by James “Cranky” Ramsay

Cranky ride cold winter
Photo: Michelle Simpson

It’s very cold outside. At this time of year, I like to sweat it out on my indoor trainer while my butler reads Canadian Cycling Magazine to me, passes me fresh towels and cues up my Swedish death-metal playlist, which keeps me motivated. It wasn’t always this way. Before I got rich writing this column, I rode outside through the winter. Back then, I had no indoor trainer, a limited supply of towels and certainly no butler.

As with any reflection on times gone by, my recollection is romanticized. The hard edges have been polished smooth. I’m left with rosy memories of my adventures through the frozen tundra. Let me paint the picture for you.

At 5:59 a.m. on a crisp Sunday morning, I awake one minute before my alarm goes off. I spring out of bed, pour a large cup of extremely strong coffee and prepare myself breakfast: two eggs, scrambled, a lean slice of ham, all served atop spelt bread from the artisanal bakery down the street.

Eating at a leisurely pace while I read the newspaper, I pause to check the weather: -13 C, and with the wind chill, -20 C. The colder, the better, I think, smiling to myself. This will be one for the record books.

I apply deep heating rub to my knees (having put my bib shorts on first to avoid unnecessarily warming my undercarriage), pull on my windproof tights and, layer by layer, I prepare to meet the elements.

Strapping my ’cross bike to the roof of my car, I make the one-hour drive north of the city, where I will meet a small group of fellow lunatics for a three-hour romp through the back roads of the Hockley Valley. I arrive perfectly on time and we set off. We’re cold at first, but the effort of the ride quickly warms us up. It’s all over too soon. Before I know it, I’m back in my car, heading for the comfort of home – tired but exhilarated, buzzing with the elation of a hard effort on the bike.

But wait. Is that really how it was? As I think more on this, the details are coming into focus. Perhaps the picture wasn’t quite as rosy…

It’s 6:00 a.m. I’m shocked out of a delightful dream in which I’m pheasant hunting with my uncle Desmond and cousin Hortense. We never actually kill any pheasants, by the way – it’s more of a social outing – but that’s beside the point. I reach over and hit snooze. I repeat this action for at least three cycles, which brings me to 6:32. Now I’m going to be late.

Dragging myself out of bed, I trip over the cat on my way to the bathroom. Cursing as I regain my balance, I put my contact lenses in backwards and stumble downstairs to get some breakfast.

Looking at the clock, I realize there’s no time to eat at home, so I place my toque inside-out in my upturned helmet and fill it with dry cereal. I run back upstairs, get dressed as quickly as I can and scramble out of the house.

Exceeding the speed limit all the way, wolfing down dry corn flakes from my hat as I go, I’m lucky to encounter very few red lights. I peel into the resort parking lot only to see that it’s empty. Not a soul. At least now I have time to drink my coffee while I wait for the others to show up.

But they don’t show up. Later, they’ll tell me it was simply too cold to ride. For now, all I know is that I’m on my own. Having made such an effort to get here, I can’t go home with my purpose unfulfilled. I pull my bike off the roof and start off down the road solo.

It’s so cold that my shift cables freeze in their housings and my shift levers don’t’ operate properly. I’m stuck with a very limited range of gears, none of which are ideally suited to riding through snow. As I grind my way across the frozen landscape at a cadence of 35 r.p.m., I curse the weather, my absent training partners and anything else I can think of.

Now I’m starving, so I pull an energy bar from my pocket. On the plus side, the bar is so cold that the wrapper comes off cleanly – a nice change from the melted chocolatey goop that I’m used to wrestling with in warmer weather. But on the flip side, it’s so frozen that I can’t bite into it without risking expensive damage to my dentures. And it’s too big to swallow whole. Cursing again, I put it back in my pocket and resolve to defrost it in the car and eat it on the way home.

Finally, after two and a half hours, I decide to pack it in. I can no longer feel my feet. I’m weak with hunger. My insulated water bottle has failed to live up to its guarantee of keeping my drink in liquid form. I struggle back to the car, swearing as I try to secure my bike to the roof with numb, frozen fingers. On the drive home, I feel the faint satisfaction in having toughed it out. But on the whole, I’m exhausted, cranky, bitter and my feet hurt like hell as they start to thaw out.

So which version is more accurate? As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. But I can tell you that my butler prefers the second version. He says it makes him feel more valued. Another fresh towel, please, Sainsbury – and for heaven’s sake, turn that music up!

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