December 28, 2005

Spring? Is that you?

This last week has been something of a wonder, and looking back I realize that I usually write about this kind of thing once a season, but it's still magical. Deep in the midst of December, and better yet on the first day of winter, we have been enjoying near-record high-temps here in the heart of America. It's been GREAT riding weather, and the rural roads that are usually quiet from November to March have been bustling with activity lately.

On an extended afternoon's ride home last week, I passed by or near at least a half-dozen cyclists, on the bike trail, on the roads, all with huge grins on their faces. Those that truly take an off-season, these days are a rare opportunity to scratch that spring-time itch.

Monday last week was a company holiday, and I took advantage of it by treating it like a Sunday. I rose early, but then realized that I didn't have a headlight mounted on the good bike, so I brewed a cup of coffee and instead sat on the back deck, facing east and waiting for the first hint of sunrise. It was brisk, but not terribly cold, and there was almost no wind. The near-record temps managed to squeeze out a little fog, which hung heavy in all the low spots in the backyard, in the field across the way, too. Eerie calm, occasionally interrupted by a passing bird. There were no cars, no morning rush-hour humming in the background from the highway a few miles north. Peace and serenity, and a good cup of strong coffee.

The first hint of orangish light began to flood the eastern sky, so I took the last of my coffee in a gulp, and retired to the man-room to suit up. Still chilly, but not nearly as bad as 3 weeks ago, I grinned at the fact that I could finally leave some of the heavier items on the shelf this morning, instead of pretending to dress for an arctic expedition. A few minutes later, I was straddling the bike, listening to the garage door close behind me. Time to ride!

After the initial shock of being able to coast sank in, I was at home on the geared bike and steadily accellerating thru the gears to a cozy warm-up speed. The sheer silence and lack of cars was simply WEIRD -- not even the pre-dawn hours of a normal Sunday ride were as quiet as a holiday-weekend morning ride. The world slept in, there was no church rush, no busses, no runners, not even the neighborhood dogs were barking -- just me, the fresh orangish-blue of a new day's sky, a few birds, and a mystical frost/fog coating the grassy fields around me.
My freewheel sounded downright LOUD against the stark silence, and I found myself keeping the pedals rotating even on the downhills, just to preserve the quiet. The only sounds left were from my tires which droned out a quiet hum, and occasional crunch of sand or rock, as I pedaled along thru the thick morning air. These are the moments that will stick out in my head, years from now, as I remember the "good times".

I made my way south, then west, and eventually ended up in Spring Hill at a familiar cycling stop - the Casey's. Even in my cycling garb, I felt at ease among the regular clientelle of farmers and those that don't take days-off. Normally, a quick dismissive glance would be fired at me -- the one that doesn't belong in this picture -- , but today I get "mornin'" and smiles instead, and even a "good day for a ride" from someone that otherwise looked like bicycles would be the last thing on his mind; the prospect of working the morning's chores in relative comfort for a December day has everyone in a rare mood. I buy some coffee, engage in a little conversation, and make my way back outside to continue my journey. Even though things only stand to improve, I'm only out for a short morning jaunt -- so I finish my coffee, pop a fig bar, and ride back north - exploring a few new gravel side roads on the way.

The new sun has melted all the frost on the grass, and the fields look different now as I roll northward, aided by a slight tailwind that popped up since dawn. I stop and take a few pictures of some random intersections for the "remember when" file, and remove a layer -- it's getting downright WARM out here! I sprint the last few miles home, testing myself and the good bike, checking shifts, etc., and arrive home quickly --- the birds have awakened and are singing, right in tune with my heart -- a heart that is happy that I took this short opportunity to dance with Spring, a few months early.

Sleeping-in is over-rated...