Saturday, April 16, 2011

April is the cruelest month

The most awful moment will come later.

But this moment, the moment we are concerned with first, comes in the early strains of fall, and the meaning that fills this moment doesn't always come on with a quick revelation. Sometimes it starts with an insight, like, "I bet my ass wouldn't get so wet if I put fenders on my bike."

This is the moment when the night rider recognizes the subtle signs of the shifting seasons, the end of warmer and sometimes dry nights.

Summer is a special time for night riders. Neither fleece, wool nor polypropylene required, the only gear needed is shorts and a t-shirt, the only reason to carry a backpack is to tote alcopops.

During these times of decent weather, it becomes alarmingly easy to forget that decent weather doesn't last. It is a season of magic, scrubbed clean in memory, the time of year cyclists wear gloves to improve their grip, rather to save their fingers from the chill. Wind feels good on skin. Cold beer hits the spot. During these brief periods, it's hard to remember the sensation of being drenched in sweat while at the same time nearly hypothermic. In the summer, night riders fall for the oldest trick in the book: believing what is now will always be.

When the night rider is struck by the realization that summer will not be for much longer, and in its fizzle, mincing monsoons will arise, the night rider vows to him/herself: "I'm going to keep riding this winter, I ain't no punk."

When made on a warm night, this promise is backed up with a cheap confidence, not unlike that of a smoker declaring he is going to quit while holding a cigarette.

When confronted by harsh realities -- or in the case of Western Washington winters, tiresome realities -- this is the best solution: lies.

But as the winter drags on, and rides are canceled over the phone, and when they are not canceled and 50 miles in bitter conditions night riders can only console each other with phlegmatic self-aggrandizement ("We're hardcore, man."), the night rider relearns how to set a pace:

Don't go riding long distances in heavy rain and wind; Don't ride in the snow; If it's 20 degrees outside, stay inside; If it starts pouring during a ride, seek shelter and try to wait it out; If the rain will not yield, accept that some nights aren't made for night riding.

There is a mental balance the night rider must maintain: on one hand, wanting to ride, yet not wanting to endure the kind of discomfort that may inhibit future riding. It's possible to burn out on the cold. After all, some rides aren't fun, sometimes they fucking suck.

But after two months, three months, four months, five months, now going on six months of rainy, cold, pissy weather, the night rider's patience frays.

They feel ripped off, cheated, they start to curse their hometown.

And then, driven too far, 20 pounds overweight, the rain falling in dimes and headwinds like quicksand, the night rider commits to a modest goal: 20 miles in the cold, wind and pouring rain.

By the end, soaked, dripping on 7-Eleven counters, hands are so palsied they cannot function the brake and shift levers. And in their pain, upon arriving home, he/she makes the mistake of putting them under warm water.

This is the most awful moment (and it can seem like longer than a moment, especially when waving one's hands in agony for a solid five minutes), the moment when it all seems stupid.

This moment is the moment when the night rider needs the weather to start warming and drying.

And yet, this.

It is mid-April and it snowed today in Central Kitsap. Nighttime temperatures have routinely been in the 30s.

I swear, at the end of this summer, when the moment arrives and I realize I'm going to have to put fenders back on my bike, I'm not going to fall for it again.

I'm going to do something, maybe something rash and self-defeating, like move to San Diego. I don't know, something.

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