Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Crunchy Snow

The sound of the furnace announced that my slumber was nearly over.  The wind was still strong and a world in white greeted me earlier when I took the dog out about midnight.  A fine layer of fresh snow on top of fresh rain.  But snow and ice do not bother me.  I have a bicycle for that.  It was 30*F at 4 am, the high of the day for me.

I had hoped for a bit more warmth and packed the single speed (non-winter tires) instead of removing the panniers and placing them on the winter bike.  Damn the lack of bags, roll on a naked bicycle!  All I needed was my wallet and mobile phone.  I've enough clean clothes at work for the rest of the week.

That damn wind.  Strong from the north.  I would take the full brunt of it as a broadside as I headed west along the river.  Every north turn would be miserable.  Just keep pedaling....

Approaching the bridge over the river in Water Works Park two dim lights were heading my way from the opposite bank.  Only one person I know that routinely rides with the weakest lights possible.  That person is David L.  His commute is about the same distance as mine, 12 to 15 miles depending on the route.  He lives in Urbandale and rides to the State House on one of several older MTBs while wearing a backpack.  No racks, no bags, rather, a large stuffed backpack.  Seems miserable, I prefer the bike schelp my stuff.  I am not a mule unless I take a rackless roadie.  But he is out almost every day even in winter.  The trail is a bit out of his way so sometimes he takes the streets.  I want to see him on New Battery Day.  David is one of the few cyclists I truly respect.  Plodding along in the snow on an old bike and dim lights.  He stopped to talk on the bridge.  Said he was having a great ride and enjoyed the crunchy snow.  Tailwinds are great mood enhancers.  We parted and I wondered if I'd see him on the reserves ride.

So now I had his tracks to stare at.  Also had fox tracks and the occasional deer tracks and a few rabbit paw prints to stare at.  But then I realized that there was was a second and third set of bicycle tracks on the trail.  Appeared to belong to a road bike.  Given how straight they were I was 99% certain that they belonged to Joe Ayers.  Joe is retired and rides every morning for about 20 miles unless the weather is bad.  I see him most mornings.  Today he turned around at the bridge.  His tracks left the trail at Pal Joey's where we have parted ways before.  It had to be him.

My winter route has me exiting the trail at 22nd/86th St.  I  then get on University and take it all the way to work.  Today I did something I normally despise.  I took the side walk all the way to 50th before crossing to the other side and taking the sidepath.  Why?  Traffic was light as usual.  However, the street was icky and wet.  What little snow we had was mixed with salt and sand and made a dark slush on the the side of the road where I'd likely ride.  For once, and thanks to the Sun's love and the rain, the sidewalk was free of snow with the exception of the fresh stuff.  I opted to keep the bike clean.  It was my pit stop just before getting off the trail.  The back of the cassette was still shiny like new.  It would be a shame to get road spluge on it.  I hate to surrender the road but the sidewalk was clean.

I parked against the building beneath the overhang.  Normally I only park there if there is any or will be any precipitation.  There was and would be none but the bike rack had snow around it so leaving it empty would not hinder the maintenance team from cleaning the snow up.  Todd parked his Krampus likewise.  Unfortunately, they did not remove the snow.  Oh well, the warm up later this week will.

Today was one of the rare days that it was warmer when I left for work that it was when I left for home.  30*F at 430 am.  27*F at 330 pm.  The promised sunshine never appeared.  At least I had the tailwind to push me home.  The snow on the trail melted a bit leaving ice in its place.  The bike's studded tires gave that ice no quarter and I remained upright the entire journey home.  Not even a slip.  I will have that same ice to look forward to tomorrow in the dark and hopefully the promised warm up will finish it off by the time I leave work.

One last note.  My footwear was perfect.  I wore my decades old Sorel boots with liners, a pair of Smart Wool sock liners and a new pair of cold weather socks that Mary gave me for Christmas.  When I took my boots and socks off at home I noticed that my feet were dry.  Not only did they stay warm but dry as well.  The liner in the boots wicked all the sweat from my feet as evidenced by the moist bottom of the liners.

Good day to ride despite the strong north wind.  Tomorrow the wind is supposed to be weaker.  I hope so.  I'm sick of fighting it.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

I Should Really Ride To the Pub More Often

The winter bike at CabCo
Another awful week.  Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I did not ride to work.  Too damn cold and windy.  I can handle -5*F if there is not a 24 mph headwind all the way to work.  So I opted to drive.  Wednesday after work Court Avenue Brewery had a Mug Club party.  Well, I can handle a 3 mile round trip.  Four mugs later I enjoyed a tailwind home.  But despite seeing friends and enjoying the fruits of the brew master arriving home was the best part.

Right to left: Sam, Randy and me.  There was a strange woman at the bar who offered to take our photo out of the blue.  Something about memories she said.  At first we thought she was going to use her phone but she clarified and used Randy's iPhone albeit backwards until he explained how to work it.  An odd experience of kindness.  Before she did that when I was at the bar placing my order she looked at me and smiled like we knew each other but I have never seen her before.  I will refrain from judgement because I do not know what was going through her mind or her state of mental health.  We all thought it was a bit weird. 

