Old Man Winter’s Revenge

13 March, 2006 Weather: Blizzard Conditions, 32°F/0°C Wind Gusting 40mph

If I had it to do all over again, I would have driven the cage this morning. Better yet, maybe I should have just stayed home.

March often brings Minnesota some of it’s most, um… interesting weather of the Winter season. Though seldom terribly cold, we do sometimes get horrific snowfalls this time of year.

Some attribute this to esoteric factors such as basketball or hockey tournaments.

But you and I both know it is all about the de-hibernation of our motorbikes. The heat and noise of our combined exhaust rises into the air, as we rev motors which have been dormant for four or five months, and this provokes Old Man Winter into a fit of rage at us puny humans. He responds by dumping outrageous quantities of snow upon us, just to shut us up!

Such was the case this morning.

Over the weekend, we had Springlike weather which saw motorbikes of every type running around the Twin Cities as though Winter had never happened. Daytona Bikeweek was going down in sunny Florida, and motorcyclists everywhere were feeling it. OMW was pissed! After a wimpy January and a mediocre February, his numbers were sagging in the polls. He had to do something drastic!

So he marshalled his forces and hit us with a solid foot of snow, all in less than twenty-four hours, and brought most of the Twin Cities to a standstill.

Now, early on in this project, I had speculated about what conditions would prompt me to abort the scooter-commute in favor of driving the cage to work. If I recall correctly, that was going to be six inches of accumulation on the ground at the time I had to leave for work.

This morning, we had exactly that, but something else in the equation had changed: I no longer had reliable four-wheel transportation.

Do we really wanna do this?It was scoot or stay home this morning. Last Friday used up all my available time-off, so I felt compelled to ride to work as long as the Baron and I could make forward progress down the street.

OMW is a wily old bastard. He uses guerrilla tactics to suck an overconfident adversary into his ambush. He let us ride down our street, and down neighboring streets, without too much trouble. The going was slow, of course, but I thought it was manageable. Ramsey County had sanded and plowed a little bit on the sidestreets that I normally ride, and I was feeling pretty good as we got to the end of East River Road.

My intention was to stop for coffee at Dunn Brothers over the Lake Street Bridge and figure out the rest of my route from there. But Dunn Brothers was dark, as were the streetlights and traffic signals. This part of town had been hit by a power outage. So the Baron and I made the right turn onto West River Road, and that is when we entered Old Man Winter’s kill zone.

Hennepin County assigns no priority whatsoever to West River Road during a “snow emergency”. At least that’s the way it looks from the saddle of the Baron. We seldom see anything done to this road other than the erratic tire-ruts of SUVs and luxury cars. When we try to follow those ruts, especially in these slick conditions, every deviation from straight ahead means we have to slow way down, put the boots down, or risk taking a spill when the front tire tries to follow a vector at odds with our momentum. This is polished slush-ice, and there is no traction at all for a lightweight, two-wheeled vehicle.

The constant footwork required to keep the front-end tracking eventually wears out the old thigh and ab muscles. I was getting tired, and just before we reached our turn on Plymouth Road, I faltered. The Baron went down, but I remained standing, humiliated in the middle of the road, with an imperious wench in a big Lexus SUV smirking down at me from the oncoming lane. I clearly didn’t belong out here in these conditions. The really sad thing is… she was right.

Turning left onto Plymouth Road, things went from bad to impossible. We tried to make headway, but the forty-mph wind gusts hit so hard that anytime we established a semi-stable track along the rutted road, the wind would push us sideways and cause the scooter to fishtail and weathercock.

I tried Highway 55 to no avail. This too was icy and rutted with the added hazard of heavy traffic. I would get killed out there if I tried to continue. So we went back to the sidestreets.

These were just plain impassable. By this time, the snow was over eight inches deep, and the Baron only has four inches of ground clearance. We had trouble moving on flat ground, but the slightly uphill slope of these roads were impossible for us to negotiate.

Sweating inside my helmet, trying to see out of a fogged-and-frosted visor, I spotted the Minneapolis Hmong Academy building just off of Highway 55. The Baron and I slid into their parking lot just as the faculty were arriving. We made our way across the snowy expanse and I asked them if I could take shelter in their building for awhile. They didn’t know what to make of me at first, but their good nature got the best of them, and they let me inside.

I spent the next half hour explaining the Minnesota Winter Scooter Commuter project to them, and while they didn’t exactly get behind the idea, at least they accepted me as an earnest, if misguided, fellow human. The power was out in that neighborhood too, but they fed me cookies and bottled water as I waited for the plows to come by or the traffic to die down.

