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.
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.
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.
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.