The Lions in Winter
Fall is starting to push in around the edges of the night and the day. The question that lingers over me is “Will I poop out this winter like I did last winter?” I had 101 good reasons to switch back to my car from about the end of November until May. Gradually, as the weather begins to turn, I am remembering what they were. One was the ordeal of getting the bike in and out of the garage.
Our house was built in the twenties when the garages were set behind the houses where garages belong, at the end of a little lane -- unlike today, when builders will often situate a two or three-car garage right out on the street so that it upstages the whole rest of the house including the front entrance. Obviously they do that because to the typical builder-developer, convenience takes precedence over aesthetics. People inhabiting this contemporary ugliness can reach their garage through a door inside their house, can insert themselves into their dry, room- temperature cocoon of a car, can open the garage door by pushing a button, and drive to work where they enter another garage in the bottom of their work building, park, and ride the elevator to their office. All without touching the weather.
Which, in the depths of winter, is a truly splendid thing.
In Oregon the cold is so damp that the temperature doesn’t have to sink very low to make you miserable to the bone. Much as I despise those garage-centered houses, I love the idea of transporting a bubble of indoorness with oneself all the way to work. That is, I love it in the cold. In the good weather I am acutely aware of the full deprivation of these garage-house people, and I look down on them with pity in my heart. They know not what they miss.
The portable indoor bubble situation is not available to me at this time. Our garage is our tool shed and we park our cars outside. Running through weather from warm house to cold car is ugly enough. Running from warm house to cold garage only to plunge back out into drizzly darkness and pedal through damp frigid air is considerably less appealing.
Let me just dissect the whole experience limb by limb so that I can identify each obstacle as I go and make a little checklist of unpleasantries that need to be removed – for these are the kinds of mini-miseries that when strung together in succession discourage one from even venturing forth from the blankets.
Let’s pretend first that it’s raining – since it will be, soon, for about six months in a row. I leave through the front door and battle my way, machete-less, through encroaching foliage as I squeeze between car and house, stepping in moist bark-o-mulch and dirtying my shoes as much as the unruly foliage is drenching the rest of me. Some days I opt for the alternative route and squish along the edge of the neighbor’s wet lawn on the other side of the car.
Once having overtaken the parked car and gained access to the pavement, I advance down the lane back to the garage where I prepare for the next exercise, namely Opening the Garage Door – a feat requiring the implementation of my entire body, especially my arms which are usually wrapped around various items I’ll be needing that day. In summer conditions, I unload my cargo onto the tarmac. Obviously this won’t work once the ground is wetted by the heavens, so I’ll have to come up with some solution to that before long.
The original door was probably one of solid wood that opened in the middle and swung out on hinges; but some well-meaning previous inhabitants replaced those with this aluminum one that slides up out of the way on tracks. The replacement is perhaps not of the highest quality and therefore probably more difficult to operate than was the original system.
After locating the appropriate miniature on my prisonesque clump of keys and unlocking the central knob, I crouch down to grip the knob in both hands and twist it to the left while pushing into the door with my shoulder until I hear a certain popping sound. Then, still leaning heavily into the door while pulling upward on the knob, I slowly stand up, causing the door to rise with me. As the bottom of the door approaches elbow level, I heave a little extra momentum into it and reposition my hands under its mud-encrusted bottom edge so I can push it the rest of the way up and over, along its tracks.
Once inside, I fumble around for another key and unlock my bike, which is hooked with a large Kryptonite U-shape to another bike. (Lindi’s bike was stolen out of the locked garage last summer, so now we take extra precautions.) Now all I have to do is disentangle them, an easier procedure than locking them together which entails mashing the two bikes close enough to each other for the padlock to reach around them both without getting their pedals caught up in each other’s chains. The longer darkness of winter doesn’t facilitate any of these maneuvers in our electricity-free unit.
All that, before I’m even off the runway. Now I’m ready for a shower and a change of clothes, but it’s time to go. I extract the bike, close and lock the garage door behind me, and I’m finally off. The whole process is repeated in the reverse when I get home in the evening.
After riding through said weather to my destination, I unbend my hands from their death-grip shape, clump to my office on the two ice floes attached to the ends of my legs, and launch my work day with thighs that feel like arctic whale blubber wrapped in a wet tarpaulin, hoping my butt will thaw by noon.
Clearly I haven’t got the proper equipment. Once I explore the myriad ways around all this misery that are available to the modern cyclist, surely I’ll be able to re-create some semblance of the coveted indoor bubble right here on my body. My whole attitude will change, and I’ll spring out of bed in the pitch of winter with the same alacrity and mirth as in the summer, when the bike ride to work is an amusement I can anticipate instead of an ordeal I can only dread. Otherwise, saving a little gas could start to seem a costly trade-off, and warming a little globe (especially my own) begins to seem like an appealing idea.