Well, we made it...Eventually they all decided to go home, and that meant I would have to continue my journey as well. The Baron and I headed out onto Highway 55 and had no trouble keeping up with the 5-10 mph gridlock crawl. We did this all the way to work, where I found the power was out and we were not going to be working today. Oh, great…

The Boss said I could hang around the building for awhile until the weather eased up, or the plows had a chance to catch up. Neither of which happened before the Baron and I set sail for home.

We toppled over a couple more times on the return trip. I put this down to fatigue, both mental and physical. The snow-covered ruts all look the same after awhile. Some are very slippery, others are not.

53 miles of this!?Either way, it is not the right place to be riding a scooter. Today, we found the limits of this Winter Scooter experience. The Baron has lost a bit more plastic, but is otherwise perfectly functional. I have a few more bruises and strained muscles. This is how we learn, I guess.

22 Responses to “Old Man Winter’s Revenge”

  1. Marc Says:


    Sounds like quite a challenge! I wondered all day if you made it ok. I knew you would be on two wheels. As for myself they canceled work. Yeah, I’ve never heard of that either but I didn’t complain. Maybe they told me not to come in because they knew I’d ride the bike and possibly kill myself. I’m flattered. In the end it didn’t really matter because I got a call at 3:30 in the afternoon from a milk hauler in distress. Turns out he got a quad axle milk truck stuck in the mud/snow and he needed me to pull him out with my M35A2C. You being a Marine should know what that is. I didn’t have time to put the canvas cab on and I unhooked the defroster long ago so I was driving down the highway with my head hanging out hoping to see enough of the road because the windshield was iced over. It was about the same challenge as if I would have had to ride the bike to work so it was a good day. Glad you made it ok.


  2. 433 Says:

    Huh, you did, congrats.

    Black Stella has ridden every day this winter, how many days have you missed?

  3. Nick Says:

    I’m glad you made it Gary, I was also wondering about you. I do hope you punched in anyhow and when you leave tomorrow you’ll have lots of hours to fix your cage. If I was wondering the streets all winter on a scooter and blogging about it, then today I may of just hung it up. You can always write a fictional account of your days ride. I would of believed it. YOU are a die hard, it’s like you are on some kind of Vision Quest. Later, Nick

  4. irondad Says:

    Blackhawk Down. Patch me up and send me back out please, Sir!

    I swear we’re twins even though our mamas deny it. Although I have more hair so maybe not. I’ve done the same thing so many times. “That really sucked. I’m sure I’ll lick it tomorrow. No way I’m giving up now.”

    On the one hand a wasted, frustrating, totally fatiguing day. On the other, something to put in your war chest that you’ll never regret.

    I guess you finally found the point you’ve been seeking all winter. Aren’t you kind of relieved to find it? Wouldn’t it have driven you crazy to give back the Baron and never have really known just what the thing was capable of? It would have remained unfinished business. I think you’ll have peace of mind, now. Not only do you know the limit but, if you’re really my twin brother, you needed to know you completed your mission to the fullest extent.

    Well done, Soldier. Glad you survived. That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

  5. Eric Says:

    Wow Gary.

    That’s all I can say. I’ve played in the snow like that on dirtbikes before, but never in traffic. As always, you have my utmost respect for your skill and determination.

    Reading this entry, I can’t help but recall some of your earliest postings. Full of optimism and ready to take on “old man winter”. The early journeys scoping out your ideal route… But OMW is a tough old sucker isn’t he? I’m glad you emerged more or less unscathed, and that the baron is still ready for another round.

    Knowing that “The Baron in Winter” is nearing the end of a very successfull and entertaining season, I have to say it’s been a great ride for all of us reading along as you defy the elements on the red baron. It’s always fun to live vicariously through someone else who can describe the experience as well as you.

    Good luck with the remainder of this blog, and the future adventures as well!


  6. Mad Says:

    Yup not a Baron day…. sounds more like a day for the KLR with knobbly hoops on. Much respect for making it all the way and back… Have I mentioned you’re a nutter? :p

  7. mnscooter Says:

    Hey Marc, you have a duece-and-a-half? Nice… Yes, I have put in some miles in the back of those. Mostly in Korea. Sounds like a fun day?

    433… In a word: NONE. I ride at least 53 miles a day. How far does BS ride? How far do you?

    Hey Nick, the punch-clock was down with everything else electrical. Hourly workers who made it in will be payed for 1.5 hours. It would have been a good day to stay home, but I can’t seem to resist a challenge.

