This would have come in handy...
As my co-worker asked with sincere concern in his voice, “Is there some point where you decide it isn’t smart to ride?” After a brief but awkward silence I tried to answer with a hint of knowledge in my tone while at the same time conceding I had just done something foolish. “Yeah, when it gets like this you shouldn’t ride,” I confessed.
While it can be said that bad decisions often lead to great stories, sometimes they just lead to pointless suffering. No great story here, just cold hands and a hint of shame.
After a long holiday weekend of riding fat bikes and skiing in temperatures in the teens I was not about to let temperatures just below freezing stop me from bike commuting. I had already made two or three commutes with temperatures in the twenties so I figured this would not be a big deal. I was wrong.
My bike commute to work stays on lightly travelled side streets for the first half of the trip before hitting a bike lane on a busy road. I was having a great ride looking up at the stars and singing quietly to myself. I saw folks scrapping the ice off their windshields and was glad I didn’t have that chore this morning. It was cold, but I was warm and all was good.
Then my route ventured out onto a busy road that has a nice wide bike lane. We had been at the cabin when the Puget Sound received a token snowfall last Friday but I wasn’t paying attention. I had no idea there would be ice in the bike lane. After a couple miles where there was ice only in the curb half of the bike lane the ice took over the whole bike lane.
Not my photo, but you get the idea
I stopped and considered my choices: 1) Ride on the icy bike lane and assume that if I go down I will be squashed like a grape by a passing bus. 2) Ride on the sidewalk where the snow had been trampled down so while lumpy, it wasn’t glazed over with ice. 3) Ride out in the road and hope traffic would go around me rather than tailgating me so that if I did fall the last thing I would hear would be automobile tires sliding on ice whilst heading for my head. 4) There was no fourth option. I was twelve miles into my seventeen mile commute. I had a morning meeting.
At this point I put the “Pro” in “Profanity.” Fortunately my riding collar was pulled up to muffle my mumbled words.
I chose to ride mostly on the sidewalk and venture out into the bike lane when the ice didn’t cover the whole bike lane. As I made my way gingerly on the bumpy sidewalk I grew colder. Because I was forced to go slow I couldn’t generate much body heat and my poor choice in gloves this day was dramatically exacerbated and my hands were slowly turning into meat paddles. My ride now had the feeling if a story from “Accidents in North American Mountaineering.” I used the old woodsman trick of windmilling my arms to force blood into my hands but I knew I was fighting a losing battle. Wildly swinging your arms while riding on a slippery surface is just piling on to an already bad situation.
I hadn’t fallen and contemplated making a deal with the devil to ensure my safe passage. Years ago I would have made a deal with God, but I found out just last year God was in fact working against me. In a 2013 Cyclocross race I battled against a rider trading places back and forth the last two laps. On the last lap he gapped me on a loose corner and in spite of my hard effort he held it to the finish. After the race I congratulated him and he said Jesus had helped him that day. I felt pretty screwed when I found out that Jesus was trying to make me lose. It was, however, an answer that explained a lot in my life. Now that I know God is (and has been) working against me, I’ve started making my deals with the devil and so far it seems to be working just fine.
I made it to the office without crashing and after a hotter than usual shower I regained feeling in my hands. I discarded my usual bravado and when asked how my ride had been. I responded truthfully. “It was pretty bad.” I hoped the day would warm enough to melt some of the ice for my evening ride home.
In an effort to feel warm I drank so much coffee my ears began to itch.
Looking out a window from my office I spotted a patch of ice that I decided would be representative of the bike lane on my route home. I checked it during the day and noted only a hint of improvement. I employed Google Maps for alternate routes to the bike lane and found a contrived maze of side streets that would keep me away from the Polar Express.
When it was finally time to punch the clock I changed clothes in the phone booth and loaded my bike for the evening adventure. I had written out a Cue sheet. Yes, it was in a very large font. I’m no longer a young man. Thanks for highlighting that and reminding me of another of my many shortcomings.
It was a few degrees warmer and with a higher cadence I was able to keep almost all of my hands warm. Only the tips of my fingers were cold. When I started on my “snow route” everything looked promising. Following my directions I turned left, stayed right then took a right turn. The road was ice from curb to curb. I chose what looked to be the best line and pedaled smoothly. My real wheel slid a bit but I stayed upright. I just tried to stay smooth.
Still not my photo, but it captures the feeling...
The snow route had almost no traffic but in places the roads were icy. When I was fully past the fire swamp and had no more fear of R.O.U.S.’s or ice, I relaxed, resumed my singing and had a pleasant ride home. My diversion took a full twenty-five minutes longer and when I hit the doorway of Casa de Evo I was hungry.
Hottie had spaghetti cooking and before long I was clean and warm with a full belly. Hard to believe I can keep thinking I know better yet I still find myself doing stupid things.