Monday, January 22, 2024

A short little winter

 Back in the early 1990s we had a stretch of El NiƱo winters that really put a crimp in non-cycling winter activities. Non-cycling activities are very important to balanced fitness, because cycling is not complete exercise and does not help with bone density. They're also fun, if you're not obsessed with riding and actually enjoy the opportunities that a natural environment and four seasons present to you. So those of us who play outside in all weather felt severely deprived and grumpy. We hadn't seen anything yet.

Climate change hadn't hit the headlines as much as it does now that it's nearly too late to do anything about it. A few of us connected the dots, but didn't bother to discuss it with a public still happily in denial about "natural variations." And New England is notorious for variations. Our reputation is international. One November day a few years ago, I was helping out at a local half marathon that started and finished at the Castle in the Clouds, in Moultonboro, NH. The day was a typical gray, but mild. As I hung on in the back of a pickup truck cruising the course to pick up traffic cones and signage after the race, I remarked to the Chinese student helping out from a local prep school that the year before had been harshly cold on the same basic date.

"Well, that's New England," he said. Our reach is global.

The range of variation has reached the level of insanity. The flooding in the earlier part of the winter hit the national news. We finally picked up 6-12 inches of fluff on January 2, followed a couple of days later by snow so saturated with water that it landed as about five inches of slop. The fluff had packed down to an inch or two on trails. The slop destroyed some of it, and turned the rest to mush. Another storm right after that was even wetter. Then temperatures finally turned wintry before another five inches of light powder came in on January16. Nighttime temperatures flirted with 0 F for several nights, with daytime highs in the teens or 20s. That ends now, as the temperature climbs steeply to the useless range it occupied earlier. As if that wasn't enough, rain is coming in on Thursday and Friday to wreck the natural cover on cross-country ski trails.

Thanks, Corporate America!

Funny thing: because Wolfeboro and Tuftonboro have been favorite summer home areas for wealthy people for about a century, the beneficiaries of the political system that was bribed to ignore the environment and corrective regulation for decades has a well established colonial presence here. A certain family is sentimentally buying up local landmarks and attractions to preserve their theme park and maintain the servant population that they've grown accustomed to seeing. One contingent donated a good chunk to the cross-country ski association's fundraising drive to put in a little bitty snowmaking loop at staggering expense, to try to keep going in the face of the climate disaster made worse by their own oligarchic greed.

The climate countered by hitting us with really poor snowmaking conditions. These combined with the fact that the snowmaking crew is shared with the town's little downhill ski area. The downhill ski area took precedence, so the cross-country loop remained uncompleted until just this week.

As a person ages, deterioration proceeds unnoticed during periods of inactivity. You feel fine just toddling through the necessary activities of life, with maybe a twinge here or there when you lift something the wrong way. But as soon as you try to get back up to speed in things that were well within your capability, like a hike, or a ski tour, or bike commuting more than a couple of miles, you feel what you have lost.

I had to work on the best days of our mini winter. Up before the sun, off to work, stuck in the shop until after dark, days slip by. The leaping sunrises and lingering twilights warn that bike commuting season will arrive in a very short eternity. The light will be here long before the weather is nice. And even though first light to last faint gloom extends almost 12 hours already, sunrise to sunset is only about nine and a half hours. No matter what the weather does, the light travels at the same speed. The planet bows toward its partner the sun in the stately dance of seasons. It takes a long time, even at thousands of miles per hour. 

The temperature might shift back at times before we move into official spring, but the overall trend is warmer than average. I always wonder if the average is the ancestral average, or the new average, which creeps or leaps steadily higher. Our mini winter might be followed by one or more little repetitions. If we're lucky, one of them might coincide with the Massachusetts school vacation week, which is our biggest earning period of the winter. After that, numbers dwindle to the few who are already interested and an even smaller number of curious samplers.