Thursday, January 28

Lowering the Barriers: The Winter Commute Part II


The alarm goes off.  I don’t need to look outside into the darkness and try to see what the weather conditions are.  I went to bed with the forecast burned into the surface of my brain.  It’s cold out there.  I can hear the wind.
 
“Do you want me to drive you?” my wife mumbles from under the blankets.
“Nah, I’ll just ride,” I reply, and drag myself out of the bed.
My clothes hang in the bathroom.  But first I hike into the kitchen and flick on the coffee maker.  I return to the bathroom and begin piling on the layers.  I have a thin base.  I put on two layers of socks, a polypro undershirt and tights.  Over that I pull on a t-shirt and cargo pants.  My wool button-up is draped over my bike behind the couch in the living room.
The coffee stops hissing as I sit down at the kitchen table to pull on my light hikers.  I pour the coffee into a Klean Kanteen, snug down the screw on lid, and tuck it into the cargo bag on my Xtracycle deep into the down coat that’s already there.  The coat provides a little extra insulation and keeps the coffee totally warm despite the sub-zero temps outside.
 
I pull on the wool shirt, yank a thin balaclava over my noggin, and snap on my helmet.  Last are my gloves.  I have a pair of thin liners with a medium weight pair of Windstopper fleece gloves over them.  With that combo I have pretty good dexterity for shifting and breaking while keeping my digits relatively warm.
I don’t need to check my lights.  They were charged the night before and are already on the bike.
I carefully roll the bike to the door and wrangle it into the predawn darkness.  The cold bites at my cheeks right away.  No other skin is exposed.  Once outside I pull ski goggles over the whole mess leaving no exposed skin for the wind to burn.  It’s ten below zero and I am heading out for work on my bike.
The wind is not in my favor.  It never is.  But I am in good shape and it’s not gale force at least.  I know where the patches of ice lay in wait and easily avoid black ice and lingering piles of snow and slush that are frozen until the sun hits them alter in the day when they will reform into new and exciting shapes.
 
Traffic is light and I make my way easily to the long lane that parallels the railroad track.  I can easily make out where the city/county corporate boundary is.  The road is a priority for one but not the other.  Two miles pass on the road with a stout headwind.  By the time I enter the park and approach the multiuse path my core warmth has started to spread into my extremities.  I know the window of pleasant warmth before The Sweat is small.  Once I really start climbing up into town I’ll begin soaking my baselayers.
There is a long straightaway between the mesas on the path.  I call that stretch The Wind Tunnel because the wind out of Clear Creek Canyon from the mountains is always fierce and cold.  It slams full in my face and threatens to stop me dead in my tracks.  I keep pedaling until I find some shelter in the lee of the highway.  I’ll get a reprieve until I pass through the trail tunnel and come out on the west side back into the full force of the Wind Tunnel.
The Wind Tunnel on a cold but snowless day
I miscalculate a turn and my rear wheel sinks suddenly into soft snow where I thought there was path. The edge of the concrete path caught my wheel at an angle and I fail to remount.  Before I can react I’m down on a shoulder and hip on the ice of the path.  I stand up, drag the bike upright, and shove off toward work.  Once I’m moving again I run a diagnostic on my systems.  Seems my clothing took the brunt.  My shoulder is less than numb and I know there’s no permanent damage.  The ice and slow speeds play in my favor. 
At the end of the Wind Tunnel there is a steepening climb to a bridge over the highway, and then another stretch of climbing to the high point of the Clear Creek Trail.  On the return—under warm blue skies—I can easily hit 35-40 mph on the descent.  At the top of the first climb just past the bridge I stop at what looks like a rest area along the path.  I snap a photo of the brightening landscape to the east.  Then I get back on the bike.  I’m only starting to sweat.
I make the apex a few minutes later and really begin warming up.  There’s a nice downhill to the icy and treacherous Tucker Gulch Trail, but I avoid it and jump over on the well-plowed streets.  I cut through town and pick the path back up in the park. 
Tucker Gulch Trail
All that’s left between me and a shower and then a day in the cubicle is a few hundred feet of elevation gain from Clear Creek to the JeffCo government center at 6,000’.  The first hill is a bear but short.  I cross Lookout Mountain Road and fight speed on the descent before the last long slog up to the building.  It’s long, maybe a mile, and too steep to ride on the snow.  I’m-a walkin’.
By the time I roll up to the lower level entrance and swipe my ID I’m a sloppy mess under my synthetic layers.  I whip off my balaclava and gloves and stow them in my cargo bags as I roll the bike through the empty halls to the elevator.  I’m dripping sweat but my face is numb from the cold. 
I leave the bike in my cubicle and gather my clothes from where they’ve hung since Monday.  I hike back downstairs to the locker room to shower and start my day.
Part III will take it all home.

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