I rode to a committee meeting this morning, after a light dusting of snow and plummeting temperatures last night presented me with streets that had icy patches all over the place. When I left the house it was an unusually cold [for Portland in November, anyway] 25 deg F. I found a slower-but-steady pedaling tempo and managed to make it to my meeting only a few minutes late after what felt like a pleasantly bracing ride. A co-worker who lives only blocks from me didn't make it to the meeting; apparently he was uncomfortable riding his skinny-tired bicycle on icy streets.
The temperature never got above 30 degrees all day. The pot-pie place down the street was so busy I had to get my lunch to go and eat it back at the shop. The air stung my cheeks. When it was time to go home, the same multiple layers of wool covered by a shell were suddenly no longer sufficient to keep me warm while riding -- and with the fall of darkness, my ability to see plummeted with the temperature.
I've had night-vision issues since I was a teenager, a non-intestinal manifestation (yes, they really call it that) of what would later be diagnosed as Crohn's. My night vision has gotten slowly and progressively worse over the years, but this was the first year that I noticed just how bad it had gotten. Roads I used to ride comfortably with ambient glow of street lights now became downright scary -- and with the icy patches that had never melted from this morning, those same streets were now absolutely nerve-wracking to ride. The glare from car lights only made things worse; glare blinds me at night, sometimes for up to five whole minutes until my eyes have readjusted enough to see again. The ice was still there, only now I couldn't see it.
So tonight, instead of a full commute, I rode downtown (taking the sidewalk on the Burnside Bridge because the bike lane was apparently completely covered with black ice). I hopped a MAX train to the light-rail stop closest to my house, still a good two mile ride from home. I wobbled nervously and felt my back wheel skid out from under me a few times in an icy patch I didn't see before rolling over it. Each time I would put my foot down to keep from falling. Then I would resume pedaling, peering vainly into the darkness of the next block and hoping another car wouldn't come from out of nowhere and blind me again.
I slowly made my way, carefully riding over the largest icy spots I couldn't safely thread my way around, until I finally arrived at home pretty much a nervous wreck -- and a sort of sad one. Because tonight I know that I will need to come up with some new transportation strategies, modifying my choices little by little as the aging process begins to get in my way. I am not depressed, exactly, but still sort of sad. I am my father's child, not someone to grow older gracefully but to go down fighting, screaming and shaking my fist in indignation at a world and a life where getting old may be part of someone's plan, but certainly not part of mine.
I can still ride at night, to be sure; in fact I can probably still ride home most nights of the year, especially if it's dry. I just can't ride every night anymore -- not on the icy, howling gale, or rain-stormy nights, not comfortably, not confidently and therefore not safely. So a small but powerfully perceptible piece of my fierce independence is changing, shrinking a tiny bit. And that is just one of those things that I knew was coming, but the knowledge doesn't make me feel much better.