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?

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