Spring’s Promise/Summer’s Heat/Fall’s Hope

IMAG2108It’s overwhelming, Spring in New England. The flood of riding possibilities that come with better weather leave you wondering what to do first, how much to do, which direction to ride. It’s like a starving person confronted with a Vegas buffet.

And in a minute, it’s summer. The riding becomes regular, more regimented. You know where you’re riding, when, and who you’ll ride with. You start to feel fit, maybe you even are. It’s hard to tell. Everyone else is getting fit, too.

IMG_1035Then the heat sets in. You pay more attention to your water bottles, spend more time, off the bike, making yourself drink water. If you set goals, you begin to know whether you achieved any of them, even if they only amount to riding more with friends.

Although it’s still warm here, the factory’s big tilting windows channeling in whatever air is available, we can feel the change to Fall coming. Conversations leave the road, turn to cyclocross, mixed-terrain, Fall mountain biking. Someone says the words “fat bike.”

310778d1448294377-seven-treeline-sl-drop-bars-=-fun-road-ish-bike-tl4If Spring is a beginning, then Fall is one, too. We start to dream about cool temperatures, wondering how much faster and farther we might go. There is an urgency, too, in Fall. Winter is coming. We will ride straight through it, but certain places and certain ways of riding will be less possible. Fall is the time to cram in the good stuff, the things we missed during the Summer’s high heat.

Cold and Dark

The sun wasn’t up when we met in the grocery store parking lot, each of us blowing great gusts of breath into cold hands. This had seemed like a good idea last night, but this was our first cold, dark shop ride of the season, and we stood there, shifting from foot to foot, trying to gather the will to roll out.

The sun filtered through the trees on the way up the first leaf-strewn climb, heat rising in our chests, until we were at the top with dumb grins on our faces. Someone said, “I must have mountain bike amnesia, because I always seem to forget how much fun this is, even though it’s ALWAYS this much fun.”

We passed a dog walker and ran into an old Seveneer, on his own pre-dawn ride. We shook hands and made small talk, and then we went on and dropped down the other side of the hill, crossing the road and the meadow and fording the brook at the wooden bridge. We’ve done this together so many times, that we know where each rock is, each overhanging branch.

Mike found a new way up to the water tower, and he promised us it wasn’t as hard as the usual way, which is a straight grind up a steep pitch. It’s a good trail to understand how fit you are. Or not fit. As the case may be.

The new way is a twisting, undulating serpent of a trail that switches back a few times, but not so dramatically that you can’t keep your front wheel on the ground. We arrived at the top huffing and puffing, but happy to have added a new section to a patch of woods we’ve all been riding for a decade or two.

From the water tower, we dropped back down, our rear wheels grabbing and sliding in the loose leaves, and snaked back through the meadow, across the road and up, and up, until we were on the verge of the last plunge back down toward the grocery store, its parking lot now morning full.

It’s hard to describe how much fun a pre-work ride like this is, except that, as a cyclist, you already know. It was cold, and it was dark, and it can be hard to get out of bed to ride a bike when it’s like that, but wow, this is Tuesday on mountain bikes in the fall. Just some guys from the shop, out for a ride. Complete perfection.