Mark Reeder: Mauerstadt.  Walled City for English speakers.  Mark is from Manchester UK and got stranded in Berlin about 1979 and was in various German bands at the time and Shark Vegas.  later he made a name for himself remixing tracks for other bands.  His association with the band New Order has led to some incredible music.  Two New Order tracks appear on Mauerstadt, Academic and the Game.

Technique by New Order.  The band took 1988 off and flew to Ibiza to record this lp in a shitty studio that had a swimming pool and a 24 hour bar.  Instead of working on the lp they discovered ecstasy and partied every night for 6 months before packing it in (only a demo for Fine Time and 16 drum tracks to show for their effort) and returned to England and finishing the lp at Peter Gabriel's brand new state of the art Real World Studio.  Needless to say they tore the studio up when they had two busloads of Manchester's finest acid house ravers come celebrate the completion of the record.  Technique brings the warm Ibiza sun into the stereo.  Hooky mentions in his book, The Hacienda How not to Run a Club, that they last saw Nico (Velvet Underground) alive in Ibiza.  A day or two later she died from a head injury caused by a bicycle crash.  No helmet.
Two packages arrived on my doorstep while I was hoisting the mug.  Both were vinyl records.  One I ordered from Germany way back in December, Mark Reeder's Mauerstadt, his 2017 lp of electronic dance mixes and collaborations with other bands.  The other was New Order's Technique, the Ibiza classic missing from my rebuilding of the vinyl collection.  Damn, go for a beer and come home to prizes!  I have one more package somewhere between here and the UK.  I should go to the pub again!

More importantly, this really motivated me to ride to work again.  Well, maybe the fact that Thursday morning it was to be like 22*F with less of a interfering wind.  One of my theories is that riding on cold mornings with a slight hangover is good because my body is usually warmer when I am hungover.  However, I was not hungover.  I feel like such a damn slacker.  This is my worst January since I became a full time commuter.  I've missed 7 commutes to work this month.  Then again so have a lot of my hardcore friends.  Life goes on.

My regular commuter aka the Single Speed
Thursday.s ride was good.  The strong southwest wind hindered my progress but I left early enough to get there in time to enjoy coffee before having to become productive.  I should have not ridden the winter bike.  It is really slow thanks to its studded tires that have additional flat protection added to them.  I meant to replace them this season but never pulled the trigger.  But it was a good work out that I needed.  On the way home I took a shortcut, University to 109th and then got on the trail at 107th.  As I got on the trail between two houses I spotted a red fox in the woods across Walnut Creek.  Unfortunately, it ran off before I could get close enough for a photo.  So I have seen three species of canine on the Clive Greenbelt: fox, coyote and domesticated dogs.  Later not too far away I ran into a herd of deer.  Must have been 20 of them.  Never seen that many on the Greenbelt before.  Oddly enough, when I was on the Walnut Creek Trail after N Valley Dr I saw another large herd of deer, perhaps 20+.  Deer on the move in large numbers.  Maybe they drank beer last night!

I stopped at Windsor Heights Hy Vee.  Needed a large bag of dog food for Fritz and a carton of half and half for Saturday's and Sunday's coffee.  I was supposed to pick up something for dinner but was uninspired and came home with no food in my panniers.  Send Mary out for pizza.

Friday I threw caution to the wind and rode my regular commuter.  My average speed improved greatly.  Since I saw all the trouble spots the day before I knew where to use discretion.  Good Lord it felt great!  Amazing how a different set of tires can make a difference.  Remarkably, the winter bike is lighter.  Goes to show that wheel weight and rolling resistance affect speed the most.  Unremarkable ride to work except for the bonus of speed.  On the way how the temp had risen to 47*F and the reduction of snow was very apparent.  Ice and snow on the trails was greatly eliminated and road bikers were seen.  Once again I stopped at Windsor Heights Hy Vee for groceries.  Fritz should work for TSA or law enforcement because he spent a lot of time sniffing my panniers.  I had sausages and a whole chicken in them.

The forecast for the rest of the month looks good.  I'm only 180 miles behind last year.  I think I can make that up if I so desire.  I am considering transferring to downtown which would reduce my commute to less than 5 miles per day.  That would free up a lot of time for other things or better rides.  It also would kill any chance of reaching 10,000 miles in a year again.  Is there room for one more go?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Those Epic Winter Commutes

Rider welcome!
More blowing than snow.
A few years back it started snowing like a son of a bitch while I was at work.  Must have began about 2 pm.  Although I left in daylight I stopped and turned on all my lights.  Visibility was close to zero.  Downtown Des Moines businesses closed early and told all their employees to GTFO.  Traffic was horrid.  Grid lock.

