Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Bring it, 2017

They did say that this was going to be a winter with a lot of precipitation.

They weren't wrong. Apparently we're now at 63.6 cm more cumulative total snow for this winter than the average. And it does seem like I've spent more time this winter wrenching the handlebars back and forth to stay upright as my wheels skidded right and left in the snow.

Today, it started snowing sometime in the middle of a hectic work day for me. My director came around to tell people that if they "felt like they were in a good place" they should get out early to avoid the inevitably snarled commute. But I was going to have to go over to my other office at the BUZZ to do a bunch of edits and upload the January issue anyway, and if I was going to be in town for a while, I figured I'd rather bike home late (after the plows had maybe had a chance to start catching up to the snow, and after the rush hour press of traffic) than brave the roads in mid-storm. Also, I had way too much to do to leave work early.

So, I wound up heading home at about 7:30 pm, in the middle of a full-blown storm.

It didn't look that bad until I got outside and realized how much snow was coming down and how white the streets were. There was no bare pavement at all on Gloucester. I hauled the bike out to the shallowest bit when the road looked clear, got on, skidded and counter-corrected my way to Kent, waited until there wasn't a car for a block before swinging out onto Kent, and then got myself to the Laurier lane.

I was not alone! As I turned onto the lane, I saw that a fellow frostbiker had been there before me. I felt a certain cameraderie with whoever that was.

The lane didn't seem to have been plowed - at least not in a while - but it was easy enough to cut through. Snow itself isn't the problem. Snow that's been packed down, squashed around, and piled up by car tires is a problem. Its texture is irregular. Fresh snow just swooshes along under your tires. Especially if you have studded tires. A thousand blessings on the head of whoever invented studded tires.

By the time I hit the O'Connor lane, I was even more not alone. There were a whole bunch of other tire tracks - and footprints, too, since the lane was easier to walk on than the sidewalks by now, for the aforementioned texture reasons.

All that was well and good . . . until I got under the highway on O'Connor and found myself on a side street. O'Connor beyond the highway was unplowed, has no separate bike lane and was impassable. I tried. I made it half a block. So my choice was, did I try to cut up to the canal and hope it was okay, or did I cut down to Bank Street and hope to be able to ride the rut? 

After slogging, pushing the bike, unable to ride it in the deep snow on the uncleared street and sidewalk, a short way, I decided that the canal would be a lost cause. It was Bank Street or nothing: the usual resort of the snowstorm biker is the most traveled street (sadly).

So I cut down to Bank Street. It was beautiful, but . . . the road was pretty white. Not all that busy though.

I took the sidewalk for a bit, I'll admit, but got tired of crawling along at pedestrian speed behind people walking (and I will not tell a pedestrian on the sidewalk to move over for me). So I hauled the bike over the snowbanks and into the road - again, during a lull in traffic when I knew no one was coming for a while - and then got rolling along in the slightly shallower snow of the wheel-rut. It meant I need to be way out in the middle of the lane, in order to stick to the part of the road where I had traction. If nothing else, winter teaches you to take the lane, and do it unapologetically, because you have no choice. The only place where you can be secure is way out in the lane. 

But it was surprisingly secure, except at intersections, where snow dragged out from the side streets was dumped in the street and then alternately compressed by bus tires and heaped into ridges. Those sections were less fun. Still, I managed to stay on the pedals most of the way through the Glebe and over the bridge at Lansdowne. It was as snow-covered as ever: I stopped to take a photo of the "supersharrows" mostly obliterated by snow. Thought it was telling. But still, there wasn't that much traffic to worry about and drivers generally gave me a wide berth because of the conditions. They must have seen my tires doing little micro-slalams as I steered for the clearest pavement.
Old Ottawa South was the biggest surprise - as long as I steered for the rut and bullheadedly ignored whether or not I was in anyone's way. I stuck to the middle of the street until I could switch out to the outer lane just before Billings Bridge. Drivers stayed back. They waited until there was time to pass. It was pretty nice, even if sometimes the rut ran out and I'd have to feel my way through all the snow to the next spot on the pavement that felt secure.
Changing lanes, Old Ottawa South style.
Probably the clearest pavement was on the busiest road - Bank Street. Higher speeds notwithstanding, the easier going was a relief after a lot of fighting the skid. That can get really hard on the core and lower back muscles. And the arms as you try to control the front tire. And the legs. And pretty much everything. 

At Heron Road, you're damn right I got on the sidewalk, after I saw that it had been plowed. Heron is narrow and scary on good days, and by the time I was heading up Heron, freezing rain had kicked in, and there were sharp hard ice pellets whipping into my face. Made my vision less reliable, and I just didn't feel like dealing with the fear of being in mid-lane on a road where people are used to going 70 or 80. 

But then the sidewalk got unuseable. There was Three Jeep Man, who owns so many cars that he typically parks with the ass end of one of them sticking halfway across the sidewalk. Annoying in summer, worse in winter.

And then the sidewalk vanished entirely under a dump of snow from the plow. . . 

. . . so I headed out onto the road. Again, I had to stop and wait until there was nothing coming at all before I carried the bike over the snow and put it down on the pavement in a clear patch. Got on it and then rode, quite comfortably, along the rut and home. 

Stuff I remembered on this ride (which took me about an hour, twice as long as usual, though I also stopped to take pictures): 

Standing in the car lane is an interesting experience. You feel like you have a target on your back, you try to get moving as quickly as you can. Even moving slower than the rest of traffic feels better than being stopped on the road. Being stopped on the road feels threatening. But I had to do it a couple of times today, because to get to the clear(er) pavement, I had to walk the bike, and then get set up on it, and then get rolling. 

Taking the lane is a scary feeling too. But when the snow is really flying, it's paradoxically easier, because the drivers stay away from you. The sidewalks can be safer, but more work; the road is scarier, but easier to ride on. The side streets - normally the best option - are useless. The segregated bike lanes, though, are fine. 

And even though everyone may tell you you're crazy, you'll still be glad you took the bike.

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