I was looking forward to moving back to North Carolina from Chicago for many reasons: mainly to begin living with my fiancee, but not the least, I was looking forward to a full 12-month year of bikeable weather. When I originally left NC a few years ago, I rejoiced at returning to the land of four distinct seasons, each resplendent with their respective glories and miseries. In the south, winter seemed to flatten into a continuum between fall and spring, basically stretching the entire period into one long season, that is just kinda nice.
I quickly realized, however, that the previous years in North Carolina and a couple in mild western Oregon, had permanently shaped my expectations. Snowy landscapes are indeed beautiful, and I have a bizarre sort of nostalgia for shoveling the driveway (formerly a bane of my childhood spent in Maine). But I want to stay active year-round in the physical activity I had chosen – that being biking.
Yes, you can bike in Chicago throughout the winter, and I’ve seen a few news articles lately giving tips (here and here), but I’d say that’s mainly for urban commuters who go a few miles at a clip, or for daredevil masochists. I’m talking about getting those long country miles under my wheels without the threat of snow plows and ice hazards.
The short days have obviated the 20-mile bike commute, until the light begins to hold out long enough for safer passage on the rural roads, and I’m left with a 3-mile bike ride from the park-and-ride lot. I also have to admit that the unusually cold days that struck the south the past month did a number on my and my tandem partner’s motivation to take weekend leisure rides (I realize there’s no excuse for this given the above comments about the north).
In any event, despite the colder than normal temps and the short days, we have occasionally gotten out for a tandem ride. And this is what I’ve found out: the less frequent bike rides during this season have given me a new perspective that there is indeed something that is distinct about the southern winter. This season, chilly if not cold, darker and rainier than the others, uncovers an environment that I can’t see during the other seasons. Here, the fall leaves hang on long, and spring bursts forth with an explosion of green come March. But right now, I can actually see the landscape around me that, for the other 9 months of the year, I literally can’t see for the trees.
From our back deck, we have a clear view of the Haw river, and the dam over which the river swollen from repeated heavy rains continues to thunder. And bike rides down roads regularly pedaled throughout the year yield discoveries otherwise invisible to us: junk yards usually hidden in the woods; houses deep into properties we didn’t know where there; farm fields that extend farther and support more livestock than we realized. Basically, more cars, people, and cows surrounding us. On the bike, we pass through these areas, stealthily glancing into back yards, seeing our world more clearly.
One of my early complaints about the piedmont landscape was that the mild hills and dense trees prevented me from ever getting a grasp on what the environment around me was shaped like and what it contained. Winter provides that chance.
And then, when rides become more rare, things happen on usually familiar roads that totally change our ride. E.g.:
Note to local readers: bridge is out on McBane Mill for the foreseeable future.