Autumn is a farce in Chicago, Nothing happens between deep warm summer nights and bracing arctic chill, except for collapsing sports teams. Perhaps the Cubs are predisposed to withering like leaves -- Perhaps not. Winter began last week Sunday at 10:53 AM CST. Up until that moment I was riding my stoner bike without a jacket, to a café to meet a friend for something freshly ground. It was warm outside as yet, but the wind was squirly. I'd imagined Bradbury, penning "Something Wicked This Way Comes", one October afternoon. It had been a splendid Saturday, with warm gusts NW around 25, and the Mercury read 76 degrees, (naturally cooler near the lake). In my morning ride, I was comfortable, against a warm headwind, with the sun on my face. My typical 35 mile loop enjoyed 65 dry degrees with sketchy clouds. In our fair city's carousel of weather, we transition rapidly, or shall we say, dismount and abandon hope just as soon as the music stops.
Sunday October 22nd, late morning, the music stopped somewhat abruptly. Each day from mid August until October was lovely. Some hotter than required, most making it tough to don anything but bib-shorts and a summer jersey. In fact without rain, we were watering outdoor plants and even trees for the month of September, I'm not sure it ever rained. October's post season, began with idyllic 68-75 degree warm sunny days strung together like a candy necklace. Gravel Rides and Cyclo-Cross Series were almost too hot, and mud was scarce. Leading up to Last Sunday, was a splendid "Post-Season", and if one cared to blame someone other than Mother Nature, they could probably blame the Cubs; Not because they were at fault, but that Nature granted a reprieve for their post-season, and as soon as it had ended, the clouds gathered. Last Sunday morning became winter tights & jersey weather.
Bracing is a word which one may use liberally here as they might in Scotland, Wales, or Clifden, at the same time of year, when summer wraps up and bolts the shutters. In Chicago it never comes with warning. There is no subtlety to the tipping point when Chicago begins to build character from cold rainy clay. They say if you ride your bike all week, most days of the year and you'd prefer to ride than train bus or auto, then you are a cyclist; And if you ride for "fun" in foul weather, then you are a "Bad-ass".
I'm not sure Who qualifies for this job nor where the seasonal transition lay. There is of course a space between expectation and reality where a chasm of light becomes a water-column, and those caught out in the elements are merely making do. It takes very little ingenuity to "make do", but for some, the struggle is worthy of applause. The unfortunate souls caught in a down-pour, sand or snow-storm, are merely adapting. Adaptation for the unwitting can be amusing to observe, but only from a high & dry vantage point. A smug schadenfreude oozes from a warm café chair or bar stool, when one has a dry seat, watching thousands through the plate glass caught in a storm. Their frenzy for shelter is not owing to the folly of your best planning, nor is it preparedness paying you back for time and place. It's generally chance. Dumb luck favors the prepared mind. If you happened to be watching from a warm seat whilst others cover their heads with papers, and pizza boxes then you are likely the victim of dumb luck. Some carry an umbrella every day and never open it. Some keep a gilet, or jacket stuffed in a ball or pocket. Personally I keep my phone, tools and cards in a ziploc most days. This "Autumn" the ziploc was nearly never challenged. I'm ok with the rain on my face and thighs as long as there will be the reprieve of a shelter at the end of my tunnel. If you have ziplocs then making a deliberate plan to go for a ride, weather be damned is elementary. Even Gore and E-Vent warn users to seal their phone in a bag inside their "waterproof" garb.
I'm alright being either the comfortable observer, or their entertainment, e.g. the happy bad-ass cycling through the worst weather, while you glare with an air of privilege. I'm alright with a smug glance from someone who thinks they are a deserving dandy. Did it ever dawn on you that I may be enjoying myself? Likely no. Character, was not born upon creature comforts and sherry glasses, but focused through the lens of a Single Malt Scotch, when one is soaked through. I'll have a Cortado when the ride is over, and it will be tasty.
Transitions are tough for most people -- Making changes and sacrifices in hopes the trade-off yields an advantage, is the tidal ebb and flow life. Sacrificing one's comforts to glimpse the actors on the other side, the less comfortable side... That is the clay of character, shape it into advantage. For me, when the weather shifts to foul, I generally have the fortitude, and the outer-wear to make do. Ziploc Bags, Wool, and a hat will get you rather far. It's disappointing to not go riding because of an injury, or a really nasty driving rain, however when one opens a drawer or box of winter garb, and finds the right mix of kit, the revelation can be like digging into a treasure chest. All of those neglected Wool socks, and Warmers, have missed your company. You may get all dolled up and roll out with your bottles full, and a whisky on the table for your return. There is no rule that states the glass remains full or empty until you're back. The important thing to remember, when you contemplate whether 32 is too cold, though it's sunny -- Or whether you will need your Gore shell for the drizzle, is that you will return to a comfortable place. When you are done, you will have a clearer head, better health, and stories from your adventure. If the fortune to ride a great bicycle in the rain, and return to a warm home is not enough reason to ride, then you should likely sell your bikes.
It's important to gear up, man up, and head out. Riding is a privilege and when you are fortunate enough to have a warm home, a rad bike, and drawer full of wool goodies to make a bracing ride possible, then you are fortunate enough.
If this October you are looking at buying a Tacx or Zwift, that's OK. It's reasonable to expand daylight hours indoors, on a machine. It's reasonable to consider a glowing screen to cope with the melancholy in absence of a sunny day. In front of that glowing screen you will be on your bike right?
Me, I enjoy travel, conversation, and learning about places, and adventures far and wide.
If you never return from any place but your living room, you will only be able to talk about what you saw on TV.
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Age and Treachery will overcome youth and skill.