Winter

It’s winter. Every day I wake up to darkness and cold and rain. When I can dig up the motivation, I put fenders on my bikes and harden up my heart and pedal out into the world. Through icy puddles and the endless grime of the road’s shoulder. Over bridges spanning murky waters into a city that has become monotone and quiet and hunched.

I hate it.

This happens every year – the weight of the weather pressing until everything seems too difficult, too uncomfortable, too awful. Cyclocross, my favorite racing season, has just ended and with its departure all the weekly glory, anticipation and competitive transcendence that has bolstered me is gone.

Life is normal and slow and gray. It’s winter training time. Time for base miles and building camaraderie with riding buddies. Time for learning to suck it up and suffer through the conditions. For racers, it’s an important time in the training calendar when we log slow, long miles that will add up to speed and stamina months later when the days are longer.

We grit our teeth and sit in stoically, returning home covered in mud and the smell of suffering. We layer strategically, huddle under technical outerwear and still manage to end every ride soaked to the bone and shivering.

It’s awful and we’re stupid. And yet? We can’t help ourselves.

Winter dishes out a specific brand of suffering. It’s different than the searing pain of racing or hard group rides. It’s about tolerance, patience and perseverance. It’s a quiet iteration of discomfort.

It’s three hours with raindrops on your eyelashes and numb lips that refuse to form a smile. It’s three hours alone with your thoughts. Contemplation enhanced by physical distress. Meditation mixed with misery.

There’s a reason we ride in this weather and it’s more than a blind commitment to miles. The dark days of winter give us necessary pause. Where joy and exuberance are missing, our heart’s our filled with a different kind of understanding. Life is beautiful and also, sometimes, excruciating. The bicycle understands this and honors it.

There is a dose of clarity that only comes when your Gore-Tex overshoes fail and the icy rain begins to pool in the bottom of your shoes. This isn’t going to feel good, baby, but we’re going to get through it.

Winter pedalstrokes become my cyclist’s prayer – an appeal for mercy, guidance and grace. An exercise in tough self-love and self-examination. Dark skies and difficult internal dialogues.

I ride through this dim and dingy Oregon winter because I have to. Because there is wisdom in the spray of water off the roadway and insight in the pain of de-thawing frozen fingers around a post-ride hot chocolate. We are students of suffering and there’s a lesson in the cold stinging red skin and damp riding gear piled next to the shower door.

We’ll learn that lesson. And we’ll love it. And then some day the sun will come out again and we’ll be stronger for it. Not just our lungs and legs – but also our hearts.

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8 comments

  1. Another dose of inspiration… I will keep it in my mind when I go ride tomorrow. And will love and treasure my weather in LA.

  2. Well put, Heidi. I had to laugh when I read “I’m not depressed, it’s just winter” on your Twitter. I just had that same conversation with some friends yesterday. Here’s to bolstering ourselves against the stinging rain! It always stops eventually. :)

  3. Larry Buehler

    Very good piece. I enjoy your website very much and this piece is right on the money. I must say I hate the trainer more than riding outside in the winter. Please keep up the good work because I enjoy it.

  4. Beautifully written, Heidi!

    Winter doesn’t depress me.

    It feeds me, it makes me stronger whilst feeding my enthusiasm for the warmer weather that I know is coming. If I can handle this… you can throw anything at me!

    Someone once said there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing, I don’t think that person was a cyclist?

    Riding in ALL weathers is like putting on your training wheels, the wind the rain the snow the sub-zero temperatures are those bombproof 32mm vittoria randonneurs. Their weight makeing your legs stronger, the weather making your mind stronger.

    The sun is your Michelin Race 3′s, the weight is lifted.

    What else renders you a shivering, unable to drink, unable to eat, unable to raise your head from your knees for sometimes an hour after you finish?

    When else in the year can a simple (and easy) 10/20/30 mile Sunday morning mind clearing ride become such an ‘EPIC’?

    WINTER follows fall and as sure as hell, spring ain’t far away.

  5. Sometimes I go out in the cold and wet BECAUSE it’s cold and wet and has a beauty all its own. And while some might see this as “suffering”, it’s always a choice.
    Some mornings I simply CHOOSE to go out and ride, just to hear the wind blowing over my helmet and past my ears, to feel the snap of cold air in my lungs and hear the purr of tires on wet pavement.
    I am rewarded by chevrons of winter geese flying overhead, through swirling clouds in their changing shades of gray and white; the sound of hard breathing and the feel of my heart in my chest; and the taste of hot tea when I return.
    Where’s the suffering?
    I’m not sure.

  6. Montgomery

    I live in northern Texas, where winter days are often gray, wet and cold. I was happier biking in the winter living further north and at a much higher elevation – where it was manifestly colder.

    When I lived in Utah, I used to take my mountain bike to a mountain loop road above Sundance Ski resort, where snow mobile machines and cross-country skiers had compressed the snow tight enough that you could easily ride on top of it. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better day riding than on those winter days, under brilliant blue skies and sunshine. It was heaven.

  7. “We are students of suffering…” Could be said of life, too.

    Nice.

  8. heidi,
    you sound a little down
    post cross season/deep winter doldrums
    i just wanted to extend an invite
    anytime you want to come over,
    i’ll ply you with good food, tasty beer and conversation
    the best thing for it
    just let me know when
    love, bob

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