The Unsung Elegance of Cold Snot
How comfortable are you when you set off for a ride? Are you nervous, cold, or unenthused?
If you are at all like me, then you have many mixed emotions just prior to your launch out the door, but once you have resigned yourself to the ride -- Your reservations evaporate, and you then justify each selection, piece of kit, and turn as though they are fundamentally well planned. You may actually be freezing, lost, uncomfortable, or suffering, but you would always prefer to be that "Cup Half Broken" sort of optimist.
On Gray days, or in the sheet of freezing spray or sleet, one may retract fingers into a ball within one glove at a time to save them from stinging, and never wonder with the other hand retracted, how pray-tell you will come to a stop, should you need to hit the brake levers hard and fast.
Is it optimism which consumes you, and convinces you to go?, Perhaps like the pressure of another tequila shot at 4 AM?, was this a good idea?, or are you consumed with the enviable idiocy of not giving a fuck? For me, the best thing about a ride, rain or shine, is the 'setting out' with a sense of adventure, -- and then perhaps not the numbness which soon beset in the hands --The Best feature of a great ride is the tuning out of all things which were important, but not essential up to that point. These remain closed behind the door for the next few hours, while you practice deep breathing, and snot regulation.
In the first 10-15 minutes of a brisk ride at -5 degrees on any grey morning in the city, one begins to clear the passages as it goes; And god-willing, also clears the shoulder and nape of the neck when one expectorates.
Clear optimism precedes the subsequent compartmentalization of all sorts of unimportant shit being closed behind a wall in your mind until your ride ends.
For me, a Good Book can be the road atlas of any ride; and whether it's a podcast, a classic novel, or a zombie apocalypse, guiding my next ride, an audio book, works in complete asynchrony with the world whizzing past. I tune out many formerly important contemplations the very moment I check my tire pressure, and press play. The most important things as I depart, immediately become comfortable clothing, hydration, and calories. Nothing else seems to be quite as critical. Oh... and the occasional Audio-Book on my cheap Earbuds. In fact, because I am generally unplugged from every other device for each ride, I don't find time to retrace the shading on someone's upper lip on a mystical Strava Illustration. I do not consult my Garmin to be sure to log my route, wattage, and Heart Rate. I simply peel away for a ride.
Where are we off to today? A country road that Google Maps has not yet scanned?, A back alley with a sweet jump off a loading ramp? If the day-in and day-out doesn't ignite your passions, then may i suggest a free ride on your stoner bike for city sojourns and a coffee. Perhaps a Gravel or CX bike to shred through a park or pathway will trace your smile. If you roll-up to an oddity beside the path; It's perhaps not safe, but nonetheless advisable that you have a closer look.
Last week in a remote area of Michigan, I was caught out in freezing rain and sleet as the temps plummeted from 5 to -3 degrees. When your gloves soak through, and the racing stripe up your chamois wears like a soggy diaper, then it becomes only a bit less fun. Perhaps it's best to not get lost at this point, but you will survive. Peeling away from the road for a moment, I'm reminded of what I was taught in photojournalism 101, "If its not interesting -- Then you aren't close enough". Getting into the thicket of a bear's den may not be on your agenda today. To do that in the freezing rain, with lightening striking trees, isn't a sojourn for sanctuary, but for stimuli. Getting out and doing something interesting can be the places you choose to stop if you choose to stop at all. Bam! "Another Roadside Attraction", so here it is -- Your "Still-life With Woodpecker", and it's staring right at you. When you were glancing at the Strava route, or waiting for Google Maps to get it right, you were missing all of the sounds in a clear brook full of Trout. Or the tree that wrecked that farmhouse you've never noticed until now.
Of course whenever you take a Road Trip, you stop for a slice of pie, dishwater coffee, and the World's Largest Ball of Twine, right? Nah!, nobody does that anymore. We surf the web, and shop on Amazon, while we drive. Or, we try to get a shot of the guy ahead of us, who has a clever bumper sticker, so we can post it. But, what would happen if you stopped, and bought some Berries from an untended farm stand, and used them to bribe and pet a cow?, instead of grabbing Crisps, and Coke at a Shell Station? ...Probably fun?
I think you should stop someplace. Naturally you needn't trespass if that's not your thing, but think of the fun you may have as you imagine the variables, and the tingle in your groin when you stray merely one degree from the fastest line between two points. I think it would do us all some good to get a bit of mud on our kit. While this may explain the Gravel Bike Fever, what is a Gravel Bike without Gravel?
