Winter Solstice

21 December, 2005 Temperature: 11 degrees F

So this is the first day of winter. Hmmm… Does this mean that all of the riding I did before today was just boot camp for the actual “Winter Scooter Commuter Project”? If so, I guess it was pretty good training.

So far, the Baron and I have seen freezing rain, ice coated roads, snow four inches deep, and temperatures 8 degrees below zero. We have faced hostile drivers, ignorant drivers, oblivious drivers, and amorous deer. We have suffered one minor crash, burnt-out headlights, and an exploding trunk. Considering the scope of the project and the enormity of forces and obstacles arrayed against us, I would say we are doing pretty well.

But now it’s winter for real.

Today was the shortest day of the year. It began with light snow flurries, and ended in a magnificent red sunset. At one point this morning, while riding down an unlit sidestreet in Saint Paul, the headlights caught the snowflakes coming towards us against the jet black sky. If you want to see what that looked like, go into your Windows control panel, click on display, and then select the “Starfield” screen saver. Remember that one?

For a moment there, the Baron was a shuttlecraft from the original “Star Trek” series, and I was flying it dressed in a full space suit. Then a semi-truck loomed up out of the darkness like a Klingon Battle Cruiser uncloaking, and I was transported back to reality. “Shields up, Scooty!” (All right, that’s a really bad pun. I apologize.)

The truck approached us from behind as we came to a railroad crossing. It was something like five forty a.m., and there was a locomotive approaching. Not a whole train, mind you, just the noisy thing that goes up front. It was moving slowly, and it didn’t stop until it had blocked both lanes of the intersection. Then an old fellow wearing the obligatory engineer cap stepped down and went over to move some kind of lever on the tracks. All the while he was doing this, he was staring at me like some kind of alien. I shouted, “Good Morning!” at him, but it must have come out garbled, through the breath shield and full-face helmet. He started, then waved as if he were shooing away mosquitoes. Turning his back, he climbed aboard the engine, and they slowly cleared the road.

We skipped the coffee shop again this morning. It just wasn’t cold enough to go through the hassle of pulling off all those layers of gear, just to sip a cup of something, and have to suit back up again. Traffic was light, and we had West River Road all to ourselves.

The rest of the trip was routine. It was still dark out when we arrived at work. I punched the clock and did my thing, and then suddenly it was quitting time. (Existential gravity is always weak during the solstice…or so they say. I will explain this in further detail some other time.)

The sun was shining and it was twenty degrees outside: a beautiful day for a scooter ride. The roads were mostly clear of ice and snow as we made our way home. On East River Road, coming around a curve, we encountered another rider in the oncoming lane. He sat astride a Harley sidehack rig, in police uniform, and cheerfully returned my wave. Funeral cop on his way to a gig, I guess. I knew that they ride in all weather too, but it was strange to see him, nonetheless.

So now the sun will shine longer with every passing day. That’s something to celebrate. It doesn’t mean it will get warmer any time soon. Our coldest months still lie ahead. I see that there is significant snowfall in the long-range forecast for next week. The Baron and I will be ready. We have been training for this.

4 Responses to “Winter Solstice”

  1. Dick Aal Says:

    You are going to have some magical days while riding this winter that will make you so glad you chose to ride all winter. The traffic, the weather, the sky and everything else will come together at the right time and it will be a magic day of commute. And you would have missed it if you didn’t ride everyday this winter. Best of luck and let us know when those days happen.

  2. Ken Wagnitz Says:

    Gary, you are one crazy guy!
    I used to commute 60km a day on two wheels (Yamaha XJ900S) until the pressure from my missus forced me to buy a small car to use instead. -Might have something to do with the two minor offs I had.
    But never in temperatures as low as yours (it doesn’t snow in Adelaide).
    Anyway, what I wanted to tell you about…
    I have what is sold in Oz as a ‘pinlock’ screen inside my visor. It adds a layer of air insulation behind the visor, and does a great job of reducing fogging on the inside. If you don’t have any such thing, I recommend you try it.
    Good luck braving the elements and cage drivers.

  3. mnscooter Says:

    Dick, you are right on target, as always. Commuting by motorbike is a way to indulge our hobby/passion/social disorder on either side of the necessary drudgery that most of us call “work”. Our contemporaries have to wait until the weekend to indulge in other, more expensive hobbies, and they get much more uptight during the week because of that. At least, that has been my experience.

    Hello Ken, welcome aboard. Aerostich have provided me with a similar pinlock-style system to use on my regular motorcycle helmet. However, I am finding the snowmobile helmet that I got from Bob’s Cycle Supply is working very well down to all but the coldest temperatures below zero. It’s an interesting technical problem, and I am going to try to solve it with the help of my sponsors.

    I’m sorry to hear about your missus-enforced cage use. Here in the `States, we have laws against spousal abuse.

    Ride well,

  4. Mad Says:

    I love the fact that we’re over the crest of the slope now! Yes, we are going to freeze in January and February but all the time the days will be getting longer… I feel like planning some summer expeditions. :p

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