I took my short cut and rode on Westown Pkwy and Buffalo Rd to get to the trail in Windsor Heights.  Because of poor planning I had to stop at Boulevard Sports to pick up a set of studded tires for my winter commuter.  I was riding my 520 with touring tires.  No issues.  There may have been 3" of snow.

Crossing Grand Ave near the Art Center traffic was back up in both directions as far as the eye could see.  I had to weave between the cars.  I was laughing.  A little bit later as I was on the Bill Riley Trail I encountered another cycling commuter and we both greeted and saluted each other.  He looked at me and said "They call us stupid.  Who is stupid today?"  True.  We were not only safe, making forward progress but relatively on time and stress free.  The snowy world was beautiful.  Such a gorgeous world to be in.  We laughed at the plight of all the muggles stuck on the streets in their steel and plastic cages and rode off in different directions.

When I got to Mullets I had a powerful thirst hit me.  It was the feeling one gets when they do something epic and extraordinary.  I just cycled through one of the worst snow storms in the metro and came out the other side safe and in a great mood.  Celebrate success a former supervisor of mine used to say.  Damn right, time for Fireball and beer!  My timing could not have been better.  As I entered the establishment a song from my favorite and just started.  Am I in heaven?  Now it's Iowa.

The Germans used to call this a "birthday party."  If one crashed their plane or were shot down but made it back everyone would make sure you got real drunk to celebrate the fact that you got another lease on life.  Well I beat the odds once again.

Thursday was another one of those rides.  Doom and gloom in the forecast.  Supposed to rain all night and then have a sudden  severe drop in temperature to below freezing and snow.  Somehow it was still 42*F when I left and the rain was over except for a mist.  I could take a roadie, I thought before remembering that the temp was going to fall through the floor and I'll need extra clothing for the ride home.

And the temperature did drop.  It dropped to 24*F by the time I got to work.  Yes, 18*F drop in an hour and a half.  I remember the wind picking up when I was about 3 miles into it.  A few miles later I felt the cold on my chest.  9 miles into it the sleeves on my jacket were icing up.  At one point when I hit the brakes the right (rear) brake lever was frozen and would not move for a moment.  I saw ice on the streets for my last two miles but this did not concern me since I was riding on studded tires.

When the muggles at work asked me if I rode the bicycle to work they were amazed.  I told them that my tires say Klondike on them, what do yours say?  Honestly, I feel safer biking on days like this because if I drove I could possibly damage my vehicle, damage other peoples' property and possibly kill someone.  On a bicycle I just look stupid to those that lack the knowledge and magic, muggles.

When the snow began we stared from the inside of the building with coffee in our hands.  Looks bad.  Looks to be more than an inch or two that they forecasted.  "you going to be safe riding home?" the cagers asked.  Yes.  "Safer than you," I replied, "You have to deal with each other, I get an empty trail."  Over 55 Crashes  See?

I could not wait to get out.  I wanted to hit the trail before everyone and their niece and their 3 dogs stepped on every possible square inch of snow covered trail.  I wanted virgin snow covered trail to myself.  On the Greenbelt I saw one set of boot tracks and paw prints on both sides of the trail.  There also was a fatbike track.  So all in all the trail was in good shape.  Two people on MTBs were attempting to ride on the ice covered walnut Creek near 73rd St.  Fools, the ice is less than 12 hours old.  It was maybe 13*F now and dropping.  Later I saw a fatbiker.

The wind was at least 26 mph from the NW.  I had a tail wind of sorts.  I did not have to fight it.  I encountered a man on a crossbike heading west into the wind  on the Bill Riley Trail as it parallels the Raccoon River.  I've seen him before.  We always nod or do a finger wave whenever we cross paths.  Today I said howdy.  His response was classic, Quote of the Winter.  "THIS WIND CAN EAT A DICK!!!!"  True.
Great parking.  Thought I'd see some fatbikes here.


New England IPA.  Probably the finest IPA I've ever had.  Well done, Confluence, well done!

Two miles later I was at Confluence Brewing Company.  Time to celebrate.  Time for my birthday party!  It was the release of Chewbocka Winter Bock in cans.  As expected, I had the only bicycle there until Mary showed up.  Where are all the fatbikes?  Russ met me there as he said on FaceBook.  I missed two other friends because we left after 4 beers.  Mary had only two.  Had to get dinner.  Had to work tomorrow.

1.5 miles later we were at Mullets but it was closed.  I am glad I decided to stop at Confluence.  Mullets closed for the safety of their employees.  It may have been 6 pm.  I don't blame them.  But of the Beacon of Light establishments play for weary travelers?  Damn, 15 miles into this bitch of a ride and no joy here.  I admit I was very disappointed.  I even thought about taking my Mullets Mason Jar there for $5 beers.  Frozen pizza from the gas station.  At least it was DiGiorno.  As far as booze, could have stopped at Extra Innings.

My ride that day.  Good on the way to work.  Great on the ride home.  Not that I want to do this day after day.  But every now and then during this season I feel the need.  I miss warm weather.  Spring cannot get here soon enough.