The Last Ride of the Season

On November 21, 2011, in Uncategorized, by admin

There is something endemic in human nature which makes us subtly but acutely aware of the passage of time and the changing of the seasons.  I’m fairly sure it springs from some deep genetic memory of a time when we truly lived by the seasons — migrating with game, harvesting wild bounty in the short, fleeting days before the dark months returned.  My wife Nancy’s Aunt Marj lives in Palm Springs, California — not really a place notable for profound seasonal change — yet after living in the desert for 20 years or more, she is exquisitely aware of every nuance of the coming of each new season.  I’d bet if you woke her from suspended animation and let her look around at her environs for just a moment, she could tell you the date within a week.  It’s uncanny.

Here in Waterville Valley, the rhythms of the four seasons (seven, if you count mud, blackfly, and stick — I do) are much more pronounced.  The slow rotation from winter to spring is anything but a linear process… a few warm days are often followed by gray skies and surprise snow late into April.  None the less, there always comes a day with bright sun and shockingly blue skies that breaks the back of winter and heralds the warmer months.  Usually about the time the first big bare spots show up on Sunnyside in the spring, my friends and I start pushing the season a bit by road-riding on our mountain bikes and taking small, sometimes mucky forays onto the trails.  The truly adventurous (or, some might say, senseless) among us will even venture onto the hard-packed snow of Livermore Road or Moose Run for short spells of wheel-spinning fun.

This season-pushing tendency is certainly because we love mountain biking, but there’s something else in play, too.  We start riding as soon as we can, because it eases the ineffable sadness of the end of ski season.  For us, the end of ski season is a period of mourning.  We celebrate the season past and dread the snowless months ahead.

My family has evolved a tradition of thoughtfully calling our last run on the last day of the season, and ending with hugs all around and careful savoring of the season’s last turns  together.  Last spring, I stood at the top of Lower Bobby’s and watched my son and daughter carve beautiful turns in sun-softened corn, and wondered how it was possible that they were suddenly so big and so competent when I remembered skiing with them between my legs just a few short moments before.  It’s not so easy skiing a bumped-up Lower Bob’s with tears in your eyes, take my word for it.

So, if mountain biking is in part a palliative for the loss of skiing each spring, it’s kind of funny I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon each fall the last few years.  As the days draw shorter and the mornings frostier, we ride less and less — but I think we enjoy each ride that much more.  The signs of seasonal change are all around us — leaves down, small patches of snow in the shady woods from fall flurries, and trails that look and ride entirely different than they do in the summer.  The fallen leaves mask the track, and the bare branches allow light to fall in unaccustomed ways.  The cold air is bracing and makes long climbs more comfortable but fast descents chilly enough that you think twice before letting ‘er rip.

This morning my friend, Waterville Valley Foundation treasurer Mike Furgal texted me and asked if I was up for one more ride.  A little while later, I picked him up at his house and we headed out with Cliff the Wonderdog trotting along to keep us company.  We pedaled up the Tripoli Road and out through Osceola Vista Campground to pick up one of our favorite short rides, the gently rolling Moose Run-Wicked Easy loop.  Even though we’ve been off our bikes more than we’ve been on in recent weeks, we both had retained enough conditioning to make good time.  We talked quietly and breathed deeply of the cool air.  The November light, filtered through gray skies, flooded softly through the woods with no shadows.  A light breeze stirred the bare branches, and we stopped on several bridges to let Cliff take a drink.

Summer rides can be a touch competitive, with everyone riding hard for long stretches.  The last ride of the fall, though, is all about savoring:  the feel of your suspension rising and falling over the terrain, the crunch of your tires in the leaves, the cool wind playing over your face and neck.  There were no tears in my eyes behind my glasses as we rode down the last hill from Moose Run and back through the campground, but there was once again a sense that another season was behind us now, never to be lived again.  It’s the thought that we’ll be skiing again next weekend makes that knowledge bearable.