Friday, December 2, 2011

Boiling a frog

There I was this morning, heading along a slush-filled bike lane on the first properly snowy ride of the year, blinking snowflakes out of my eyes and cursing my steamed-up glasses, with a small fountain of slush being cast up onto my chest, neck, and face by the front wheel (I lost the fender the last time I tried to take the wheel off to put the bike in a car.) And I thought to myself, this is it, finally. Winter cycling. How did I get here again?

I ride year round. This will be my third winter doing it. And I was talking to a friend at lunch today about the mentality. Sure, when people see me and my bike in the elevator of my apartment building and say things like, "Wow, you must be very brave," I do feel a little badass. And when I wheel the bike out, put it on the street, wonder what the hell I think I'm doing, and then find myself warming up a few minutes into the ride, I feel kind of badass. Even when I'm cursing and spitting salty road grit out of my mouth, I'm also thinking, somewhere in my subconscious, that I'm a badass.

But in reality, when it's summer and I'm cruising along the bike paths with my shorts and sandals on, and I even think about winter, I feel something akin to panic. I clench up just thinking about the extra waterproof pants and the hat under the helmet and the cold fingers, wrestling with the handlebars in the snow, the narrow slippery streets, and the grit that gets into everything. I don't like the idea at all. Yet here I am, at the beginning of December, with damp gloves and slush all down my front, and I'm not really all that miserable.

The thing is, riding in the winter is like boiling a frog. No, really. When I said that to my friend at lunch, I swear she nearly dropped her spoon. But here's the idea. They say - because of course I've never tried it - that if you drop a frog into hot or boiling water, it will jump out (or, at least, it'll try... I'm trying not to evoke any really nasty mental images here.) But if you put the frog in cool water, and gradually raise the temperature, it will just swim around, not noticing, until it eventually expires (once again, trying to avoid the mental images.)

It's the same with winter riding. The first year, I just failed to set a date after which I would stop riding. Some people stop when it starts getting dark too early. Some people stop when the snow stays down. I used to stop on November first, when I'd buy my first bus pass of the winter. But once those cut-off times are gone, it's a gradual thing, like the water around the poor doomed frog.

At first, you notice when the shorts are no longer possible, and you have to remember to tuck in or clip your pant legs. And then there's the moment when you find your gloves, and get the windbreaker out. And then there's switching the windbreaker for the winter coat, and then comes the day when you have to find the winter gloves because the fall gloves are too thin. Then you see your breath, and remember to try and breathe in such a way that it doesn't fog up your glasses. And before you know it, you're looking for the hat you wear under the helmet, and stashing the waterproof pants somewhere you can easily get them out, because you're going to need them most days. And by the time you're used to all that, a little extra snow and slush just seems to be business as usual. And voila, poor boiled frog; you're cycling through the winter. All because no single change in the weather was big enough to make you hang the bike up.

1 comment:

  1. Same for me, 3rd year Winter biking. I always kind of forget what I wore last year same temperature and weather conditions. Too cold... too hot! When to put on studded tires (some don't believe in studded tires). Anyway, enjoy the Winter biking. I'm to sure I'll be able to do it next year with my work moving more than 2 times my 13Km commute away.