-foot drop from the ski resort, and I still have the gravel in my teeth to prove it. He doesn't seem to believe me; he probably still thinks I'm crazy, but I think our short conversation will leave him with a different understanding about the ease of winter travel.

On the way home I still see people digging out their cars, and I start to think that I'm not the crazy one after all.