It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. – Charles Dickens.
I don’t rush into things. No decision, large or small, receives a verdict without a serious pow wow inside my skull. Decisions marinate in there like a thick steak soaking in a freezer bag filled with ranch dressing. My sloth-like evaluations on all life matters are among my many faults, right up there with passive aggressiveness and a penchant for collecting navel lint. Just ask my wife. We dated for seven years, bought a house together, and were parents of a spotted dog before I worked up the gumption to ask her to marry me. We then waited eight years after the wedding before deciding to bring a food-throwing, belligerent-talking, short person into our lives. Somehow she still loves me despite the lint.
In outdoor recreation, as in my life, I know better than to rush into things, especially when it concerns the spring season. It’s common knowledge that you’re inviting a smack-down from the weather gods if you’re too early to switch winter sweaters for T-shirts in the closet. Washing the truck in March or April invites an instant snowstorm and salty roads. Every year, T.V. newscasts show images of spring flowers in bloom with a coating of snow on their pedals. I shake my head. Those stupid daisies rushed the season.
Yet despite my history of long deliberations before setting out on a course of action, I one day straddled my mountain bike, on a trail, in March, with uncertain weather in the forecast. A warm-snap torpedoed spring onto a Wasatch Front morning. Being acclimated to cold February, sunlight raining down that day felt like God put the earth into a clothes dryer and set it on high. The air even smelled like fabric softener. Now, as a skier, going mountain biking during one of the best snow months of the season is anathema to me. I’m a firm believer that if there is good snow in the mountains, one should have their feet on skis instead of pedals. Letting go of winter, my favorite season, is hard for me. So I usually don’t rush into spring, but instead hold onto my skis like Charlton Heston gripping a rifle at a NRA convention.
Yet there I was, huffing up a small ascent on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail above downtown Salt Lake City, gingerly avoiding puddles and mud patches to keep from rutting out the trail. I’m always amazed that I feel so out of shape first time on a bike after months of backcountry skiing. Different muscles, higher RMPs I guess. As I hacked up a piece of my lung and spit it onto the thawing ground, I cursed myself for rushing the season. Clearly I was not yet ready for mountain biking. Alta was still open and there I was dinking around on a low-elevation, non-technical bike ride in the city.
A few miles later, I stopped to shed a layer. Damn that sun was hot. Another consequence of rushing the season is gambling on what to wear. Recreating in spring is like dating a bi-polar girlfriend. One minute she’s warm and loving, and the next she’s trying to murder you with a pair of scissors. At the trailhead, a cold wind betrayed the solar warmth so I wore a jacket. Ten-minutes later, that jacket was taking up space in my pack. That’s when I noticed dark clouds gathering in the west. I pedaled harder in fear of getting caught in the rain. Dammit! I should have known better.
It started as a light sprinkle. Refreshing, I thought to myself. I don’t need to put my jacket back on. But after a few minutes, those sprinkles accumulated into a soaked bike jersey. Then the graupel came. Too late to protect myself from getting wet, I feebly took my shell out of the pack and slipped it back on. Then the hail came. Ping, ping, ping, balls of white bounced off my helmet. Some found their way into the vents, stinging my scalp. Lighting! I pedaled ever faster, not as an escape but to try to get warm. The pellets of hail felt like thousands of wasps on my bare legs. I wished I’d brought along a leg jacket. My sunglasses fogged up from the increased pedaling effort so I took them off. But the rain and hail immediately blinded me so I put my shades back on. The lenses were still fogged. Here was yet another consequence of rushing the season – you can’t even see where you are going!
Somehow I reached the start of the Bobsled descent and the rain stopped. That bi-polar girlfriend’s pendulum swung the other way and clouds broke apart, revealing the kind of sun rays you see on a generic Jesus painting hanging above a piano in a Mormon’s front room – that place where I assume home teachers and bishops are herded so they don’t spy the coffee maker in the kitchen, or the Diet Coke in the ‘fridge.
The descent down Bobsled was incredible. That brief storm made the dirt stickier than a toddler’s hands after eating a PB&J. On every high-walled curve I could lean into the turn, never hitting the brakes, as my tires stayed glued to the trail. It was likely the best drop down Bobsled I’d ever experienced. Turns out despite getting caught in a hail storm, marinating in my sweat and rain-drenched chamois, and flirting with hypothermia, my rushing the season paid off in in a big way.
Except the rain washed away my navel lint.