Thoughts on weather, winter, bikes, and horses

February 3, 2018
Today, as the cold grips me, I’m reminded of an essay I wrote March 2017 capturing a similarly cold expedition. Sometimes I long for horses, and so, living in the city, I turn to my bike. This essay parallels the experiences between my horse days growing up on Star, a Quarter Horse, and current days with my bike, AB (Aurora Borealis as Jamis calls her).

Thoughts on weather, winter, bikes, and horses

It’s 12 degrees outside. But it feels like -2. Winds are 18-22 miles out of the North, with gusts up to 45mph. The last few weeks, months, really, have been in the 30s-60s.

This particularly cold day brought back a (frozen) flood of memories of my horse owning days. Saddling up for a quick ride is quite similar to gearing up for a bike ride into town. There’s all the layers. The planning. The weather checking.

My dad said once that when we experience weather – especially wet, windy, wild weather – its like having a conversation with the atmosphere. The weather knows your weaknesses right away and isn’t shy about pointing them out. The weather helps you zoom into the present moment, realizing your vulnerability and assessing next steps – press on, or plan B?

I’ve realized that, like being outside in all types of weather, choosing to bike everywhere requires a certain mindset, and certain recipe with a pinch of stubbornness, a dash of crazy, a splash of practicality and touch of adventure.
Having just recovered from a stomach bug, and 10 minutes into my 25 minute ride and feeling a fresh, unfamiliar deep cold pain as I hadn’t felt in so many months I wondered if it was a good idea to be doing this. I should have worn a headband in addition to my hat, as the wind smugly pointed out.
There’s no such thing as bad weather, my dad also says, only bad clothes. And yet, these thick gloves are to the atmosphere, a thin permeable scrim which the wind easily pierces. As I try to warm my fingers at stop lights, my focus lingers longer on the traffic and pedestrians, and my fingers become less of a distraction and warm without my noticing.
On the way home, the wind pushes me from behind and I’m glad I’m headed this way – agreeable to the wind. The brakes of AB are slow to engage as we approach a traffic light, my thickly padded fingers struggle to pull the levers back almost all the way to the cork bar tape. I make a mental note to tighten the brakes when I get home, out of the whipping wind. This pulling back motion, carefully even on the front and back brake, like on each rein, reminds me of pulling Star in, and on a windy evening headed home, she would be reluctant to stop too. She’s just as eager to get back to the barn as AB is in getting back to the basement.
I dodge fallen branches and swirling plastic bags along the path. AB doesn’t spook at the enlivened plastic the way Star would have. For that I’m grateful. We move as one, seeing the same obstacles, and moving swiftly. The power of my own legs moving up a hill reminds me of the power I could feel beneath me in Star’s movement. Her traction solid and sure, just as the tires grip, and leave behind, the pavement.
I’m thankful that AB doesnt get scared of things I can hear in the wind. But sometimes the studded tires catch on a loose cobble on the path and I have to catch my balance. These moments, and riding over speed humps and bumps are particular reminders of my horseback riding days – having to be nimble and balanced, ready for any sudden shift in direction. As with snowy and icy conditions, when body and machine can skate through acting as one, just as body and animal can navigate a technical trail as one is the most satisfying: working in unison, despite the tricky conditions. Out-tricking the trickery.
Growing up in Minnesota I remember dreading going out into the frozen tundra and walking the 200 feet ( but it felt like 2 miles to my 13 year-old self) to the barn. Inside seemed fantastically warm when the wind was suddenly cut out of the equation, scolding you in howls and reminding you of its power and presence by drifting snow in through cracks under the thin metal cladding of the barn.
Picking out the frozen chunks built up in the horses’ hooves is not unlike the snow/ice balls I have to stomp out of my mountain bike cleats. The metal has the same binding affect on both of our feet, and when left unattended, gives us an added inch or two of height and the most awkward way of walking.
The frozen chin, the out-of-breathness, and frozen toes are all the shared experience between each steed. The urging forward leg muscles complement the pedaling forward muscles. My heart racing just the same in each.
Bikes like horses, require regular maintenance and upkeep. A quick rub down of the steel and the coat after a ride, the lube of a chain, a brushing and shaking out of the saddle pad.
The relief from the wicked wind is welcome. The adventure worth it, to put your mind in the present moment, to have that conversation with the atmosphere, to be apart of that story, and to have one to tell.
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7 Responses to “Thoughts on weather, winter, bikes, and horses”

  1. Ray Atkinson Says:

    I didn’t know you used to own a horse. While I never owned a horse, I went on horseback rides with my family in the Appalachian Mountains when I was younger. How far did you ride Star?

    I also find it interesting that you named your bike. I have never named my bike. I just refer to my two bikes as a hybrid bike or road bike. Did you see an aurora borealis when you were naming your bike?

    Hope you find a way to stay warmer!

    • keihly Says:

      I had Star for 10 years and rode pretty far (we counted distance in terms of hours ridden, not miles, because we didnt have smart devices back in those days), but not as far as my bike! I named it just to tell it apart from my other bikes. Jamis, the brand of it, named it Aurora Borealis, not I. I have seen the northern lights, but not since I’ve had this bike, sadly.

      • Ray Atkinson Says:

        Thanks for sharing. I didn’t have a smartphone until after high school, so my family also counted distance in terms of hours ridden. According to a meteorologist, I had a slim chance to see the northern lights a few times in Oregon. I still haven’t seen them. How many bikes do you have?

        • keihly Says:

          I’ve seen the northern lights in MN and Winnepeg, Canada. I have three bikes now. Hopefully I can sell 2 and buy a gravel bike instead. Maybe that will happen this year 🙂

  2. dperlm Says:

    Keihly I loved that. I’ve never been a horse person – my wife is, so I get the concept at least – but I am a bike person, so what you describe rings so true. Nice!


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