Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Joys of Winter Cycling

Despite the winter weather, I’m still cycling regularly. Two or three times a week, depending on the conditions, I put my layers on: four on my top and feet, three on my legs, two pairs of gloves and a fleece-lined cap that covers my ears. It takes me about a quarter of an hour to get all of this kit on. I feel a little like a medieval knight preparing for a tournament; I wish I had a squire to help me. And why am I doing this? Because, I can.

For each of the past three years I have had a major operation in the autumn. This means that I’ve spent each previous winter in recovery, each spring building up my strength and each summer doing activities, such as cycling and walking. All with the prospect of having to go back into hospital to be cut open and having to cope with the pain and incapacity of it all over again.

I’m delighted to say that I’m still all clear and there is no surgery on the horizon. So this is the first year that the pattern has been broken and I am celebrating that fact by continuing my cycling into the winter. I don’t know how long I will keep going. I’m not masochistic, I’ve only been going out on the bike if the temperature is above 5 degrees and it isn’t raining. But with the relatively mild winter so far, that has made many days possible. I’m very glad to be able to do it and I can feel the strength coming back into my legs.

There is a fellowship of winter bike riders. Even on the busiest routes, such as the Newry Canal Cycleway, you don’t come across many people braving the conditions. We give one another a cheery wave or a greeting and stop to check if we see another rider with a problem. Yesterday on the cycleway I saw only two other riders, one of whom I know well as he is also a member of the Sing for Life Choir. It had been a drizzly morning. I set off at midday, trusting the Norwegian Weather Forecast (which is usually very accurate) that it would soon clear. Unfortunately it didn’t subside until mid-afternoon and by then I was damp and cold, despite it being 8 degrees, having had to go though some shallow flood water on the cyclepath from Scarva to Portadown.

When cycling, you are always colder than the actual air temperature because you are travelling through it at speed and get steadily chilled. In the summer, this is lovely and cooling, particularly when the temperature is above 25 degrees. In the winter, you need to stop regularly and walk around to heat up, or better still go into a warm cafe and have a hot drink or soup. My favourite stopping place is the Petty Sessions cafe in Poyntzpass. Currently they have a very large fir tree in front of the cafe complete with Xmas lights. You always get a warm welcome from Helena Gamble and her helpful staff. The food is great, they do fine soup and Irish Stew as well as fantastic fruit pies (made by Mrs Copeland). Admittedly, it is sometimes hard to motivate yourself to go outside and get on the bike again.