Friday, January 17, 2014

Triumph of the Bicycle

Turning off the trail I re-entered city streets once again.  It was a sharp turn onto a crappy road in need of repaving.  But the pavement was not visible now.  It just snowed 2" in the hour since I left work.  The worst snow storm I have witnessed.  A city truck was parked at the dead end.  To my right was Grand Ave.  Traffic was jacked and back.  Usual.  Does not take cagers long to mess things up.  Now the climb.

Walnut Hill Drive is a steep but short climb.  Since my Trek 520 has half step gearing I have to take it in granny.  That did not bother me.  The fact that there was 2" of fresh snow and it was still snowing and the bike had the same tires that rolled me through Ragbrai is what bothered me.  No issues thus far.  Toward the peak was a Mercedes Benz estate (station wagon) stuck.  Nose out on the street, ass up on a snow bank.  Tires spinning.  The driver's window was rolled down.  She did not look too pleased.  "Good luck," I greeted her as I pedaled by.  In retrospect I should have stopped and offered to assist.  But I was on a mission.  Anyone that drives a nice estate most likely has a mobile phone.  Even if I did get her free she would have gotten only a block.  Traffic on 59th was backed up too.  It had taken me over an hour to get this far, 6 miles at that point IIRC.  I rolled on thinking that it was raining as well as snowing.  I was on a mission.

Craig texted me at 10:55 am, "Nice to get missed by the big snow..."  I agreed.  National forecast called for the snow to hit up north, Minneapolis, Detroit.  Local forecast said snow showers.  Radar merely showed thin finger like blue globs.  Quick hitters.  But the wind was already here.  We watched that front come in earlier.

I left work about 3:30 pm.  I had an hour an a half to get to Boulevard Sports for a set of studded tires for the Trek 7.5 FX, my main winter warrior.  Also planned to use this visit to purchase a 15 lb bag of puppy food for Fritz.  His supply was low, did not want to make another visit.  That was my mission.  Take Westown Pkwy to Buffalo Rd, cross over to Wal Mart and hit the trail.  Take the Walnut Creek Trail to Grand Ave and climb up the hill behind McDonalds and work my way to Ingersoll Ave.  Polk Blvd to Chamberlain and thus the bike shop.  Sure, some climbs but minimal traffic in the early rush hour.

Today I am on the 520.  Its tires are a set of Kenda Kwest 700x35.  Perfect for Ragbrai but not made for snow.  The last time I was caught unprepared in snow was with the same bike with the same tires.  My alternative winter bikes have issues.  The FX has a flat tire.  It was flat when I left work yesterday.  I pushed it to the Kum&Go on University and filled it with air.  It got me home.  Never had to refill it.  Flat in the morning.  I had no desire to fix that flat and then change tires 12 hours later.  My Trek 920 with studded tire is also at home.  Rear wheel is totally out of whack.  I fear replacement wheel is needed.  I plan to strip the tire of of it and put them on Mary's bike.  So the 520 was chosen.  I hoped that the "snow showers" would be light non-accumulating flurries.  Wishful.

The snow was a light flurry.  Nothing to get excited about.  I was a gentleman and took the sidepath along Westown Pkwy to cross the freeway.  At 50th St I also behaved and walked the bike across the intersection and remained on the sidewalk until traffic thinned a bit.  Once on the road it was not difficult to notice that the snow intensified.  It was sticking to the street and piling up.  Snow was sticking to my glasses as well.  It was dark out.  Was that thunder??  Thundersnow?!?  Doomed.   Perhaps a return to the sidewalk is in order?  Yes, it is.  As I approached 35th it was a full blown blizzard.  Visibility was rapidly disappearing..  Stop and turn on all lights.  Clean my glasses for the millionth time.  I put my headlamp on backwards to provide more rear visibility.  If I cannot see,  cagers cannot see me.

Sidewalk ends so a short cut through Valley West Mall occurs.    Back on Westown.  Conditions worse.  Cars spinning out.  Can't see anything.  Get off the road before I get hit.  Sidewalk is hard to find..  Cross 22nd and enter Buffalo Rd.  I take the sidewalk across from Dowling so I can get the pedestrian light at 73rd and be on the side of the street that the trail is on.  Despite no issues from the tires, my brakes are worthless I Flintstone it down the sidewalk.  It works.  Hit the button and cross the street and hang a left to the safety of the trail.  Thank you Sweet Baby Jesus.  4 miles of hell I just rode and walked through.  Now I am safe from the cars.  At this point traffic though busy does not seem bad.

I stop underneath the shelter of the bridge and call Chris Mace.  On my way, please wait.  He assures me that he will be there.  It is now 4:15.  4 miles in 45 minutes.  Bad.

The trail is a paradise.  Soft white powder snow.  No traction issues.  The snow provided enough traction over the ice that the ice was not noticeable.  Unfortunately, I enjoy this for 1.5 miles before exiting to the street.  Mission man I am.  I am going to need those tires tomorrow.  Must keep going and get there before close.

After the encounter with the Benz I reach 59th and traffic is backed up something fierce.  I squeeze between a Dart short bus and a red sedan.  The driver of the sedan gets out to clear his windshield.  "Grand is backed up," I tell him.  Another driver asks how far.
"Don't know, I came here from West Des Moines via bike trail."
Sedan driver asked about the road I just emerged from.  Won't get you anywhere but in a line to wait to get to Grand I tell him.  Wierd.  Traffic is going to hell quickly.  Never mind their problems, must get to Boulevard Sports.  I think it is raining now.  Great.

Ice coated I climb up Ingersoll to Polk Blvd then take a right on Chamberlain.  I did say hello to a woman who was picking up the trash that fell out of her bin when the wind hit it.  Yes, strong wind from the NW with gusts up to 50 mph.  Another day in paradise.  Garbage day on Polk Blvd.

