Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Biking in a winter wonderland!


A wintry chill is in the atmosphere,
As from the heaving lake the storm wind blows;
And weak-kneed brethren of the cycle fear
That brings the riding season to close.
Jack Frost assails us with his wicked thrusts;
Our polka-dotted mufflers are on guard
And many a good wheel in the basement rusts
Which should be speeding down the boulevard.

And shall we join the patient, suffering throng,
Which crowds the rumbling street cars to the door?
Which kicks against the service loud and long,
But keeps on riding as it did before?
Nay! Perish such a thought. On every street
The hardy wheelman has the right of way;
No ancient female comes to claims his seat;
No cable breaks, no lumbering teams delay.

Our hearts beat high, our life-blood dancing flows,
Though ice-flakes sparkle in the biting air;
While street-car heaters, every patron knows,
Are but a vain delusion and a snare.
The steed that bore us through the woods aglow
With sunshine, where the morning glories creep,
Will bear us safely through the mud-streaked snow
Until it lies at least five inches deep.

-PETER GRANT, late 1800's

My feet are blocks of ice.  My hands feel like there is sludge in their veins vs. blood.  My limbs are slow to respond to anything I ask of them.  My thoughts are foggy.  I think there is an icicle made of snot hanging from my nose.  Through all of this, there is a smile on my face--although you can't see it under the balaclava and layer of hoar frost.  It is winter in Wisconsin and I'm on my bike!
Am I crazy?  Maybe.  Am I happy?  The remaining unfrozen brain cells scream YES!.  Although this isn't my first choice of weather for riding, there is something to the saying "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger".  

My winter steed is a Surly Cross Check.  A bit rusty form the salt that coats Madison roads.  Definitely grimy--even though it gets cleaned frequently.  My normal winter gear consists of a balaclava, ski goggles when it's below zero to prevent my eyelids from freezing together, several layers of synthetic tops and bottoms, a wind jacket and wind pants, vapor barrier socks, winter cycling boots and Outdoor Research mitts.

Long gone are the days of 50 mile rides.  Now I gear up for commuting into work, running a few errands and partaking in the Madison Bike Winter events.  It usually takes me longer to get ready for the ride than to do the ride itself but most of the time I consider it worthwhile.  I feel like a kid out there after a few inches of fresh snow have fallen (my version of making freshies since I'm not skiing much anymore).  There are times I feel like giving up and those days I choose to walk.  When the sky drops a layer of ice on the road or six inches of slush I just don't feel safe biking anymore (in my old age I've either become soft or smart).  I'm not too worried about falling since I usually take a few spills each winter.  I'm mainly concerned about cars driving out of control or not giving me enough passing room.

Here in Madison there are some really strong feelings about winter cyclists.  In December 2007, Paul Soglin, stated in his blog "The bicyclists who braved the week's second storm should be taken out and shot."  Mayor Soglin, just "Paul" at the time, was referring to a snowstorm that dumped 5 inches on top of a recent 6 inch snowstorm.  The statement went completely viral in a matter of days.  I was getting e-mails from friends around the country asking me if he really said this and if he was crazy.  The only crazy thing is that he calls himself a bike advocate and claims he has done more for Madison's cycling infrastructure than any other mayor.  Of course after he received hate mail galore, his editor made a snide comment stating "Paul wrote this tongue-in-cheek- you know, a joke.  It's called hyperbole.  Don't get your undies in a bundle.".

O.K., so let's dissect this a bit since I biked to work twice that week.  Were they the safest conditions?  No.  But the roads weren't even safe for cars and the sidewalks/paths were impassible for days.  My work didn't close and if I wanted to get paid, I had to make my way in.  It's funny how Soglin stated that the paths he saw were meticulously clear.  I'm not sure where he was but the paths that I take were actually covered in slush/ice for a month following that storm (even after several calls to the city).  

So here we are, entering another winter bike season.  Soglin is once again mayor and the conceal/carry law recently passed in Wisconsin.  Although I love winter biking, a little bit of me wonders if my base layer should now be a bullet proof vest vs. long underwear.  
Me showing off my base layer at the Winter Bike fashion show
Another winter bike...this one in Madison
One of the bikes from the 2011 Arrowhead Ultra 
Markham explaining the importance of wind proof briefs

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