cycling · fitness · winter

The hour of the wolf (and the owl!)

I like the hour of the wolf. It sounds sexier and more poetic than “very early in the morning.” The expression comes from Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf which is quoted in The Case for Riding Ultra Early in the Morning.

The hour of the wolf is the hour between night and dawn. It is the hour when most people die, when sleep is the deepest, when nightmares feel most real. It is the hour when the demons are most powerful. The hour of the wolf is also the hour when most children are born.

But romantic imagery aside, there are very practical reasons for riding your bike early.

“The roads are empty and you’re free from impatient drivers. The sun is not anywhere near its maximum melanoma-inducing strength. On weekdays you get that ride in before work; on weekends you get the workout compulsion out of your system which means you can spend the rest of the day doing normal things with friends, family and loved ones who may have priorities other than cycling. Or, if you’ve managed to effectively ride all those people out of your life due to your obsession with bikes, you can always take a nap and then go out for another bike ride.”

I’ve written before about the allure of very early mornings and Sam craves early mornings but just how early?

I grew up as the child of bakers and so for me the associations aren’t with the outdoors and wolves but rather with early rising to bake bread for the day. My parents often were up at 4 and at work by 5 am. Sometimes I would want the family car and so I’d drive them to work and go nap in the school/university library. That was my preferred thing then in my pre-gym/fitness days.

Photo by Pixabay on

But to confess, in the winter, I tend not to want to leave the house until the sun is up and has taken the edge of the cold day. I’m even grumpy about about being up and around awake working in the very early dark mornings of winter.

I started to rethink it though after seeing these images on CBC. A Guelph cyclist on one of the trails shared his story about wildlife you can see early in the morning, Guelph cyclist advocates early morning rides after ‘awesome’ owl encounter. It’s video footage of an owl on the trail. One of the things I love about the fat bikes s how they quiet they are going over the snow. Birds and animals don’t seem to scatter away as I thought they might.

Video of the encounter was captured by the camera on Plunkett’s bike. (Tim Plunkett)

Lately I’ve been riding up some of the very steep hills on Zwift (10-14% grade) and there’s nothing like those hills to make 4% feel like nothing. I jumped into the snow, en route to the hot tub, and made a snow angel with my bare skin. After that the merely cool air felt okay. I’m wondering if I might be able to do the same acclimatizing myself to the dark. I still want to visit Norway in the winter, north of the Artic Circle.

How about you? How do you feel about the dark very early morning? Different in winter than summer? Like winter swimming, it’s a thing I’d have to work to get my head around.

5 thoughts on “The hour of the wolf (and the owl!)

  1. That’s great! I think I’m done with cold water swimming for the season (I get a neck cramp below 6 degrees and I don’t want to deal with the after-effects of that, which interfere with computer work). It did occur to me that *going outside* in this weather and getting the cold shock on my skin from the air is almost as good! And when you’re over-heated from exercise is definitely a great time to go for the cold shock of the snow itself (wish we had some!)–when you really want it. Your snow angel sounds awesome!

    I just came back from an early morning at the climbing gym, which all my climbing friends love, but I hate. I never, ever hate climbing, so this was a strange reaction for me. I was thinking the whole time I was there: if I’m up and about at this hour, I want to be outside! I want to see the sunrise!

    Headlamps just got a lot stronger in the last couple of years. I think I’m ready to start challenging my knee again with some sunrise trail runs. Many mornings you might find that the moonlight provides much more light than you would expect (or that’s been my experience since we moved out of the city 12 or so years ago).

    Just like “wild swimming” sounds so good, you can think of making “an alpine start.” Mountaineers start at 3 or 4 in the morning, in order to make progress before the mid-day sun hits the snow.

  2. I am not a morning person; an early-morning routine is never going to work for me. But I do enjoy it on special events; longer brevets often start at 4-6am to maximize daylight (and depending on how long it takes to get to the start, that can mean a 2am wakeup). Like Lynette, a special name helps; I tend to call it “brevet o’clock” even if I’m not going randonneuring.

    The dawn slowly coming up is lovely, and avoiding the summer heat is also great. (It’s even lovelier when you’ve been riding all night, either because it’s a very long event or an evening start the night before.)

    In the winter in the cold, though, I just don’t want to be out before or after dark; somehow it goes from pleasant calm to drudgery, possibly because I’m just generally not getting enough sun. Although I do look forward to being able to commute again post-pandemic; a little walking/riding that isn’t a big effort is a nice part of my mornings.

  3. I remembered last month on my 25th anniversary with my partner that I had hoped we’d spend it in Norway–in the very cold, with the northern lights, preferably on xc skis. Sigh. You reminded me again of that hope for another year. I have memories of starting the Canadian Ski Marathon in the dark with headlamps on, guided mostly by the tracks our skis were in. Super peaceful and engaged.

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