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Winter is coming

The road ahead is grimy, rain hammers the vaseline off my cheeks, think I can hear my knees start to squeak as the warmth of movement succumbs to the icy wet. I'm in a happy place. It's a strange thing —the body protests while the mind starts to clear. It's physics, of course. Opioid receptors getting their fix. Pain is gain. Or at least endorphins tell you that. But still; firing up that process takes a conscious effort. — I pass a guy in a yellow storm jacket. Hunched over but stoic, obviously used to beating winds and cloudbursts on a daily basis. That was me when I was a teenager. A 26 km commute, five days a week, weather or no weather. But there's always weather, isn't there? Just keep moving your legs until the shelter from the school's bicycle shed lets you open your eyelids far enough to make out the contours of your fellow riders' dripping backpacks and winter coats. We carried our soggy gear through the long linoleum hallways until the wet dog smell could no longer be distinguished from the sticky armpit odour of Them: the Bus-takers. The ones that got off easy. But also the ones that would never be as resilient as Us Cyclists. — The guy doesn't even spare me a look. Why would he; weather like this cocoons you. The world around you shrinks to the size of a shower cabin with one of those fancy rain shower heads. No sight, no sound, other than the torrential downpour. I shift my weight slightly, making the chamois of my winter bib ooze out cold drops of rain that weren't close enough to my body to warm up. No asssaver to hold off this wet attack. I could take the next right turn. Be warming up a pot of pasta before I could even say chamois one more time. But I don't. Grey city towers disappear in even greyer clouds behind me. Straight ahead for another hour or so. The why is playing around in my head. Resilience. Is that even a useful trait in a modern world? And if it is, was I taught this by cycling 26 km daily for six years in a row? Did I get something out of it then that was worth all the effort? Or did I just want to believe it was teaching me something valuable? Is that the reason it makes me happy now? — I pass another cyclist, a car speeds by. The shower nozzle switched from downpour to drizzle. And I didn't even notice. It's that. Emptying my head. Getting rid of all the conscious thoughts for a while, opening up space for nonlinear reverie. It might be physics but it works wonders. And it's these cold, lonely, hard-fought rides that hold most of the magic. Winter is coming, and I can live with that.

Words & photography by Lian van Leeuwen


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