A rare glimpse of a double shadow as the early winter sun meets the horizon….
I was all set for a 50 mile club run this morning, but as receding sleep gave way to a gradual awakening, stirred by the familiar tones of the weather forecast on the radio, the words “last night was the coldest night of the year” had me quickly reassessing my options.
Downstairs, I found the kitchen weather station and confirmed that it was still below freezing, following some heavy rain in the last 24 hours. Not good news. I noticed a psychological twinge in my right leg, reminding of the broken femur I incurred on black ice some 6 years ago. That was bad news indeed……. it was almost 6 months before I could climb back on the bike.
So discretion was the better part of valour. (I discovered later in the day that the club had cancelled the planned ride, anyway). So while the icy conditions persisted, it provided a perfect opportunity for a brisk walk with Jenny, ending with a great coffee down in the village centre, and meeting up unexpectedly with 7 former pupils who, variously, had come from wherever they now live across the globe to spend Christmas with their families. A serendipitous change of plans? I would say so…..
But the afternoon, with its persistent sunshine, brought an opportunity to head out for a couple of hours, keeping to a route that was well clear of ice and, as the sun dipped below the horizon and the temperatures began to plummet once again, I noticed my profile lengthen from its usual 6 feet to something over 20 feet……. and, of course, we live in an age when we all self-indulgently grace the web with our ‘selfies’.
Forgive me for repeating myself (only if you are one of the few habitual, persistent readers of these ramblings….) but cyclists who think that the three cavernous pockets on the back of their cycling tops are intended for stuffing spare tubes and patches, mini-pump, energy snacks, discarded bits of clothing…….well, they have no idea of their untapped potential.
I’m a natural forager. If I pass an opportunity for picking up anything worthwhile along the road, I endeavour to stuff it into one of my back pockets. In the past I’ve come home with books, high-viz tops, gloves…..even a hand drill. And many is the time when the glint of a coin has caught my attention, the largest denomination being £2, on the way into the centre of London.
Today, the first day of winter, I was stopped in my tracks by food. Yes, free food…..lying unloved and ignored by the roadside. During the autumn, I try to fill the freezer with blackberries and apples, but it is unusual to be picking up good quality windfalls this late, and in December. By this point, they are usually lying half eaten by the birds, and rotting on the verges and in the ditches.
If you take a meteorological view of the changing of the seasons, autumn has finished today, and winter begins tomorrow, December 1st. If, however, your cycle of seasons depends on the movement of the sun, the winter solstice, December 21st, will herald the beginning of your winter, kick-started by the shortest day/longest night of the year. Though it is curious that the winter solstice is also known as midwinter’s day……almost as curious as finding out that the American Mid-West is largely located in the eastern US.
Whatever the case, the meteorological end of autumn today had to be observed by a ride through the last vestiges of autumnal sunshine, into the dusk, and through the first hour of the approaching winter darkness. There is something very special about riding into the night. The countryside goes quiet, the wind drops, early night time predators are beginning to forage and hunt, and the sun disappears over the horizon to leave a glow that lingers on, and on…….
Your impression of speed becomes inflated. Without the usual visible markers by the side of the road to give you an idea of actual speed, as you cut through the darkness, you imagine yourself to be cruising with the elite. But a downhill stretch in one village challenged me to defy a radar speed sign…..hoping to break the speed limit, but I only managed 25mph (40kph). Hey ho……..
January can be the most unfriendly month of the year for cyclists. For those preparing themselves for the coming racing season, many will have been discouraged by the unremittingly cold, wet, wintry weather of the past few weeks. And if their chances of getting out on a weekend club run happened to coincide with the worst of the weather, they may have confined their winter training to indoor turbo sessions, counting the numbers and putting in the hours………very boring and very sweaty!
In my own case, I’m never in training for anything…..except the next piece of chocolate cake, perhaps. Though I do like to compete against myself occasionally, my riding is entirely for fitness and leisure and, enjoying a certain flexibility during the week to pick and choose my riding schedule, I can study the weather charts and hope to miss some of the worst weather.
My ride today was a case in point. Although it was cold and very windy, I was assured by the forecasts that the rains would not hit our region before 1pm. And sure enough, as I cycled along the high street of our village at 1.30pm, having completed a 40 mile ride, the rains were only just beginning. To get wet in the warmth of the summer is one thing, but to get wet in winter, when the temperatures are hovering above freezing, that is quite a different story.
As I stepped into the house and my body began to adjust to the ambient temperature, the chill in my hands and about my face became painful, forcing me to step back out into the garage to allow a more gradual adjustment. Our bodies do not appreciate sudden changes of temperature.
January mileage: 695 miles (1118 kms).
Some things simply have to be done. Somebody has to fly the flag, show themselves willing, face up to the discomfort……if not, the fulcrum on which the balance of life rests would teeter too much to one side.
While most of the UK population snuggled inside its centrally-heated cocoon (be it home, office, classroom or wherever), a few felt the obligatory urge to set foot outdoors and brave the sub-zero elements. A weak wintry sun beckoned. The thoughts of the laborious process of pulling on the layers of insulation almost dissuaded me from my intention. But, finally, trussed up like the seasonal turkey ready for the deep freeze, I headed out into what was registering as -5C. Not along the ‘roads less travelled’ this time, but most definitely along the roads well travelled, to be assured of a firm grip underneath the tyres.
The countryside was like the magical scenes from Narnia. The sun was so weak that it couldn’t do much to shift the frost from the trees and the hedgerows, but its light brightened up the surrounds. The intense cold spiked the bare exposed flesh of my cheeks, caught the tips of my toes and fingers, but was invigorating. But what a day to get in a quick 25………
What better way to end a beautiful sunny winter Sunday than to jump on the bike and spend a few hours basking in the lengthening solar rays. The recent snows seem to have spring-cleaned the countryside, the crops once again are engaged in the process of growth, and the ancient village churches take on a special quality as the sun sinks beneath the horizon. Enough of words………….