17 February, 2006 Temperature: -6 degrees F (-21°C)
This morning, I dressed for the ride in every piece of cold-weather gear I own. I was determined not to let the sub-zero temperature get to me, so I would be able to concentrate on the Baron’s condition and the ride itself. Long-johns under jeans, under rain pants, under leather snowmobile bibs. Heavy wool socks, of course, stuffed inside snowmobile boots.That took care of the bottom half.
Up top was Aerostich all the way, except for my habitual black turtleneck. Electric Kanetsu vest with sleeves under Darien jacket with Tech II liner. But it was to that crucial junction at the neck that I paid particular attention.
This morning, I used the Aerostich/Hadwear head wrap thing. This is basically a tube of synthetic material that you can configure any number of ways. I use it as reinforcement for my Merino wool balaclava, and a face-mask insulator to protect my frost-bitten nose. Then, I put on the white silk aviator’s scarf Andy sent me, before donning my helmet. Finally, I wrapped my big, plaid wool scarf around the whole works. This should block any wind from getting up under my helmet, I thought. It did, but it also really inhibits head movement, which is critical for maintaining “the scan”. This was a compromise I was willing to make in the light traffic this morning. I would have to reconsider it in the heavier traffic of the evening commute.
As I waddled outside, I felt positively medieval. To paraphrase Snoopy: “Here’s Sir Ridesalot, dressed in his suit of armor, preparing to mount his noble steed.”
Indeed. It was definitely cold. I could feel that on my hands, as soon as I stepped out the door. I don’t put on my mittens until after I start the engine and plug-in my vest. They are just too clumsy for anything but crude manipulation of riding controls.
The Baron started readily enough, idling kind of fast, but when it came time to get rolling, his belt-drive CVT juddered and jerked in a most reluctant manner. I’m sure the variator was not designed for these temperatures. The steering was quite stiff, and the suspension was making those ominous creaking sounds that I experienced last time it got this cold.
The wind out of the northwest was strong and steady, between 15 and 25 mph. Weather wallahs were quoting a -25° F windchill, and I was glad I couldn’t feel it. We rode sluggishly down the sidestreets, and stopped to fill up the gas tank before crossing the river. Nobody said a word to me this morning. They were all hunched over in their hats and scarves, scurrying back to their heated cages.
Once on Shephard Road, we took a long time getting up to speed. The Baron could only manage 45 mph in this cold, battling that stiff headwind. I could feel the frigid air like a hoard of icy invaders, surrounding my citadel, and probing for a way in past the defences. I must be learning, because this morning there were no leaks.
There was just this general, ominous feeling of dangerous cold “out there”, but inside my armor I was alright. Once again, my head felt like the bridge of a ship sailing through troubled waters. But this time I was fully aware and had the helm firmly in hand. This sense of detached calculation when in peril is something I would like to study one day. I suppose I would have to go back to school for that. Maybe later, if I ever get to retire.
I was feeling the cold just a little bit more by the time we reached the Dunn Brother’s at the halfway point. My extremeties weren’t painful or numb, and my visor was still clear. Traffic was still light, and I think that was what drove my decision to press on without stopping to warm up.
Was I colder than I thought? Was I becoming irrational? I asked myself these questions as I turned down the road past the coffee shop. Well, I couldn’t feel those screws in my knee yet. Look, I can still see well, and what I see is a clear road without a bunch of morons driving cages. LET’S JUST GO TO WORK, ALRIGHT?
So we pressed on. West River Road is getting bad. The frost heaves come one after the other, and on the Baron’s cold-stiffened suspension they felt like riding over the “whoops” on a motocross track. Bam, bam, bam, bam… my lunch was taking a beating back there in the milk crate. Frozen as it must have been by then, it was a wonder I didn’t arrive at work with shattered pizza slices. But wife Amy had packed them well; individually wrapped in heavy foil, then tied up together in a plastic bag. These things are important. Thanks Honey!
By the time I saw the first hints of daylight creeping over the horizon, we were nearly there. I also noticed that my visor was frosting up on the inside again. It always starts on the left side. I have no explanation for this, except that the seal between the panes must be compromised there. Maybe a replacement is in order. Nevertheless, I calculated that we could probably make it before my vision was dangerously compromised.
Of course, this meant taking the highway to save time. Bad decision. The Baron, with his stiff CVT, was not up to highway speeds this morning. We could just manage 40 mph by that time, and the limit here was 50. Being a Friday morning, that meant everybody was going 65 – 70. Suddenly, I forgot all about the cold. Now my life was in danger from the angry motorists zipping past us at much higher speeds. We turned off at the next opportunity, and took the sidestreets the rest of the way to work.
My visor was frosted clear across by the time we arrived. I had to lift it out of the way to negotiate that last mile or so. That was cold. Really cold.
I should have stopped at Dunn Brothers to warm up this morning, but I’m a stubborn brute sometimes. Whenever faced with a challenge like this, I tend to choose the caveman option. I’m getting too old for this.
During work today, I went out to the parking lot to check on the Baron. He didn’t want to start. I hadn’t worn my gloves out there, because I still didn’t get exactly how cold it was. I didn’t know that the temperature had actually DROPPED while I was beginning my workday. It was -8° F by the time I tried to start the Baron on my morning break. So I pulled in the metal brake lever with my bare left hand and pressed the starter button with my right thumb. The starter whirred, but didn’t engage. I tried it again. And again. Finally it caught and turned the engine over. And over.
It took about 30 seconds to start the Baron, and by that time my left ring finger was slightly frostbitten from the cold metal lever. You really can’t fart around with cold like this!
I quickly realized that the Baron would not survive the whole workday out there in the cold and still be able to start at quitting time. So I called my friend Al Kurtz, our facilities manager. He had a nice, warm spot in our warehouse across the parking lot, where they park the Bobcat that clears the snow around the buildings sometimes. He said I could put it in there, just this once. Thanks Al.
On the ride home tonight, it was still -6° F. It hadn’t warmed at all during the day. When we got to the halfway point, at the Lake Street Bridge, my visor was half-frosted. It was time to stop. I looked at my options: Dunn Brothers, or the Longfellow Grille. Dunn Brothers has coffee, but the Grille has Guinness. That wasn’t a hard choice. I left the Baron parked at the bicycle rack where I could see him. Running. There was no way I was going to give him a chance to refuse to start.
By the time my Guinness had settled, my visor was cleared of frost. By the time my Guinness was gone, I was nice and warm, and ready to finish the journey. The rest of our ride home went smoothly. We could still only manage about 50 mph, even with the headwind gone. We actually had a 10 mph tailwind by then. But the variator was making weird noises, and I know it wasn’t liking this cold at all. I’ll have to call up crewchief Lorne and see what he thinks.
So, am I going to go for that midnight ride tonight? No. It’s supposed to get down to -18°F. That’s about -28°C for the rest of the world. The Baron has indicated that’s too cold for him, and I have to agree. Midnight will find us both tucked snug in our respective beds. I’m not THAT stubborn.