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Just how soul-sucking has this April been in Minnesota?

After another week of gray skies and cold weather, I asked some of the people participating in 30 Days of Biking: Was this cruel April just my bitter jaded imagination, or was this truly a horrible Minnesota spring?

Jake Scott, year-round cyclist: “It’s been crappy and rainy and the wind has been the most annoying part.”
Jake Scott, year-round cyclist: “It’s been crappy and rainy and the wind has been the most annoying part.”
Photo by Jake Scott

Since 30 Days of Biking began in Minneapolis in 2009, it’s become an annual tradition for cyclists around the world, a way to kick off the warmer season. And because it takes place in April, the month-long commitment is intentionally designed to challenge new riders to embrace the elements, as April in Minnesota is guaranteed to be a temperature roller coaster. 

As someone who’s been on a bicycle only a half-dozen times since last fall, based on my gloomy glances out the window, this April has seemed like a dreary, rainy slog. After another week of gray skies and cold weather, I’ve been wondering how the 30 Days of Biking cyclists were faring. Was this cruel April just my bitter imagination, or was this truly a soul-sucking year for a Minnesota spring?

Here’s what I found out.

A test of spiritual resilience

“This year has been just back and forth [and] we’ve experienced every type of Minnesota weather: snow, terrible rain, crazy wind, and on Friday it was an idyllic spring day,” Jake Scott told me. “On my bike ride home I saw dozens of people walking and biking. Today I biked on the same route and no one was there, it was so cold and drizzly.”

Scott bikes regularly from his home in St. Paul’s West 7th neighborhood to an elementary school in Minneapolis, where he teaches fourth grade. If he wants to fight with traffic, he’ll take the Ayd Mill Road bikeway into the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood; otherwise, he rides along the Mississippi River trails.

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But for Scott, like most April cyclists, this year has been a test of their spiritual resilience.

Great River Passage biking
Photo by Jake Scott
“It’s been crappy and rainy and the wind has been the most annoying part,” admitted Scott, a year-round cyclist who appreciates the solidarity of the 30 Days of Biking crew. “Even those below-zero days are not as bad, not as mentally exhausting as some of the weather we have this spring. You get a taste of the good weather and it’s whipped away and you’re back to being cold.… Everyone is just ready for the good spring weather and it’s not coming.”

This year is so bad that even Scott’s children have refused to join their dad on a cargo bike, save for the one warm April day that fell on a weekend. 

Meanwhile in Minneapolis

Jake Scott’s not alone in feeling frustrated. 

“You’re waiting and waiting for the weather to become nice, and it just doesn’t,” Kyle Goertz told me this week, describing his experience bicycling through April 2022. “Even if it’s nice and sunny, it’s been really windy. [So] it’s been a challenge, but I think the cool thing about 30 Days of Biking is that it forces you to find creative ways to get on a bike, even though the weather isn’t good.”

Goertz is in his mid-30s, lives in Northeast Minneapolis and sometimes bikes to his job downtown at a financial services firm. This year, dealing with the cold and wind, he’s been keeping his bike pledge with shorter trips to neighborhood stores or breweries.

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“If the weather is overly inclement I’m going to reward myself by stopping and having a beer somewhere,” Kyle Goertz said. “The highlight was last Thursday; it was super nice, and I actually got out and did 20 miles on a whim after I was done with work.”

Goertz’s other trick has been altering his routes to explore Northeast’s many murals on his new Surly Bridge Club, challenging himself to discover as many new ones as he can this spring. Even a short trip keeps the everyday bicycling streak alive, which is the whole idea behind the 30 Days of Biking challenge.

biking
Photo by Kyle Goertz
“There’ve been a few cold and wet rides, but I did them,” Goertz said. “One of the biggest things about biking more frequently is that, even though the weather is not always cooperative, if you’re willing to put up with it or dress right, it’s not a big deal.”

Introducing the Gloom Index

One final note: Curious about whether my negativity about this April was a reflection of meteorological fact, or something more subjective, I looked through the last 10 years of April weather. I came up with something I call the Gloom Index, meant to calculate how many days are particularly nice or particularly horrid. I assigned one point for every sunny day, one point if the temperature hit 60º F, and gave a bonus point if both those things happened simultaneously. Then I subtracted points for every day with rain or snow, or when the high temperature failed to hit 40º. 

To me, anyway, the results were surprising. This year’s April was only the third-gloomiest in the last decade, surpassed in bleakness by the bipolar April of 2018, when the weather was either quite warm or quite chilly. But the most soul-sucking April of the last 10 years was back in 2013, when the mercury never once hit 60º and it was legitimately cold for half the month.

The lesson here is a Minnesota truism: It could always be worse.

“St. Paul and Minneapolis have some of the most magnificent places to ride,” Jake Scott told me when I asked him if he had any last words of bike advice. “St. Paul has really opened a lot of nice new stuff in the last couple of years and makes it pleasant to ride around and support your local bike shops.”

There’s probably a bike in your garage right now, and the next time the sun peeks out from behind a gray cloud, you might consider putting some air in the tires. As they say, April showers bring May flowers, and the sun will come out tomorrow.