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A little exploration close to home

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

On Sunday, I wanted to ride, but didn’t feel up for going very far. So I went for a ride through our neighborhood, and down to Sherwood Oaks Park, the Jackson Creek Trail, and up and over the hill to Olcott Park. It wasn’t epic, but it was a fun romp, and I’m lucky to have scenes like these within minutes of my house.






I got to test my studded tires in some tough conditions, including some spots where people had walked on the snowy trail, which later froze, resulting in thick, bumpy ice, on a hill.


The tires worked shockingly well. I had no problems with this stuff.

After visiting the parks, I rode through a few neighborhoods, looking for shortcuts and hidden paths. I found a few. Nothing groundbreaking, but it was fun exploring. Then I rode home.


I rode about eight miles, at a leisurely pace, but I enjoyed this limited time outdoors immensely.


Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

The mercury sat at 11°F yesterday morning at commute time, with a windchill of -3°F. The high was in the upper teens. Today was a bit warmer, 15° with 5° windchill perhaps, warming to around 20°/8°.

This is abnormally cold for us, for this time of year. However, I’ve been riding for a few winters now, and I know fairly well what gear works for me in these temperatures. A few pieces of gear have changed, and a few things need adjustment now that my commute is twice as long as it was last winter, but overall, so far, so good. I used to have to microanalyze every piece of clothing to make sure I was adequately prepared for a cold ride, but now I mostly just get ready and go. It can still take a while to put on multiple layers, hand/neck/ear warmers, boots, protective glasses, helmet, etc.

I’ve had studded tires on the Trucker since last week. I haven’t really needed them for the most part, but I don’t have any interest in switching out tires constantly on the LHT. Plus, I encounter random patches of snow and ice and it’s nice to be able to roll over them without worrying too much. The tires are working fantastically, but they do add a lot of drag.

My longer, hillier commute is a bit of a difference experience in the cold. I have to worry about being adequately protected from the cold a little more, but I also have to worry more about sweating. And, frankly, 30-35 minutes in single-digit windchills in the dark on the way home takes some getting used to. It’s not epic, but there’s a certain sense of isolation that comes with riding in the dark, with far fewer other bikes and pedestrians than I saw just last week. Traffic has thankfully been light as well, though I have had a few run-ins with grumpy motorists.

Overall, I’m still enjoying my commute — in fact, I’m enjoying it more. There’s something I relish about the challenge of snow and ice and cold and darkness. In fair weather sometimes I’ll arrive at work without really anything memorable happening. In the winter, my commute is never boring.

It’s hard to believe it’s not even technically winter yet — it looks like we may have a long one. But, I expect things to warm up before taking a dive into winter proper.

How about you? Have you gotten an early taste of winter? Are you still riding?

Snowy ramble

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Every once in a while, I’ll go into a ride without earth-shattering expectations, and it will blow my expectations out of the water. This was one of those rides.

This weekend, we got our first significant snow of the year here. It started snowing Friday night and when I woke up on Saturday there were several inches of snow on the ground. The snow was around 5″ thick on our porch, but probably more like 3″ on the ground, due to the ground being warmer than the air.

I love riding in snow, so in the afternoon I set out for a ride with nothing more than a vague idea of where I wanted to go. The temperature was right around freezing, so the snow was very wet, and most of the roads were wet but not snowy or icy. Still, I took the Trucker out, with the studded tires mounted, as I was unsure what to expect once I got away from town. Also, I had notions of riding on a rail-trail, which was bound to be snow-covered. By the end of the ride, I had ridden 19 quite hilly miles, over the course of a bit over two hours. Here is a map of my ride.

Immediately, the ride took on an ethereal quality. The ground was blanketed in white, snow fell hard from the sky, sticking to my bicycle and myself.  The air was thick with moisture and a constant cloud of snow.

I entered the woods on the Bloomington Rail-Trail.  The snowy trail followed Clear Creek for a while.


These horses appeared to be kissing.



Here’s my bike, just a couple miles into the ride, already snow-covered.



I also spotted a beautiful Heron in Clear Creek.


After a bit of that, I exited the woods and got on some roads. There was very little traffic. Movement was slow due to the conditions and the extra drag created by the studded tires, but I was in no hurry.



The views on one of my favorite roads, Victor Pike, were even more stunning than usual, though visibility was low due to the falling, blowing snow.


I love the swooping curves of the road. Down. Left. Up. Right.


I passed another part of Clear Creek, beautiful again as it ran under the tracks.


My bicycle had picked up a lot of snow, especially my Acorn handlebar bag.


The snow picked up. It mostly melted on contact with my clothing. At one point a clump of snow fell from just above my face. Apparently it had been accumulating on my cap.


I stopped for yet another creek view. What could be more beautiful than a snowy creek?


Now I had a hell of a climb. I took my time and spun up in a low gear. Even though there was more snow on the road here, my studded tires didn’t fail me. These things are amazing.


After the long climb, I passed a quarry and saw this wild, dilapidated, overgrown old house.


The road conditions took a turn for the worse. A couple of cars went by. I hadn’t seen anyone for quite a while. The road had more and more snow on it.


And, the snow fell harder and harder. You can see large snowflakes falling in the shot below. I was getting a bit wet from it, but I was covered well enough to avoid feeling too cold or wet.


Now I had more climbing ahead of me — this time, with more snow on the road.


Since I hadn’t plotted a route, I started to think about where I should to next.  I decided to turn on Harmony Road. I saw some beautiful red berries along the side of the road.


The snow was still coming down pretty hard. But I was having a blast. I have to say that my gear worked better than I expected in these conditions. I never felt cold, even though it was chilly and wet. The better I figure out how to handle different types of conditions, the more fun I have. I was grinning moronically while descending on slick roads with wet snow pelting me the entire time!



I enjoyed seeing this excessive but pretty fence and gate.


But this perfect barn and the beautiful horses were even better.



The snow just came down harder and harder. The roads got better, then worse, then better, then worse again. Having studded tires is such a treat. I rode with confidence through all of it.


Soon I was on my way home, more or less, but I had plenty more scenery to enjoy. Ponds …


Hills …


Hay …


I stopped by a cemetery for a brief break. What’s crazy is, the photo below is straight out of the camera, in color mode. It just turned out nearly entirely grey.


The Trucker performed admirably. I did have a few problems with my derailleur clogging with snow and ice, and ice collecting on my brakes. But otherwise, the bicycle was fantastic.




My poor handlebar bag was just a magnet for wet snow. Actually, I think it looks awesome this way.




I got back on the bike. I rode up another hill …


… and past another quarry. I couldn’t resist the reflections of the snowy concrete blocks in the water.



My ride back was typified by more creek scenery, and more hills.



And soon, I was back on the rail-trail.



And then, home. Here’s my handlebar bag at the end of the ride. It has since thawed and dried out nicely.


What an incredible ride! At the end of the day, I rode over 19 miles in just a bit over two hours. It felt like more in terms of both exertion and reward. I also enjoyed going out without a plan. Normally, I have a route planned before I go out.

I can’t wait to do more snow riding. I just love the stuff!

How about you? Are you still getting out and riding?

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