There is something different about a November bicycle ride. Different from the promise of a spring ride. And most certainly different from the heat and green of a mid-summer outing. November rides are all about stark and barren landscapes, wind that bites and drives home its chill, and daylight that is fleeting – filled with shadows and ever ready to dip below the horizon.
Twenty miles one late November afternoon on my bike remind me of these truths. Gone are the flourishing cornfields and acres of soybeans, harvested after another season of production. A lingering combine stirs up a cloud of dust as it consumes the last of this year’s yield. The whine and whir of a grain dryer gives testimony to a crop that’s no longer in the fields but in the bins, or on the way to market. No more windbreaks from tall crops and no more insects blown from the fields into one’s face and mouth.
Corners and sight lines that over a growing season became obstructed are now wide open again, allowing one to see the approaching car from more than a mile away – and hope to be seen in return. Even the farmer’s peak a boo mirror that hung on the gate all summer giving oncoming traffic a view of what lay in wait, has been taken down and packed away for the season. The countryside seems intent on battening down the hatches and entering a time of hibernation. If you are an off season cyclist, you are on your own. Nature is not going to be your friend!
Still, despite the odds, an occasional day like this one emerges. Full sun, few clouds, a stiff wind – but even that detriment cannot sway the compulsion for another ride. It’s on days like this that we steal a ride from the odds makers. It’s on days like this that we see the turning of the calendar unfold before us. Maybe this too drives the need for riding. We know these days are numbered and to be cherished.
One such autumn morning, while the brisk chill of a frost was as yet giving way to the measured warmth of mid-day; I came across a most compelling scene. The warm pavement of county roads had served as something of a magnet for caterpillars. These fury friends (wooly worms we used to call them) were out in force to warm themselves on the blacktop. It was as though one of them had sent forth the call – “Everyone out of the ditches, fields, brush and trees! Hit the road Jack and Jill, cause this is the day for sunning!”
That call had been answered in totality. The road was filed with the little critters, slowly emerging onto the pavement and in no hurry to leave. So plentiful were they and dotting the road in such abundance, there was no avoiding them. Little did they expect a two-wheeled instrument of terror to cut into their colony or bisect their friend! But the sun calls to more than an orange and black caterpillar, and I – like they – was anxious to know its warmth and soak up the pleasure of the endorphins it offered.
It’s no wonder we use the seasons, and especially autumn, to speak of the stages of our lives. If you live in a part of the world where the distinctive of four seasons is less profound, you are missing one of nature’s greatest metaphors. Spring, of course, speaks of youth and promise. Summer – prime time, production, fruitfulness and growth. Winter, the season of rest and slumber – the end of the road. But what of autumn?
What indeed? This season is rich with the tasks of ingathering and harvest – enjoying the fruits of one’s labor. Its work is thanks giving and gratitude for the abundance and provision of life’s journey. It comes bespeckled with the fullness of color, and then, just as its splendor is at peak; it yields and lets go and falls into dormancy and a seemingly barren landscape of waiting.
There is a hush to autumn. A quiet call to “be still and know”. The frenzy and frenetic activity of the year’s earlier seasons has begun to fade. The cold and dark of winter is yet to fully extend its grip. This is a season of settling in. Coming to know a slower pace. Peddling into the lower gears.
November rides are far less frequent than those of a May or September calendar page. They are often shorter in nature than July or even October’s outings. They conjure forth thanks giving for another season of cycling and another year of life. And in this way they are to be cherished and savored.