Only the brave
I’ve never understood why in a temperate, island nation we bother to put arbitrary dates in the calendar to signal the end of one season and the beginning of another. As someone who has been fortunate enough to spend most of my life in rural Britain, and has the sort of personality that demands that I get outside everyday (think human terrier), I know that the transition between seasons is wholly in the control of Mother Nature and Mother Nature alone. And she’s fickle. For a couple of weeks we’ve experienced Siberia’s cast-offs with frozen winds from the east, then today the westerly’s prompted the mercury to rise and a sweat-fest of a commute. We’re at Her mercy and no mistake.
That said, when they do actually happen, the transition from Summer to Autumn and Autumn to Winter are hard to miss. Even this year, far from my native Cumbria, as I rode to the shop through the uniform red-brick cityscape of South Manchester, Autumn brought it’s timeless Pantone palette to the parks, verges and tree-lined streets. I could still wear shorts and my feet were rarely cold. As winter approached the golden leaves that had decorated the skyline accumulated, now a muddy brown pulp, on the damp roads and uneven centenarian pavements leaving the deciduous natives bereft of cover, skeletal, seemingly underdressed for the coming season. Like a jacketless night-clubber in the small hours of a Sunday morning. More and more frequently, as I left the house my breath was visible and ‘longs’ became a must.
The last two weeks I have become well aware that winter is here. As if keen to remind me of my fragility it has laced our damp air with a bitterly, icy bite that cuts through every layer I wear. The day’s often begin below zero and I can now see my breath as I get changed into my civvies once I’ve arrived at the shop. On occasion, Abby has used a hairdryer to warm her shoes before slipping them on – our shop can feel a bit cold and no mistake. So it is that I find myself pondering whether riding in the British winter is really my thing.
I’d be kidding myself if I suggested that there aren’t more comfortable ways to travel. Even during Lockdown when sharing a bus or train carriage can feel a little riskier than in the recent past, it’s certainly easier to stay warm, dry and to read a book than it is if you’re on your bike. But then, is being physically comfortable all the time good for us? I for one am not sure that it is. I’m not interested in a machismo-infused existence where a sufferfest passes for leisure and where my sense of self depends on attracting kudos from faceless followers, if you catch my drift. But I am interested in the merits of experiencing the elements; having my senses stimulated by each season as it passes.
For me, it’s only when I step out of the centrally-heated security of our terrace and steel myself for some time experiencing life a 53.48 degrees north that I feel truly alive. That’s the time when I notice from which direction the wind is blowing, hear how hard I’m breathing, note the quickness of my heartbeat. What’s more, afterwards I better appreciate the shelter of my home where I can wrap my hands around a cuppa to enjoy its warmth, my body pressed against the radiator, instead of blowing into my closed fist and hoping for the low winter sun to touch my face as I pass the spaces between the buildings, hedgerows and hills of England’s North West.
Riding all year round certainly isn’t the easy choice, but nor is it only for the brave. It’s for everyone who wants to know their place in the world and understand how interconnected we all are, us living things. So it is that another winter will see me renew the search for the perfect pair of gloves and the ideal combination of layers to ensure that I can push the pedals round regardless of what weather the day brings and irrespective of how short the days have become. Because for me, a life lived, means living some of each day out of doors.