Rain or shine.
I heard it many times before I knew what it meant, or at least what I came to understand it to be. But, time was my teacher, the bike was my book, and my friends were the stories that inspired me.
Not everyone gets to experience the rhythm of the seasons.
Some of you might be wondering what I mean when I say not everyone gets to experience seasons. But take it from someone who grew up in a place that only has two seasons, a hot one and a cold one.
That's mostly it.
The first time I ever experienced seasonal changes was when I lived in Minnesota. I arrived in the summer, and it was muggy and somewhat warm. Then fall came, and the trees turned color, some bright red, others golden. Winter came when I woke up on a Monday morning to find my car buried under the snow. When the snow melted, it gave way for flowers to burst out of the ground while the birds sang their spring songs.
A melody I will never forget.
What might be so typical for many worldwide was so special to me. It woke me up and taught me to live every day of the season.
During the first few months when I started cycling, I skipped riding my bike in the rain and jumped on the streetcar (tram) to head to school. It wasn't that I didn't want to ride in the wet weather; it just seemed logical.
However, I was living in Portland, and if you know anything about Portland, I bet it's about how much it rains there (or that we got the best coffee in the US, which is true). I knew that coming to Oregon. It was one of those things that you never really think about until it's in front of you. I started taking the streetcar on rainy days and riding when it wasn't raining. Then came the fall.
It was raining daily, and I rode my bike less and less because I was acclimated to skipping riding in the rainy weather. The streetcar was on time, free (for students), and heated. Again it seemed like the logical thing to do.
Over time, I started to miss biking and wondered what had happened between burying my head in books, staying afloat in school, and keeping up with photography. I got the sense that I needed to jump back on the bike and decided to talk to the guys at the PSU Bikehub, a shop that quickly became a cornerstone of my life in Portland.
I dropped off my generic 3x9, 30lb hybrid 26er, and Dan installed fenders for me. Now that I got fendered up, I had no reason not to ride in the rain.
I got the rain jacket, the bike and the will to ride.
That was the first lesson in understanding the rhythm of the seasons. The lesson was about going along with nature. I knew that fall is wet, yet my initial reaction was to stop riding since that was a completely logical idea at the time. However, I was thinking inside the box, "if it rains = stay dry; to stay dry = avoid rain completely."
I was on autopilot.
Getting the urge to step outside the box made me realize that I was thinking within the box, to begin with. Perhaps readers from Portland or other areas where rain is part of the daily life in certain seasons, it wasn't the case for me. Growing up in Kuwait, we barely saw rain year long; if we did, it was a highly marked event.
In other words, everyone would be talking about it.
So I had to understand the significance of rain from the POV of a Portlandian to understand how to go about it.
Perspective, perspective, perspective.
After many years of riding in the rain, I came to love and understand it.
Without the rain, Portland wouldn't be what it is today.
Rain turned into snow.
Perhaps the most challenging season for a cyclist, and it certainly was for me. Over the years, I picked up many things about dealing with the weather. However, the winter season was a completely different beast. Unlike the fall, winter keeps many cyclists, even seasoned riders, off the road.
Some avoid riding outdoors to focus on different projects, while others simply don't see the need or have the urge to embrace the suck. I recall having many conversations about "the best gear" or "best winter set-up," which were good conversations.
However, the better conversations I've had were about relishing each season and understanding why we need to appreciate them.
Winter brings more than just rain and freezing temperatures. It also brings shorter days where the sun sets around 4:30 pm on the shortest day of the year. Winter in Portland also means decomposing leaves on the streets; talk about a slip and slide.
Winter also means TONS of layers when kitting up. You got the base layer, long bib, long sleeve jersey, vest, neck gators, thicker caps, gloves (I carry two at least), thicker socks, shoe covers, and a jacket.
The list goes on and on about why I shouldn't ride in the winter, yet I prefer it over the heat of the summer. I know, I know, but it's true. Growing up in the desert where temperatures average 120f in the summer means I've had my fill. However, the real reason I love winter is catching the sunrise from Pittock Mansion.
The sunrise is past 7:30 am, meaning I get to sleep in and still be able to get a decent 30 miler before I log into work. Nothing beats a winter sunrise in Portland. And if you're lucky enough, you might experience riding in the fog and rising above the inversion to a sea of clouds beneath you.
