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"Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." Mark Twain or Charles Dudley Warner?

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Bill  On The Road

 by: Bill Oetinger  2/1/2020

Ode to Not-Quite-Spring

It’s the dark time of the year. I’m not talking about the many dark matters that assail us, from climate change to homelessness; from politics to pollution. No…I’m talking about the old-school, natural spin on dark times: the big planetary pirouette and our progression through the seasons.

But just to be a little picky and pedantic about it, let me note I’m not all that fond of the idea of nominal “seasons”—Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter--as if the weather and light and all the rest of it change suddenly on the 21st of every third month, like walking into a different room.

I get the fact of the equinox and the solstice…pretty basic stuff there. And you can say the days are getting longer after we pass Winter Solstice. But can you really notice that change from the third week of December to the fourth? No, not without paying really close attention and measuring it accurately. For a “real feel” take on it—what you can see with the naked eye or feel with the naked fingers—you have to wait a few weeks or even a few months, depending on where you live.

(The 45th parallel—halfway between the North Pole and the Equator—passes through the northern fringe of Salem, Oregon. That’s about 30 miles south of where I grew up and where my body and mind came to understand the seasons. That makes it, arguably, the most anodyne, mainstream, moderate, temperate environment on the planet. You just can’t get more middle-of-the-road than that. I now live and ride close to 500 miles south of where my roots are, up there around Portland. That gives me a bit of a head-start on the transition from Winter to Spring: it’s a teeny bit warmer here and less inclined to rain all the time. It still rains but not so incessantly. So when I talk about the weather now, my views are filtered through the happy lens of being just south of the prevailing, moist jet stream and a couple of crucial ridges inland from the Pacific and all its marine implications.)

Anyway, seasons do not open up and slam shut like a door or window. The transitions are protracted and usually subtle. The contrasts may be dramatic if you take samples from the middle of each season: a 105° day in July vs a 25° day in January. But getting from one extreme to the other takes time and we pass through a great many changes along the way, most of them incrementally modest when we’re living (and riding) through them, one day to the next.

Which brings me to my “Ode to Not-Quite-Spring.” Here we are at the beginning of February and the Vernal Equinox is still seven weeks away. How can this be Spring? It can’t. But we’re also six or seven weeks past the Winter Solstice, so about half way between the two…the 45th parallel of planetary tilt. However, I’m not thinking so much about the days on the calendar as I am about how it feels to be out on my bike, riding through the real-feel world. And by that rather subjective metric, I can definitely see and feel the changes. 

I rode down into Chileno Valley and the hen house belt north of Petaluma this week. The lovely rolling meadows were as green as anything in Western Oregon’s Willamette Valley but the temperature was comfortably in the mid-60s, the sun was peeking out between scattered clouds, and it was not raining. That’s the big one: it…was…not…raining.

Show of hands: how many of you like riding in the rain? Anybody? Nobody? Okay, I see a couple of crazy Belgians over there with their hands up. A big, water-repellant “Chapeau!” to you, gentlemen. Most of us will ride in the rain if we get caught out in it…what other choice do we have? And once we’re home and dry and warm again, we will rehash the grisly anecdotes about those miserable rides with anyone who will listen. They are a part of our carefully curated personal mythologies. But the number of cyclists who will willingly, happily set out on a long ride on a day that is already raining hard? Those hardy souls represent a tiny slice of the great cycling pie chart.

Of course the pros will ride in the rain, in the spring classics and in those appalling alpine stages when the weather gods didn’t get the memo that a race was going to be happening today. They train in the rain too because for them, cycling is an everyday occupation, not a matter of choice. They have to do it. They don’t get paid for staying home. But ask them if they like it. Not a lot of yes answers. (Ask Bob Roll how he liked being Andy Hampsten’s domestique over the Gavia, back on that infamous Giro stage.) One not-insignificant thing in their favor: they don’t have to clean their own bikes after those wet, gritty rides.

For the rest of us, if and when we get to choose, we prefer it nice when we ride. None of that wet stuff coming down and soaking us and none of it making the roads slippery and messy. Temps in some comfy window between 65 and 85 would be just fine, thank you very much.

So here we are, in this neck of the woods anyway, in what the calendar would have us believe is the Dead of Winter—that dark time of the year—and yet it’s okay, even pleasant, to be out on a bike. I am happy—delighted!—to find these little windows of sunny and dry and not-too-cold already being offered up for my cycling consideration, late in January and early in February. No, it’s not Spring yet. Not Quite. But for the moment anyway, it’s doing a passable imitation of the real thing…close enough to get this fair-weather rider out the door and turning the cranks.

Bill can be reached at srccride@sonic.net

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