As a leftover from the Mountain Bike Craze of the 90's, I can attest that, just as SUV's are the only vehicle people buy nowadays, Gravel Bikes now also fill a romantic vision, and a marketing niche. We justify them because we'd love to see ourselves rolling though the woods down to a clearing -- Then pan back and take in a canyon vista, with a lake or river. We smirk and say "I can ford that stream with my awesome AWD". But you won't -- (which is just as well because you would ruin the park for everyone else).
So why buy a bike if you are just trying to get someplace quickly? -- And why buy an SUV if you only take the Expressway recommended by Waze? I know you trust your instincts, but you are lying to yourself. So to justify our purchase let's get our hands dirty, and take a risk. Let's take a chance that the next place we stop will reward us with something that "others" post on Instagram. If you only take pictures of yourself and/or your bike, in front of podiums, best-be damn sure that some of them are unconventional podiums. When I was a Kid, I recall straddling my Schwinn Stingray, and saying, "...I'll Race you to that Barn!" Perhaps make it your podium.
Making yourself available for adventure is not always innate nor intuitive. Sometimes it takes a bit of coaxing to get yourself good & lost. If you were to leave your map and phone at home, then it's true that you'd assume some added risk, But if you are likely to make it all the way to the end of your ride for the sole reward of adrenaline and some "likes" on Social Media, then a re-think may be your New Year's Resolution. Some say that we now all take the same picture at the same monuments, so monumentally, that you can literally stack them one over the other and the outline would align. In fact Monuments now have a step to stand upon as if you'd summited something, or beset upon the Lunar Surface. But you haven't, you've merely paid for the least connections to get to a place to say you did that behind everyone else. As you angle for a clean shot without anyone else bombing your background, consider downloading the official APP to help you set-up the shot (colors and all) to rival the best Influencers of your generation. If we all tag a monument or selfie ourselves like the Griswolds at the grand Canyon, then what is the point of the trip. If the destination cannot even be appreciated except to say, "I did it", "been there, done that", then is it more incumbent upon you to stop along the way, because you clearly don't appreciate the place you have arrived upon.
Try this the next time you head outside. With your first step out the door, or the initial mile -- Stop!, straddle the bike, lower your head, and then look up and draw a deep breath through your nose, and feel the air fill your lungs, smelling the diesel, or cut grass, wet wood, or someone's laundry, and then set off again.
Take a moment to recognize that very unremarkable place, and think about why you haven't before. If you generally find it daunting to take in even the least conspicuous places, then a new ritual of riding can occasionally get you in tune. I once used an APP to find the most unusual and photographic bathrooms in Paris. Not mesmerizing as an exercise, but devotees of this sort of altar may be more holy than those who don't see.
Take a chance on yourself, and leave the door without anything that uses batteries, and see how long you last. OK perhaps bring the lights, but take a moment to consider the sound of your breath, and the regulation of your heart, the warmth of your neck, and the chill in your toes. As you try to blow snot well clear of your Helmet at 22 mph, find a place in your heart to explore a place along the way. Endeavor to bring back a frog, a smooth river stone, a wild-flower, or an arrowhead. If you are all out of space, then try lying on the ground in between 12 foot rows of corn, or beside a stream, and just listen. Put your ear to the earth or to a tree and see if it has a pulse.
Your ride is going to be outstanding. Regardless of your numb toes. Your burning ears, your wet chamois, and the orange oxidization growing on your chain as the waves try to push you down the embankment. These are the makings of a grand day out.
The adventure begins when you leave the confines of the mundane. Only don't be the sheep who follows the flock... Take a brisk if unusual ride, and suffer a bit, but be sure to touch something along the way, or pee on something unfamiliar. Leave the SUV at home, and venture forth. Remember that although your SUV came fitted with road tires -- you know you can actually get out of it anywhere along the route and feel something. Go ahead, and touch some dirt if you'd like. The Gravel Bike may as well be a bookend without the gravel. When it warms up you won't tell yourself, (that) "Winter sucked because we were shut in for Five months with a towel on the floor soaking up the sweat of our Zwift bike trainer pals". I'll bet that Getting cold and being uncomfortable in the great wide open burns the same watts, and enriches the soul far more than the flat graphics of your LED screen. When Spring comes you won't be as sleep deprived nor Vitamin D starved as your friends, and you may be a bit happier for it. Sure!, go where the sheep are -- but don't go like sheep.
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Age and Treachery will overcome youth and skill.