Dashing Through The Snow…

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.

12 Responses to “Dashing Through The Snow…”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Hi Gary, I’m a crazy like you. :-)

    I live in Upstate New York, which is notorious for it’s bad weather all year round, and have been slugging it out commuting everyday around campus here at college in Buffalo. I ride a Honda ‘82 FT500, which is a nice little 500cc single. I find it funny that I found your site, because I vowed this winter that I would NOT put up my bike for the winter and ride as often as I can. I wear a thermogear 1 piece riding snowsuit, which is absolutely amazing, but normally I can bear going around in just my leathers and armor in these sub zero conditions.

    Hell, I’m even planning on riding home to Rochester for christmas, weather willing. I thank you greatly for doing that TV news story, as it helped my family and other people I know sort of understand what I do. So many people I know can’t get past the intimidation of riding in the elements during the winter, nor understand that I enjoy riding despite these terrible conditions. Needless to say, I take flak from nearly everyone I meet about it. So here’s to you, me, and our adventures in the winter! Keep it strong and good luck.

  2. Doolittle Says:

    Andrew-

    Congrats to your perseverence in the battle for bike riding! Maybe you should start your own blog and share some of your interesting moments with the general public. The blog would be free on myspace.com or countless other sites I believe.

    Gary-

    I’m one of those SUV piloting pirates on the metro streets everyday but it’s not necessarily about ease or comfort (though the space, heat, and stereo ARE nice). It’s about safety. I can get my adrenaline rush from other sources (skydiving, Vegas taxis, and bungee jumping for me). I just feel safer in a huge, all wheel drive vehicle navigating undesirable conditions when I know the two million plus people around me have to punch a clock and they’re willing to risk injury to do so. I just think it’s unfair to generalize about SUV owners, or anything else for that matter.

    I absolutely commend and respect you for the passion with which you ride but cold MN drivers are too scary for me!

    Great riding and great writing. I’m instantly a daily reader.

    Good luck!

  3. mnscooter Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Andrew. You know what I’m talking about. Now all we have to do is educate everyone else…

    Doolittle, do you know me? I find it strange that you write under the name of one of my favorite watering holes. I don’t recognize your email address, though. I will write this under the assumption that I am talking to a friend…

    As for the generalizing thing, have you ever read anything written by someone who was afraid of offending anyone? Redundant, banal, boring… definitely not the kind of prose that makes you want to read more. All stereotypes have their basis in truth. That’s what makes them persist.

    Unfair? What a silly concept! LIFE itself, in this place and in these times, is the very definition of unfair.

    Safety? Safe for the driver and occupants, but highly dangerous for anyone outside. How FAIR is that?

    Yes, I understand that some people who buy large SUVs do so to protect themselves and their families in an increasingly hostile world. This is just like the arms race of the cold war. It was flawed logic then, and it is just as flawed now. People should be working together to solve our resource and social problems, but we relentlessly fail to do so. Instead, we indulge our egos and go for one-upmanship rather than trying to find common ground. That will be the death of us.

    I believe one of my readers caught himself venting and decided to step down from the soap box. I will now follow his example.

    If you know me from Doolittle’s, pull up a stool next time you see me there. We have lots to talk about.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  4. Jib Says:

    Gary thank you for the blog. I am a daily rider to work here in Reno and all I have to really worry about is the cold. Every one calls me crazy for riding in below freezing conditions but reading your post reminds me I have it easy.

    I am also amazed by what little time I lose on my bike. All the additional time it takes to gear up + taking it easy + enjoying the scenery = still at work before everyone else also ready to work not still tired like everyone else.

  5. Buster Brown Says:

    Doolittle, if you think you are safe riding in an SUV, then you are living in a fool’s paradise. SUV’s have inordinately high fatality rates, because they go wheels-up so easily, especially on snowy roads. At the same time, they cause inordinate damage to those unfortunates in smaller vehicles with whom they collide.

    If you are driving one because you have to tow something or haul a load, then fine, it’s a free country. But if you drive one because you think the bumper height gives you an edge, then you are an idiot, and a rude one at that. I hope at least you have the courtesy to stay the hell out of the left lane.

  6. Tiff Says:

    I drive an SUV, when I have to, and ride a bike when I don’t. The SUV is a little (by american standards) 2 tonner, with a 2.8 litre diesel engine. I use 5% biodiesel (when I can get it) and I’m looking at converting it to run 100% biodiesel.

    The problem is the authorities here don’t take kindly to biodiesel, seeing it as a tax dodge (for comparison, diesel is £0.90/ litre, which works out at $5.88/ U.S. gallon, due to a 400% fuel tax). I ride a Kawasaki ZZR600 (Ninja 600e in the states) all year round, although It’s not that cold here (it’s 6 degrees C here today, the worst it’s been is -4 celsius or so). I’ve got a two piece belstaff bike suit, wiith a quilted liner, which is usually too hot unless it’s frosty or snowing!.

    Anyway, apart from talking about me, I’d just like to thank you for your excellent blog, as a way of reminding us that not all americans are irresponsible berks!

  7. Doolittle Says:

    Buster Brown-

    I apologize if I came off as rude; not my intention. It’s the all wheel drive (Grand Cherokee) that makes it safer (not “bumper height advantage”; LOL) to drive in the snow which I eluded to in my last post and the comfort of the SUV is just icing on the cake. I wasn’t knocking Gary because he chooses to ride all winter, in fact, I commended him for it. Don’t be so quick to judge me an idiot, I’m probably as educated, well-read, and articulate as you. Please re-read my last post and tell me if you still think I’m knocking Gary in any way.

