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Editorial: Up and over

Give or take a lingering blizzard or two, it finally seems safe to declare that spring has arrived in Minnesota.

The end of winter always brings a lot of activity: birds chirping; snow melting; North Dakotans sandbagging. Across the state people driven nearly mad by cabin fever are contemplating breaking out their shorts and exposing their pasty flesh to the outside world.

It's a well documented fact that Minnesota is 17 percent brighter in March and April, the result of glare off countless pairs of untanned legs.

For me, the arrival of warmer weathers -- and, more important, ice-free streets -- means the return of the outdoor bicycling season. I've gotten a slower start than in most years. The most significant thing I've gotten from the two rides I've squeezed in so far this year is a reminder that sporadic exercise during the winter is enough to keep a person in peak physical condition in much the same way shooting hoops every would get me ready to play lock-down defense on Kobe Bryant. Or Bear Bryant. Or Lane Bryant.

On Sunday I hauled my out-of-shape rear end through the wind and over 50 miles worth of hills. I made it home in one piece, but just barely. I spent the rest of the day watching NCAA basketball from the comfort of my couch. By which I mean I took an extended nap. And several ibuprofen.

I really need to get to work. My early-season riding is more important this year than it's ever been. Before, the only thing I needed to get in shape for this time of year was longer rides later in the summer. And if I'm slow on those all it means is that my riding partners have to wait. I can live with that.

This year is different. As I write this I'm less than three months from a family trip to France. There will be eight of us in Provence from June 16-27. That means 10 days of great food, beautiful scenery and relaxation. It also means mountains. Lots of mountains. Mountains that, for no rational reason, I'm going to bike up. Or, you know, attempt to bike up.

OK, strike the relaxation.

I'll never be great at riding up big hills, in much the same way Shaquille O'Neal will never be a successful trampolinist. It's a weight thing. The more you have, the more you have to haul up steep inclines. And as my father is fond of pointing out, no matter how light and high-tech your bike is, you still have to sit on it. At 6 and a half feet tall I'm never going to be a lightweight.

I'll just have to put my head down and put the bike in an easy gear and keep pedaling.

The Alps aren't really that much bigger than the hills we've got around here, are they?