Winter On Wheels

IMG_2063Winter can be a very serious time. The furrowed brows, the shivering, the chapped lips. Effortlessly, you can spend an entire week indoors with no exposure to the outside world save for a candle-like flicker of sun that may pass near one of your windows. According to some studies, you could find yourself with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Or, if you’re not careful, you can get that jumpy, cabin fever sort of feeling — the one that finds you chasing the cats around the house with a sock puppet on each hand mumbling in gibberish.

Last weekend was one of those occasions when I felt the seriousness of winter and I was not in the mood for it. All week long I’d been cooped up in an office, behind a computer, crunching numbers. As endless streams of digits and invoicing language coursed through one side of my brain, sending my fingers crackling across the keyboard in robotic monotony, the other side of my brain was tapping his fingernails and trying to find ways to entertain himself. I usually appease the artsy side of my brain by listening to music — usually instrumental stuff that conjures up images of the great outdoors, wide open spaces, tranquil solitude… anything far away from computers and numbers, in other words.

Eventually, all of these “empty promises” provided by the music begin to come due — usually by Thursday, but definitely by Friday. So, on Saturday morning, after a nice, quiet breakfast, I glanced out the window to see a welcome sight: little streaks of sunlight in the sky. Almost immediately, I started to get that jumpy, cabin fever sort of feeling and I knew I had to get OUT.

IMG_2099I stepped into the living room and noticed that James had already assumed his scholarly position on the sofa, surrounded by manuscripts and various scholarly scribblings. Knowing James, it wasn’t light reading he was about to delve into, but work — and worky-work too — the kind that should be reserved for Monday through Friday only.

I said, “I think we should try to get outside, today, don’t you?”

“What did you have in mind? A walk?” he asked, innocently.

“Actually, I thought maybe we’d go for a bike ride,” I offered.

James — ever the beloved Bert to my Ernie — sighed that familiar sigh that usually lets me know he doesn’t think this is a great idea. He casually glanced out the window and was clearly not moved by the meager rays of sun bravely streaming across an otherwise foreboding sky, “Do you think it’s safe? Isn’t there ice?”

“Only on the sidewalks, not on the roads where we’d be riding. I’ve seen lots of people riding bikes, lately.”

“Couldn’t we just take a walk?”

I’m not sure what I said next, exactly. I surely launched into the whole “stream of digits” and “half a brain” kind of thing that I just explained to you. Maybe I also threw in the fact that I walk all the time (since toddlerhood, in fact), so the thrill is completely lost on me, now. I suppose the forcefulness with which I delivered my impassioned plea was IMG_2092enough to stir him from the comfort of the sofa since I’m nearly certain I couldn’t have been making much sense at that point.

Being in a very naïve place, that morning, I did not bother to check the weather forecast. We bundled up in what we hoped would be enough layers to keep us warm but also light enough to allow us to stay upright on the bicycles, and we were off!

We hadn’t gone quite a mile, yet, when a wind came from out of the west-northwest and began to slowly erode our faces. This was no ordinary wind. It was wind that was deserving of a proper name! We were wearing helmets and earmuffs, but neither of us thought that a scarf would be becoming of someone riding a bicycle. After another mile of jaw-locking wind, I was beginning to wish we’d been far less fashion conscious and worn scarves.

In my hubris, I’d planned we would bike to the Green Bay Trail (three miles away) and then head north until we reached the Chicago Botanic Gardens (another 10-11 miles). I quickly saw this wasn’t going to happen! Not only was the wind constantly pushing us backward, I was having trouble feeling the lower half of my face.

Never one to give up completely, I announced to James that we were changing course and heading for a lakeside park in a town north of us where we could just mill around and enjoy some winter scenery. Here I’m IMG_2024sure James was thinking of all the winter scenery he could’ve enjoyed from the comfort of the sofa rather than pedaling down the streets in gale force winds, surely being the talk of the town since no other soul was out riding bikes on a day like this!

And, just as we turned to head toward the park, I was given a jolt of reassurance. We saw a team of three bicyclists. Safe in the knowledge that there’s at least some strength in numbers, we soldiered on and soon made it to the park.

I’ve always loved this particular park. I think it’s because we accidentally found it a couple of years ago when we were out taking a really long walk. In the summer, you can sit on a bench beneath the trees, stare out over the waters of Lake Michigan, and feel the kind of escape that people often go to great expense to find. In the winter, as we soon found out, you can get the same feeling even though the landscape is drastically different.
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The beach was like a lunar landscape — almost devoid of color except for the cold lake waters and the brilliant hunks of ice. While standing there and admiring the stark scenery and taking in the sound of waves crashing onto ice and frozen sand, I told James I didn’t think I could bear to live in a place that doesn’t experience all four seasons.
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Spring, summer, and autumn are all very easy to love and so obviously full of their own brand of grace and grandeur. Winter, however, is shrouded in layers of quiet, distance, and introspection. In the deepest days of winter — when the landscape and the senses have so much stripped away — a small brushstroke of color, like the remnants of fruit from a crabapple tree or a walk along the frozen beach with your beloved become works of art.
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We walked down the trail beside the vacant harbor and watched as giant sheets of ice that had formed over the sheltered waters rose and fell hypnotically above the swells from the lake. In the distance, the beautiful Bahai temple added another dimension to the stark scenery. The side of my brain that had felt so cooped up was able to imagine that he was in some far away frozen kingdom and was gazing upon the castle of some icy monarch — perhaps the Snow Queen.
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By and by, the fact that we’d ridden here on two wheels instead of four didn’t seem like such a crazy thing, anymore. We hopped on our bikes and headed south for home. We biked across a bridge with a frozen river below. We made a pit stop for coffee and hot chocolate. By the time we made it home, the ride had come full circle in more ways than one. Instead of 26 miles we’d ridden about 10. What had started out as a nice idea had gone completely awry only to turn back on itself and become quite a good idea. How often does that happen in real life? Next time, though, I’ll be wearing a scarf!

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~ by Jason on January 20, 2011.

3 Responses to “Winter On Wheels”

  1. LOVED reading this… and thanks for posting the pics. I miss our bike rides and Chicago/Evanston.

  2. Jason I enjoyed your writings today with such enthusiasm…they are always so descriptive and interesting that I often times feel that I am actually there with you guys! Keep up the wonderful work, and will anxiously await your next interesting post!!!

  3. Oh my Jason , I love you so much….. I can’t believe you and James got out that day …. I know you get stir crazy inside but play a board game for goodness sake LOL.
    Loved your pics….
    Miss ya’ll so much can’t wait to see you…
    MOM

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