The Last Chance Of The Year

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There is a saying that “old habits die hard”.  This is possibly an overstatement, and it might not apply to everybody.  But it is a powerful statement of inertia that applies to a large segment of the population.  A major stress factor, such as the discovery of a new food allergy or the loss of a job, can change people’s habits rapidly and decisively.  However, in the absence of some kind of major push, most people’s habits will change slowly or even not at all.  It is for this reason that bad habits like watching too much TV, engaging in frequent unprotected sex with strangers, and even smoking can persist for decades.

I would not consider the habit I am referring to as a bad one.  It is mostly just annoying to some people around me.  It all started in the 8th grade when I became somewhat obsessed with football.  A typically Sunday for me that fall I would not only watch a couple of NFL games, but I would also watch the pre-game show at 11 A.M., as well as NFL Primetime at 6 P.M.  On any given Sunday, I’d watch as much as 8 hours of football!

This also caused me to put off too much of my schoolwork.  Then one November weekend, I suddenly realized that I had a major Science project due and I was running out of time to complete it.  That Friday evening, I came home from school knowing that I would have to scramble to finish this project on-time, and calculated that I would have almost no time for anything else that weekend.  My parents were disappointed in me, and actually feared that my grades would suffer because of it.

That weekend’s weather was especially nice, with high temperatures reaching 70 on Sunday.  Sometime on Sunday my father reminded me that this would probably be the last 70-degree day until April.  As a weather tracker from a young age, this was a fact that I was already well aware of.  But, it was something I had not been thinking about through all of this.  At this time, my father was just trying to be a good parent, and inform me that procrastination had consequences.  But the sudden reminder, that it would be at least three, and up to five months before weather like this would return prompted me to go outside that minute, even though I knew all I could afford was a 10-15 minute break from my work.

The previous winter was my first in Illinois, and it was quite harsh!  Not only had I just moved from Long Island, New York, a place with milder winters, but that winter was harsh for Chicago area standards too!  Temperatures were significantly colder than their long-term averages, particularly in January and February.  I recalled seeing a snowpack persist for over five weeks, something I had never seen before, and school was closed a couple of days due to extreme temperatures (below -20).  It was quite a shock for me, and something I did not enjoy.  Feeling that fresh air, and knowing that these ten minutes would be all I get for such a long time made me regret my obsessive watching of football in a way I had never regretted anything before.  It was that day that I realized that I cared significantly more about activities that I personally participate in than watching professional sports (or anything on TV).  I did not completely give up on watching professional sports that day.  But, since that day I’ve have had a clear understanding of where my priorities lie.

The winter that followed would be modestly mild for Chicago standards.  But, it was still colder than the ones I remembered in New York, and there were still very few days warm enough to be enjoyable for outdoor activities.  It was enough to cement in me the lessons I learned that November day.  I would spend seventeen more years in the Midwest, in either Illinois, Indiana, or Wisconsin.  Only one winter season would be more oppressively cold than that first one (and I was in Wisconsin- a colder place overall).  Many of the winters would be milder, some significantly milder.  Still, I would rehearse the same pattern every fall.  Starting around Halloween weekend, any day where temperatures were projected to reach the 60s or 70s would basically sound an alarm off inside of me.  I would start planning ahead of time how to take advantage of these particular days, and bill it “the last nice day of the year.”  Sometimes, I would even have some “false starts” in this process, where I would be prompted to enjoy “the last nice day of the year” only to have another stretch (or even two or three) of warm weather occur before winter set in.

Now that I live in Denver, this practice is not necessary.  Not only do sunny and mild days occur quite frequently in the middle of the winter, but winter is one of the most exciting times to be in Colorado- due to skiing.  But, we are also not in an ordinary weather pattern.  Today’s highs will top out somewhere between 60 and 65.  But, after this, an abnormally prolonged period of cold weather is expected in Colorado.  It might even be too cold to ski, as highs between 10 and 20, and lows below 0 are anticipated for Denver.  It will be even colder in the mountains!  So, that alarm in my head triggered me to take advantage of this day as if it were the last chance I would have this year to go on a bike ride, which I did.

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Of course, one of the challenge in taking advantage of the last nice day of the year is that in November and December, the days are quite short.  Today I also had an added time constraint, as I knew the winds around Denver would pick up around noon, making bicycling much more unpleasant.  So, I stuck to a much simpler ride, down the Cherry Creek Trail to  Cherry Creek State Park, a 25 mile round trip.  Most of the ride is flat, or slightly uphill on the way out and slightly downhill on the way back.  The first major terrain feature is a large hill near Kennedy Golf Course, which is followed by the climb up to the reservoir.

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The Cherry Creek Trail is one of the best trails I have ever ridden!  It follows the river, through all of the underpasses, and avoids nearly all traffic lights.  This makes it a perfect way to get somewhere quickly on a bicycle.  There is some terrain climbing up to Cherry Creek State Park, but overall, the ride here only involves three “climbs”, and each one is only a couple of hundred feet in elevation.  Therefore, this would be a great ride for people who are only in moderately good shape, or not looking for a major challenge.

It will be too cold for bicycling in Denver to be enjoyable for at least another week and a half.  But, in all likelihood, this was not my “last chance of the year” to ride.  Therefore, I probably did not need to be too concerned about taking advantage of today’s weather.  However, I am also not seeing any negative consequences in taking advantage of a day like this.  I did not miss out on anything important, and everything I need to work on I can complete in the later part of this week when the weather turns awful.  So, this old habit is going to “die hard”, and probably won’t change much until it leads to a poor result.

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