Friday, December 24, 2010

South Bank Solstice

At 3:30 in the afternoon, the sun is poised just above the ridge to the south. A sliver of pale blue sky separates the black ridge below from the bank of gunmetal grey rain clouds above.

In the next hour the sun will sink behind the ridge, and in the hour that follows night will descend, soaking up any and all light from stars and moon and it will be dark for the ensuing 13 hours. The longest night of the year.

By 3:00 I had the beginnings of a headache. Staring at the little laptop screen, concentrating on population numbers, percent poverty, average income, unemployment, business outmigration, business tax revenue, historic trends, had reduced the most powerful CPU ever known to a three pound mass of slightly throbbing gray matter. Work was done whether I continued to stare at the dope scope or not, what was needed was a battery recharge. What better way than a quick spin on the bike. Certainly it is cloudy and chill out but it had not rained (well not what we locals call ‘rain’) all day and if I hustled I could probably get an hour in before dark.

Given the current status of the CPU, it took me longer than normal to find the tights, wool garments, dry gloves, bandanna hankies, head happenings, bottles and various other ‘accoutremon’ necessary to make the next hour a pleasant carefee spin as opposed to an unpleasant hour enduing the elements.

As I prepared to ride away from the house, I looked over my shoulder and saw those pale but reassuring yellow rays filtering through the dark woodlot across the fence. The low sun backlit the trees and I could just make out the cloud bank above and the black ridge below: Perfect day for a ride.

Because I had taken longer than normal to get ready it had started to sprinkle. Not what we call rain but enough to make the rain jacket a better choice than the wool jersey alone.  I felt vindicated and slightly hopeful.  In this country the weather can get better or worse, but it rarely stays the same for long.

Rolling out of town it was easy to see that the darkest clouds were behind and the sky ahead was a mix of scattered clouds, high overcast, and sun patches. The headwind was pushing the storm into the Cascades. We would get relief but the mountains would get more snow. Shortly the rain stopped and, crossing the Chehalis River a weak rainbow

quickly turned to a bright neon road sign against the roiling storm clouds on the other side of the valley.

The day before friends had ridden a 200K event overnight to celebrate the winter solstice. I was tempted to join them but I had an appointment that needed to be kept, an early Christmas present of sorts, and though I can ride a 200K permanent within the time limit, it is entirely likely that I’d get dropped early and ride most of the event solo. I don’t mind riding alone, but it is always more pleasant out in the country than in the burbs. I prefer road junctions like this:

to intersections where you have to sprint to get across 4 lanes of through traffic and two turn lanes to beat the light. Plus, try as I might to pretend otherwise there is no denying that my night vision isn’t what it once was. So though this was really my ‘day after’ the solstice ride, and it would be shorter by orders of magnitude, this would be the solstice ride best suited to my needs on this day.

I wouldn’t say South Bank road was deserted but the few farm trucks that passed gave me plenty of room and oncoming drivers mostly proffered a neighborly nod. Possibly the countenance of something in the road with multiple little blinking lights, but too, neighborliness certainly plays in: there are a few local cyclists that like this road for its combination of low traffic and pleasant scenery. In one instance a plume of hay chaff spilled from the back of the truck, two full bales, a partial with a pitchfork alongside testimony that folks were coming home from feeding in a field somewhere back down the road. The little kid in the passenger seat peering through the rear window; I see him and wave, he breaks into a toothy grin and waves back enthusiastically, the driver, not looking back but raising a hand with a slight wave of acknowledgement. This is my neighborhood.

Small ponds have formed in the low spots in the fields.


Here and there small flocks of ducks rapidly paddle away as I glide past. Herons are more vigilant and lift off to put more distance between us.  As the light fades, the ground fog forms out of nowhere and quickly settles on the fields,


pilling up against the weedy fence rows.

These old trestles found at every creek crossing stand as mute testimony to the history of logging railroads that once plied the valley.

The Sharon grange was once a hub of the community and must have been the scene of many joyous celebrations every Christmas.  On this winter night it stands ready and waiting for a get together.

Out at the Porter road junction the light is almost gone. The buffalo loom in the mist eating silently but eyeing me as I stop to consider. The calves look up and instinctively amble around behind the bulls and cows as a precautionary measure.

It’s not late but it will be black dark in fifteen minutes. It has taken me an hour to travel 10 miles and I elect to turn and ride the dying tailwind back to town. I check my gear, noting that my secondary headlight is not working and make a mental note to inspect it later to determine if it is just low batteries or if the thing has finally given up the ghost. Going through this mental checklist for the push home, I realize I don’t have the slightest suggestion of a headache. My mind is clear and the CPU is getting the charge it needs.

I’ll get back considerably faster. The wind has all but died, and in complete darkness there won’t be any picture taking foolishness. With the air temperature dropping rapidly I will need to keep the pedals turning over to generate warmth. A successful ride by any measure on this winter night.

Even farmers take time to spruce up a bit in the spirt of the season.

(Hey, it's Christmas, I had to include at least one Christmas light shot!)

Merry Christmas!

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