Thursday, November 26, 2009

Extreme Weather Cycling for Punkin Pie

A few years back DartreDame (Pramila, my wife) and I were tucked away at our little cabin in Eastern Oregon for Thanksgiving. I was waxing on about my Mum's pumpkin pies, and how hers were the best (right up there with my Aunt Anna's, my second mother who passed from our realm years ago). These tales were told alongside a woodstove with snow outside and iciles hanging from the eaves.

Dartre decided on hearing these tales that we must have homemade pie for just the two of us. Problem is we had no pumpkin. We did have bicycles though, road bicycles. I'm not sure how I convinced her in the first place that taking our bicycles (she was a fledgling cyclist then) to Eastern Oregon for Thanksgiving was ever a good idea. I must have had some cockamamie story about training or some such. However I did that, I now also incredibly convinced her that we should ride the six miles each way into the neighboring town to purchase our pumpkin and fixins at the Safeway store. We could have driven, but cycling would be more fun, more memorable, perhaps an emerging tradition?

An additonal obstacle was that the road to the cabin is very steep and rough, really not suitable for skinny tires, even in the summer. It would be impossible now. So I loaded up the bicycles on the roof rack, and we bundled up. We drove down to town in four-wheel drive. We parked there, unloaded the bicycles and started out on our 12-mile punkin-huntin' round trip.

Let me tell you: it was cold. In the 20's! And windy. As we unloaded our bicycles we wondered at what we were about to do. But we cycle away. And when we got to the perenially shady patch of the "back road" into our neighboring town, it was icey. At first, just patch ice. Then, by the bend in the road that follows the river down in among the trees, it was simply sheets of ice. We tried riding/skating while mounted, but soon gave that up and shuffled our bicycles across the ice flows. Then, we coarsed into town on a tailwind.

Into Safeway very pleased with ourselves, we found our fixins and stowed them in my panniers. Back on our mounts (mine a fixie back then), we headed back, slightly uphill, across the open ranch country. And smack into a bitterly fierce headwind. I'm talking about a 20 degrees fahrenheit (not counting wind chill) headwind that blew the tops off the snowdrifts and bit us with icy fangs down deeply to our core.

I stood up and pedaled trying to create a place for Dartre to draft behind, but at one point the wind gusted so much that it just about blew me right over. Seriously. I checked back with Dartre, but when I did I got another gust, that surly gust of bitterness that comes from someone who feels spent, exposed, frightened, and sure they are going to die. Whoa! Dartre enjoyed cycling, but as she'll remind us from time to time she is from India where it is warm, very warm. And she didn't learn to ride a bicycle as a child, but as an adult. About the same time she first ever saw snow, as an adult. So neither cycling nor snow came naturally to her, even though she now loves both. But cycling in the snow, she clearly hadn't signed on for that. Oops.

I took the hint that right then was not the time for small talk. We earned each inch in silence, bitterly cold silence. Those several miles up and across the ranches may have been the longest miles I've ever ridden. Hawks swooped and sailed on the wind as they only do on such galeful days: fiercely and wildly. Crows clung to the bare branches of the occassional sentinel tree of the rangeland, cackling at the absurdity of the barrenness, the brazenness of unbelievably-not-yet-winter's terror grip on the deeply quiet, spiritless and frozen-stiffly earth.

Eventually we thrust the five and a half miles of blown over, open, snowy rangeland behind us, and entered the seclusion of the bend with the shady trees and the permafrost roadway where we once again shuffled our way to safety. Back on the bicycles after the glaciers, we rode back to the truck. I threw the bicycles back on the rack, and we drove back up our mountain to our woodstove and holiday brews...and talking quietly to one another again.

How was that punkin pie? Let's just say that it was the best bicycle-fetched punkin pie ever, and right up there with Mum's and Aunt Anna's. Truly. You can't make me choose from among these fine women though. I'd flail into the gustiest gales before I'd put one of their pies before the others'. And why should I choose? I'd also have to throw my sister, Nancy, into that group of impossible choosees. Nancy, too, was a second mother (Did I indeed have two second mothers? I guess so). For all these women, I give thanks today.

Keep it punkinny,