The fresh air felt great on my face and made my eyes water a little as I pedaled - slowly - into a 20 mph headwind. For an hour and twenty minutes I pushed straight into it. “Gusts to 35” the weather website said, but it was warm for the first Sunday of March and too nice to stay inside.
Temperatures in the 50s meant the woods were full of slop and so I stuck to the pavement on my big fat bike. When I turned my back to the wind it was like I had a motor and the ride home was a breeze.
Days like this bring hope for even warmer ones to come and all the things that make summer special: lighting the grill and opening a bottle of wine on the patio, the farmer’s market, riding my bike with fewer than six layers of clothing.
And then the next day it snowed again, crushing those hopes and setting the spring melt back another week.
Sometimes life gives us a challenge that can’t be avoided, a mud puddle we can’t walk around, and we have no choice but to simply march forward into it. The month of March is one of those. It is a test of endurance and patience and sanity.
The calendar flips from February and the wind starts blowing to begin the hardest and homliest month. These latitudes become a battleground where the arctic and subtropical air masses fight to dominate middle America. A few warm days melt the snow, uncovering soggy earth, last fall’s dead leaves, and litter. The snow that remains is in dirty, decaying piles on the verges of parking lots and in the shadows where the sun doesn’t shine. It’s ugly and brown and wet and while the temperature is warm enough for melting, it’s not really warm in the “I’m giving you life” way . . . the shorts and flip flops way. And then it snows again and the freeze - thaw - freeze cycle resets itself for another round. Winter has worn out its welcome, but just won't leave us alone.
March is climatic purgatory - the in-between. If you’re a skier or a snowshoer you’re pretty much done for the year. The snow that comes now will be heavy and wet and sticky. If you’re a mountain biker, you can’t start yet. The dirt trails are alternately muddy and icy, filthy and dangerous.
Today is now March 24, a Saturday. Two days ago I had the best bike ride of the year so far - the kind of ride that left me feeling worked out and worked over - my body beat up and in need of a little healing which I know will ultimately make me stronger. I rode hard. I climbed hills. I got chased by a dog and yelled at by a guy in a truck. I gulped lots of fresh air. It was great! It left me exhausted and exhilarated and optimistic for the riding season to come.
And today it is snowing: smothering the roads and trails under a new layer of icy slush, and it will be another week before I can go back outside again. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow . . . one step and one day at a time, with courage and perseverance, we work our way through the month of March.