Winter Training

"It's normally much better behaved than this!" I heard myself say to the train conductor, in a frazzled, parental voice, as my bicycle buckled and slid away from the space I'd been trying to shove it into with one hand, whilst paying the faire with the other.

"No worries," he said, looking in fact slightly worried for me.

"Sometimes they'll not do as they're told," added a man behind me, as if in my defense.

"Happens to the best of them," chimed in another at the other end of the car helpfully.

A parcel-laden woman in a yellow beret chuckled.

Despite the early hour, the muddy sky, and the sideways wind blowing sleet straight through the train car, the collective mood began to lift. For a moment, I nearly expected for a 7-string guitar and a bottle of home-brewed spirits to materialise, as in a 1960s Eastern European movie (train journeys can be exciting, you know). For a fleeting, blinding moment, the sun even came out, illuminating the storm with a brilliant flash before disappearing again.

I wish I can claim credit for the cleverness of the "winter training" pun. But I owe it to Mr. lazylegscycling for cheering me up with this phrase.

Having lived through two winters in Ireland, I have hardened up quite a bit. Nonetheless, when the wind grows so strong I topple over, and the hail so sharp my face starts to bleed (actually happened yesterday), I know it is time to train. I still cycle to and from the train and bus stations, and some days, frankly, that feels adventurous enough.

Leaving the station, I cycled two miles uphill to get my lower wisdom teeth removed. I walked into the clinic, folded bicycle in one hand, handbag in the other, checked in and took a seat in the waiting area. A short time after, two nurses came out to usher me into the dental suite. In the next instant, each of them swiftly reached for my bike as if the move had been planned out beforehand.

"What a lovely wee bike. We'll just store it for you, till a family member comes to take you home."

"Sorry, what?" I attempt to retain the grip on my folded bundle of metal and leather, as a firm hand on my shoulder guides me into the x-ray room.

"Someone needs to come lift you, love. You'll not be fit to cycle after the procedure."

Having cycled home quite happily after the removal of my upper wisdom teeth in Boston (encouraged by Pamela Blalock's story of - I believe - completing a 400K brevet after hers were pulled),  I really don't see the problem. "I'll mostly be on the train," I explain, "it's only 4 miles of actual cycling."

"Four miles?! Train? I don't think you understand how you are going to feel after this." Then, pointing at an x-ray showing monstrous, twisted roots: "Your lower teeth are complicated; you'll need sedation."

A minor struggle ensues, its outcome now fuzzy.

An hour and a half later, I am trembling from shock and wisdom-toothlessness. My bike and I are pushed into a car and whisked away home.

"I could have taken the train you know," I try to say. But as my mouth is frozen stiff and stuffed with gauze it comes out sounding like sulky mooing.

The human body is a delicate, treacherous thing. You never know what is going to fell you. I have cycled big miles with various things wrong with me - with burning fevers and nasty throat infections, with a twisted ankle and cracked ribs. My face was not even swollen after the wisdom teeth were pulled, and the sockets are heeling nicely. But whatever was done... the energy it took out of me has put me out of commission for days. Feebly, I can manage, just barely, to pedal far enough to do some winter training.


  1. I have said this about my bike!!!
    Naughty things.

  2. crocheted leg warmers?

    1. Over-the-knee socks.
      (But I didn't make them.)

  3. I have the utmost admiration for those of you who cycle in such conditions - I can walk when it is cold/raining but I won't ride my bike. I live in a climate where I can cycle most days of the year without issue - having your face cut by hail is just a bit much, would certainly take the joy out of riding. However, when the sun shines and wind subsides, you have the most beautiful areas for cycling one could imagine.

  4. Since you so often write fictional narratives I'd love to hear a post from the perspective of one of your characters in more detail. I've yet to meet a train conductor, or bus driver, even slightly worried about a boarding passenger. Yet you've found an exception, perhaps there's a story there? I know three of these folks and their stories sound different.