At 4:53 pm I reached Boulevard Sports.  mace informed me that they close at 6 pm.  An hour and seven minutes to spare!  Now he tells me.  He thought I knew.  And I did since I was here last week on the same night waiting for him to close so we could go to Jon Cox's birthday bash at Lot 33.  Read Only Memory.

Transaction completed, bike loaded and I am off.  Take the pedestrian bridge across the freeway, cross Ingersoll and Grand and enter Greenwood Park, roll past the swimming pool and take the Bill Riley Trail hoe.  It will put me with in  1/2 mile from my house.  Minimal interference from cars.  Good Plan.

Ingersoll was easy enough to cross.  Grand Ave was different.  Not difficult but odd.  Westbound traffic was at a standstill.  I dismounted and nonchalantly walked the bike across the road to the entrance of the park and then hopped on in full view.  Yes cagers, I am moving, you are not.  Someone in a late model car of generic Asian type was spinning its wheels all the way up out of the park. Not getting anywhere quickly.  Spin out tracks everywhere.  Transmission catching hell.  Mid-January and people still cannot drive.  Still refuse to put the proper tires on their cars.  Fools.

At last, the safety of the trail.  As I rode down it I saw a bicycle below me heading west on the Walnut Creek Trail.  I shouted hello and to my surprise he waited for me.  It was that wonderful feeling that one gets when battling the world alone and finally sees another fellow traveler.  He was heading to Beaverdale, the long way.  I forget why he did not take the NST but he said Cottage Grove was just as jacked.  Citywide cager paralysis.  We parted and I followed the tracks his cross bike left as the snow was getting deep and it was getting dark and the trail edges were beginning to disappear.  I was 5 miles from home.  4.5 of those were all trail.

After a mile and a few i reached the Raccoon River bridge in Water Works park.  Some cars were driving in WW.  Get the fuck out!  No time to view nature from the comfort of your Climate Changer.  Then the reason the cars were there became apparent.  Traffic on George Flagg Dr was backed up and standing still for the west bound vehicles.  These people were hoping that there was an exit in Water Works.  Not for cars.  For cagers, there is a loop.  Nice try!  Escape from Des Moines was turning into a nightmare for those poor souls.  Once again, dismount and weave the bike between cars on foot.

Somewhere between Waldinger corp and Fleur Viaduct I saw a dim bicycle light.  When my lights illuminated the reflective chevrons on his trousers I knew who it was.  David Lanham, my recommendation for Commuter of the Year,  He rides 12 miles or so everyday from Urbandale to the Capital.  We cross paths almost every morning and sometimes on the return commute.  He has ridden through the worst of it like me and Mary.  Another comrade.  Another patriot hero.  Looking up at the viaduct I saw that traffic was jammed again.

"Don't you wish you were driving tonight?"

"And they think we are stupid!" he replied.

 Indeed.  Sure, we are cold and sweaty and our average speed is taking a hit tonight but we are moving.  We are not stressing out.  We are not in fear of our lives.  Time for a laugh.  Time to shout YES!!!  Stupid, yes we are.  We parted.  Never enough time to talk in the morning or at night.  I felt a bit sad for him having to fight that headwind.  But the trail will protect him.  I fought it and lived in the morning.  Almost every morning lately it seems.  Good luck, Dave, God be with you!

Wind, my mighty foe.  The drifts were getting bad as the trail enter the south side of Gray's Lake.  But that stretch is short and trees are around the curve and will protect me until I reach the river bank.  Conflicting theories of what side of the trail I should be on when fighting the drifts.  Nothing too bad.  Keep going.  1 mile until home.  Confluence was tempting but I rolled on. Then I had an idea.

Mullets was approaching.  Why not roll in?  Enter the bar in my bike warrior clothing and order a shot of Fireball in front of everyone?  People will be like "My God, you rode a bike here in this snow?"  Jaws will drop low when I tell them where I began.  And jaws will hit the floor when I tell them that the bike is holding a 15 lb bag of Solid Gold Wolf Cub Large Breed Puppy food.

I parked underneath the patio.  It was difficult to unzip the front pannier to retrieve my wallet.  I smacked the snow off like the Union cavalry officer in the Good, the Bad and the Ugly did before arresting Blonde and Tuco as Confederate soldiers.  As I walked through the inner door to the bar the speakers played a familar drum beat.  Boom boom boom boombaboombaboombaboomba boom boom boom.  Then a synthetic bass line hit.  Blue Monday by my favorite band, New Order.  Perfect timing!  Now as a hardcore New Order fan and Lost Viking, I would have rather heard Temptation or Sunrise, Or the Perfect Kiss or almost any other NO track except Rock the Shack or ShellShock.  But Blue Monday is their biggest hit and the #1 selling 12" single of all time, any artist..  This could be a long night.  But I behaved and after the shot drank only 2 beers, Blue Moon and a Shiner Holiday Cheer, before suiting up and riding the 1/2 mile home.  Dinner and tire change,


The front tire of the FX was flat in the morning.  Installation error I hope.  Grabbed the other tube and installed it before taking my shower.  Thus, I lost valuable time.  I took the trail to work.  Snow still dry and soft.  Drifts not bad.  Wind sucked as usual.  Studded tires worked well and paid for themselves on that journey.  A bit stiff and not as comfortable as the tires they replaced.  but that's what they need to be.  I remember stopping a the light on 35th and Westown Pkwy.  My boot told me that it was slick and icey.  My tires said shut up.  I could not wait to get to work and ask them how their drive home was.  Probably not as fun or as epic as mine.

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