I knew I was all jingled out when, halfway through December, I was already daydreaming about kick-starting my New Year's resolutions. Beyond the annual vows to do more push-ups and wring out my liver, there had to be an eco component. Maybe an earnest stab at the hundred-mile diet? On second thought, mid-winter might not be the best time to start on that one. Hell, a girl can't survive on squash and turnips alone without early pioneer-style planning.
How about a Net Zero commitment to getting my pad's energy use as close to grid-free as possible? Could be tough in a rented flat where the circuits blow every time I turn down the communal thermostat because my neighbours crank up their space heaters to compensate. Then it hits me: winter cycling.
It's no secret that I'm a fair-weather cyclist. I pack my bike away when the first chill wind blows. You won't even catch me riding in a warm summer thundershower if I can avoid it.
But it's been embarrassingly mild this winter, and I've been feeling increasingly guilty about not using pedal power when the grass is still green and the squirrels are slapping on SPF. Of course, there's nothing wrong, ecologically speaking, with riding the streetcar to work, but there's no glory in it, no sense of accomplishment plus it takes twice as long to get anywhere.
Day one. Check the weather channel. It's 1 degree above zero. That's it I'm doing this. Wait, maybe it's best to take off the platform ski boots and put on some sensible footwear, mitts and a hat.
I head to the back shed to resurrect the beach cruiser. I'm ashamed to see that my meandering mint and rosemary bushes are still alive and well. God, if herbs can make it to mid-December, where the hell have I been hiding? I jump on my wheels and ride, head high, past the poor sods waiting miserably for the bus. Suckers.
Ten minutes in and all's well but for the river of tears streaming uncontrollably from my frostbitten eyeballs. Can eyeballs get frostbite? I feel like Tammy Faye Bakker, minus the goopy mascara. I consider buying ski goggles for the trip home. Mostly I'm troubled by the fact that I can't seem to hum or whistle a tune no matter how hard I try. Have the winter winds frozen my inner musical? This won't do.
Once at the office, I realize one of the perks of riding in the darkest months: you don't have to fight for a spot in NOW's bike-rack room. It's just my blue cruiser and three other winter warriors who ride in sleet, snow or rain. For a second there I feel like part of an elite special forces unit.
As the day creeps on, my gnawing fear of the ride home grows. It'll be nearly 10 pm by the time I leave work, and there'll be no sun to warm me, no birds to cheer me. Just me and Mr. Wind Chill, which, as I know from compulsively checking the Weather Network website, is a crispy -5. Oh god, why the hell am I wearing three-quarter-length pants? I might as well have strapped wind tunnels to my legs.
The Significant Other pops by and tells me winter cyclists need to be better equipped you know, like with a helmet, a bike with decent brakes and maybe some gears. The cruiser, he warns me with brow furrowed, is boardwalk fare. I politely push him out the door, thank him for his concern and tell him there's no turning back now.
A gust of cold air blows in, I feel my throat closing and my ear canals swelling. Imagine how warm it would be in a cab. Then I hear a co-worker sneezing repeatedly in the distance. I tell him to go home and take some medicine, to which he replies jubilantly, "Cycling is my medicine." Did someone pay him to say that? Either way, this is a sign. I must go on.
After hours of bracing myself for a deep, unshakable chill, it turns out night riding in the winter isn't all that bad. Actually, it's kind of pleasant. The streets are still and the joy of whizzing through Chinatown East without any cars or people around, even in December, reminds me why taking a spin at midnight has been a secret pleasure since I was a kid.
I muscle my way up the last hill (every bump feels like Everest on a one-speed) and run triumphantly up the stairs to my house like I'm Rocky Balboa.
Then my friend calls and tells me she's staging an intervention. Winter cycling will be the death of me, she warns. Plus, I'll have to start wearing woolly spandex. I promise to keep biking in my Kensington coat and hang up.
Next morning, the sun is beating down, the thermostat sits at a toasty 2 degrees above zero and I actually look forward to jumping on my bike. My eyes seem to have adjusted to the cool winds and aren't raining tears quite so profusely. And I can zip out to Parliament Street and back at lunch without crawling from subway to streetcar. Did I mention it's now 7 degrees out? Who knew winter riding would be so downright balmy? Ah yes, guess we should thank greenhouse gases for that one.
Nearing the end of the week, the bike room is jammed. I'm not the only one picking up on the weird warming trend. I'm feeling a little guilty that this resolution isn't turning out to be quite as challenging as I'd expected. This morning I even got my humming back and had to refrain from belting out Summertime as I passed a herd of preschoolers.
Alas, it's not all kittens and rainbows. They're calling for a cross between snow and rain for tomorrow morning. Hmm, isn't that freezing rain?
I make a new resolution. How 'bout I stick to winter cycling as long as the ground's dry and the temperature's high enough to keep my tears from freezing? Okay, okay, I'll get a helmet, too.