This time of year is grim in the Pacific Northwest. It’s usually raining, cold, and pretty windy. The daylight doesn’t exist outside of a 9 to 4 schedule, making night riding or dawn patrol the only viable option for people who have normal jobs. Because of these factors, most of my biking friends turn in their tires for skis or snowboards unless there’s a rare dry, sunny spell of weather. We call this the “Pigs are Flying” phenomenon.
While most of my friends are on snow touring around Mt. Baker or in the Coast Mountains or somewhere down around Alpental, I’m usually slogging my bike up some horrendously wet climb. I’m almost always alone. There are days that even Roscoe (my more than wonderful dog companion) looks hesitant to join me, but he doesn’t really have much say, so I let him prod along. I think he actually enjoys it once he gets his paws wet and muddy. We cruise along at a snail’s pace trying to avoid axle-deep puddles and widow makers from the swaying trees above. It’s lonely out there, and I kind of love it.
I look at my days from the perspective of time. We all have the same amount of time each day. How we choose to use it is totally at our discretion. There are some days when all I want to do is sit right in a chair, drinking coffee, and pull the aimless thoughts out of my brain and put them into words on the screen. But most days, I wake up and think, “Ok. I have work, social commitments, and yoga. Where can I fit in a ride? I check the weather – it’s 80-100% chance of rain all day. The temperatures hover right around freezing. ‘Fuck,’ I think to myself, ‘Why do I do this? I don’t know a single person who would want to ride in this weather.’ Except one. Mike Kazimer.
Kaz and I are kind of opposites on the people spectrum. He’s quiet and introverted. I’m “chatty” (according to friends) and an extrovert. He rides the local epics and loves the techy/pedally/XCish trails that make me want to scream. I’m pretty sure he also likes the kind of trails I like too- the big climbs that lead to big descents. In fact, I’m pretty sure he likes riding everything. He likes riding his bike so much that he’s the only other person that comes to mind on the days when I’m contemplating lacing up my hardened-from-mud shoes to go out and re-soak them in a fresh coat of brown goo. ‘Kaz is probably laughing to himself on Hush Hush,’ I think while shaking my head. He doesn’t know it, but he’s a catalyst for why I ride so much. We’ve discovered this thing, and it shouldn’t be a secret, but it doesn’t seem like the cat is out of the bag: Even on those God-awful cold/rain/snow days, the ride is always worth it.
The other morning I found myself with a load of writing I needed to do. I still wanted to get on my bike, but I just didn’t see it happening. The rain was hitting the windows sideways. Branches were falling from trees. The neighborhood trail that constitutes that rad part of my ride was logged two weeks ago so I don’t have an ideal route from my driveway until that gets cleared. My motivation was waning. I logged on to Facebook and sent Kaz a message (Note- Mike and I don’t really talk that often. We’re friends, but we rarely ride together and only run into each other in passing.) I typed, “Mike, did you ride/are you riding today?” I waited to see if he would receive the message. A few minutes later, he responded. “I don’t think I’m gonna ride today. I’m finishing up an article. I rode yesterday, though.” The day prior was one of those days where the weather was pretty terrible. I rode solo and didn’t see a single car or human in the parking lot or on the trails.
We chatted a few minutes about riding in the foul weather and how often we ride alone. I told him that I kind of have an inside joke with myself that on the worst days- the days I really struggle to put on my gear- I tell myself, “Kaz is probably already two hours into a huge ride.” I asked him why he rides alone so much. “I usually don’t ask anyone else to ride because I’d rather deal with it alone- seems easier that way.” I can understand this. There’s something nice about owning your time. No one to wait for. No one to worry about waiting for me. Riding only the trails I want to ride at the speed I want to ride them. No one to hear me complain about how effing cold my fingers are and how much mud is in my eye. I can stop and admire the foggy forests and smell the wetness permeating the earth. I love that organic scent. When I ride alone at night I stop to look at the moon so frequently that it must actually double my ride time- something I think potential riding partners might find annoying.
Back to the dismal weather. It’s only February. We’re basically screwed for another six months as far as vitamin D intake is concerned. I ride in this weather because mentally, I have to. It’s like drinking coffee for some people or getting a massage or meditating. This is my moving meditation. This is how I clear my head and I don’t really want anything to impede that process. For Kaz, riding in foul weather is more about making lemonade out of the lemony weather situation. “It is a challenge, a test to see if I can figure out how to make the best out of riding in conditions that most people would avoid,” he said. “I still remember seeing some of those early photos of the North Shore when I was living in Connecticut, Sterl’s [Sterling Lorence] early shots of deep woods with fog and slippery roots, and thinking, ‘That’s where I want to be.’ The way the fog closes around like a damp blanket, and that kinda spooky silence- those are the conditions that create some of my favorite rides.”
This resonates with me. This is what calls to me. These are the things that make me stop, breathe in the heavy, wet air and stare in awe at the incredible beauty of the Pacific Northwest. The fog that you can feel against your skin floats effortlessly through thick old growth trees while you take a sip of water. The ferns, often taller than I, are electric green against the hazy, dripping forest background. It might be cold, but any amount of effort warms me immediately and soon my cold woes are gone. Instead, I watch the waterfalls flowing with power. I watch my reflection scatter in a puddle as the raindrops cascade. I watch my breath curl in front of my face, and with every exhale I’m reminded of why I love those solo rides so much. They’re mine completely and selfishly, and there’s an odd satisfaction to that.
Kaz’s version of what I call moving meditation is what’s known as the Flow State, where you get so into the zone that you’re completely absorbed in the activity. Nothing else exists in those moments. It’s similar to a lucid dream. He says for him, riding in the foul weather gets him to that place faster. “It’s almost easier to get into a flow state when it’s really nasty-survival riding ramps that level of focus up a lot higher than puttering around on a summer day.” I tend to agree with this statement. When I’m cold and wet and hammering up a hill it’s so easy to slip into a different level of consciousness. Before I know it I’m at the top of the hill and ready to rally back down. The descents following these climbs are always so intense because the conditions call for extra care. The slip factor is high meaning every modulation of a brake, every time a tire hits a root, and every slick rock adds a potential for chaos. That lonely chaos is what makes those rides so enjoyable.
I can’t tell you how many mornings I’ve woken up to what sounds like a waterfall landing on the roof directly over where I sleep in my little bed cave. The trees smack the side of my house and there’s no seemingly good reason to leave the warmth and comfort of my bed. Except for one: knowing the ride is always worth it. Always. The initial shock of cold on my skin and moisture to every single part of my body wears away quickly. Before I know it, I’m chatting with Roscoe about which puddles look cleaner for him to lay in. A cold drop of water falls from my helmet down my back. I relish the contrast of cold moisture against my hot skin. I peek around the next bend and see the ridge I’m going to ride come into view. The forecast is calling for a potential of an inch of rain today. The fire road is more like a creek. Surely there must be an ark around here somewhere. I dip under some low-hanging branches heavy with rain. Their green leaves are boasting fat drops that are ready to completely soak me as I brush past. I brace myself for the imminent chill as I smack into them. I notice one other tire track in the mud. It looks fresh. “Kaz,” I say to myself, and I smile and keep on climbing.