15 March, 2006 Weather: Mild winter conditions, horrible roads.
I would really like to know what Public Works was doing on Monday night, into Tuesday morning. None of the sidestreets that I ride received any attention. These roads still had ridges and ruts of solid ice, frozen from the slush left on the streets overnight. Road conditions were worse on Tuesday morning than they were when I rode home on Monday afternoon. This is inexcusable.
Have the cities and counties run out of salt and sand? Hardly. After our mild January and February, they still have stockpiles of the stuff. Have they already laid off some of the plow drivers? I don’t know, but I would sure like to find out.
I suited up on Tuesday morning, ready to ride the Baron to work. When I went to pull him out of the garage, he wouldn’t budge. He acted like his front brake was stuck on. Why? On closer inspection, I found the entire space between the tire and fender was solid ice. The spaces between the three spokes of the wheel were filled with ice and snow. This was a lightbulb revelation! Now I knew why it felt like the front tire had gone bald on Monday. Now I knew why the ice and snow seemed especially slick on my ride home. The snow and ice had packed into the fender and were acting like a front brake every time I hit a slippery surface.
That was why I strained my groin muscles holding the front end off the ground so many times. That’s why my right knee is a solid mass of black and blue right now. That fender would have to come off if I was going to ride in any more heavy, wet, sticky snow.
I thought about busting out the tools and doing it right then, but I was already late for work. The thought of trying to hurry down such treacherous roads with weak legs and a bruised knee convinced me that it would be OK to drive the cage to work. Throw Old Man Winter a bone, let him win one round… why not?
On Monday, The Baron and I proved that we could punch our way through his worst blizzard of this season. We both deserved a little R&R. So I drove…
I piloted our family Beetle down the roads which comprise my normal scootering route. This would be a reconnaissance for Wednesday morning. I found frozen ruts so bad that the suspension bottomed out. I heard ominous scraping sounds underneath the floorpan. I could imagine a mini-iceberg ripping the guts out of the oilpan, turning us into a four-wheeled Titanic.
This imagination thing got so bad that I started driving with the tires on the high-spots, straddling the ruts and sliding everywhere. There was NO WAY I could have ridden through there on the Baron. But I would take the same route on the way home, just to see if conditions had improved.
They had, but not much. West River Road was still not safe for a scooter. The only improvements had come from sun-melt, but this didn’t affect the shady spots. I doubt that a plow truck went down there all day. East River Road was only a little better. There were still long stretches of solid ice, with little or no salt/sand mix to aid traction.
If the Baron and I were to ride this morning, I would have to come up with a different route.
Using Google Earth, I flew a virtual route that took Robert Street to Kellogg, to Marion, to University Avenue. University parallels I-94 through the Twin Cities. It is a high-traffic thoroughfare, so it should be in good shape. From University, I could cross the river and hook up with Highway 55 via a couple of sidestreets, minimizing our exposure to the really wretched conditions.
For once, everything went exactly as planned. We made it to work this morning in an hour and ten minutes. There was little traffic, as we left early, and the conditions were just as I had predicted. The ride home wouldn’t go as smoothly, however.
The Baron looked pretty beat-up sitting out in the parking lot. The plastic along the right side is scraped, and there’s a big chunk missing out of the “dash”. There are cracks all along the floorboard and around the steering head. Then there were his spindly fork legs sticking out, naked without their stylish fender. Still, after three crashes in one day, he carried me to work like a champion this morning.
The ride home, along the same University Avenue route, was a traffic nightmare. I didn’t leave work until almost four p.m., and it was four-thirty by the time we got into the thick of the traffic along this four-to-six-lane boulevard. The traffic signals prevent it from being a free-for-all, but you sure spend a lot of time waiting for your chance to dash another block, only to stop again. It was maddening, not to mention dangerous. I believe there are a lot of road-ragin’ refugees from the freeway who drive this route. People make the most ridiculous moves, just to get a car length or two ahead. Nobody was looking for a scooter out there, and I was feeling extremely vulnerable on the Baron.
We made it home, but it took us nearly two hours. I hate that route. I won’t ride it again, if I have any choice, not during rush hour.
Tomorrow we are supposed to get another six inches of snow. With my scooter roads still in lousy condition from Monday’s blizzard, and with my body still mending from the damage it sustained, I don’t think I want to deal with this.
I’m starting to feel like a “short-timer” in one of those Vietnam War movies. Man, I am so close to going back to the real world of Springtime riding and commuting that I don’t want to get zapped so close to the end of my “tour”. My repairs to the family Beetle are working, and my wife has found a friend at work she can carpool with, so the cage thing is very tempting.
I’m not going to make a decision tonight. I’ll wait until after my morning “briefing” of news and weather reports before making up my mind. Six inches of snow is the deciding factor. If we are going to get that, it would be irresponsible and foolhardy to try and ride. The Baron and I have nothing more to prove, and I don’t want to be laid up in a hospital for the first part of the real riding season.
Tune in tomorrow…