20 commutes in 2020 — #2: Unseasonable warmth.

It was 60 degrees in February, a perfect opportunity to make the most of the waning light of the day by riding my bike home. I got to work early and managed to leave at 3:30, squeezing in some time pedaling in full sun before it got low on the horizon. The clothes I’d brought to ride in left me considerably overdressed for the first hour. I opted to not even wear my tights, instead sporting only my thin liner chamois shorts with winter boots — high fashion, I tell you.

I went a different route than last week, entering the forest at Tussey after taking a slightly longer way through town to make the most of the sunshine. People were out in full force. Not surprisingly, I saw several other cyclists on Linden Hall Road. My thighs turned slightly pink, a reaction to them seeing their first rays of sun in months. But people were still skiing at Tussey Mountain.

In the bathroom at the Galbraith Lot, I put on my tights. In the forest and out of the sun, the temperature had dropped noticeably, and I was glad I’d brought all the clothes that I did, silly as it had seemed just an hour ago. I ate half of a sandwich as I pedaled up Bear Meadows Road, which was becoming increasingly slushy, more so that I’d expected. Maybe it was dumb to swap my studded tires off this bike?

I smelled cigarette smoke, a strange scent in the forest. A couple up ahead was walking their dog, the man smoking. I passed with a nod of my head. Another group of young men was hanging out at the natural area parking lot. They waved and said hi, and then I was ascending the final stretch of the climb, out of the busy State College side of the mountain and into the less-traveled, peaceful Stone Valley side. Where I belong.

On the final switchback, I wasn’t able to keep traction in the slush and had to walk briefly, still amazed at how much snow was still up here despite how warm it was. I also kicked myself for forgetting my fenders. I’d put them out on the porch specifically so that I’d remember to bring them. The wet gravel grit permeated everything.

I took a quick detour to the Wampler Vista, one of my favorites in Rothrock, and probably ever. The expansive layers of mountains and trees and nothing else inspires awe every time. It was just about sunset, and the mountains were turning shades of purple. I timed it perfectly.

I was almost to Alan Seeger when I saw a couple running up the road towards me. They were flagging me down. I stopped and pulled the buff down off my mouth. They asked how to get to Bear Meadows Road.

This is Bear Meadows Road.

Well, but — where’s the parking area, with the rhododendrons?

I paused for a moment. There are rhododendrons everywhere in this forest.

We’re parked by Tussey, they finally said. Which way do we go to get back there?

This road goes back to Tussey, I said, but it’s a ways…

We know, they replied. Aside from their lost sense of direction, they seemed fine, and they convinced me several times of such as I probably continued to give them a skeptical look.

Thank you! they exclaimed at me as they ran off.

I hope they made it back alright.

I was cold now, but didn’t feel like stopping again to put on my vest. I had less than an hour til I’d get home, and the descent was over so I’d probably warm up.

The last light was fading in the sky as I crested Weiler Road. Gorgeous. 5 flat miles and 20 minutes later, I was home.

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