    Dan, I knew you would get it. It was exhilarating to push myself like that after being relatively “normal” for so many years. The old mental discipline is still there. One of my DIs crawled inside my head twenty-five years ago, and I have never been able to evict him. But I do have one minor correction here: I was never a soldier. I am a Marine.

    Hey Eric, I see you’re up late too. It’s 3:30a.m. as I type this, and I am supposed to get up at 5. Can’t seem to sleep tonight. Thanks for your kind comments. Looking outside right now, I still see “frozen butter” on the roads. The plows have been slacking, or maybe they’ve burned through their salt and sand allotments for the year. Who knows? It looks like another interesting commute this morning.

    Ride well,

  8. Steve Williams Says:

    Glad you survived the trip and Old Man Winter did not send you to the hospital or worse.

    I chuckled thinking about your visit at the Hmong Academy picturing you trying to rationalize what surely must have appeared irrational. Good thing you didn’t stop at a psych center—we might have never read this post.

    Imperious Wench. Now there’s an image. And maybe a blog title….

    Something like—> Stubborn Resistance to Existential Gravity and the Imperious Wench.

    You’ve pretty much exhausted the riding difficulty factor. What’s next?


  9. 433 Says:

    Hm, I thought you had posted that you stayed home from work a few days this winter.

    I can see how my question could sound antagonistic, especially given our history, but it wasn’t meant as such.

    >How far does BS ride?

    Dunno, I’m not his keeper. All I know is that he has ridden every day since he bought the scooter last summer, and before that he rode his Vino every day. You know, without any free stuff.

    >How far do you?

    Seven minutes. Silly me, getting a job near my house! Then again, I didn’t promise I was going to ride every day this winter.

  10. irondad Says:

    Stand down, Soldier. Stand up proud Marine! Semper fi.

  11. Dick Aal Says:

    I have some of the same thoughts as “Irondad”. It is not only your DI in your head but that old midwestern scandinavian type stubborness coming out. Always looking for a challange where it would make more sense to stay home. I can remember many times going out in blizzards when I was young just to prove I could do it. That included going 100 miles with a buddy to see our girl friends in another town with the hiway patrol and everyone else warning us about not doing it. It was only 10 below and the winds were less than 70 miles an hour so it wasn’t bad.

  12. mnscooter Says:

    Hey Steve… What’s next? Hopefully a season of easy rides and more pleasant adventures. I’m feeling my patina today.

    433… Good for BS. Actually, I should say BSS (Black Stella Sidecar). We neglected to mention he rides a sidehack. That makes the whole enterprise a lot safer and easier.
    I salute him for the effort. I’ve been a two-wheeled purist for a long time now. Maybe someday I’ll put on a training wheel for winter commuting.

    Dan… you’re a goof. (…and that’s not a bad thing.)

    Dick, 100 miles in a blizzard at -10°F? Why aren’t YOU writing this blog?

    Ride well,

  13. Tom Risor Says:

    Hey, Gary -
    Maybe, next year you can try a dirt bike? Oughta be one that fits your requirements.

    PS - Talked to you at the watering hole on 13 Sunday. I had my Road Glide out. I DIDN’T have it out yesterday. I ride a lot, but, not as much as you.

  14. Dick Aal Says:

    Gary, can’t write well and too lazy to work at it. Besides, I like your blog better than writing my own. If you want to know how I was raised on the plains of western North Dakota you only have to listen to Garrison Kellor’s praire home companion. He could have been writing my youth. Just wanted you to know I understand why you went to work on a scooter yet on a day when NOBODY else showed up. It was unique and quite senseless but wonderfully fufilling to do it. I’ve done those type of things and they are what live in my memory banks much longer with more satisfaction than other things I have accomplished. I have been riding around here the last week in wind, rain, and hail while everyone else heads for cover. I like that.

  15. jim Says:

    Hmm, I like Eric, have ridden dirt bikes in snow like that on my dads farm. Not in traffic for crying out loud.
    It is an old cliche but You Da Man!!!!!!!!!

  16. Bill Sommers Says:

    Gary,I feel like a kid in the grandstands waiting for your next at bat. The old man threw you a fat nasty spitball, and you went after it. You did what I’ve been waiting all winter for you to do. You made it all the way around. Much respect to you.
    I sensed a funky tone in some of the comments from guys that I didn’t recognize. I guess to me, it isn’t about your total number of days ridden, and on what type of ride. It’s about what you do for yourself, and how you measure up to your challenges. And in your case, you have a pretty loyal following of guys who I think apprieciate what you have done. So…two cents donated. GOOD JOB. *bill*

  17. 433 Says:

    Actually, Gary, a sidecar on a Stella or Vespa in the snow isn’t any safer — you’re less likely to fall down, but more likely to slide all over the place.

