Monday, December 18, 2017

The new winter

Looking at long range forecasts as autumn arrived, I saw what had become a familiar profile for northern New England: above average temperatures, with an equal chance of above average, normal, or below average precipitation.

Precipitation is the hardest to nail down, followed by specific temperature. Everyone laughs at the weather forecaster, or complains about inaccurate information. A lot of variables influence the amount and type of precipitation. This is much more true when the temperature fluctuates above and below freezing. Long term averages behave more tractably. All you need is the trend.

As the actual season grew nearer, the shorter long term projections turned colder and wetter. This seemed to track with the La Nina situation in the Pacific, and the injection of volcanic dust into the upper atmosphere. Those had been ingredients for serious cold in the past. Now, superimposed on the overall warming trend, their influences seem restrained. The cold has not been as deep, for as long, and precipitation type covers a range that includes rain much more of the time. Even when storms stay all snow, it is wet, clumpy snow.

The phenomenon popularly called the Polar Vortex has become unstable, shifting so that bitter cold can drop in and hang around, particularly late in the winter when people might be looking forward to busting out into the growing sunshine. This is especially true of cyclists who may have some serious trainer fatigue, or be looking forward to using the car less, and the bike more. Completely car-free citizens will really welcome more benign conditions.

A rider who has taken advantage of winter conditions that allow for cross-training may have trouble finding them. Cross-country skiing doesn't require deep snow if there's smooth ground to hold a few inches on which to slither. Then you just have to find the time to get there on a regular basis. Runners adapt in various ways, to continue their program through snow and ice. At shallow snow depths, these user groups may be sharing space.

One winter, when I still lived in Maryland, I went out on a fresh snowfall of about five inches. You could enter the Naval Academy grounds quite freely then, so I skied from my neighborhood to the Academy, where they have a lot of well-mowed grassy fields and lawns. As I slid across one smooth, white parade ground, I noticed a runner high-stepping through the white stuff on a roughly parallel course. Without directly acknowledging each other, we each tried to make sure that we did not look like the silly one. I came out the winner by a slim margin.

Proper ski conditions were rare in tidewater Maryland. In New England I expected that they would occur more regularly. That was somewhat true. It's significant that the indigenous people of North America invented the frame-and-lacing snowshoe rather than the sliding boards devised by the natives of Asia and northern Europe. Terrain and snow type here initially favored the snowshoe. Skis immigrated here with Europeans and have needed help to assimilate. The most popular form requires constructed facilities and uses machine power to carry sliders to the top of a hill. Cross-country skiing  became a sideshow.

When I started working in the ski and bike business, it was a good way to be a professional athlete of sorts. It enhanced the business if I rode a lot and skied a lot. I was never the kind of uber-consumer that industries love, so I always had a frugal angle, but as gear improved I could help customers justify the purchase of it, and help them keep it operating, because I had tried it out myself. The conveyor belts got out of control in both ski and bike industries as the century turned. It's gotten harder to find good long-term investments in equipment, but it's not impossible. The growing trend toward a less throwaway society helps. We'll see how long it takes industry to notice and accept it rather than try to undermine it.

Because the basis of my riding was commuting and transportation, I look for ways to escape from the constant financial drain represented by car culture and consumerist entertainment. The lifeblood of an economy is cash flow, but you can't flow what you don't have.

Tuning and maintaining the human engine calls for balanced use. Pure cycling does not provide that. In pure bike commuting season I miss regular opportunities to walk. My commute is long enough to take up all the slack time in my day and then some. I used to change to a mix of activities in the fall and winter, but those have gotten harder to piece together as I have less energy overall. Opportunities to ski on workdays have vanished. At either end of the work day, conditions are often unsatisfactory or even downright dangerous, as temperatures rise above freezing during the day and set up hard at sunset. Indoor training seems convenient, but you have to set up, suit up, and clean up, turning a scanty half-hour workout into a full hour project. Subtract that hour from the necessary routines of meal preparation, housekeeping, and transportation. And you still need to stretch. Every option costs money and time.

Back in 1979, I set out to see how good a life a person could have on a modest income. This meant eating well, getting beneficial exercise, and enjoying some sort of intellectual stimulation and creative outlet. Eating well does not mean gorging on rich food It means being tastily but properly nourished based on whatever you can learn about what those terms mean. My financial status, tenuous and doomed as it is, is still better than it was when I started. In 1979, I would have been jacked to get $5 an hour, and could barely imagine the wealth of $10. I nursed the fantasy that I would produce creative works that would earn me more money to finance some travel and greater adventures, but the quest was never a straight-up pursuit of money for the sake of money. It was about a balanced life that anyone could achieve.

Of course anyone can live a balanced life, if one accepts an early death. Old age is expensive. But what do you do if you fail to kill yourself in pursuit of your dreams? Then you have to choose a voluntary death based on your principles and your taste. With a normal human predilection to survive, it's hard to kill yourself outright, even if you know it's the best thing for the species and the economy. And a lot of the shortcuts, like cancer and other diseases, are painful and creepy and sad, as you feel your body rot out from within while parts of it are still vibrant and viable. How do you know when you've had the last piece of fun you will ever have, and that this is the perfect time to leave?

Thoughts like this make hitting the weight bench and jumping on the treadmill seem pretty pointless and stupid. We're constantly shown propaganda that makes us question whether we deserve to live. If you're not working three jobs and filling every day with either billable hours or transit time from one job to the next, you're a slacker and a drain on society. In the anthill or the beehive, you work until you die. They don't have weekends and vacation. They have jobs. Even cartoonists brag about their workaholic habits. Partly they make a virtue of necessity, constantly producing work and sending it around because the returns tend to be small compared to the time invested. Take a vacation and some other scribbler will get one of the dwindling number of paying gigs.

The arts in general work on slim margins. Musicians have to practice to remain good. Visual artists have to make the art. Writers spend hours alone, going nuts in ways that they hope readers will enjoy. Performers need something to perform, an audience, and a venue. When work is commissioned, you have a payoff to look forward to...or an advance you've already spent. Otherwise, it's all on spec.

It's snowing steadily right now. I have go out and get a few thousand steps while I can. It's medicine.

1 comment:

Steve A said...

As usual, the weather is predictably unpredictable!