    1. When I wrote the conductor seemed 'worried' I meant he thought I was nuts : )

      But generally, I have found people in Ireland to be a great deal more interactive with strangers than elsewhere I've lived (even controlling for urban/rural differences). It is not at all unusual here for strangers to join in on each other's conversations, or for public officers to make remarks of a personal nature by way of making small talk.

    2. Wait, fictional narratives? Characters? Now I'm feeling suspicious about the ontological status of certain of your commenters.


    3. Me and you both.

      But I think Anon 7:13 is referring to the fact that I sometimes post short stories here. For example:
      Danny Boy
      Angie, Angela

      Although even those are not fiction but more like a memoir genre with names/details changed.

    4. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
      Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

      We shall teach you to drink deep ere you depart.

  5. At least your saddle seems to be none worse for the wear. Which is comforting for us leather (of the Brooks variety) fetishists. The big rivets, of course, are a nice touch!

    1. The saddle is an older-generation Brooks Finesse (possibly 7 years NOS at time of purchase), which has delighted me with its hardiness. Only a few scratches and no sagging, after now nearly 4 years of ownership.

    2. It seems the only way anyone ever buys a Finesse is when it goes on sale after hanging on the shop wall for 7 or 8 years. I bought one that way for my Daughters bike a couple of years ago(at LEAST 7 years old and in what looked like 90s packaging, paid $70) and I know a woman from Iowa who always makes an offer when she see's one waiting, forlorn and dusty in bikeshops on her travels. Her experience with the 3 she has is that they wear like iron. She's fortunate they fit her out of the box because they don't seem to ever soften up. Of course she only weighs about 100lbs soaking wet.

      With all the titanium and big fancy rivets they're so expensive at retail that I wonder if some of them just hang on for years, waiting in vain to be adopted till they turn 18 and just emancipate themselves, embittering them and turning them hard and unyielding.

      Poor things...


    3. I find in general that Brooks (or leather saddles of that type, Ideal, etc.) Tend to harden over time & disuse; nothing a little conditioning & repeated use can't remedy. Of course only being 100lbs it might take more use then it would for me

    4. That was exactly how I acquired mine, Spin. And yes, "they wear like iron" just about sums it up.

      massmojo -the leather saddles I've owed have all behaved so differently (sometimes in completely opposite ways) it would be impossible to generalise. A blog post topic to keep in mind for sure.

    5. If you have a Brooks that wears like iron be happy. And take good care of it. Even Brooks is pretty quick to admit they are not so tough anymore. The hides they can buy just aren't the same. And the old ones weren't permanent either. Flyweight riders might once have had 50,000 miles, regular guys seldom ever had more than 20,000. Currently I can wear through a 21st century Pro in less than 10,000, and some samples much less. And to someone who does basically have a hard ass, they are all pre-broken now. What you get now starts as soft as an oldtime Pro would be after a 5,000 mile break-in.

      Brooks has a reupholstery service. Interesting process. This rider needs it.

      Vintage saddles are also pretty amazing. I am presently breaking in a 1940s city bike saddle. Great comfort in spite of being rock hard. Its got good springs and the break-in is amazingly slow. I may never complete the break-in. Then if you like them soft, Ideale. Starts soft and then lasts and lasts. Most antique saddles I want NOS, Ideales it hardly seems to matter if someone's ridden it before.

    6. Exactly. I am not by any means heavy, but any Brooks purchased after 2010 would start to fan out on me after only a few rides. At that point I had stopped using them, until the C series came out.

    7. I bought a 1987 date code Brooks Pro last year that I'm saving for something special, if it lasts as well as the one that came on my 1979 Raleigh Competition G.S. that is still going pretty strong, than I'll be delighted. None of my newer Pro's have lasted as well.

      If not than maybe I'll buy another Rivet like the one I scrimped for a while back(the one they sell now without the cut-out), it's almost as comfy as my favorite Brooks but it shows absolutely zero signs of softening, stretching or even general use, and I weigh like 500 pounds after a big lunch. Perhaps it's not really leather but a fiberglass/hemp composite or something. Of course it's even more eye-wateringly expensive than the Brooks Pro with big rivets and Ti. rails...


