It's in the 30s, wet, cold, and dark.
Winter is here, and the sun is pretty much a distant memory of the fall and summer. The temperature is moving downward towards cold and wet days in the saddle.
Fender season, as some of us call it.
Sure, all the rain, grey skies, and gloom can put a dampener on your mood to kit up, get out of the door, and face winter. I totally get that.
Over the past 5 years, I spent in the saddle, which isn’t a lot. I am relatively new to this anyway. I rubbed elbows with many people, cyclists, and outdoor enthusiasts, and I learned that many of the physical limitations that we experience, feeling cold and being wet in this case, can be mitigated with 2 things.
Dressing up to the weather
Adjusting your mindset
The first is plain and simple (or so it seems… more on this in detail later). If it's wet outside, bring a jacket. If it’s cold, wear an extra layer, ya know, all the logical moves.
However, I realized that it's more than that, at least for me. I realized that I run hot, As a matter of fact, those who know me know how hot I run, they’ve seen it in the summer, but that’s a whole different story.
Finding out that I do run hot made me think that I don’t need an extra layer or just a jacket for the descent. However, I realized that my muscles just don’t fire as they would if I was dressed according to the weather; otherwise, it takes me ages to warm up, if ever at times. So at the end of the day, it boils down to trying things out and figuring out what works for you and what doesn’t.
Do keep in mind this saying by Alfred Wainwright
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
The second is the key to prevail in many things in life, and riding in the wet and cold included. Adjusting my mindset to me is what makes all of this possible. I’ve seen it too often where people who have appropriately kitted up turn around and head home because they “just don’t feel it” and hey, THERE AIN’T NO SHAME IN THAT.
I recall having conversations about how hard it was to get out of my warm bed and ride for a few hours before work in the dead of winter. One those mornings, Sukho said this
“The hardest part about all of this are the 10 steps from your bed to the bathroom in the morning. The rest gets easier once you’re through the door”
And that has stuck with me ever since.
3 or 4 times a week, I’d wake up, get out of bed and out the door in 15 mins, and I’m on my way to the hills or buttes. And I noticed over the years I became so used to the idea of riding in the wet and cold weather that I started to miss the winter days!
It's true. I miss those days because I learned so much from that experience; I learned a lot about commitment, endurance, and most importantly, mental fortitude.
I mean, without a strong mental attitude, the idea of leaving my warm and comfortable bed to go ride 20-30 miles before a full day of work in the dead of winter might never have happened, because why would I?
Another unexpected reward from these rides, aside from the company of friends, is all the sunrises that I got to experience. Some of them quite honestly changed my life.
As you know, in the winter the sun rises much later in the day; most days, we would ride so early that you can’t quite see the light of dawn yet, and I chase those days the most. My favorite viewpoint to catch the sunrise from has to be from Pittock mansion (Portland, OR).
Pittock Mansion is a classic cycling destination for those who chase the hills and some of the steepest climbs in town. The classic view of the city with Mt. Hood in the background can’t be replicated anywhere in the world.
Riding early in the winter has a lot to offer; too much to cover in a short blurb like this one, if I’m honest. I ask and encourage you to embrace the suck and learn from it, and maybe, just maybe, you can resonate with what I feel on these rides.
I haven’t experienced anything quite like riding through the fog of winter and slowly climbing your way above the inversion just to be rewarded with a view that very few riders get to experience. A sea of clouds shrouding the valley, with towers, buttes, and the tallest trees pushing through the fog, drawing one of the most mind-blowing views that any cyclist can see on a ride.
It warms my heart just seeing it with my mind's eye while I write this down.