14 February, 2006 Temperature: 26 degrees F (-3°C)
It was raining when I stepped outside this morning. The air aloft, where the clouds live, was warmer than the freezing point of water. So the rain came down in a liquid state, but froze on contact with anything that was ground-level ambient temperature. These are the most diabolical conditions Old Man Winter can conjure up, from a scooter commuter’s perspective. I fell prey (literally) to them only eleven days ago.
But this time I was not fooled. I had taken the time to watch the morning news, and learned that we had freezing rain all over the metro area. That rain hit my helmet visor with a heavy “spat-splat-splat” as soon as I stepped out the door. My boots slipped on the sidewalk as I was walking towards the garage. It was clear that this morning’s commute would be especially challenging.
I reached into the huge right-hand chest pocket of my Aerostich Darien jacket and located my Vee-Wipe, which I promptly stretched and pulled onto my left thumb, over my glove. This will take care of any ice clogging my visor, I hoped.
The Baron started right up, seemingly eager to confront the challenge ahead. I did a quick systems check, paying special attention to things like headlights and brakelights, and let just a little bit of air out of the rear tire for traction.
At about six a.m., we rolled down the driveway and out into the street. Turning right with my foot sliding along the icy pavement, we did not crash this time. Fool me once…
We rode with the utmost caution all the way down Bernard Street, which had yet to be visited by a salt-sand truck. We fishtailed up the hill just past Robert Street, and I started to relax a little bit. The Baron and I have been here before.
Turning right on Smith Avenue I saw it was clear of ice, with some slushy patches. Easy street. We made it all the way to the gas station on Highway 13 without incident.
The cop pumping gas into his cruiser at the adjacent pump, looked me up and down and said, “Not a good day to ride!”
I wanted to say, “Ya think!?”
What I actually said was, “I’m taking it slow and easy. I’ve only a short way to go.”
Of course, coming from my sealed-up, full-coverage snowmobile helmet, that may well have sounded like vulgar static to his calloused cop-ears. Who knows? He didn’t say anything else, and I paid at the pump. He did not Taser me. Things were lookin’ up!
Hey, I like cops. I really do. We have a lot of interests in common. The enjoyment of fast travel and firearms are chief amongst them. But to this day I still have this stubborn American/Biker reflex to rebel against any and all forms of authority. Old Man Winter is just another authority figure to me. “THOU SHALT NOT RIDE-during the season of My Reign!”
To which I reply: “Oh yeah…?”
Anyway, the road surfaces we encountered on the way varied wildly in terms of available traction and traffic levels. I didn’t feel much like playing around out there, because I just couldn’t gauge the available traction through the ice pellets forming on my visor. Even taking a hand off the bars to scrape it off was a risky proposition, so I saved that operation for stop signs and long straights.
Luckily, or perhaps by municipal design, the more heavily travelled roads actually got more salt and sand, and were therefore navigible. It was for this reason that the Baron and I selected the half-fast route this morning. We made our way over to Highway 55 and rode that all the way through Minneapolis to the outskirts of Golden Valley.
We didn’t encounter any more really bad ice until we got to the parking lot at work. Then it was Landing Gear Down again, as we rode along dragging both my boots all the way to our reserved parking space.
When I walked into the building, I sought out my friend Eric Engelbretson. He almost always has a camera handy, and this morning he did not let me down. Before the ice could melt off my suit of riding armor, he snapped a nice photograph.
The Iceman Cometh, and now he has to go to work.