That's my reward for riding in the winter.
A lifetime of memories and appreciation of the human experience of seeing the light through the darkest of days.
I fell in love with waking up to freezing temperatures, layering up, and meeting a friend or two who share the same mindset of understanding the rhythm of winter.
As a matter of fact, that was the very first post I wrote when I started brainstorming for The Paperclip (You Owe Yourself A Sunrise Ride)
The snow gives way to spring showers.
Now that I've fully embraced winter and all that it brought from nonstop rain, a week or two of snow, and weeks of chilblains in my extremities from enduring the elements, the sun comes shining.
Rainy days slowly fade away, letting the sun cast rays of sunshine and warmth. Cyclists who went into hibernation are out spinning their legs and starting to rebuild that fitness ahead of summer and fall.
Early spring would still allow us to catch magical sunrises over the city. However, with the days getting longer, the sun rises earlier. So, over weeks, we swap those sunrise rides with post-work butte jaunts.
A change in the season triggers the senses to seek out opportunities.
Early spring means nettle-free trails that need clearing after the many winter storms that shook branches off trees, blocking some of our favorite hidden tracks.
Time to put in the work.
Brent taught me to seize that magical window and give back to places we consider portals to other dimensions. A bunch of wandless wizards shredding the loamy dirt (not too wet, not too dry, just right).
Early spring is the season to traverse those realms of lush forests before the mass sets foot. The wise know what's hidden behind the veil of the woods. A space to transcend life in every sense of the word.
Spring taught me how to perfect choosing the right kit for my own use.
Everyone is different. With the tolerance to cold temperatures I built during the winter, spring comes to lighten up the load. A simple vest would be good enough for most rides.
If winter was for fortifying one's mental attitude, then spring is for planning and exploring.
During those months, I set on big days in the saddle, with the long daylight hours widening my riding radius.
The seeds I planted in late winter start springing through. All the places I wanted to explore were calling my name, like a moth to the flame.
The group starts to gather again, venture together, and share time in the saddle. In doing so, we support each other, just as we do in any season. We push one another to get better, physically and mentally, a mile at a time for the big days of the summer.
The seemingly endless summer days arrive.
Summer, the north star of many cyclists.
The season where (almost) every riding style flourishes.
Roadies are chasing speed on hills otherwise too wet in fall, winter and spring. Adventure riders get to set on day-long +200-mile rides from their front door. While mountain bikers pick the fruit of their hard work building and maintaining the trails in the off-season.
Everyone is out and about.
The beauty of summer is in its long days. You leave the house early in the morning to avoid the heat, go on a big ride and still make it back way before sunset. A day's worth of everything, a ride, hanging out with friends, cooking your favorite meal, and having time for yourself.
During those days, I learned the true meaning of carpe diem, seizing the day, living in the present, and giving little thought to the future.
It is the season to go all out.
Summer days, in the PNW at least, open a unique window to focus on riding and venturing wherever your legs can take you. That can be your first century, cross-country ride, or riding around your local volcano.
Summer is the window to pay tribute to what I learned in all seasons.
Fall taught me to go with the flow.
Winter taught me to endure and follow the light at the end of the tunnel.
And spring taught me to plan and prepare.
While summer taught me to execute those plans.
It took me 9 years to understand the rhythm of the seasons, and I owe that to cycling and my community. What I learned from understanding the value of the seasons is discipline.
Every season has its purpose.
Seasons aren't just about weather changes. They are interwoven with everything that makes us human. They represent life and its cyclical nature.
Over those 9 years, I lived, made tons of mistakes, learned, lost loved ones, and even lost myself.
Whenever I'm in the thick of a tragedy, I felt only ennui. But then I see the sun shining through the gray clouds of March and suddenly feel hopeful again. I remember it's nothing but a season that will pass; it always does.
Whenever I stand on top of the world, it feels like it will last forever. But on the far horizon, I see the sun setting, casting darkness over our world; I remember that I took nothing for granted and lived every second of that moment.
This journey brought me peace in a time of sorrow and happiness from every direction and humbled me. The rhythm of the seasons continues to balance me throughout the uncertainty of the future from the lessons of the past.