    It doens’t make me a menace on the road to drive a large vehicle. In fact, I have a perfect driving record and I respect the power of automobiles as well as other people’s space on the road regardless of what they’re driving. I’m actually a pretty cautious driver.

    Gary-

    It’s Ryan! I thought you knew for sure with my pseudonym. We always have great conversations when our paths cross and I look forward to many more.

    That was quite a rant and I’m sorry for my antagonistic post. I just love playing devil’s advocate. I only intended to raise your eyebrows, not ruffle your feathers! I love what you do and respect your passion for it. I’m sorry if you thought I felt otherwise. I was just saying that winter riding is not for me but I appreciate that winter riding IS for some people and I appreciate that you’re willing to share the experience with us.

    I’ll still take my all wheel drive SUV with the extra leg room and heated leather seats for the cold, MN winters. It isn’t about one-upmanship for me (I’d like to think I’m not petty or materialistic), it’s about my preferences on tackling a MN winter.

    You spend a good deal of time persuading people not to judge you for your preferred method of transportation, please don’t judge me for mine.

    Keep up the great work, Gary! I hope to see you soon.

    Peace

  8. cra_fizzer Says:

    Gary,
    Say hi to Glenn Burnside for me. I think he still works there.

    How is the salt treating the Baron??

    Tony W.
    2003 KLR650

  9. mnscooter Says:

    Okay, let’s take this from the top:

    Welcome aboard, Jib. I have always wanted to live in Reno. Picture an Airstream trailer, on the edge of the high desert, with plenty of dirt roads and trails through majestic scenery. I would live cheaply and sustainably, only working when I had to. Riding and writing would take up the rest of my time. That’s the dream, anyway. Then my wife wakes me up… (But she is a sweetheart! Really!)

    Oh Buster… Down boy! Heel, I say! The man who calls himself Buster Brown is a very close friend of mine. He is a Berkeley-trained attack lawyer and off-road riding guru to boot. When he is not showing me the way through gnarly terrain on our KLRs, he is hobnobbing with the likes of Peter Egan and other moto-luminaries. This is not a man to be trifled with.
    See you at the Grind on Saturday… I mean it this time, er, Buster.

    Cheers, Tiff. Thanks for your kind words. You should trade in your SUV for a good dual-sport, or as you call them, adventure touring bike. You could buy a BMW GS and all the riding gear you could possibly need for any conditions, and still have money left over for riding holidays with what you paid for that gas-hog. When you say “have to”, what exactly do you mean? Do you haul other people around? I mean, there are certainly valid uses for these boxes. But there are also other options for when you really need a larger vehicle.

    Doolittle…Folks, I visited with Ryan this afternoon after I got off work. This is a fascinating guy. His interests are many and varied, but he insists on driving that abomination… what do they call it? Oh yeah, the “Jeep Grand Secondmortgage”. I let him know that this is the wrong place to try and defend such perverted behavior. He doesn’t want to get on the biting side of Buster Brown.

    Hi Tony. Well, all my KLR buds are finding the blog. How cool! Yeah, Glenn still works there. I’ll tell him. The Baron is showing some surface rust on untreated steel parts. It wasn’t designed with this in mind. But I am keeping an eye on all key components, and doing my corrosion control as necessary.

    Thanks for writing, everybody. I’m having almost as much fun responding to your comments as I am riding to work.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

  10. Buster Brown Says:

    Doolittle, it’s nothing you said about Gary, it’s driving the SAV that’s rude. It’s a gas hog without a purpose, unless you are towing something. You can get AWD in a Subaru. Your Cherokee is going to tip over too easily to be really safe. The weight and bumper height make you a hazard to anyone in a normal-sized car, no matter how careful, well-read, or articulate you are. It’s inexcusable, really.

    There you go Gary, your blog has made it: your first flame war.

  11. tiff Says:

    By “Have to” i mean when i’m taking my dogs anywhere, or going windsurfing, or towing the (sailing) boat. I occasionally lug racks full of servers round for work, too. Whenever i need to transport just me and a laptop, it’s bike every time - the Navarra has far less miles on it than the bike does.

  12. mnscooter Says:

    Hello Tiff. Don’t get your hackles up. We have to say these things in here. That’s what Ride-to-Work is all about. Let me tell you a little story…

    My wife and I have a couple of four-wheeled vehicles. One is her horrible lemon of a new Beetle. This thing has gone wrong more ways than a crack-addled teenager. I can’t work on any but its’ most basic systems, and the cost of getting it fixed in a shop is going to bankrupt us. But hey, it does have that flower vase on the dash going for it…

    Then we have my S10 pickup truck. This has the anemic 2.2 liter four cylinder in it. If I want to pass someone on the freeway during the summer, I have to turn off the AC to squeeze every last horsepower out of it. I literally only use it when I have to haul something. When I drove it regularly, it was a trouble-free, reliable vehicle that got 24 miles per gallon average.

    Well, sitting still isn’t good for these things. Last year, I rode in all weather during the spring-through-fall seasons. I left the truck sitting there, alone and neglected, for about eight months. When I had to clear brush out of my back yard, I loaded it into the truck, and started it up… no go.

    When I finally got that fixed, (one of the coils had gone bad, just sitting there), I tried to drive the thing, and the brakes had frozen! The pads had rusted to the rotors. So now I have to rebuild the brakes. That truck is sitting in my driveway as I type this, with a mouldering compost heap of brush still in the bed. If I have to haul something, I will borrow a truck from a relative, or rent one.

    None of which has anything to do with your situation. If you need it, you need it. I don’t judge people in here, but I do ask questions that will get them to re-examine their mode of transport. As I said up top, that’s my job.

    Ride well,
    =gc=

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