Friday, January 29

Ramming Speed Friday: The Winter Commute Part III


I was always antsy after lunch when the weather was cold or looking to turn snowy.  Even when my schedule allowed me to leave the office at 4:30 darkness would fall as I was riding home.  But much of the time during winter the end of my day was at 5:30.  Darkness had long come and the cold temps had set themselves up in ambush for me along the route home.
I got antsy.  And no amount of reasonable discussion would affect my release from the cubicle sentence I found myself serving.  Only a couple of times did sympathy win out and I was allowed to leave early to beat the weather.  Official office policy was that it was my choice to ride my bike to work and therefore no concession need to be made for my well-being.
It was only sort of my choice.  My car wouldn’t pass emissions.  We couldn’t afford to replace it.  So I rode.
Running snow tires on the X
Maybe I was bitter.  Heck, I was pissed off!  That didn’t change anything once I rolled my trusty human-powered mode of transportation into the dark winter evenings to ride home from work across the western Denver suburbs.
The first part was always a fast downhill unless there was still significant snow or ice.  By the time I got into the streets of Golden I was typically a popsicle.  In fact, I was halfway home before the grade lessened enough that I could get my heartrate up and start warming my digits beneath their layers.
I dodged black ice.  I surfed fresh snow sometimes.  I almost always took the longer route that was 90% multiuse path to avoid the evening vehicular traffic during low visibility conditions.  Though I did come to appreciate the superior visibility provided by strong LED lights in darkness.  Still, I felt safer heading home far from the reach of work weary commuters in their big steel coffins.
 
There were always more people out in the afternoon/evening during winter along the path.  In the mornings it wasn’t odd to make my entire commute and not see another soul.  Most of the time at least a few people were out on my way home.  I never felt like there were enough people to be a safety benefit should I crash and hurt myself.  And crash I did!
A coworker once fretted that if I kept riding I might crash someday.  My response was: “I crash every day.”  And it was true.  I just kinda learned to take a fall on snow and ice.  It rarely hurt.  And with no other trail users around it was rarely embarrassing.
I’d pass into Wheat Ridge on the Clear Creek Trail and then I had options of when to bail from the trail onto side streets.  The best case was a little longer but only three-quarters of a mile of street riding from trail to my house.  It was a little busier road than the longer option, but for the most part it was mellow.  The busier streets usually had more exposed real estate to ride on in winter.
 
When finally I returned home to the Bikeport I had an evening routine of stripping the bike of all my gear, maybe putting down towels if there was slush clinging to all the components, and hanging up my layers to dry.  Sometime before bed (unless it was a Ramming Speed Friday) I’d gather up all of the things I’d need for the morning commute the next day and stow them in panniers or cargo bags.  I’d get the coffee pot ready and hang up clothes for the next day. 
It was a pretty good life being a full time bike commuter.  There were a lot of challenges.  And at times it was difficult.  When I was getting over a cold I had to bum a ride.  One morning I made it all the way to the bike path counting on it being clear and it had not been plowed as usual.  I tried to call in, but my boss came and picked me up at the park in his Suburban.  And there were just some days I ended up having to drive to work.  When my family stayed home from school and there was two to three feet of fresh snow on the ground it was nearly impossible to ride my bike no matter how determined.
I resolved that if it was too bad for me to ride in it then it was probably too bad.  I may not have been the most hard core bike commuter to ever ply the roads in the Denver area, but I was more committed than the majority.  It once took me two and a half hours to make my eleven mile commute.  That day it was safer to “ride” than to drive.  That day they should have closed the office.  I still beat most of my coworkers in.
I highly recommend winter bike commuting if you have a reasonable route and the right cold weather gear.  You don’t have to have a lot of expensive stuff.  You just need to be somewhat resourceful and determined.

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