My friend Gen send me an article from the New York Times about mountain bike races in the snow in Minnesota. It took me back the first winter I rode a bike as an adult.
(I’m sure as a child it would not have occurred to me to ride my banana-seated Schwinn in the winter. An adult with a Schwinn is quite another matter.)
I’d planned an ice climbing trip to Ouray. A colleague said, hey, ice climbing requires more leg power than the rock you’re accustomed to. You should start riding your bike.
“But I don’t have a bike,” I said. I recalled the ancient yellow road bike I’d left at a boyfriend’s house in college. Desperate for a quick escape and unable to fit it into my little Honda Civic (or ride away on it), I’d abandoned it. Blast!
“Jean has an extra bike,” he said. “It should be your size.”
He was right. I bought the mountain bike from Jean, and Jeremy set it up for me. I married him later. That’s another story, but for now, know that I didn’t marry him just because he adjusted the seat on my bike.
In the winter, you run out of daylight quickly. So after falling back, Jeremy’s friend Paul organized a weekly night ride from his house. Paul lives close to the back, unmotorized entrance to a state park that had fantastic trails (especially for Missouri). He rode there from home all the time, and the lack of sunlight wasn’t about to stop him.
Actually, nothing stopped Paul from riding. Dark? Power up the headlamps. Snow? Dig out the studded tires. Broken wrist? Keep riding, pull the pins out of the bones yourself (against doctor’s orders) when they get in the way.
Jeremy was the same way about road riding. He would always start training on January 1. January and February in St. Louis can be cold, but he had to ride, and riding inside is boring. If it dipped below 20 degrees, he would wear this cycling “jersey” that seemed to me more like a space suit. Sure, it was fairly thin as far as space gear goes, but it was made of a waterproof, non-breathable material designed to withstand the rigors of a trip to the moon, or in his case, four hours at an average of 22 m.p.h.
I though I was pretty tough with my little ice climbing trip, but these people were putting me to shame. I had to keep up with the Pauls and Jeremys, even though it was ridiculous to think I could keep up with people who had decades of endurance training over me. Lucky for me, Jean wanted to keep up, too. We joined the night riders.
Jean and I were the only girls in this fairly exclusive club. We were also the least experienced. The boys usually dropped us as soon as we hit the single track in the park. But we didn’t care. We girls rode hard, and we celebrated when we fixed a mechanical problem or survived a crash without blood (made easier by being bundled up against the winter night). We rode for ourselves, not for the smelly boys up the trail, regardless of the fact that we were each dating one of those smelly boys.
I probably wouldn’t have gone on many of the night rides without Jean. I had a healthy dose of youthful arrogance to push me to get out there, but the camaraderie sure helps when you get a flat or your headlamp goes out and the others are long gone. It also didn’t hurt that Paul’s wife often had a huge pot of chili on the stove for us if we made it back up the gruelling final hill to his house.