Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Day 234 - The New Year's Day Bicycle Tour

I have never ridden the Madison’s New Year Day Bicycle Tour. On that note, I have never ridden a bike in winter. In fact, the sight of a person riding a bike on snow and salt covered winter streets has always caused me to shudder a bit at the idea of facing the cold atop the open frame of a bicycle. On such a rare occasion, I would always wonder what drove someone to engage in such an activity, which would usually result in me concluding they must be a little bit crazy to take on the task. Regardless, the practice was enough to pique my curiosity, which had me thinking a winter bike ride may be an experience worth gaining at some point during my “I have never...” year. I had no intention of planning such an event, but I figured I would keep in mind just in case the opportunity crossed my path.

Ready to ride
Admittedly, a part of me hoped winter would come and pass without any notice of a winter biking event, but the post-holiday quiet that accompanies New Year’s Day resulted in me digging a little bit deeper for “I have never...” events than I normally would. Eventually, this effort resulted in me stumbling across Madison Bike Winter, a local organization of winter biking enthusiasts responsible for planning a variety of winter biking events around town. As I read about the organization, a listing about a New Year’s Day event caught my eye. Digging a little deeper, I discovered the event was a schedule bike tour scheduled to take place in Madison on New Year’s Day. Given the unusual cold this winter has brought, the very idea of a New Year’s Day bike ride was anything but appealing; however, my lack of alternatives and my unending commitment to try new things left me little choice in the matter. After several minutes of staring at the screen, I somewhat reluctantly decided there was no better time to take on a new experience, and I committed to taking part in the 2014 Madison New Year’s Day Bicycle Tour.

Time to unload
As the day of the bicycle tour arrived, I took a quick look at the weather to gauge my need to prepare. Still groggy from the previous night’s celebration, it took me a few moments to absorb the forecast. Eventually, my mind wrapped around the two degree daily temperature high and predicted overcast conditions, causing a hearty cringe to cross my face. Regardless, I was resolved to take on the task, so I threw on two layers of clothes and wrapped myself in a pieced together set of ski gear that had served me well in the Rocky Mountains in years past. Donned in heavy, insulated fabric from head to toe, I grabbed my bike from the basement and headed for the back door.

In response, my dog, Buddy, ran to my kitchen and watched on as I began to step out the door. Curious and somewhat confused by my actions, he cocked his head to the side and readily wagged his tail back and forth. “Oh, Buddy,” I said smiling at his undeniably loveable face, “Your Daddy is off on another adventure... and this one’s plenty ridiculous.” My words caused Buddy to run to my feet, doing his best to avoid the cold air streaming in the house. As I set my bike outside, I turned back inside and gave Buddy a pat on the head. “At least one of us will stay warm today,” I said looking down at him with a bit of envy. With that, he promptly ran back into the kitchen and looked back at me as I headed out the door. With my bicycle at my side, I was ready to take on my first ever winter bike ride.

Walking my bike down my driveway, I took note of the uncommon quiet of the city around me. With the exception of the clanking emanating from my efforts to attach my bike to the bike rack hanging from the rear of my car, the only sound was the wind whipping up in periodic gusts. It was strange, but I knew it would make for incredible biking weather. With my bike secured, I loaded in my car and made the short trip to a Madison cafĂ©, Barriques, which served as the meeting location for the event. Once there, I removed my bike from the rack and wheeled it near the store’s front entrance to wait for other participants to arrive.


On the road

Although the blustery winter wind was happy to make its presence known as I stood in front of the building with my bike, my stacked layers of clothing preserved my body temperature well enough to keep me comfortable until a pair of bike riders emerged on a distance street. With every inch of their bodies covered in heavy winter clothes, the riders slowly biked their way to my location. Removing their headgear the man and woman bikers promptly introduced themselves as Mary and Aaron before joyously wishing me a happy New Year. Happy to see other participants, I introduced myself in kind as we walked into the coffee shop to warm ourselves before our journey.

Inside Barriques the three of us grabbed a warm drink and sipped for a while as we chatted about our route during the ride. Eventually settling on the idea of riding through the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, we finalized our plans as another rider arrived at the coffee shop and joined us at our table. With that decision, we quickly finished off the last of our drinks and geared up for the trip. Minutes later we were back in the cold and ready to start our ride. Following a pull of Mary’s homemade cherry bounce liqueur from a flask she had brought along, the four of us mounted our bikes and began to pedal down the quiet, snow-covered roads.

Entering the arboretum

Mary and Aaron

Our path

At first, my efforts to control the lateral movement of my bike as it dug for traction in the snowpack distracted me from the scenery during the early portion of our ride; however, by the time we reached the border of the arboretum I had found my balance and developed a steady, moderate pace with the rest of the group. In turn, I began to take in the sights that slowly passed as we trekked deeper into the isolated path carving through the arboretum. Surrounded by a silent forest blanketed in snow, I found myself staggered by the beauty around us. It was serene and idyllic, like a scene from stock generic Christmas card, and I was observing it all from the seat of my bicycle.

Making progress

I didn't fall!

With no shortage of amazing scenery, this reality continued for the better part of the next hour until we found ourselves emerging on the other side of the arboretum. From there we worked our way down frozen streets draped with drifting snow and left empty from the post-holiday lull. As we pedaled back toward our starting location, I took note of the stillness around us. We were traversing Monroe Street, one of the main thoroughfares between Madison’s west side and downtown, but the passage of traffic was so infrequent we occupied the tire tracks left by cars on the street nearly the entire second half of the trip. Eventually, this caused me to realize I was seeing Madison in a way I had never experienced the city before. It was abnormally quiet and peaceful, but the city’s vacancy was almost eerie in a way. I knew I wouldn’t soon forget the time spent on those empty streets riding my bike on that New Year ’s Day. Without question, my decision to take on the Madison New Year’s Day Bicycle Tour was a good one.

The crew

Our stop at a coffee shop along Monroe Street signaled the end of the New Year’s Day ride. After taking some time to warm ourselves inside the establishment, our group headed back outdoors and said a few goodbyes before parting ways. As I biked back toward the location of my car a little more than a mile away, I thought about how I could have spent my morning otherwise. Given the lack of activity that usually accompanies New Year’s Day, I realized I likely would have done nothing more than sleep in and tool around my house looking for ways to pass the time until some afternoon football games. In turn, I would have missed an amazing opportunity to see the city I call home in ways I had never experienced before, and I would have missed out on spending time with some delightful people. Sure, I thought the idea of riding my bike around in winter was a little crazy before today, but after taking on the Madison New Year’s Day Bike Tour I can honestly say it was well worth the time and the effort. In fact, it might just be the best thing I have ever done on a New Year’s Day.

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