Sunday, February 28, 2010

Solar Climb

Here in the Mpls area we have been treated to a couple of weeks of very mild, pleasant and sunny weather. It is welcomed wholeheartedly, as everyone appears to be ready for winter to pack it up and move on. We're finally emerging from beneath icy shells that encased most of our world since Xmas.

I believe living far north helps one tune into changes that might otherwise go unnoticed. Perhaps it's also a product of getting older -- I've had more time to chart the cycles of the moon and the seasonal shift indicators. However, our latitudinal distance from the equator means the angle of the sun shifts dramatically as we head into spring. The extra light seems to grow by minutes per day. The power of el Sol manifests before your very eyes as the ice slides away into pools of water. The patches of brown earth begin to speckle an otherwise uniform white landscape. The buzz of life and growth trembles gently in the thawing ground. Hallelujah.

The bike commuting lately has been good. I like riding in the 20-30F temperature range. The necessary layers are minimal and it's easy to stay warm. A lot of the pavement has been cooked dry by the sun. Still, we are in an interesting time of the year with drastic freeze/thaw cycles. The bike paths often collect the melt water in pools and puddles. These freeze overnight creating sections of trail that make one think ice skates are perhaps a superior commuter vehicle. I've been fortunate to stay upright most of the time.

Winter really got to me this year. I can honestly admit I began pondering the question of whether or not I envision living out my days in MN, or will I eventually be drawn to consider some place south again? Of course, it could be the length of my bike commute wearing on me during the core winter months. The snow, the cold -- I don't think I mind those as much as the requirement to add a 32-mile roundtrip bike ride to the mix. Unbridled enthusiasm certainly carried me through my first few seasons of winter riding.

There have been bright spots. I had two bikes breakdown within 24 hours. That might sound like a negative thing, but it really wasn't all that bad. It provided the opportunity for me to walk a couple of miles during a stunning winter sunset as well as the gorgeous morning that followed. What a perfect way to slow down and break the normal routine of getting on my bike to arrive somewhere by a specified time.

Things came together in terms of parts I'd been collecting and some I scored from friends. I just recently assembled the Pugsley I'd been planning. Riding that bike has contributed to a dramatic shift in my attitude toward winter. It has also nudged me to get out for a couple of wander sessions aboard the bike -- no place to be and no time constraints -- just pedaling down every little snow path, attempting to bridge larger and larger snowbanks, as well as crossing the lakes on the groomed width of the ski trails. The snow is so packed the Pug barely leaves a track. It rolls right over the snow and rutted ice without the jostling skids of a skinny tire. It's just plain fun to ride. The footpaths become singletrack trails. Unlike my commutes when I am seeking the clear pavement, with the Pug I'm steering into the snow and ice.

We've been getting out with the kids whenever possible. One of my goals is to help them see, from a very early age, the joy of immersing yourself in the seasons no matter the weather. The fact that we can create adventures right from our door makes it even better.

However, one highlight of February was a chance April and I had to go for a ride together without the kids. We took off for the start of Stupor Bowl, not intending to race but instead just cruise around with some friends. That didn't work out but we rode around and ended up running into countless bike folk. The City of Lakes Loppet was also taking place. We were headed toward home, but chanced one last stop on the ice beside the course.

On the way out we discovered a striking pyramid of ice lamps. This glowing beacon seemed to give off warmth as the darkness approached.

We might have long winters here in MN, but there is no shortage of ways smart and creative types can get out and enjoy the freeze. Still, for now I'm soaking in the sun anxiously awaiting spring.

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