Issue 06: All Change

By Martin Gisborne

Cycling, like any regular outdoor activity, increases ones awareness of the elements and heightens the senses to conditions and changing patterns. I’m still relatively new to the weather of Vancouver, BC, but I’m starting to feel and see the signs.

Cycling, like any regular outdoor activity, increases ones awareness of the elements and heightens the senses to conditions and changing patterns. I’m still relatively new to the weather of Vancouver, BC, but I’m starting to feel and see the signs.

When I started to ride, again, after many years away from the bike, I was riding in Northern California, in Silicon Valley. The skies were blue and the temperatures were balmy more often than not. When the temperatures dropped a little and the rains came–albeit occasionally–I sort of just stopped riding. It meant that every year I’d come out of my hibernation and start the painful path back to bike fitness again. This year I decided to do it differently and ride through. I switched from riding in the evening to my own personal nemesis; riding in the early mornings. I invested in some cold weather gear and dug in, through September, as the temperatures started to fall. When October rolled around the temperatures dropped even further to about 6 or 7ºC when I left the apartment in the morning (thats 43/44ºF for those of you reading in black and white) and I carried on riding bracing myself for the onslaught of Vancouver’s rains.

But a strange thing happened; a large area of high pressure descended on the lower mainland, the Sunshine Coast and the BC coastline.The result was one of the driest Octobers, in this area, since records began. The main result of the high pressure was to be a consistent period cold but beautiful weather. Crystal clear skies and utterly still air. Temperatures plummeted overnight but rose to tee shirt weather by midday. In short it was a perfect start to the fall but then, in the middle of it all, the fog came. And simply didn’t leave. It coincided with a short trip out to the Sunshine Coast so I wasn’t riding a bike but the fog just sat there. For about 6 days. With high barometric pressures the system settled in and there just wasn’t any wind to blow it away. The sun attempted to burn it off each day and some days it managed to reveal the sun just in time for sunset but, mostly, it was just a big thick blanket of grey. Finally–and almost as suddenly as it came–it was gone and the crystal clear skies returned. But with temperatures now down to about 2ºC.

Riding through the cold, clear mornings is a special treat. The air is utterly still, neither impeding or assisting. The early morning sun sets the maple trees ablaze with the warming light and the blue skies make the outdoors feel like they reach out into infinity even when you’re in the heart of the city. The leaves are alternately crunchy and then soggy depending on whether the sun has dried them or the dew soaked them.Your body temperature slowly rises as your heart rate climbs and the fingers and toes, which started cold, begin to warm up. The air is visible from the get go and, as you ride through lanes that are seeing the sun for the first time that day, the dew rises in steamy wisps that look cinematically dramatic when backlit.

Finally, after 28 days of October, the barometric pressure changed and a weather front started to approach from the West. On the 29th the air was still but the light seemed different somehow. The front crossed Vancouver Island and started to arrive in the metropolitan area of Vancouver overnight. This morning the skies were grey and the wind was evident from my front window. I dressed and went out to ride. Unlike the still days which feel like you’re swimming in cold, clear, still water, today felt like I was in tidal waters.The wind propelling me here, holding me back there. The air felt warmer but the wind cut through the layers like icy fingers under the merino wool. I looked up at the mountains that rise from the water on the North Shore of the city and realized that they were destined to soon change from sage green to speckled white with the streaks of muddy brown turning into ski runs. I noticed that the leaves which had been vibrant golds and reds only the day before were now dulled by the grey overhead and, in places, were simply crushed into powder under countless feet and tires. It looked like someone had spilled turmeric on the path.

As I rode further there were glimpses, here and there, of some warming sunlight. My shadow, previously sharp and defined, was now tenuous, soft and ghostlike, dancing between, through and around the patterns on the track. I rounded the lighthouse, under the southern tower of the Lions Gate Bridge and started to ride in the shadow of Stanley Park. With the sun so low in the sky, at this time of year, there is no sun on this part of the ride. The cold air gripped and whipped me around the path. I passed two mounted policeman on beautiful horses near Siwash Rock, temporarily forgetting the cold.

By the time I hit Third Beach I was pretty sure that it was becoming too miserable to ride and the idea of taking the shortcut home entered my mind. Then, as I passed the next couple of corners, there was a little sunshine in my face and the warmth made me consider putting in another lap or so. But it was only a brief respite. The flags in the park were flapping straight out from their poles and the wind was back in my face. It was hard going for a while, leaves blowing across the path and the sun dipping in and out of high wispy clouds. Rounding Science World and the wind moved to my rear and suddenly riding seems like the best thing in the world. Effortless. I felt like I was dancing on the pedals and flying above the tarmac. And then, before I knew it, I was home. I put the bike in the lock up and just knew that it was not going to be as easy to get it out the next time.

The change of temperature in September was, indeed, a challenge but the real mountain is yet to come; the rain started later in the day and this weekend the clocks change and the early mornings will get darker. Cold, dark and wet. The motivational challenge will be tough, the sofa will become an incredibly comfortable place from which to watch the rain and drink piping hot coffee. Here goes…


Ed. note: Martin Gisborne is a photo guy….


Also published on Medium.