Monday, 25 January 2010

My friend the rain

After extensive testing I can confirm that the bicycle does not make an efficient snow plough

In Aizu in winter, rain is the cyclist's friend. If it is raining, it means it is not snowing. It means that, being a few degrees warmer, there is a chance that the usual two or three inches of snow and ice on the roads - the roads that are ploughed at least - might have melted. It means that you can brake and turn a corner without sliding. It means a blast of wet freedom and the chance to get your lungs and heart going. Some of the pent-up energy that buggers up the spirit, accumulating like the piles of snow by the house, can be swept away.

The walls of snow and ice by the side of the road turn each one into a Cresta Run, and all is transformed. It is hard to believe that these are the same mountains that sang with green flames in the spring, the same valleys whose golden fields were heavy with rice in the autumn, the same roads that hummed with vibrating heat in the summer.

Under the avalanche canopy, on the way to as far as the road will go, a gang of men were checking  and peering up at it, scattered across the road. One of them, a very friendly local  father, gave me his usual cheery greeting. As I disappeared up the road in the teeming rain I heard him giving what was probably a necessary justification, in the circumstances. People don't go out in the rain without a good reason here, and cycling is probably not a good reason. "Oh, he's training for skiing," which is something they are more familiar with, but somewhat wide of the mark. Having recently joined my son on the slopes and tried it for the first time, it's fair to say that my technique owes more to Olympic diving than my afternoons slumped on the sofa watching Ski Sunday as a child. "Oh, and that's a lovely tucked triple corkscrew with pike, finished in characteristically brilliant improvisational style with a landing on his head in a snowdrift, just lovely." I find that I can fall over on the piste in an extraordinary variety of ways without any training at all.

Some of the marooned signs are still  flashing their messages like mad street preachers shouting their visions to an indifferent snowy congregation. Personally, I have learned to treat all signs with a healthy suspicion, miraculous or otherwise. Symbols, on the other hand...I always welcome a good symbol.

The next day...

The rain had turned to wind-blown snow, but not enough to cover the valley road, so it was time to sneak in another ride before it got serious. The side valley, being less used, had more slush and snow on it, but I continued while it was still in patches, only turning round where it became continuous.

Getting home was hard work, my weariness seeming more than the previous day's ride warranted. I must be more out of shape than I realised, I thought, until I got home and looked at the bike. Every surface was covered in built-up ice, including the spokes - the kind that makes planes crash and cyclists tired.


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