Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Ride in the New


Thanks to climate change, I had New Year's Day off for a change. The snow had been obliterated by rain in a storm right before Christmas. The lake and pond ice had been obliterated by a later surge of warmth. The local indoor rink would be closed for extensive remodeling through January 3. With nothing to stay open for, upper management opted to give us all the day off.

While lows had dipped below freezing most nights, every day ran well above. On New Year's Eve, the temperature never went below freezing, after a midday high pushing 50F. So once I got the morning chores out of the way on Sunday I suited up to head out for my first ride in almost a month, and my first purposeful exercise in 15 days. There's always a bit of wood splitting, and snow removal as it happens, but snow hadn't happened since December 16-17. That stuff had been the most heinous cement imaginable: disc-rupturing, hernia-ripping heart attack snow. It broke a lot of trees and took the power out for hours in places, and days in others. Only a few piles and patches of it remain. Like a horrendous battle, a storm can seem like it's never going to end, as it wounds and kills, but it does end, and the signs that it ever happened grow fainter and fainter. The lost are still lost, though, for whatever it was worth.

With the roads fully clear and a mild day, the only discouraging factor was the gusty wind. A rider learns how to manage the local winds. Around here there aren't too many attractive routes to take advantage of an upwind start and a downwind finish when a strong westerly blows, but I can ride a good few variations to the east that take the flying tailwind early and then tack back upwind on roads largely sheltered by trees.

Keenly aware of my advancing age, I wonder after any layoff how much fitness I will have lost. Coming out of a commuting season into the late fall and early winter, will the body remember the strength of the regular season or already have slumped into off-season sloth?

The first few pedal strokes on the trusty fixed gear didn't feel too ominous, although the mysterious aches that have plagued me for years teamed up with the rapid atrophy that pounces on aging, unused quads. It was manageable, but not a glorious hammerfest, joyously reuniting with the bike in exquisite synergy of muscle and machine. Nope. Just trudging doggedly to get to the real tailwind stretch on Route 25.

With gusts to 30, the elderly cyclist spun along at 20-plus for much of the three miles to the next turn. The next turn is onto a dirt road called Loon Lake Road. That's about a mile and a half unless I take a diversion onto a longer section of mostly dirt, that goes along the Ossipee River for a while before connecting to pavement again to head out of Freedom Village to hit Route 153.

The freezing and thawing had softened Loon Lake Road an inch deep in places -- mostly inconvenient places, like climbs. The route is basically flat, but there's this one little jumper that has a southern exposure... The dirt felt like a glue trap. But embedded in it were sections of ice, so I might be grinding hard just to keep moving forward upright, and risk hitting well-lubed compacted snow. When a dirt road is well frozen or only slightly thawed, sand kicked onto the icy stretches often provides more than adequate traction. With the road more softened, the icy parts looked like they had been rinsed fairly clear. They lay as traps that I had to avoid wobbling into as I slithered toward the next paved road. I skipped the river run in favor of a quicker return to pavement.

With a mild forecast for the second day of 2023 after a frozen night, I went out again to get a few more miles before the weather reverts to more wintry offerings. I wondered whether the saddle would punish me for my month of idleness or if I had retained saddle conditioning from the season that didn't seem so long ago.

I hadn't. Oh yeah. I resolved to ride rollers two or three nights a week for the rest of the winter, just to keep my sittin' parts in shape. We'll see how that really turns out.

Because the dirt road had stiffened up somewhat from the freezing night before, the river route provided a scenic variation with only one glue trap. Of course that was on the climb from river level to the paved road.

On the New Year's Day ride it struck me that I might not have ridden on New Year's Day since 1980. If I had, it probably was before I moved to New Hampshire, where weather and priorities would have made riding on that particular day less common. This was especially true once I had a job where New Year's Day is often one of the most busy, and what passes for lucrative, in the cross-country ski business. When I dredged through old training diaries I discovered that I recorded a New Year's Day ride in 1986 in Maryland, as well as a couple or three on January 2 in various years up here when time and weather allowed. I never wrote down the tequila-fueled fixed-gear slither through the outer environs of Alexandria, Virginia, that spanned midnight as 1981 came in on a light snowstorm.

I never cared much what I did on the first day of any year, aside from still being alive. But sometimes it's almost interesting to review how one has spent time.

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