I had not been able to ride a lot during January and my rides had been short. But I traced some small roads on the map around where I live (Jyvaeskylae, Finland) filled my thermos with some peppermint tea with honey and put on my winter riding gear.
It is overcast and not so cold (- 8 C) on January 23. I start rolling through local bike paths around one o'clock. There is a thin layer of fresh snow over smooth ice, a reminder of a recent heat wave. Then, going down a very steep hill, I fall down most ungracefully. This is typical of my involuntary wintertime dismounts: icy, slow and harmless. Not wishing to become a spectacle for the Sunday strollers I quickly reinsert my boots into the Power Grips and continue eastward while brushing off snow. Soon I stop to straighten out the bars and a bar-end. The pace I can manage is very slow and every hill is a struggle.
In the next town I turn on a local road to the north. At the end of the bike path I stop to sip some tea and consult a map. My objective is to find an obscure little road I have not ridden on before. A grandfather character on an ancient one-speed pedal pedals by. I follow him and find the road agreeable. There is a safe strip of hard snow between the groove worn in the ice by studded car tires and the bank of loose snow over what would the shoulder area in summertime. My studs grip reassuringly with a rattling sound. There are tall menacing spruce on one side and a frozen finger of a lake frozen on the other where people are sitting at their fishing holes. I can see no moose this time.
Again I stop to read the map and study the landmarks. The little road has a "No Vehicles" sign but it is home-made. So I proceed, knowing that bicycles are allowed on private roads. I find myself going through the yard of a farmhouse but no one is home. Soon I turn on a little less private road where the snow is smooth and compact. It creaks in a tone familiar since my childhood days. The road meanders through the woods and climbs over hills and is nice to ride on. I pass some farmhouses and notice that the locals have been playing on the road with ski-doos and motorcycles. A few turns more and I get to a bigger road, paved this time.
I turn southward again. Traffic has worn off most of the snow but I can taste that the road has been sprinkled with salt. Cars zoom past at 100 kph, keeping a polite distance. I try to avoid a layer of snow that keeps breaking under my 32 mm tires. I leave the road and proceed through a quiet industrial district to find another little road through the backwoods. This is but two grooves in the snow but OK to ride on. Meeting a car from the other direction takes some mutual good will. Hitting the outskirts of a suburb, I stop for some more tea and enjoy watching cross-country skiers on a trans- provincial route.
Time to go home, it is after 3 o'clock. I ride on bike paths along the shores of a lake and zigzag home just as the streetlights are turned on. I feel tired after only 30 km, one fifth of my longest distance under similar conditions. It is still a long way to my 20th century. But I feel grateful to be able to ride again.