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Friday, January 16, 2009

Winter Riders

Today's thermometer reading peaked at -2 degrees. Meteorologists are all gawking solemnly and everyone else has assumed martyr-ish expressions. I consider myself able enough to handle sub-zero temperatures and I laugh at you, blob of winter apparel with unbending arms and legs. I laugh at you people who wish you'd assumed the blob form before leaving your houses – your shoulders are going to hurt from scrunching.

I do feel superior to the winter laity but there's a class of beings with heads held high above the rest of us, blobs and pseudo-blobs alike. It's a group of tempered warriors with grit-lined backbone and fire-enforced bloodlines, a round table of knights, a sacred priesthood of the heroes. I refer, of course, to the Winter Riders. Oh, we've seen the fair weather hipsters with their thin legs and tight pants. We've seen them pedal scornfully through congested summer traffic on fixed gears and European frames. And we see them now, driving Passats, slouched in shame behind fogged windows.

The Winter Riders are a different breed. They rode unnoticed in summer heat, in spring rains, in autumn leaves and in the light snow of early December. Their wide tires didn't win them any races or social leverage. Now they are gods among us.

Today I saw one near the southern edge of Wicker Park. He rode like a Cossack on the Steppes. He was girded head to toe in GORE-tex, his was face grim and blazed with frost-bite. His eyes were like ice-picks. Wind blew, and cold as I was I knew he felt it more intensely than I could imagine. There were icicles in his beard and tears frozen to his blistered cheeks. He went on his way, and soon after I saw a female of similar composure. Red-faced but unflinching, she pedaled steadily past cars embalmed in snowbanks and shuffling blobs on the sidewalk. Her cracked lips voiced no complaint. This was no burka-wearing subservient of winter; she was a queen. I'm amazed by these people, these forces of will, superbeings, whatever they are.

If you are one of them, welcome to my pantheon of idols. I wish I could join you, but I don't see myself shoveling out the old cruiser that's frozen to my patio. I don't see myself trying to thaw the U-lock with a hair-dryer or a heated key either. I especially don't see myself facing down an Arctic headwind whilst maintaining balance on a street that's covered in ice and pot-holes. Winter Riders, I bow to your superiority. I still laugh at you blobs.