Monday, November 23, 2015

Fall like a kid again

It's that time of year, again. Time to start fitting booties to shoes, vests are starting to give way to thick baselayers and jackets, and my regular gloves just aren't quite cutting it.

It's cold outside.

It also doesn't get light until pretty late in the morning and I'm aching to be outside.

Who flipped the switch?

But all this confusing transition brings some spectacular shades of leaves and open fields of view through otherwise dense foliage. Now I can see through the bare thicket of trees to the open farmers plot or meadows of wild grass and flowers still clinging to the last vestiges of warmth from the sun. The vineyards are mostly barren, their fruit plucked and already well on its way to becoming a sweet fermented treat in the spring.

Harvests are in, nothing but wide open views.
The crowds are changed too. Only the hardiest of the locals venture out into the cold morning air. Most are thickly bundled, the Nordic walkers in their snazzy tights and jackets, the cyclists sporting facemasks, neck gaiters, jackets and full length bibs. For some on the bike it's a chance to show off their full kit, sporting their favorite team's logos from beanie capped head to neoprene-bootied toes. For others it's just a nice break from the sweltering heat and humidity of summer.

And then there's that one unique pleasure that only comes once a year.

Riding through the leaves.

There's nothing that can transform a grown adult back into an elementary school child quicker than a pile of dry leaves just waiting for a bounding leap. The sharp crackle of crushing foliage and the cushion of compressed leaves underfoot is incomparable. Add to it the speed of racing along in a human powered machine, the breeze rushing across your face and scenery whizzing by. Oh joyous, crisply crackling, crunching leaves!

I am instantly a child on my bike, Mickey Mouse blue and tin bell singing as I pump my legs through the cold European fall. Stone sidewalks line the pavement partially obscured beneath the autumnal deluge. The stinging wind bites at my uncovered face, tears form in the corners of my eyes in the cold, but I'm smiling and laughing as I point my bike straight to the next pile of dry untouched leaves.

I'm not the only out to enjoy this brief window before winter sets in.

It's a brief respite from the imposed pressures of adulthood. Too often the days become one dogged march into another, responsibilities at work bleed into chores at home. Into the melee of an already busy schedule comes the challenge of finding time to ride. The single weekend ride, if that's all, suddenly becomes burdened with its own requirements. Enough hills for climbing, intervals for speed, distance for endurance. Which route will complement this week's training plan? The ride isn't fun anymore, it's another chore to be done on the checklist of life.

But sometimes nature changes the game and brings moments of clarity to the overburdened. Driving through piles of leaves is a reminder of why I began riding again after so many years and why I continue to ride every weekend. The freedom of traveling farther than my feet can carry me using the power of my own body and all the things to see on the ride! The rolling hills covered with grapevines and cornfields, the rows of plowed earth, the quaint Italian villas and neighborhoods, and the random collection of walkers, runners, cyclists, and even roller-skiers and -bladers on the roads and paths all make the ride worth while. For a few hours every weekend I am transported away from work, away from home, away from the busy stores and congested highways to a place of solitude.

Sure, sometimes it's important to ride for training, but it's important to enjoy what you do as well. Otherwise, what's the point? You can train as hard as you like, but if there's no enjoyment then there's no passion and the training becomes just a means to an end. Take a break from the burden of being grown up and remember the joy and fun that first inspired the running or riding.

Soon enough, the leaves will all be swept up and carted off. The mornings will be harsher, the roads covered in ice and the fields in snow. My pursuits will turn indoors to avoid the slippery roads, and I'll wait impatiently for spring to lift the cold imposing shroud of winter from our shoulders.

But this morning I'm just a kid on a bike, crashing through the leaves.