Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Winter

Outside my window the warm Spring sun is unleashing its 93 million mile payload upon the roof over my head resulting in a steady draining of water from the final snowfall of the year (a surprise 5 inches). How do I know this will be the final snowfall of the year? Well based on this winter’s history as a meager producer of the white stuff here in the Northeast I can say it’s a pretty safe bet.

In fact I would go so far as calling this final gasp a near miracle given the up and down nature of the past 5 months. Spring has been dragging its feet for the past two months (we’ve had flowers blooming for nearly that long). I don’t know about where you live but this Winter was a strange one here in Maine – a true seasonal battle between Dr Jekyll and Mr Winter.

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Dear Daylight Savings Time, I hate you (my sentiment last Fall)

Just ask all the obese squirrels that bulked up last Fall in anticipation of the approaching season. Maybe this one was planning an expedition to the North Pole? I suppose he could have a thyroid condition but I’m pretty sure the neighborhood cats have weeded those guys out of the population by now. This guy just got his forecast wrong.

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He hauled himself up onto the railing like a walrus onto a beach

Of course after my first full winter in over 17 years I shouldn’t be throwing stones at chubby squirrels from within my glass house – it’s tough to keep those winter pounds off sometimes, this I know!

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Thanksgiving gravel grinding in VT (with the iconic “Camel’s Hump off in the distance)

My personal anticipation for the winter was sky high after a weekend of racing in the Green Mountain state of Vermont last October. As a guy planted firmly on the upper end of the normal distribution of weight for bike racers (even before this winter), the cool weather suits me just fine. Although toward the end of my cross race near Montpelier I considered dunking myself into the lake for refreshment on a 20 deg morning (note to self: do more intervals to get ready for cross season next year).

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Arctic sea smoke in Vermont (ok, it’s lake smoke). Photo courtesy of Onion River Sports Facebook page.

The next day at my first Circumburke Challenge (I will be back for more editions!) in East Burke the conditions were much more suitable for my style of racing – they involved beer and nearly impassable mud. Incidentally only liquid sunshine was seen in the state of VT for that entire day… perhaps the entire month. El Nino had arrived on the East Coast and it was wet. Warm (relatively) and wet. The pattern persisted all season.

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Mmmmm who needs sunshine when they can it?

True, we had moments when it actually felt like winter in places other than vicarious trips through the snow reports of western ski resorts. Lacking any ultradistance goals for the first time in at least 8 years, I had planned to hit up some local races in New England. Due to Dr Jekyll being in full control only one of them was actually held: the Moose Brook Fat Bike Race in Gorham, NH. The remainder were cancelled.

The best laid plans of fat squirrels and fat bikers often go awry.

The race itself was a blast with -15 deg temps in the morning followed by a slow warming into a perfect winter day in the woods. Thank you Mr Winter! Who could ask for more? Well I can – I wish the entire winter had been like this! At the very least it would’ve helped slim down the squirrels a little.

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A -15 deg F morning along the ME/NH border

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Wy won’t this thing go faster? Oh right, it’s not the bike’s fault. Photo courtesy of Moose Brook Fat Bike Race Facebook page

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If you win the race you wear the moose antlers

But following every cold spell there was a predictable drastic warming this year. Hopes and dreams of fun in the snow vanished like ghosts in the night. 5deg F one day, 55 deg F the next – Dr Jekyll and Mr Winter.

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“We take death to reach a star” – Vincent Van Gogh

The weather warmed and alliteration ran rampant with water spilling from the spoons of soupy nights. Fog was my co-pilot. With the short days I forlornly navigated the rocky shores of my new area via candlepower, ummm battery power… whatever. I also told myself riding in the rain at night is fun. Look into the light and repeat after me: riding in the rain is fun. Riding in the rain is fun.

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Two Lights State Park, Cape Elizabeth ME. OK, more like Three Lights

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They say the lighthouse keeper is the loneliest man on earth, looks inviting!

