It began, as the best rituals always do, by accident. This was back in mid-April of 1997, before my wife was my wife. The sugarhouses were boiling their last pans of sap and the back roads were beginning to soften and rut up from the constant early-spring cycle of freeze-thaw, freeze-thaw. We'd lost some snow over the past couple of weeks, but the pack was still deep around our northern Vermont home.
The Saturday the ritual began was the first warm day of the year-by nine the sun had coaxed the mercury into the upper 40's. We'd been planning to ski, but the shaded snow was still frozen into large, jagged granules, and besides, there's something about that first warm day that makes you want to do something summery.
So we rode our tandem. If we hadn't needed sunglasses for the sun-on-snow glare, we would have needed them for the blinding glow that reflected off our winter-white legs. But God it felt good to expose those anemic appendages. We didn't ride far, perhaps 15 miles, all of it in a spray of runoff from the snowbanks and farm fields that lined the roads. We returned home after an hour with our legs and butts caked in road salt and cow shit and melted snow.
The ride was going to be it for the day. But as we rolled the tandem back into the shed, a pedal hooked my skis, which tipped and whacked me in the head. I've spent the majority of my 31 years ignoring the obvious, but this message was simply too plain to deny. So, without changing anything but my footwear, I strapped on my backcountry sticks, strode across our field, and turned down the rolling powerline chute that drops into the valley below our house. I briefly considered the ramifications if any of our neighbors-94 percent of whom earn a living by chain saw, cow, or heavy machinery-happened to be out on their snowmobiles and caught me skiing in bike shorts, but the whimsy of the moment caught up to me and I forgot to care. The snow had corned up perfectly during our ride, and I was able to lean hard into the turns, forcing my 203, double-camber Rossis beyond the limits of common sense.
Since that April day, I've pulled a double every spring. The conditions have not always been so kind. One year I pedaled up Appalachian Gap in freezing rain-my shins, toes, and fingers numb. Fortunately, by the time I was skinning up Mad River, the no-longer-freezing rain merely fell in heavy sheets down the nape of my neck. But the feeling of change, of honoring the season going and the season coming, has taken the double day beyond the boundaries of mere habit. I won't yet say it's sacred. I think I'll save that for when my infant son can join me.