First Day of Spring

At 12:57 today the sun crossed the equator and Spring came to the Northern Hemisphere.  At just about that moment I was rolling out of the driveway for my first bike ride in almost a month—that’s how hard the confluence of a bitter winter and an active schedule has been on my riding.

Daybreak today was foggy.  It had rained all day yesterday, the second day of above-freezing temperatures that melted Monday’s seven-inch snowfall very fast.  It’s remarkable how the higher arc of the late-winter sun warms so much faster than the low angles of January light, even when it’s cloudy.  The rain pretty much polished things off, so that when the fog burned off after breakfast the ground was bare except for a few renegade lumps of dirty white slush.

The clearing blue sky brought with it a gusty frontal system, but as the morning warmed there wasn’t even much of a wind chill as the temperature soared to nearly the normal high for the date, a rarity this season.

Out on the trail I rode northwest into the headwind.  The 11 m.p.h. breeze, gusting to 31, slowed a pace already made ponderous by lack of riding.  They say that if you want to go fast, you have to go slow.  Meaning that the best way to train is to begin with more miles and less exertion, since too much intensity early on requires more recovery time and actually impedes progress.  If that’s the case I will be riding very fast this summer, because my rate was truly glacial, about 13 m.p.h. instead of the optimal 15.5.  But my body is now telling me that I did not overdo it, and that the minimal aches and pains will allow me to ride again in even warmer air tomorrow.

One sign of the cold late winter is that the Spring Peepers were at their raucous best today in the marshlands west of Vienna, along with the lower-pitched ones I call “Spring Croakers.”  Usually by March 20th they’d be long gone.  But just 72 hours ago they were all buried under frozen snowdrifts, and I be they were almost as happy to be out in today’s sun as I was.

I could ride home with the wind at my back, a more honest course of action because one is not tempted to succumb to the delusion that one’s fast pace is a result of being in shape, rather than the reality of being wind-blown.  When the tailwind comes at the back end of the ride, one is already tiring, having battled the headwind for miles and miles.  One is simply grateful for the natural assistance.  And I am grateful for the promise of another fine riding day coming up, warmer and with calm winds.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2014

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Dismal and Cold

As I write this the temperature is 13.7˚ and dropping, the wind is gusting to 22 mph, and it is snowing.  Not as hard as it was an hour ago, but the storm is not over; there are about 6” on the ground, and under that a layer of ice, since the storm began as rain, then freezing rain, and then sleet.

It is March 3, “meteorological spring,” apparently.  That measure does not ring entirely true to me, since it’s about March 10 or 12 when it seems to me the serious threat of travel-threatening weather is over.  Astronomical spring begins on or about March 21, whatever the date of the equinox is.  And I have always thought that the temperature curve lags about a month after the length of day curve, because of the residual coolness of the earth’s surface and the oceans and their effect on air temperature, as opposed to the residual warmness of earth and ocean as the days get shorter.  But professional meteorologists always clump three months together: spring = March+April+May, summer = June + July +August, etc.

This winter has seemed long, dark, cold, and therefore interminable.  In December and January there were several extended periods of very cold weather.  The January days that were below normal (19 of 31) averaged about 10˚ low, meaning that for most of those dates the daytime high was below the average low.  The abnormal cold has continued to the present; several late February days were near the all-time lows for the date, and today’s post-dawn high will be about 30˚ below the average high of 51˚, followed up by a likely record single-digit low tonight.

Perhaps the worst part of this winter’s weather is that the snow stays around.  Most March snowstorms here are followed by days that quickly revert to the 40s and 50s, while we will not see an above-freezing temperature after this storm for the next three days.  Right up until this snowfall began there were snow-shadows on the north side of each and every tree from two light storms of a couple of inches each that occurred over a week ago.  The other day a friend expressed thankfulness for a brief “warm-up” that resulted in rain, not ice, falling.  I observed that you know the weather’s been bad when you’re thankful for a cold, raw rain.

And it has been dark.  Despite the current length-of-day change that is at its most rapid, most days have been dismally sunless.  The Washington Post reported that the first ten days of February had an exceptionally high percent of daily cloud cover; even when the sun came out it was only a brief respite before more clouds filled in.  In January five days were “fair,” 14 “partly cloudy,” and 12 “cloudy.”  Combined with the cold, the darkness induces a SADness (Seasonal Affective Disorder) in the psyche of the cyclist.

The deeply frustrating thing is that on sunny days this time of year a would-be bike rider looks out the window and thinks “at last, a day on the bike!”  But the air is frigid—way below 32˚—and there’s ice on the bike trail.  When I have ridden, it’s been in the local neighborhood.  That’s OK, but the combination of air temperature, road conditions, and precipitation has really set me back.  Or rather sent me back to the indoor bike.  Would a stretch of sunny days at average temperature be too much to ask?

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2014