    8. I must have lucked out with my Brooks Pro which was purchased about six years ago. It's still rock hard except for where my sit bones have created a nice little comfort zone. Almost 45 thousand miles on it and it still looks new. The one I had before that only lasted a couple years of constant riding before getting kinda springy. It was comfortable but I prefer not bouncing on the saddle when going over bumps so it now sits on my 'guest bike' which I keep around for when friends visit.

  6. which 1960s Eastern European movie?

  7. I had to acknowledge that the road conditions in London, Ontario (where I work) were too poor to continue cycling through the winter even though I'd planned on buying studded tires for my Brompton (how awesome would that be?!); however, the conditions in Hamilton (where I live) are not so bad and I'll be able to continue one. My partner and I have a new phrase that indicates the severity or foolishness of cycling in winter conditions: "like riding over the Brooklyn Bridge during an ice storm." I did this many years ago and spent as much time falling on the bridge as I did riding over it. Sometimes you need to let reason influence your cycling (but only sometimes). Good thing you have a train option!

  8. Oh wow, I can definitely relate! I had all 4 wisdom teeth removed at the same time and missed a week of work because of it. All I could do was sleep all day. My doctor said the fatigue was normal. Give yourself time to recover from the trauma!

  9. I get the title, but are you training for any specific upcoming rides this spring or summer? Do you target some part of your cycling experience towards maintaining or increasing fitness? Do you have cycling goals for 2016?

    1. Maybe. Sort of. And maybe.

      But moreover, in its UK and IRL usage, the word 'training' need not imply goal or event specificity the way it does in the US. Here 'training' is what Americans would call 'working out' or keeping fit.

  10. Ah the apocryphal story of my stopping to have my wisdom teeth extracted in the middle of a 400km. Indeed, I am sure that I exhausted all my wisdom in my early days of doing brevets, which is why I kept returning to do longer and longer rides. But alas, this story is not true.

    Like other apocrypha, this one likely was the result of the intermingling of exaggerated tales of several actual events. Indeed I did ride my first ever 300km just three *days* after having my wisdom teeth removed. Unlike dear V. I got a lift to and from the oral surgeon's office. My memory of that experience was something like 99...98...97... ...Vanilla. Yes I'd like some vanilla ice cream. I slept the entire afternoon and through to the next morning. When I woke up, I felt fine and had no swelling, despite having been warned of massive selling and coming home with a handful of strong pain pills. I'd pre-arranged to take a couple of days off work and I was feeling a bit silly sitting around with non-chipmunk cheeks and no pain. Then on Saturday, feeling well rested, I decided to give this brevet thing a go. I had done a 100km a few weeks prior and decided to skip over the 200km distance and went straight to 300km. Since I had them, I actually carried those pain pills on ride. But there was no need. Nothing hurt during the ride. And afterwards I was so chuffed to have completed this ride that I went out dancing to celebrate. I was likely a bit tired and sore on Sunday, but who remembers those sorts of details. Now that was 30+ years ago and to be honest I am no wiser now than I was then.

    The other story is one that has been told every time I ride up the hill past the Gropius House - no matter how many times my riding partners have already heard the story! About 10 years ago, I also showed a complete lack of wisdom and good judgement when I rode my bike out to my dermatologist's office in Concord to have Mohs surgery. I had a small basal cell carcinoma on my chin. The doc had described the procedure as taking the smallest amount of tissue with the greatest success rate. He did not tell me not to bike. Maybe he thought I still had my wisdom teeth. It was a chilly December day and I showed up in warm clothing that wasn't necessarily indicative of cycling, but the pannier and helmet definitely gave me away. The nurse said I should arrange for a ride home. I did try phoning a few folks, but had no luck - the days before cell phones were ubiquitous - so at the end of the procedure, I just headed out on the bike. By this time it was snowing. My route back to Watertown took me past the Gropius House and then the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, forever after known as *what was I thinking hill*. Fortunately it was downhill the rest of the way home. My chin was still pretty numb, but I remember the snow burning as it landed on my cheeks. This memory has been seared into my brain, and now I arrange for rides home *from* any surgery!



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