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Slimer from Ghostbusters?

Then like a snowplow in the night, snow returned one morning and the world smiled. Or as my next-door neighbor probably described the scene outside his window to his wife: “that stupid Californian is out taking pictures of the snow AGAIN”.

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Unrideable rocks become rideable in a world transformed

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“The snot green sea, the scrotum tightening sea” – James Joyce

And so began a final, glorious 2 week span of true winter. In the midst of the warmest season on record it felt almost normal. Mr Winter was in control and he went about administering his business like a nun with a ruler.

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There are few things more welcoming than a warm sun on a cold day

A series of storms skirted the coast and dropped blankets of fresh snow on the trails and beaches like Christmas in February, which considering it had been almost 70 deg F on Christmas Day this would be our one and only chance at having a picture postcard New England Christmas.

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“It came without ribbons!… it came without tags!… it came without packages, boxes or bags” – The Grinch

In the wake of the storms cold air wrapped around the backside of the cyclone and was pumped in from our neighbors to the North (if only they would also send poutine!) The collision of this cold air with the (relatively) warmth of the ocean is a fascinating sight. The water appears to boil on the surface and almost hisses as the wind rakes across its surface producing sea smoke. On calm cold days deep, icy fog banks develop offshore, but it is at its dynamic best when the wind is howling and sheets writhe across its surface like apparitions out windsurfing.

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Sea Smoke and Snizzle

The release of so much moisture from the water sometimes produces a light drizzle of snow when conditions permit: snizzle. Sea smoke and snizzle: two great tastes that go great together.

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Portland Head Light during a snow squall

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Thank you Mr Snowmobiler for the path!

I broke out the 5 inch tires and held mass within cathedral woods, my drivetrain reciting their vespers with each pedal stroke…

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and skied along the coast, waves crashing to my East while the sun settled on the snowcapped peaks of all those lucky bastards out west that were reaping the spoils of El Nino. Wait a second, I was finally enjoying winter! I’d forgotten how much I’d missed it.

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A wayward lobster buoy displaying remarkable color coordination with my skis

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“And the poets down here don’t write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be” – Bruce Springsteen

At long last I could take no more. I cried into the blackest night:”why on Earth did I move to the East Coast this winter? Why can I not be in the Sierra Nevada, the Range of Light, and be doing this more often? Dr Jekyll and Mr. Winter, why do you torment me so?”

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Another squall, a different view

Why have you put me through such hell this winter when all I wanted to do was ride my bike and ski to my heart’s content? An answer sprang forth from the Universe in the form of a weather bulletin: the forecast now called for Jekyll. I could see his warm eyes burning on the horizon. Say what you will, Mr Winter is the “normal” one in my version of the book. Winter should be wild and without conscience.

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My winter playground with the lights of Portland Maine on the foggy horizon

Which brought me to one final moment, the one I managed to capture in the photo below.

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Nothing makes one feel so insignificant, so in the moment, as standing beneath the moon and stars on a cold, still night. How many light years have those pin pricks traveled just to reach this spot at this moment on this night? It’s all but a fluke of coincidence between distant entities of the same whirling system that casts this cold light from fire then hurls it across the vast reaches of space to reach this point at this time then be harnessed by the lens and captured by the camera. At this moment on this moonlit night, this is where I was supposed to be – I belonged.

5 Seconds of light exposure from a multitude of stars, some of which has been traveling for longer than I have been alive just to make this chance encounter on a lonesome hill in Maine. All pettiness disappears in a moment like this as it reveals just how tenuous our individual toeholds are in this world. Circumstances can (and will) change in an instant. A misstep here or there and the entire scene will vanish like a blurry photo to the recycle bin (of which there were a few as I was using a tree limb as a tripod). Capture the light while you can.

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And just like that spring was here. From dark to light, Jekyll to Hyde, in an instant the snow retreated and flowers began blooming as another round of warmth spread over the land. I hope to see you again on my next trip around the sun, Mr. Winter.

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