It’s snowing here. And it’s icy. I discovered this the hard way as I biked home from the farmers’ market. On the way there it was a brisk, but dry, thirty-one degrees. On the way home it was wet, cold, and icy. I kept going anyway.

I like cycling in the winter. It’s one of the only reasons why I can handle Chicago in the winter. I don’t love the cold. For fifteen years, the amount of time I have been living in Chicago, I dreaded winter. From the first snow of the season to the first day I could go outside without zipping my coat up, I dreaded winter. I used to mentally count the days until spring. In November I would think, “It’s only 4 months to spring.” And “spring” to me meant the day I could walk outside and actually smell the dirt. You know, that wet, heavy smell that comes from the ground once the snow has finally thawed. And I mean, really thawed — for good, for the season. Until that moment, I hated winter. I hated the layers of clothing (which I often had to wear inside because my apartments tended to be under-heated); I hated the sub-zero wind that blew right through me despite the layers; I hated the ice on my car windshield. But mostly I hated it because I couldn’t be outside. I couldn’t go for a walk or ride my bike or smell the flowers.

But last year I decided I couldn’t spend another day hating something I couldn’t control. So, I started winter cycling. That means even in the cold, the sub-zero, the snow, the ice, I still bike everywhere. Of course, to achieve this, I had to do research. I googled “winter biking” and sure enough, there are people who love riding in the winter. And they have all kinds of tips. What kinds of clothes to wear (ones that are warm but breathe), how many socks, what kind of gloves, how to avoid frostbite (a real bummer). I researched until I had a list of things to buy and last November I went to a bike shop and bought all the stuff. And on one 19 degree day in December, I tried it all out. I went biking. And I liked it.

Hey, look at me, I thought. I’m outside and it’s freezing and I don’t care!

I had five layers on the top, two on the bottom, and the hands and feet were each in two layers. Once I started moving my legs and working against the wind I discovered that rather than being too cold, I was becoming — can you believe it? — too warm. It turns out that is the real trick of winter cycling: wearing the right clothes so you don’t get too hot as you pedal your bike.

When I began winter biking and moreover, winter bike commuting. (Yes folks, twelve miles, round-trip.) I discovered a whole new side of the city. A quiet side. Streets and buildings look different when they aren’t surrounded by people. Even the buildings settle into a winter quiet that shows off their windows, moldings, and detail. I also discovered a kind of hidden camraderie between winter bikers. At stoplights we nodded slightly at each other or smile. Hey, look at us. We rock. We’re outside. Look at those wimps in cars. It’s almost like Harley bikers who use that upside down wave, a hand outstretched, palm facing upwards, when they past other Harley guys. A little howdy that says, “Yeah, we’re in the club.”

So I biked today in the snow and ice … and it was awesome!

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