It’s winter. Every day I wake up to darkness and cold and rain. When I can dig up the motivation, I put fenders on my bikes and harden up my heart and pedal out into the world. Through icy puddles and the endless grime of the road’s shoulder. Over bridges spanning murky waters into a city that has become monotone and quiet and hunched.
I hate it.
This happens every year – the weight of the weather pressing until everything seems too difficult, too uncomfortable, too awful. Cyclocross, my favorite racing season, has just ended and with its departure all the weekly glory, anticipation and competitive transcendence that has bolstered me is gone.
Life is normal and slow and gray. It’s winter training time. Time for base miles and building camaraderie with riding buddies. Time for learning to suck it up and suffer through the conditions. For racers, it’s an important time in the training calendar when we log slow, long miles that will add up to speed and stamina months later when the days are longer.
We grit our teeth and sit in stoically, returning home covered in mud and the smell of suffering. We layer strategically, huddle under technical outerwear and still manage to end every ride soaked to the bone and shivering.
It’s awful and we’re stupid. And yet? We can’t help ourselves.
Winter dishes out a specific brand of suffering. It’s different than the searing pain of racing or hard group rides. It’s about tolerance, patience and perseverance. It’s a quiet iteration of discomfort.
It’s three hours with raindrops on your eyelashes and numb lips that refuse to form a smile. It’s three hours alone with your thoughts. Contemplation enhanced by physical distress. Meditation mixed with misery.
There’s a reason we ride in this weather and it’s more than a blind commitment to miles. The dark days of winter give us necessary pause. Where joy and exuberance are missing, our heart’s our filled with a different kind of understanding. Life is beautiful and also, sometimes, excruciating. The bicycle understands this and honors it.
There is a dose of clarity that only comes when your Gore-Tex overshoes fail and the icy rain begins to pool in the bottom of your shoes. This isn’t going to feel good, baby, but we’re going to get through it.
Winter pedalstrokes become my cyclist’s prayer – an appeal for mercy, guidance and grace. An exercise in tough self-love and self-examination. Dark skies and difficult internal dialogues.
I ride through this dim and dingy Oregon winter because I have to. Because there is wisdom in the spray of water off the roadway and insight in the pain of de-thawing frozen fingers around a post-ride hot chocolate. We are students of suffering and there’s a lesson in the cold stinging red skin and damp riding gear piled next to the shower door.
We’ll learn that lesson. And we’ll love it. And then some day the sun will come out again and we’ll be stronger for it. Not just our lungs and legs – but also our hearts.