Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The year of circumstances (not being quite right)

I'm trying to do a new year's reflection on all my blogs: a sort of recap and recalibration.

But this year, circumstances have been such that I don't get on the bike as much as I did. I used to have a job five days a week that was about seven or eight miles away depending on the route you took, and I could ride there in the morning and ride home at night, and I spent a lot of time with my legs going and my eyes on the path in front of me, or my head up and my ears tuned for the cars.

This year, though, I've been driving three days a week to a job 40km out along the highway: not something I can bike to. Well, I could. Sure, I could. And would I ever be in amazing shape right now if I did. . . But it's a matter of time. I don't have that kind of time. If cycling was a fitness thing for me, if fitness was a lifestyle for me like it is for some, then sure. I know there are a lot of people that ride that far to and from work. But I just can't take that much time out of my day. (And, leaving that job at 7 or 8 at night would have me riding home in the dark all the time, along back roads in Quebec. No thanks.)

But, one thing I've learned because of that is how much I actually do enjoy riding when I can. I'm no longer just getting up and riding to work in the rain or the snow or the heat because that's how I have to get around: I'm relishing the chance to go downtown now on the bike. No searching for parking. No digging for change to pay for parking. No running out to feed the meter. No stopping for gas, no scraping off ice and brushing off snow and not being sure if the car will start because of the deep cold. The bike starts, no matter how cold. I can store it inside. It costs nothing to park and it never needs gas or wiper fluid.

This winter has been snowy (very snowy!) and cold: not the best conditions. But I still get out on the bike. I still relish the feeling of being one of the (growing number of) cyclists who just bundle up and get out there, and who try to explain to their friends why riding is actually warmer than walking, or taking the bus. And my long term job searching goals now include the nice-to-have of being within biking distance: because I know (for reals) now how important it is to me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Beautiful icy night

The cold snap has really been amazing this winter. The snow came down and stayed - deep and fluffy - and for the last few days, temperatures have been in the effective -25 to -40C range. In fact, December came hurtling in on a wall of snow and hasn't really shown any signs of letting up on the full-on, good-old-fashioned Canadian weather.

It's great.

I haven't been on the bike nearly enough these last few months. Between a part time contract that's inaccessible by bike, another part time contract that is often more efficient if I do it from home, a bunch of personal commitments and pressure, and weird hours, I've found myself more and more having to use the car. And it's been driving me nuts. Then on some days when I could use the bike, there's been 15 cm of fresh snow down and nothing plowed yet, and I've been off the bike enough lately that I'm uncertain of my snow skills. It's been a pain.

But today I woke up and it was an effective -39C outside. I was supposed to take the car to the shop for some work, but when I tried to start it, it made a wheezing noise and rolled its nonexistent automotive eyes at me, as if to say, "Seriously? NOW?" (13-year-old diesel engines don't take kindly to subzero temperatures.)

So I rescheduled the appointment, called my employer and said I'd work from home, and settled in. But this evening I had a meeting to get to. Knowing the car wouldn't work made it that much easier to decide on the bike. I wheeled it out to the elevator and was surprised to realize I was actually a little excited. This was going to be, believe it or not, my first real snowy ride since the hammer came down at the start of the month. (That's how bad my bikelessness has been.)

The temperatures had soared to a balmy effective -25C. (-18 real temperature and a wind chill of -25.) There was dusty, sparkly snow falling. As I stood in the lobby tying my scarf and pulling on my mittens and turning on all my lights, a guy in his twenties came in the front door, saw me, and said, "Whoa, ride safe!"

"I plan to," I said, and then I got myself bundled up and carried the bike down the steps to the snowy pavement.

And it was probably the best ride I've had in months. It was so cold it was dry, with a thin layer of snow down on the streets that didn't affect traction at all: there was fine snow coming down. The streets were pretty empty, and the drivers that were out were taking it easy and going slowly, having been scared straight by all the black ice this morning, perhaps. They were giving me a wide berth, driving carefully and courteously, partly because with all this snow down I pretty much have to take up most of the right hand lane, and partly because they're aware of the treacherous conditions. I wish they drove like that all the time, it would be fantastic.

One advantage to all the driving I've been doing lately: I know what's going through a driver's mind when they come up behind a cyclist on a snowy night, and I've watched how other drivers act. It made me more certain that they weren't likely to buzz me or drive aggressively. I've watched a lot of my fellow drivers slow down and move into the other lane to pass cyclists in the snow.

And I also knew to have an enormous taillight and a turtle light on my helmet and a big headlight on the handlebars; because I have cursed at a distressingly large number of cyclists this winter who I've come across biking along on a snowy road, unlit and wearing black. Some of them have really scared me. So, I was lit up like a Christmas tree, and feeling pretty safe as a result. (Also, cyclists: please, please, please, my driver side can't stress this enough: get lights.)

I whooshed along to my meeting without a single slip, or slide, or startle, thoroughly enjoying myself with the cold and the snow and the dark and the self-powered swoosh, and realized part way there that I was actually almost too warm (with my merino base layer and my sweater and my Thinsulate mittens). On the way back, it was just as lovely: cars giving me space, the cold air on my face, my tires cutting along through the thin layer of snow on the street.

Why wouldn't you bike in the winter?