Riding this week has been a joy.  But a different joy from summer.  Now the question is how long I can afford to wait for the overnight temperatures in the low 30s to warm up before I take off, how many layers–and what kinds–I need to wear, whether leggings are necessary, whether hydration systems need swapping out in the cold air.

The main joy is the crisp air, not quite cold enough to be a serious challenge, but definitely enough to shift the balance away from perspiration and toward watering eyes and a runny nose.  My sensitive sinuses make cold weather riding messy, if nothing else.  The eyes water, coating the bottoms of my glasses with evaporated salt.  Mucus slides down my throat and out my nose in an aggressive drip.  I spit a lot instead of dripping sweat.  Actually, the air is a bit therapeutic, in that my breathing ends up being clearer after a bike ride than it ever is in the summer.  But it’s an embarrassment on the rides.

As for clothing, winter dressing takes longer because more decisions and more garments are involved.  Do I wear the winter cap or just the narrow sweatband?  Do I need a base layer (“undershirt” with high-tech fabric to you civilians), and if so which weight, and with which of my four or five levels of top garments?  Regular shorts or shorts plus leggings?  And which of the three weights of leggings?  Fingerless gloves, lightweight fingered gloves, or heavy winter stock?  Cotton socks or heavier footwear?

As for hydration, do I need one of my new backpacks, or can the lessened need for fluid replacement be met with a water bottle?  Trouble is, I’ve taken to carrying my new ultra-light pump in my hydration pack, so whether I need it or not, it’s easiest.

Ahead lie the more ultimate questions: is it too cold to ride?  Will my fingers go numb?  Will my hydration bladder or water bottle freeze up?  Am I overthinking this?

Right now, the scenery and crisp air make it worthwhile.  The maples are well on their way to total nudity, while the oaks are just now reluctantly beginning to give up their leafy treasure.  Stark woodland scenery, with that intermittent sun and steel-grey cloudiness, along with a nagging breeze, shape the view.  In the clean outlines of clear air, it all looks both challenging and basically comfortable, providing I’m  wearing the right stuff.  My secret comfort weapon?  A wool turtleneck band, just the neck part, that keeps the air from blowing down my neck and over my back and chest.  Second most important, the lightweight but incredibly effective black base layer tops I own.  they make me feel impervious, if I’ve chosen the rest of the ensemble wisely.

The trails now are empty on weekdays.  No casual walkers, dog walkers, noontime office worker walkers, or pseudo-cyclists.  Everybody out there is serious, and on a weekday mid-day there are few of those.  I passed about two riders, and nobody passed me, on today’s 29-miler.  Plenty of time to meditate, reflect, and take in the beautiful dignity of a constrained landscape, contracting into winter.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

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