It’s February, it’s freezing cold, it’s very windy, the roads are either icy or gravelly or both, it gets dark early, everyone is downbeat and fed up and The Samaritans cancel all leave for their volunteers when the weather forecast is due to be on the telly so I’m almost as sure as I can be that it is the middle of winter but several hours as we now are into the British Isles’ coldest month of the year there is one certain thing missing. Like alcohol free beer, decaff coffee, coke zero, bicycles screwed to the floors of gyms, Liberal Democrats or electronic cigarettes winter without snow is an empty experience, a pale imitation of the real thing, Snow is not an unmitigated good thing, like fags or booze, it can be terrible for livestock and those who have to try and keep them alive, it blocks the roads, causes all kinds of damage, and it generally makes people reach for all the things they’ve been trying to give up since new year but don’t worry because me talking about it won’t make it happen. There’s been sleet and hail of course, which are to snow what a chain store latte is to coffee, even brief flurries of proper pointy flakey floaty snowy stuff and a bit more than that even on some of the higher places but that just serves as a reminder of what is missed, like a faded photo of a lost love. I recognise that these islands have a temperate climate and snow takes a certain coincidence of weather, well a collision in fact, to occur. It needs one of the big Atlantic depressions which bring our precipitation to slam into a cold European high pressure system coming the other way. Snow is not therefore a November to March constant here as it is for others on the same latitude but last year there were drifts on the road over the moor which were too high to see over from the saddle of a bike, majorly disruptive but alpine in beauty and scale and laying on the ground past Easter. What I really long for right now is the sun, for warm breeze on bare arms, for long days and tall drinks but that is still a while away and a wee bit of the white stuff before then would allow this winter to call itself a proper season at last, to hold its head up high right there between autumn and spring, and not just be the black hole of nothingness it has been so far.
Every year it happens. Winter starts, I’m thirty miles from home, at the top of a hill and wearing flip flops, and nobody had told me about it. Yesterday the first snow fell on my under dressed shoulders as they, along with the equally unprepared rest of me, my feet being the most keen to carry on kidding themselves it was still summer having insisted on riding two hours in the pouring rain then the sleet then hail then the proper cold white stuff without putting their smurf shoes on. In the weather’s defence though it wasn’t so much that the snow was falling from the clouds on to me as me having gone up to the cloud to meet it; more a case of me intruding into the weather’s day rather than the other way around. It wasn’t even proper snow really, just that kind of not quite ready stuff like the frothy first pull on the bar pump when a new beer barrel’s been put on. It felt like I’d turned up at Winter’s house before she’d finished getting dressed and she’d anwered the door in her curlers and dressing gown with a sigh of it’s not you, it’s me; I’m just not ready to settle yet. Maybe I’ll give it a couple of weeks and catch her on a better day next time.
I don’t know why I’m always surpised by the arrival of the cold weather. I can look at the weather forecast, although I suspect the boffins in Exeter just look out of the window of their South Devon office and simply knock off a couple of degrees of temperature and add a couple of mph of wind speed to draw up the Pennine chart. I can look out of my own window but I lack the view to see what is happening a thousand feet feet above my house and three hours in the future. I can look at the calender but I’ve frozen half to death in June and sat in the garden soaking up rays in February. Maybe in the back of my mind I expect a phone call from Brailsford telling me to put your coat on sonny and not to take it off until he phones again in May. Ben Swift, supporter of the charity ride I was taking part in may have got that call from big Dave but I was probably too fast for him to catch me up and pass on the message. Well, OK maybe not. It is more likely part psychological reluctance to face up to the end of summer and part failure to remember where I put the warm gear I bought in the sales last spring, and when I do find it part horror at how all the ice cream I ate in my summer holidays seems ironically incompatible with the italian sizing of the stuff which I’m sure fitted back at Easter that means I’m always so unprepared.
After the rain, after and hail and sleet and snow, and after the lady making the coffee at the village hall half way around told me you do have to go on you know, you can’t stay here the sun came out but there are less tangents to go off on from that and anyway my feet stayed cold. The rider who founded the ride on Saturday took a knock to his cycling but it was cycling which he credits with helping to get back on his feet as well. Keen as I was on riding my bike as a youngster I was never made of the stuff that folks like him and riders such as Swift are made off. The Chemo Classic however is all about celebrating being alive and riding bikes and if you’ve got those two things, and not only that but can ride now and again with people who know more about both of those things than you do, then wet feet are just a detail.