Friday, March 21, 2008


This being the first day of spring (meteorologically speaking), what else would you expect than a day of driving snow?

I've been avoiding riding in snow all winter long.  If there was snow in the forecast or it had snowed the night before, I would drive in to work.  The problem (in my mind) wasn't the snow itself, but the effect snow has on cars.  Snow creates the illusion of narrowed lanes, pushing drivers closer to other road inhabitants.  Snow creates slippery conditions, sending multi-ton chunks of plastic and metal careening in random directions.  Snow inhibits visibility, making an already unseen cyclist even more invisible.  In short, snow makes for really crappy road commuting on a bike.

I looked out at the white flocked trees this morning, mulling over whether I would hitch a ride with the girls as they headed out for their errands.  The snow had only accumulated an inch or two, but was still coming down at a decent clip.  I knew the roads and trails would be slick, as the air temperature was barely cool enough to allow for accumulation.  I also knew that this was probably the last significant snowfall of the season.  If I drove in, I would have seven or eight months of snow free commuting ahead of me.

However, today is March 21st.  It's spring, dammit, and besides, I had never made this commute in snow.  Maybe it's really not so bad.  So I put on my gear, made sure my lights were operational and blinking away, and headed out.

It turns out there are other reasons not to ride in snow. 

It accumulates on gears and derailleurs, making shifting gears a tenuous process (on an already shot bike - my rapidfire shifters currently allow me the luxury of four gears to choose from, the internals in the rear shifter having broken one cold day).  This isn't as big a deal as most days, as I had to decrease my speed significantly to handle the slick surfaces, but was annoying on longer hills.

Snow pelts glasses, covering them in slush and dropping visibility.  Eventually I had to stow the glasses, as the moisture was just fogging up the lenses.  Once the glasses went off, I went snow blind every time I looked up.  Snow is slow and lazy as it descends, but once I was traveling over 7 mph, it began drilling my eyes at a frenzied clip.  Goggles are necessary for riding in an active snow storm, a lesson anyone who has ever descended a ski hill knows.

Snow is slippery for bikes, too (shocking news to most of you), and I ended up walking a hill where my tires simply couldn't generate the necessary traction.  It also makes braking on the road a harrowing experience, as you need a LOT of lead time to brake without ditching.  Getting a heads up is tricky when your eyes get sandblasted every time you look up.

Snow is wet.  It accumulated on every horizontal surface, including my boots, and managed to sneak through the layers of waterproof outer until the icy water hit my feet.  I didn't start noticing this until the end of the ride, but on a longer trek things could have gotten very uncomfortable. 

Most of these things could have been managed if I had planned and dressed properly.  And I have to admit - it was lovely on my ride, especially on the trails.  Next year I will ride in the snow, but I think I'll keep it off of the roads.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lena's Revenge

Many people anthropomorphize the natural world, perceiving human characteristics in non-human entities in an attempt to better understand them.  So you have people who think their car looks sad when it's dirty or people who believe their cat is a haughty princess that needs lobster in a crystal goblet to be truly happy*.  I am one of those people, but I tend to humanize things only when they piss me off.  I yell at my dog when he betrays my trust and eats half of the cat food, or yell at the grill when it stabs me in the back and runs out of propane halfway through cooking a meal.  I like to yell at things.  It's stupid, I know, but just taking the disappointment and transmuting it into quiet suffering is not my way.

Riding in winter is different than riding in summer for a lot of reasons, but one for me is that in winter, all I think about is The Ride.  In the summer my mind is free to wander a bit.  During the winter months, I think about the hills coming up, the ice I may have to ride over or avoid, I analyze every car's behavior and constantly check up on body parts to make sure they're not freezing.  This winter I also spent a lot of time thinking about Minnesota's voice.  I eventually settled on a middle aged woman with a pronounced Fargo accent; a Lena character (from Ole and Lena fame) who has the best intentions but is a little absent at times.  This is what I do for two hours a day, sad to say.

Yesterday I began my ride home excited about the warm weather.  It was nearly forty degrees, and the previous evening's ride was a blast.  I had felt like Lena was finally easing us out of winter, giving us a break from the relentless cold as spring approached.  So my heart broke a little when I covered my first mile and the sleet started.  Then the rain.  And finally, near the end of my ride, one of my cleat bolts detached, forcing a spectacular slow motion crash onto the side of the trail when I couldn't unclip from the pedal. 

Once over the humiliation of making a newb stop, I had a good laugh at myself.  And as I got back on my bike, limping home on one good pedal, I could hear Lena saying to me, "You didn't think it would be that easy, did you dear?"

*I'm just assuming such people exist.  Given the bizarre range of human behavior on display online, they statistically have to.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My Trail

Yesterday was the first truly warm day in March.  The temperature was in the 40s and the sun was shining, triggering the early spring flooding daily bike commuters love so well.  A winter of snow and ice mixed with salt and sand has begun to melt onto the paths and roads I take to and from work.  My bike has no fenders.  The predictable result is the entire front side of my body being coated with a layer of sand and saltwater.  My face is usually covered in grime as well, giving me a certain lunatic aura.  I expect riding conditions like this for the next week.

I've noticed that water is not the only thing flooding onto the paths - yesterday I ran across dozens of bikers, runner, walkers and strollers on my way home.  This is strange for me, as I'm accustomed to seeing one, maybe two bikers a day on my commute with the occasional hardcore runner.  Imagine spending three months on a series of trails virtually alone, then one day - literally in one day! - the population explodes by several thousand percent.

I don't really begrudge the new inhabitants of my trail, but I found myself a little bemused by their presence; it felt like they didn't belong on my trail.  The tall, colorful road bikes and hordes of power walking women all seemed so foreign, so out of place after a winter of solitude.  Part of me is happy to see so many people out enjoying the weather, and part of me misses the quiet of a cold morning. 

In a few weeks it will be normal to see the trails choked with bikers and joggers.  And next winter, the cycle will repeat all over again.