Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Frosty Helmet

The first major snow.  At the beginning of my hell on the trail.  If you look carefully you will see a ball tossing stick on top of the kiosk.

I love those three words in that order.  They describe the inside of my helmet when I get to work after an hour and a half commute at 20 below zerex during winter.  It would make a great title for a blog about winter bicycling.  Hence this post.

It has been a wonderful winter.  Usually winter weather descends upon Iowa in late autumn and makes outdoor life miserable.  But the El Nino held the jet stream north and allowed for a warmer than average late autumn and early winter.  There have been only 2 or 3 significant snow events in Des Moines but they were cleaned up quickly.  As for the temperatures, only one major drop that made life miserable and that was last weekend and the temps have rebounded.  Perhaps we will survive.

Todd's Surly Krampus and my Trek at work.  Sometimes there is a late 80s vintage Specialized and one other bike here during winter.


A few inches of snow fell on the Monday after Christmas.  We enjoyed a four day weekend and needed to return to the land of employment.  The forecast called for snow but it was not snowing when we left.  Mary and I took our bikes with the studded tires.  It was also the first time in several weeks that we were able to take the Bill Riley Trail to and fro work.  Water Works Park and this trail had been under the flood waters of the Raccoon River and Walnut Creek for weeks after the river received over 4" of rain in late November.  Now according to a post on FaceBook the water was gone and bikes could get through the low spot on the trail, the rail trestle over Walnut Creek where it floods first.

The trail was free of water but loaded with frozen or dried mud loaded and rutted by bicycle tracks and boot prints from those that investigated the flooding.  The city had not cleared the mud from the trail.  In some spots it was very rough and fatbikes would have been the choice of bike.  But I prefer a faster lighter bike and I wanted studded tires.  Most of this was in a 1 mile stretch.  Minor slow down but much better than taking Ingersoll.  The vanguard of snow was beginning to fall. We got to work without further incident.

Mud encrusted bike at work.

The snow picked up by 11 am.  I was really looking forward to the ride home.  Everyone at work was asking me to be safe, ride safe, be careful ect ect.  I told them I was prepared.  My tires are built for icy roads and trails.  Their all season tires are not.  My trusty Trek FX 7.5 is on its 9th winter.  I did not take the studded tires off after last winter nor ride that bike again until this winter.  It does quite well in 3" of snow.

Clive did an outstanding job clearing the trail.  They used a brush which is evident by all the dirt on the snow.  One can ride a road bike with the skinniest of tires on this trail now.

That is it does quite well in virgin snow.  Once everybody and their brother and sister and dog walk on the snowy trail riding becomes difficult.  It is not unlike riding through a mine field without the explosions.  Each footprint creates a bump and slows the bike.  Sure, ride a fatbike.  Spend $2K and an extra $500 for a set of studded tires and average 6 mph for the one ride on trashed tails.

After a the trail conditions actually improved they put the closed sign up on the Bill Riley Trail.  Pork loin on the bike's rack.

The first 5 miles on Clive's Greenbelt hurt.  Took forever and then I noticed that I could feel my heart.  Hitting redline.  Slow down, look harder for a clean line and try to take it easy.  Basically,  people had walked side by side and obliterated the trail.  There were fat bike tracks weaving between them but that was not an issue.  A bag of dog feces was left on the long bridge railing.  Nice.

And I am not trying to sound like some commuter snob.  I just wish to express the truth that people love our trails and use our trails all the time until the temperature drops below 20F and then just a hardcore few use the trails.  I was thankful that this snow fell on a Monday and not on a Saturday.  Weekend snow is the worst because the trails remain covered until Monday afternoon.

Feel the Bern!  Just another presidential candidate taking his gig into Iowa.  Wal Mart, Windsor heights, Iowa, right off the bicycle trail.

When I reached Windsor Heights I decided to take Ingersoll.  Another 8 miles on the trail would take too much time and strength.  Ingersoll would be smoother faster but more dangerous and dirtier with the addition of automobile traffic.  But it was faster.  Keep vigilant for cars, car doors, snow piles in the road.  The snow grime, sand, salt and grit were unavoidable.

Temperatures would stay decent for a few weeks.  Trails were plowed in timely manner and Ingersoll could be avoided.  What helped was that it rained and the dirt on the trail turned to mud which to my surprise made the trail easier to ride.  On a Friday the city bladed the mud off the trail and into the river.  Life is good.


Tuesday I think.  18F and for once I had the entire gray's Lake Trail to myself.  Fresh snow.  No tracks here.  Great ride home!

That weekend the snow did not return.  But a cold front entered.  Actual temperatures fell below 0F, negative territory.  The fun began but at least the trails were clean.  Well, there were and still are a few areas where there is significant ice that even the best studded tires require careful smooth skilled riding.  Monday morning, MLK Jr Day or January 18th, it was 0F when I left my home.  Mary had the day off.  Welcome to hell.  I put every layer on and hit the trail.  I survived.  It was 2F when I got to work and 8F when I left for home.  That was the worst of it.  Hopefully, the worst all this winter.  By Friday morning it was 23F when I left for work,  It felt warm!

Monday must have been the day that acclimated me to winter.  On Wednesday I ran into Joe Hildreth on the trail.  We parked our bikes and talked for We removed some of our layers for this.  We could have talked for another 20 minutes but we needed to get rolling.  Joe still had another 12 miles to roll.  I had to cook dinner.  Neither of us had beer.  Judging by the text I received from his brother, Joe's stop prior to seeing me plus our conversation and his inability to answer his phone put him in the doghouse with his wife!

Joe Hildreth

It will be warmer 4 weeks from now.  We will be that much closer to Spring.  Daylight is lasting longer.  Soon this winter will be a memory.  I think I will put more care into the FX before November.  I really enjoy that bike.  I miss riding it in good weather.

Who needs fatbikes to commute during winter?  Joe's bike and mine.  Both with studded tires.  Both getting nearly 30 miles per day.

1 comment:

  1. Man you are a trooper. I'd have a hard time regularly making that commute on nice days.