15 December, 2005 Temperature: 23 degrees F
This morning, when I stepped outside, I found four inches of fresh snow on my doorstep. It was a heavy, wet snow, the kind that falls when temperatures are just below freezing. Perfect for making snowmen, or having a good old fashioned snowball fight. I felt like waking my daughter Emily from her slumber, to come outside and play. I went to her room and gazed at that angelic face, so peaceful in repose. She is fighting a cold right now, with runny nose and frequent coughing, so I decided to let her sleep.
I went about my usual routine, pouring coffee and watching the morning news and weather reports. Then I washed up and suited up, getting ready for a nice, early commute through our winter wonderland. I had been away from the Red Baron for three days, and I couldn’t wait to get back out there with him, on the road and in the wind.
He started right up, and idled eagerly. Perhaps he missed me too? Well, that’s what I like to think, anyway. I plugged in the vest, pushed the button, and felt the heat start to spread across my chest. I savored that moment before takeoff, looking around at my neighborhood blanketed in white. Then I rocked the Baron off his center stand. Takeoff time: five-thirty a.m.
We rolled carefully down the snowy driveway, my feet out and fingers poised over the rear brake. Turning down my street, I fed in some throttle and spun the rear tire a bit, having some fun. It was good to be back in the saddle. The street was covered in packed, heavy snow. Every tire rut deflected the front wheel and caused a very unstable feeling in the handlebars. Novices tighten their grip under these circumstances. Then they fall down. I loosened my grip and let the Baron find his own way. My trust was rewarded. We progressed slowly up the hill and out of my neighborhood, onto the freshly plowed roads west of Robert Street.
Crossing the High Bridge, I looked over at the Saint Paul skyline. The lights from the tall buildings reflected off the river, and the whole world around me glowed with twinkling radiance. But then the front end went a bit vague as we rolled over an icy patch on the bridge, and my attention was jerked back to the road. Pay attention, rider.
We rode down streets both plowed and not, and the variety proved entertaining. I could go thirty mph down one street, but had to slow down to ten, with both feet out, when I turned onto the next. Of course… They plow north-south streets first, and then the east-west, right? Or is it vice-versa? Something like that.
High-speed Shephard Road was cleared of snow, for the most part, and I twisted the throttle to the stop. We barrelled along at the breathless pace of the fifty mph speed limit. Yeeee-hah! I made sure to steer around the big frost heaves, and we had a nice, smooth ride all the way to the East River Parkway.
This road was slushy in spots. That’s not normally much of a problem, but this slush was thick and kind of firm. It’s the same principal as hydroplaning on liquid water. When the slush is deeper than the tread on your tires, and you aren’t pushing it aside as you go, you end up riding on top of it, and you have no directional control. We encountered this several times on the way to our coffee stop at Dunn Brothers, but it never got worse than an interesting nuisance.
At DB’s, I ordered an orange juice. My morning coffee had already delivered my daily dose of caffiene, and I didn’t feel I needed any more of that. I took some time to answer responses to this blog, swilled my OJ rather quickly, and then it was time to suit up again for the second half of my journey.
Turning onto West River Road, I found even slushier conditions. What this meant was that I could not gaze at the beautiful scenery around me, because I had to analyze each foot of roadway ahead for potential hazards. At least traffic was light. Twice, I pulled over to the right and slowed down to wave an impatient SUV by. That’s better than being slow-roasted in their ultra-bright Zenon headlights as they camp out on your rear tire and breathe down your neck.
My commute this morning took one hour and thirty minutes, including the twenty-minute coffee shop stop. That means all my extra caution only delayed my arrival by ten minutes. Not bad at all.
I left work early today. It seems I’m coming down with the same crud that afflicts my daughter. By the early afternoon, snow plows had visited all the sidestreets and they were in good shape. I was able to savor the scenery a little bit this time. The delicate lace pattern of fresh snow on bare branches fascinated me all along the river, and the occasional glimpse of the river itself made the ride go by too quickly. We made good time, and I arrived home an hour after I left work. Just like on my KLR during the normal riding season. Can you believe that?
I’m not going to get complacent or overconfident this time. Old Man Winter is a tricky S.O.B., and he has caught me out before. But I need to acknowledge these days when we encounter the perfect balance between adversity and triumph.
I end this day with a feeling of accomplishment, and the knowledge that I have experienced thrills and sensations that few others will ever realize. That’s a shame, really. But it seems modern people have become so enamored with ease and comfort that we abhor anything else. I hope that changes soon. We cannot go on like this forever.