While biking, cool air turns cold, and cold air turns bitter, so the faster you go, the colder you get.
I thought about this as I was coasting down a hill at mile two or so of my 12-mile ride Sunday. A week of warm, rainy weather had freed roads from the thick ice and encased them and enabled me to do a springtime activity. This always happens a few times in January. Spring jumps out from behind a tree, yells “Surprise!” and before you can say thank you, it vanishes for two more months.
Anyway, it was 37-degrees with a light mist and gritty water from the road was traveling up the back of my front tire and directly into my face which was also being numbed by the cold air. I had to squint to protect my eyes and cursed not having a fender on my new bike. I slowed down to address both the cold and the wet. It would take longer to cover the miles, but maybe I’d be able to feel my face and see. I enjoy both tremendously.
My slackened pace then took me back to what riding a bicycle use to be – recreation and transportation rolled into one. Before I had my license and was allowed to drive Dad’s 1983 Caprice Classic station wagon (white with wood paneling, of course) I’d ride my bike to get to a friend’s house, but also as an activity to do with friends if we didn’t want to be inside. When the silvers were in the Klawock River, we’d ride to the river, slow as we approached the trail we thought no one else knew about, make sure no cars were coming, then jump off and ghost ride the bike into the bushes and out of sight. There was no thought of dings, scratches or when the next tune-up should be. There were only three conceivable problems (other than going over the handlebars) and we never thought about any of them until they happened.
1. The chain falls off. This was a problem on a single speed bike, but easy to fix. Assuming you didn’t go over the handlebars and need to feel around to make sure your face is still there.
2. The chain ring teeth bite a track into your pant leg when it gets caught under the chain. It’s a sickening feeling when you feel the fabric tighten around your lower leg faster than you can think about what to do.
3. The gill tears out of the salmon that’s dangling from the handlebars, now you have to hold the fish like a football while you steer with one hand. Sure, riding with one hand was a flex, but if there was another fish swinging from the other side of the handlebars, it was only a matter of time before it would find its way into the front spokes, or a steering disaster ended in a wreck.
Those were the good days.
Riding a bike is more about fitness now – mental and physical. It’s an inefficient way to get around compared to the internal combustion engine in my other ride, but it’s a much better cardiovascular activity. Rather than just riding around with no real agenda, I have a specific route in mind and a desired workout goal. Though the youthful simplicity is no longer present when I pedal, the fresh air, elevated beats-per-minute and even the numb face is a welcomed distraction.
But I should get a fender.
• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available in local bookstores and at Amazon.com. “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.