Happy Spring Equinox! Yesterday we got about 6" of wet snow. As you might imagine, our New England winters can be wicked (a uniquely New England modifier) L – O – N – G. It takes a certain amount of naive  optimism to get us through the home stretch, because Mother Nature loves to mess with us. So we look for signs of Spring wherever we can find them. Give us get a reasonably nice day (bright sun, over 40° F, or one out of two), and we’re convinced that Spring is just around the corner. Like crocuses cautiously sticking their heads above ground, New England cyclists cautiously start to show our faces in February and March. Our internal clocks sense the day is approaching when neon-clad riders will suddenly emerge on the road, adding cheerful bursts of color to the long dormant landscape.

Meanwhile, I decided to chronicle some of the beauty of our not-quite-spring season around Easy Rider’s headquarters of Newburyport, Massachusetts. I got this urge when a surprise snowstorm dumped a foot of snow on us about two weeks ago. After shoveling out, I went for a cross-country ski.

cross country skiing at Maudsley State Park

Winter scene at Maudsley

off-season training for cyclists

Cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing are a great way to get ready for biking season. You get warm fast, and can’t help but notice the beauty of winter. Above: Maudslay State Park in Newburyport MA.

Two days later I was out for a bike ride! In New England, spring can't be far off if you can go cross-country skiing one day and biking the next, right??

Winter biking in New England

Understand, I’m not one of those fanatical cyclists who bikes all through the winter; come rain, sleet, or snow (one local Boston rider gained almost legendary status by riding a century every month for 18 years). However, one of the wonderful things about living in New England is feeling like you're in tune with the changing seasons. So when I start to notice metal buckets hung on the sugar maples in anticipation of their flowing sap, it starts to get my adrenalin pumping too! 

Good signs for cyclists: maple sugaring, swelling tree buds, ice breaking up on the Merrimack River

collecting sap to produce maple syrup   signs of spring - swelling buds

ice floes on the Merrimack River

Fortunately, our local bike club, the North Shore Cyclists, has a group of friendly riders who get equally inspired by these subtle signs of Spring. We bike a 27-mile loop every Sunday if there’s not too much snow or ice on the road. It was 28 degrees last Sunday but we still had a great time. The trick is to wear light layers and a windproof shell to trap air around your trunk, keep your knees warm (knee warmers under 1 or 2 layers of tights) and protect your feet, hands, and ears (neoprene booties over bike shoes, mittens and liners over bike gloves, earmuffs and lycra beanie under helmet).

Winter riding with the North Shore Cyclists

One of my favorite local rides loops across the Great Marsh in Newbury MA. It’s fun to observe the change of seasons on this peaceful back road (near the 250 year-old Governor’s Academy prep school). The winter afternoon light on the marsh is gorgeous. Twice each day there’s a high tide, which can lap onto the road, especially if there’s a full moon following a storm. In early summer, the marsh turns into waving fields of marsh-grass, magically guided by the wind’s unseen hand.  

biking past the Great Marsh in Newbury MA

Pay attention to the birds! Lately on my rides I've been hearing another harbinger of spring, the "konk-le-reeee" of the red-wing blackbird. Watch for their flash of red when they take flight. Out for a walk in the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge we spotted a magnificent barred owl. This in-between time of year is their courtship season. The Wildlife Refuge is on nearby Plum Island, an 11-mile long barrier island of fragile dunes which has been in the news a lot lately. During the recent nor'easter, two more houses were toppled over by the powerful ocean waves. Fortunately more than half of the island belongs to the Wildlife Refuge, which is better suited to the shifting forces of nature. In a couple more months, Plum Island will have its colorful spring warbler migration.  

Barred owl, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Hellcat Swamp Trail in the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

All of these locations can be visited on Easy Rider Tours' New England bike tour in July and September, or on our self-guided New England bike tour offered May through October. For now, we thought you might enjoy seeing them in a whole different light!

Jim Goldberg
Easy Rider Tours

sign welcoming New Englanders to Sanibel Island FL