Friday, February 22, 2013

New Commute Challenges

Raccoon River bridge, Water Works Park, Des Moines, Iowa,  February 22, 2013.

Been an interesting two weeks.  I beginning to lament that my commute was shrinking from 12.5 miles per day to 2 miles.  The building I worked in for over 3 years is being leased away and everyone must be out by the end of March.  an opportunity jumped in front of me.  Swap accounts and take a promotion with more $$.  I do admit being hesitant about accepting it.  I did not want to sell my soul and purchase a car for the commute.  I checked it out first on bicycle to see if it was feasible.  After studying Google Maps and riding out there on a Sunday I agreed to give up my cozy 2 mile commute downtown to PFG and ride 12.5 miles one way to Farm Bureau in West Des Moines.

I did have my doubts.  No more messing around in the morning.   No more hitting snooze until road bike season begins.  Jokingly, I said that I accepted the job to end the drought.  This haunted me on first week.  Mother Nature tested my resolve in almost every way.

Monday was the best day of the week.  It was the warmest.  Not a bad February day.  On this, my first commute to FB, I took the trail all the way to Walmart and then rode on Buffalo rd until I reached 22nd.  Once crossed I continued westward on Westown Pkwy.  Closing in on 50th I got on the side path and crossed 80/35 and then I was at FB.  12.5 miles.  Simple route.  Too early to be a nuisance to cars.

Going home was different.  Too many cars to reverse my trek.  Instead I headed north out of FB and climbed the sidewalk on University to NW128th and then north again until I reached the Clive Greenbelt.  14.4 miles.  Simple.  Nobody was on the Greenbelt.  Nobody was on any trail for that matter.  Temperature was in the mid 20s.  I did see a fox near 7 Flags.

Tuesday morning greeted me with a strong 22 mph headwind.  I recall yelling at the sky as I rounded Walmart.  "Is that the best you can do?!!"  Not a happy camper but I made it on time to work.  Took the Greenbelt home after working 12 hours.  Once again, empty trail.  Even the fox avoided it.

Wednesday was the freezer test.  3F.  Never heard what the wind chill was.  Bundle up with my winter best and carry on.  Stiff upper lip albeit frozen stiff.  I concentrated on breathing through my nose.  Not only is this a good idea but helps keep the face mask dry.  The ride home was warmer despite working late again.  I did see one bike and one jogger on the greenbelt.

Only two bikes at PFG on Thursday,a fat bike and the Red Phoenix.  Notice the white on the  ground?  that is road salt that bicycles carry in from the streets.  For that reason I prefer aluminum bicycles in winter.  Cables and bearings and derailleurs can be replaced.  Frames cannot.

Thursday was my reprieve.  My old boss called me the day before and asked if I could work at PFG for the day.  Too many absences.  Sure, why not?  Thursday was Dooms Day according to the weather people.  Anywhere from 6 to 12" of snow predicted.  Would I be willing to give up a 26.9 mile commute for a 4 mile day and an opportunity to drive a large white high profile company truck in a blizzard?  After three years of driving this beast off and on with my perfect record why not roll the dice and help out my old friends.

It started snowing about 10 minutes before I loaded the truck from the call center for what I hope was the last time ever.  Traffic was slow and crowded.  I was nervous.  Once again no accidents but the bicycle felt comfortable and safe on the ride home despite the snow.  By the time I got home the snow slowed down.  Not quite the inch per hour they predicted.  I even rode an extra mile to B&B Supermarket for dinner supplies.

I have ridden on bad snowy days before.  Every year I do this a few times.  I have a safe alternative route to the call center on plowed streets.  But Friday I had to double that distance and ride in unfamiliar territory.  My sleep was not well but as usual on a day like this I get up and out quickly.  I pride myself in making it to work on time during bad weather.  Friday's ride was a new accomplishment.

I took Ingersoll, Grand, Ashworth, 50th and Westown Pkwy   No trails.  The snow on the trails would drop my speed to 6 mph.  I did not want to be out for 2 hours.  With the excepting of Ingersoll and Grand, I have never ridden on these roads.  Not during a snow storm either.

I was pleasantly surprised at the progress the city made clearing the streets when I rode through town.  Even the bike lanes on Ingersoll were clear.  West Des Moines streets were done very well.  I made it to work earlier than normal.  Parked the bike by the front door, unlocked, since FB will not put the bike rack out until snow season is over.  Mission accomplished!  11.2 miles!  I saved a mile.  Listening to Mary and Randy Kramer and spending time on Google Maps paid off.  Now I have a shorter route.

Getting to work on time is the most import thing.  Getting home the second most important.

Since the streets were clear by 5 AM it is a reasonable assumption to believe that the trails would all be cleared.  The trails connecting to Gray's Lake are often cleared early.  I gambled that Clive Greenbelt would also be plowed.  WRONG!!!!!!!!!  Not even passable.  Too many people walked on this trail.  Lacking a fat bike I struggled before turning back.

I took NW 128th south.  This side path was cleared, mostly.  I had to cut through several parking lots and businesses after reaching University before reaching the side path on Westown Pkwy.  Fortunately this trail was cleared even the section that crosses the freeway.  I salute West Des Moines for excellent work!

Having been burned by the Greenbelt, I turned south on 50th.  My plan was to reverse my morning trip.  Fuck the cars!  I am not a second class citizen because I choose not to drive a motorized vehicle.  And with this thought in my head I heard a voice cry out from a bar.  It was Wildman.  He knew I was going planning something stupid and strategically planted himself at a hidden hole in the wall tavern to talk some sense into me.  Bradley's is a small bar on 50th just south of the freeway.  Friday's Happy Hour special is $2 domestic bottles and $2.50 imports.  I drank 4 or 5 Stellas.

Wildman told me not to take Ashworth.  Too busy.  Instead take Woodland to Vine and cross 63rd at Muskogee.  The trail would be clear all the way to Mullets.  I followed this advice.  Traffic was good although crossing 50th was time consuming.

However the trail was not clear.  After reaching it and dealing with 5 phone calls and texts, I did the best I could to follow fat bike tracks.  It was slow going and I was angry that I did not get back on Ashworth after the majority of the traffic died out.  2 miles of hell.  I had to unzip my jacket and remove gloves and a hat.  Sweaty.  Never has the Raccoon River bridge looked so good.  It was plowed!   I flew to Mullets and crawled inside for a beer.  A well deserved and hard earned beer.  Another half mile I was home.  26.9 miles for the third time.  Strange.

Sunday night and Monday morning it is supposed to rain and then hit us with freezing rain.  I'll ride the blue bike with studded tires.  I really don't know what more Mother Nature can throw at me.  Too early for the fire test.  Snow, wind and extreme cold I conquered this week.  Bring it on, bitch.  You can't bring me down!

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