Smash the Winter Cycling Blues

We all know the “Dog Days of Summer,” when it’s just about impossible to hop on a bike in the searing heat unless you’re going straight to the swimming hole and then straight to Millwood Brewing Company for a root beer float.

On the flipside, Winter Blues can strike when the fog rolls in, or when rain falls on our precious snow and then immediately freezes, wrecking our favorite ski runs, fat bike, and snowshoe trails. In the same way that reduced exposure to sunlight can aggravate symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, reduced exposure to Hero Dirt, Cadillac Gravel, and clear roads and bike paths can wreak havoc on our very will to turn pedals.

For many of us, turning pedals is a form of 2-wheeled therapy, and when the supply gets cut off by Old Man Winter, it can be hard to cope with the stress of everyday life. So, what can we do?

A few hearty souls go out and brave the elements no matter how bad the weather gets, such as Hammer Nutrition sponsored athlete Patty Jo Struve who regularly competes in 100 kilometer and 100-mile fat bike races in the dead of winter.

Indoor smart trainer platforms such as Zwift (a cycling and running virtual training app) and Peloton are helping the more proactive riders keep fitness up during the winter months. As local Team ODZ endurance rider Thee Mow puts it, “There’s definitely something surreal about 4 a.m. suffering on Zwift, realizing you didn’t wake up in a bivy, you don’t have to clean your chain, oh, and you’re not racing the Cross-Washington Mountain Bike Route yet.”

The most drastic remedy to the Winter Blues isn’t available to all of us every year; I call it “Hero Dirt on Demand.” Also known as leaving the snowy Inland Northwest for a change in terrain.

Illustration of a cyclist carrying his mountain bike across a muddyl-colored river while a big-eyed alligator in the water and a green snake curled around a tree branch watch him.
Smash the winter cycling blues with a getaway to a warmer, snow-free ride or race destination. // Illustration by Justin M. Short.

Mountain bikers will take weekend road trips to rip west side trails such as Galbraith Mountain in Bellingham, Wash. Spokane MTB riders Frank Benish and Melinda Dupree, among others, made the epic mid-December journey to Arizona for the Dusk Till Dawn Mountain Bike Race. I drooled over their social media posts, wondering if my own far flung winter adventure plans would be cancelled by a new pandemic variant or a snowpocalypse.

In early February, I very luckily found myself dragging a bike through sand in sweltering 84-degree heat in the Everglades when a friend in Coeur d’Alene texted to remind me that I was riding in probably the only part of the country where it wasn’t currently snowing.

On February 5, I lined up at the start of the Huracan 300, a 362-mile adventure bikepacking race around central Florida, with what seemed to be hundreds of riders, but probably more like 100, from all over the East Coast, a few from Arizona, Utah and Hawaii, and one goofball from Spokane.

The route traverses at least a half dozen swamps and Florida’s high mountain peaks, the most punishing of which I discovered were absurdly long, flat-as-a-pancake stretches of barely rideable sand.

In Florida, sand is elevation. Let us not forget the 100+ miles of fun flowy singletrack mountain bike trails and several hours worth of bushwhacking through thick, scratchy palmetto scrub underbrush. Oh yes, and a waist-deep river crossing where some nice kayakers were happy to warn me about the 10 foot alligator swimming upstream.

This 45-hour odyssey on two wheels should keep me smiling until well after the peanut butter freeze/thaw cycle is finished in our beloved Inland Northwest.

Originally published as “Smashing the Winter Blues” for the Everyday Cyclist in the March-April 2022 issue.

Justin M. Short will be licking his numerous wounds as the weather and riding conditions improve at home in Spokane, but for some strange reason he’s already talking about racing the Huracan 300 again next year.

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