The first day of December, the official start of winter. Already the landscape is bleached to muted hues. Gone are the fire bright colour of autumn leaves, replaced for the months of winter by a pallet of cinnamon and well done toast. Already there have been days so cold we had to stay on the coast road for fear of ice. Today it is 3’c outside, and I have visited websites for indoor slippers rather than outdoor tech.
The Earth’s 23.5 degrees of tilt puts anyone living this far North into months of short dull days and dreary long nights. If you have no clear idea of just how far North Edinburgh is, open Google Earth and hold down the left key to track West. There are miles of blue, which is why we are so wet and windy, and then you hit a place on the coast of North America well above Ottowa.
So, now you have been put off any thoughts of one day rowing the Atlantic, you need to know that there is good news.We are far warmer than Ottowa thanks to the embrace of the Gulf stream. Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain at 4,409ft does not have a glacier yet. We have a ski industry, but there are mild years when it looks close to collapse. Stranger things do happen, but Scotland looks unlikely to be bidding for the winter olympics just yet.
Autumn used to be the end of the farming year, a period of rest after the harvest and before the plough and Spring sowing. Stubble fields would be left unturned and the Hare, the ‘ Stag of the Stubble ‘ had the whole of the landscape to themselves.
Many a early winter ride has the gift of a running Hare. But there are few fields that are left for Spring. Most now have been ploughed, seeded, and already show a haze of green shoots. Hares are out there, nibbling the young shoots, and you do not have a hope of walking up to one. They have almost no blind-spot.
Winter rides are hard, sometimes brutal. Places a short distance away suddenly feel remote and a challenge. I almost never feel completely comfortable on a winter ride. Too hot, too cold and often both at the same time. You wonder why 40 miles feel like a Summer century ride, and then you load 4Kg of damp technical clothing into the washing machine.
Sunday was possibly the worst weather I have ever biked in. On a route where I would expect to see 20 or more cyclists, I saw none. It rained, which is fine. Unforecast, but acceptable. Then it snowed, caught and wiped horizontal on a gale force wind that should not have been there. It stung my eyes and turned my face raw.
It lasted about 10 minutes. Much of that time I was riding one handed, shielding my face with a gloved hand. The roads were flooded. Too warm to settle as I came up the coast. I felt good, quite elated. I did some mental arithmetic on the total cost of the equipment that I was wearing. Just shy of £700 worth of Rapha this and that, and Sidi stuff that just about made it comfortable. I had not wasted a single penny, which is a good feeling.
The edges of the road were deep under water. There may be holes, possibly bricks submerged and waiting to spoil your day. The only safe line is out near the middle. Which is when a car coming towards me chose not to slow down. I have never been hit by a 8 ft high wave whilst riding a bike. The fast moving sheet of ice water almost had me off.
There are times when only Anglo Saxon will do, and this was one of those times to use the full range of is foulest mouthed dictionary. The final 7 miles home were ridden in a thick fug of loathing.
We have had good rides. Rides when the BBC weather site has promised something that the weather gods have delivered. Until last week the temperatures were yo-yoing. One night under a winter weight quilt with double digit tog rating, the next it was kicked off and the thin summer one pulled on.
Facebook does little to help. It throws up the memory images of us in late November biking in warm sun along beautiful Asian beaches. Going through our photos in preparation for giving a talk, we realised that we had been too hot far more times than too cold. There are countless photos of roads disappearing to far vanishing points through sun scorched deserts.
These are times when you retreat into the depths of your mind. Times when, if you are not vigilent, you will be consumed by an ear-worm. In the 4 years of our travels we had 3 repeating ear-worms. Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer could strike at any time. There were days that stretched out to weeks, when I could not rid myself of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. But the one that drove me to the very brink of sanity was The Raccoon Song.
Esther interrupted her Hare obsession to make me a birthday card illustration of The Raccoon Song. It is wonderful. I doubt that anyone has ever biked any sort of useful distance without getting an ear-worm. Best thing to do, is celebrate it, nothing is going to make it go away, so why not.