It was chilly when I got here. Then it got warmer, then short-sleeves. Next it got cool and then up in the mountains, freezing. Down here it went back to chilly.
All the while things were greening, imperceptibly in a lot of places. Spring isn’t simply an explosion, it’s also a coiling and you have to look closely to see the signs, pre-budding, the quivering in the earth.
Up in the mountains it might as well have been the dead of winter except it wasn’t, not by a long shot. It was coiling there, too. Tensing.
Lower down there were the smallest of green splashes, or maybe bulging buds that didn’t even yet have a tint to the outside husk yet. Still lower the early blooming mountain cherries were doing their flash in the pan thing. On the flat lands, amidst the paddies, everything was brown again, the brown of tilled and manured dirt getting ready for flooding. But the yards had green, there were shotgun yellow blossoms everywhere, bamboo shoots poking up, and the the uncoiling had begun there with a snap.
Finally on the last ride day it all retracted, the contract rescinded, canceled. A pelting rain bombarded the rooftop at dawn and you didn’t need to stick your nose outside to know it was freezing rain, hovering on the edge of snow.
As Fields used to say, it takes a hard fucker to ride in the cold rain, but a harder fucker still to start in it. Fields still inspires me, not because I’ve acquired any of his mythical hardness, but because whenever I’m waffling on a shitty day I think about the scorn he would have heaped on my head for staying indoors and “riding the trainer.”
“You’ll never get better,” he used to say, “being happy.”
The plan was to ride out to the world’s course, do a loop, go up over the pass, and hurry home. It would take a touch under two hours, I was tired and ready for this twelve days in the dentist’s chair to end.
I had brought neoprene booties, a rain jacket, a crazy warm winter riding jacket, and my knit wool cap from Vienna, but the weak link in the armor was my rather thin pair of gloves. My non-waterproof ones.
This was the morning I decided to explore a new route to Shinrin Park, so it ended up being longer with a bunch of wrong turns stuck out in the rice fields. Halfway there I was frozen. My fingers went numb. All I could think about was the 7-11 at the entrance to the park; the idea of doing the world’s course was discarded, madness.
I got there and went in, dripping pools of ice water everywhere. I drank a cup of coffee. My hands hurt so badly, first the pain of being numb followed by the pain of the blood slowly coming back. I lingered for twenty minutes until I thought I could make it back home before my hands froze over again and rendered my brakes useless.
Outside, the rain had turned to snow, big thick flakes that stung and melted and dripped down into my booties. My toes froze. A bus tailgated me as I hauled ass taking the lane, oncoming traffic spraying me with the dirty frozen bathwater pooling on the surface.
The way home was downhill and direct, no more wayfinding today.
My hands could barely unzip my booties; red, wrinkled claws, the ugly bony fingers of a chattering old man. For the second time today the blood hacked its painful path back into my fingers. I staggered into the bathroom and sank up to my neck in a steaming tub.
There is a perfect symmetry between misery and comfort as it relates to cycling. The more extreme the one, the more intense the other.