  18. mnscooter Says:

    Hi Tom. Thanks for writing in. Monday was definitely NOT Harley weather.

    Dick, I agree. Building memories that last is one of the nice things about taking on a challenge like this. You can go forward feeling like you accomplished something significant in your life.

    Thanks Jim. Traffic was definitely scary on Monday. But then, a couple of times there, it looked like cage drivers were scared of ME.

    Bill, 433 is a member of the local… I’ll call them “Scooterati”. They seem to think they own the franchise on the local scooter scene, and really resent the fact that I’m not doing this on one of their officially acceptable brands, or that I didn’t ask their permission first, or something… At least, that’s what I get from my limited communications with them.

    433 is attempting to infect my blog with some… Let me quote Donald Sutherland’s character in “Kelly’s Heroes” here… Negative Waves.

    Since all other reaction to my blog has been overwhelmingly positive, I don’t sweat a bit of sour grapes from the Scooterati. The Baron in Winter has been a success by any measurable criteria, and they are probably just looking for some suitable parting shot.

    433… Addressing your argument here: I’ve been sliding the Baron all over the place, all winter long. Sometimes horizontally, if you catch my, er, drift.

    On a `hack, you have three tires in contact with the ground, instead of two. This means that, while you may slide, there is always going to be some control input available. You get to stay astride the machine. The drive wheel will spin more, because it’s trying to accelerate against more weight and rolling resistance. But you won’t end up on your back with the machine on top of you unless you have done something terribly wrong.

    My beef with the sidehack outfits has to do with giving up most of the advantages inherent in a motorbike. You lose the narrow footprint which allows a two-wheeler to slip through traffic. You also lose the acceleration advantage which allows you to get ahead of most car traffic when you want to. Finally, you lose that wonderful feeling of leaning into turns on those days when the roads allow it.

    Crap. My blunchtime is over. I’ll check your response tonight, and if you don’t get nasty, I’ll even post it.

    Ride well,

  19. irondad Says:

    I can’t believe you referenced Donald Sutherland in Kelly’s Heroes! I use that same quote all the time. I always picture him sitting in his tank, looking scruffy, leather helmet, and spouting those words.

    Here’s another one. Remember “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly?” Clint Eastwood, and all. Love the scene where the the Mexican sidekick is taking a bath in the crumbled hotel. Some wannabe bad dude catches him in the tub and spends a long time spouting off about how much he’s been looking forward to offing the fellow. The bather pulls out the pistol and shoots him as he yaps. Here’s my life motto from this scene:

    “If you’re gonna shoot, shoot. Don’t stand around and talk about it”.

  20. jim Says:

    I’m writing this for Jim…. (I’m his ever-lovin’ wife). He called me from work with another ‘name’ for the blog:
    2 Cities 2 Wheels 2 Work
    and I may as well offer a couple more while I’m here –
    >Commuter Chronicles
    >The Compelling Commute
    …also, while I’m at it… I enjoyed reading your March 13th ’snowy’ entry.
    Brrrr. We’ve been in Arkansas for a few years now.. but I can still remember those bone-chilling Iowa winter days, the icy slush, the deep snow…and I must hand it to you! I even felt my bones ache for you as I read it. You ARE a road warrior. Keep on keeping on…and take care. ~..~Susan

  21. Rob Tsou Says:

    Glad you made it home ok. I usually say a day I get to ride is better than a day I don’t but your day sounds like an exception.

    Yesterday I finally got my scooter back on the road after about a year and a half. It’s not so much that I’m lazy as much as I’m cheap, a replacement battery for that thing is $100! I’ve rigged a mount on the luggage rack and routed some cables so I can use a $30 battery instead. New tires went on last summer, now I have no excuse! I had to sort out some carb issues but everything looks like it’s running great now. Thanks for getting me off my butt!

    Some title ideas:

    “Every Day Rider”
    “Frogs, Cogs, and My Place in the Machine”

    Ride well sir!


  22. mnscooter Says:

    Thanks Dan. Those have always been a couple of my favorites. Spaghetti westerns do have a certain, quirky charm. Kelly’s Heroes was an absolute classic.

    Susan… thanks for writing in. At last we see the creative talent behind Jim’s prodigious entries. You are definitely on the short list…

    Rob, that is so cool! When do we get our first ride report? Your contest entries are noted and logged. Thanks!

    Ride well,

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