Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Wind Chill

Two mornings in a row, now, the pretty, slightly burdened-seeming woman across the street emerges from her run-down duplex with her eager dog. Today, she smiles at me as well as the dog, shy, a gulf of misty asphalt between us, the vapor from our own exhalations in our eyes, bouncing off the edge of my balaclava and fogging my sunglasses at the edges. Perhaps she thinks I'm strange. There are very few professionals, if any beside me, on my block, and who wouldn't think it strange that the same man who yesterday was wearing a massive, faux-fur-fringed overcoat and driving to work today is clad in black lycra and polyester from head to toe, carrying a bicycle even skinnier than he is down the stairs to the curb.

Lately, I have been falling in love with my house all over again. For no reason. Just because it's there, it's mine, and we've almost survived our first winter together, staggering heating bills and all.

From ankle to neck, I am clad in a polypropylene base layer. Over that, tights, a jersey, and work socks. Over that, neoprene socks, corduroy shorts, and a soft shell. On my head a skullcap covered by a balaclava. On my hands glove liners and lobster claws -- these latter, I work to tuck under the wrists of my shell, my neighbor studiously looking elsewhere, her dog smiling up at me in invitation.

I think she has a young child. The woman, not her dog.

My first day on new tires, I immediately sense one difference. These tires, far more pointy than those I wore down to their belts and to the point of several ruptures -- one of which let go yesterday as I rolled away from the house informing me that it was time to change the tires to the new ones I'd had in the basement since my dada tirebug delusion -- have considerably less rolling resistance than I am accustomed to, and with less surface on the road are quieter. My legs easily find their cadence while the zero-degree wind bites at my cheeks and eyesockets, my nose, and I turn the corner to head down Stanton.

Near the bottom of Stanton, easily resisting the pedals, I decide it would be wise to feel out skidding on the new rear tire. I am moving fairly slowly, and I don't even rise out of the saddle to stop the wheel. It stops all too easily, and the bike slides quietly down the hill, barely slowing at all.

Less rolling resistance, unsurprisingly, means less sliding resistance.

Happy that I've figured this out, I resolve to skid less and resist more, to pay more attention to car doors that might fly open and less attention to the shiny things that tend to divert me. Like my neighbor, for example, or the odd fragmentary detritus that collects in drifts by the side of the road. Or a shapely cloud, say. Not to mention all the shiny thoughts in my head I'm all to happy to follow wherever they lead.

It's cold. The tires are firm and smooth, my partially cleaned chain taut and quiet, and a skein of sweat begins to form between my shoulder blades before I make it as far as 40th Street. Amazingly, and not for the first time in sub-20 degree temperatures, I seem to have overdressed a tad. No matter; my toes are numbing as is the tight ellipse of skin exposed from just below my mouth to just over my eyebrows, a flash frozen oval of flesh that would crawl to lee if it could find any.

My lungs burn and my legs shiver. It has been four or five days since I've ridden, and at these temperatures the air is just thin enough to matter. A modest headwind in the strip prompts my first vague regret: I'm tired and I don't want to be halfway between the office and home. I want to be . . . somewhere . . . somewhere with heat and coffee and the voices of others.

But I'm here. Just here. And so I slide my hands onto the horns, focus on dropping my heels on the downstroke, a trick I find adds power to my stroke, and pedal on through one light, the next, and the next, wary of cars moving and still, pedestrians observant and un-, wishing it were spring but happy for the vibrancy of my mild discomfort.


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