Oh, the snow is back again. I haven’t seen you in years, it would seem. I thought snow was a thing of books and Christmas songs. Winter, IT’S been a long time coming.
So why not combine the love of freshly fallen snow with the love of grinding knobby tires through adverse conditions?
The last time I rode my bike with snow on the ground was 2004. Seriously. 2004.
Before that it was probably delivering newspapers when I was at the tender age of 11 years old. Those were the days. Slogging my Murray through the snow banks of Southern Michigan to deliver my 26 newspapers on my appointed rounds at 7 o’clock in the morning every weekend. God, I hated that. I had to replace the bike nearly every year thanks to the incredible amount of rust thanks to the incredible lack of maintenance and grease that my bike received. All the while looking like the kid in “A Christmas Story”, barely able to put my hands into my paper bag as I trudged up to mailboxes, mail slots, front porches, and awaiting hands.
But as with vegetables, women, and talk radio, my tastes have expanded to include a few new delights I once thought were quite intolerable. Which brings me to last Saturday.
After spending an hour in my local cyclery getting a bolt drilled out and replaced on the full suspension rig, trusty sidekicks Bea and Zissou in tow, I arrived at the parking lot as giddy as a schoolboy. But not me as a schoolboy. Some other schoolboy who liked riding his bike in the snow. Because I didn’t like stuff like that. I liked eating Doritos on the couch. Don’t make me repeat myself.
I got to the Black Mountain Parking lot, the lone vehicle as the snow began to accumulate on the exposed ground. A few inches had already been laid down two days prior, with a 50-degree day in the middle, so I was a bit anxious about what I might find out there on Thrift Cove and Grassy Road. I was not to be disappointed.
As soon as I got out of the lot and under the canopy, two inches of fluffy white bliss lay on the ground, only a few errant footprints and one slightly swervy tire track were leading me into the climb up Black Mountain Trail. As I then started to spin and spin out as I gained elevation, nature turned up the intensity slowly until my glasses became useless. I peeled them off and let my adverse-conditions-squinty-bike face take over.
Then I got to the turn up Black Mountain and continued forward on Thrift Cove, with two reciprocal boot prints and evidence of a four-legged friend leading the way forward into a pristine stretch of albino ground cover. The snow kept on, staying just below the freezing mark, keeping the snow falling but getting my clothes nice and wet. And this is when I got the Icee double whammy.
Sweat and melting snow.
I have explained the melting snow, but not the sweat – I found the entire remainder of the ride was through two inches of firm snow, the kind with frozen surface tension from the melt the day before forcing me to plow through it with every pedal stroke. Resistance going uphill, downhill, on the flats – didn’t matter.
The start of Thrift Cove Trail normally leads off with a beautiful uphill grade where you hammer in the big ring, giving the thrill of heart pounding uphill speed and the dogs a chance to get the tongues and tails waggin’. As I plodded through this colorless fluffy transient tar I had found on the trail, the dogs kept coming back to find me, heads cocked in confusion, wondering, “why isn’t the human with his funny legs going faster than us today?” They literally ran laps around me. I watched them plow through ravines, explosions of white following brown streaks as they railed through the rhododendrons and mountain laurel, stopping to mark my progress before tearing around the next bend and eventually sauntering back to repeat the process.
By the time I got to Sycamore Cove split, I decided I had gotten my work in, and that avoiding pavement back to the car at the bottom was wise, so I reversed to do it all over again. I got back to the car, loaded up the cold, wet, and happy dogs, drank a huge sip of nearly frigid coffee left over from the morning, and headed out. Elated.
Winter, I welcome you back to the Grand Old South. To Appalachia. To Pisgah. Let’s get Reacquainted, you and me. Let’s get it on.