I look like a burglar–black long-sleeved fleece jacket, zipped up to my chin. Black headband to keep my ears warm and free from the pain that comes on them with a cold wind. Black gloves. Dark blue jeans (sometimes around other cyclists in their tight spandex pants with special seats and sweat-wicking fibers I feel like I should buy a special pair of pants just for cycling, but they’re so expensive and I can’t stand the way my sweat smells with those materials, so I’m just in regular denim with tight legs). All I need is a balaclava concealing my face, but I don’t ride when it’s so cold you need one of those. My nose and my ears and the rest of my body can’t handle that much cold all at once.
We aim for a twelve mile ride, which takes a little over an hour at my pace. We ride through our neighborhood, older homes from mid-century in a mix of styles and sizes, with full-grown trees, some nearly bare, some with leaves still hanging on. We have to ride a ways down a busy highway that has exits to the interstate and I feel anxious, always looking over my shoulder. We’re in the busy part for not quite a mile, and I always pedal my fastest through this area. I get up to fifteen, sixteen miles an hour.
But then we hit the quieter streets of the small town next to ours and ride into a semi-rural area. Large homes with acres of land along slices of quiet highways. I try not to slow my pace, but I feel more comfortable out of the way of lots of traffic, and my husband rides beside me. Horses and cows looking at us as we ride by. We ride about four miles and my nose starts to feel the chill. We ride past the best view in the county, a still-green field surrounded by trees on three sides, and behind the field all you can see is the mountains, no hint of the town. Something about it makes me think of a different country, somewhere lush and volcanic. We make it the pecan orchards, which make for welcome cool shade in the summer and unwelcome cool shade in the winter. Our turnaround point is just past the yard where a small golden dog always chases us along her fence line, barking happily. A few times she’s run out to meet us, but she’s getting bigger now and can’t slip out of the fence.
I try to make the ride home as quick as the ride out, but I pushed myself and start slowing down. My nose is cold now, and I can feel the cold creeping in through my jeans and my fleece jacket. Even though we started out in the warmest part of the day, it’s still December and even here the sun is already slipping away. The last two miles I really slow down. Maybe I pushed myself too much; maybe tomorrow and even tonight my body will let me know it. By the time we get home, all of me is cold and my throat is slightly achy. It was worth it, though, because even though I may be sore tomorrow, right at the end of the ride I feel healthy and strong. And that is quite an accomplishment for me.