Character vs. the east wind

While many people watched football on television, my plan for New Year’s Day (when I lived in Indianapolis) was to take a fifty-mile bicycle ride. Despite the fact that winter was real, it was possible on most years to accomplish this goal. On a day I remember especially well it was about thirty degrees with a heavy fog. The trees were encased with a thick layer of frost so that every twig seemed etched on a deep gray canvas. I didn’t make the full half-century that day, only out to Zionsville and back, but the day was memorable.

After a long period of constant rain, the weather where I now live has changed for a few days. Mostly clear and sunny, with daytime temperatures in the thirties, this should be a good year to renew my long-time pattern of fifty miles on New Year’s Day. Except for the east wind. In the Portland-Vancouver area, clear weather in the winter always brings the east wind rushing down the Columbia River Gorge—often ten to twenty miles an hour, super chilled from eastern Oregon and Mt Hood snow fields.

I plotted my strategy: I could ride through Portland and continue to the southwest, which would make the wind my friend. By cycling through Beaverton, Scholls, and Sherwood, I could get in most of the needed miles and then take Portland’s Tri-Met bus on Barbur Boulevard back to the city. By cycling back to Vancouver from downtown Portland, I could finish my half-century despite a wind chill factor in the middle twenties.

On New Year’s Eve morning, however, my resolve wavered: temperature in the low twenties with a forecast high just above freezing, ice on some of the streets, and a steady east wind. And I’m older than I used to be. All of this was in my mind when I drove to Peets Coffee and Tea at N W 15th and Broadway in Portland for my regular Friday morning with the New York Times and other meditations. Usually, I bicycle there in the early morning darkness, but the threat of ice on the streets had led me to drive instead.

Other Peets regulars had made the same choice. The bike racks, usually well supplied with two-wheelers of various kinds, were empty except for one—a cream colored Brompton folder with basket and Brooks Saddle. None of the guys had braved the cold Portland morning, but Melinda was there, sipping tea and knitting. Although we see each other often, we’ve only talked a time or two, when the handsome over-the-calf wool socks my sister knit for me were the focus of attention.

In response to my commendation on her cycling for her morning tea, she reported that she would be going home soon and on her other bike head out for a fifty-mile ride. It would include a spin up into the west hills so that she could be sure to include some climbing.

Melinda’s plan stiffened my resolve. As soon as I got home, I readied my classic Mercian bicycle for the day’s trip. I chose my warmest combination of cycling clothes and put earmuffs and my heavy lined gloves in the front bag in case I needed them and at 10:45 started out. I cycled across the I-5 bridge and took my normal route to downtown Portland. Then out Terwilliger Boulevard and Capitol Highway to Hillsdale; down the Hillsdale-Beaverton Highway to Scholls Ferry Road, through Beaverton, and past the urban growth boundary into the Tualatin Valley’s wonderful farmland. At the old village of Scholls, I cycled south to Sherwood on U.S. 99. At that point, I had put in thirty-four miles. I turned into the wind, determined to bicycle toward King City and Tigard. At the first bus stop where people were waiting, I would let Tri-Met take over.

Which is what I did. Even with the wind, I could have made it to Portland in less time than the hour that bus 12 took. But the bus ride allowed me to warm up and gather strength for the last ten miles back to Vancouver.

When I entered the lobby of our condominium, my odometer reported that I had cycled 47.62 miles—not quite half a century, but close enough. This year in the contest between character (mine) and the east wind, character won.

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