Saturday, January 9, 2016

In Which I Ride Almost 4 Miles on Styrofoam

What the dusting looked like on my daughter's car. We recognize many kinds of snow in Iowa, but don't always have adequate words to describe them.

We Iowans do need to have a more expanded vocabulary for winter precipitation. We had rain Thursday and Friday, then, overnight, before this Saturday morning, it changed to a brief dusting of snow. Not just any snow—but that sort of Styrofoam, little snowballs snow that looks like tiny packing peanuts..

It’s getting cold. The temperature was in the low 20s as I contemplated going to the gym this morning, and the question was, how to get there?

Well, I know that the city finally got around to clearing the sidewalk on the C Avenue bridge. And pavement was wet with rain yesterday, but if pavement isn’t too wet, when bitter cold air moves in, water evaporates as it freezes, and you end up with mostly dry pavement.

Indeed, bitter cold weather is settling into the upper Midwest today, so I was hoping Artic would also mean “dry.” According to the iPad, it was 21 degrees (friends in Celsius countries are thinking that means it was pretty warm, but we’re talking good old American Fahrenheit degrees here—below zero to you Celsius readers) when I rolled Francis out of the garage. The ride to the gym was pretty much as I expected—a few patches of ice hidden by a dusting of snow, but fortunately not well hidden. Riding slow, in a lower gear than usual, I had no slips.

Francis, parked at the gym. Not exactly in the bike rack, but locked to it.

In a  few places, the snow that fell last week was never cleared well, and the combination of compressed snow and frozen rain made for rough ice. At those spots, I got off the bike and walked, glad I had decided to awkwardly bike in warm winter boots that grip much better than my usual biking shoes. In the journey to the gym, those walking zones probably accounted for less than 10 percent of the route.

And then I exercised and watched an episode of “Law and Order,” so it was a bit more than an hour later when I emerged from the gym. I had gone up around 8:30 a.m. and was leaving around 10 a.m.

Photo from the return journey. I had to walk a little bit because this is what the wine shop considers a cleared sidewalk.

Something wicked was going on. A strong west wind was blowing and the temperature was dropping. The bank, when I rode by it, said 15 degrees. I’m sure the wind chill was much lower.

I had toyed with the idea of taking the Lindale Trail all the way to the Boyson Trail and coming home over the Brentwood Drive hill—and, indeed, despite the chill I did start riding on the trail. The paved western segment was fine—covered in snow in Cedar Rapids, cleared in Marion, but OK in both places since “covered in snow” meant mostly bare pavement just lightly dusted with Syrofoam.

Two trail views. Above, on the paved surface, you can tell where Cedar Rapids ends and Marion begins. Below, icy surface that stopped my ride, with fat-tire rider in the distance.

When I got to the limestone surface, however, I quickly decided to turn back, not only because I was freezing in my thin gym pants, but also because the limestone surface had obviously retained the moisture of the recent rains, and instead of being bare like pavement, was quite icy. A man on a fat-tire bike zoomed by me, headed to the rest of the trail, but I decided to take the better part of valor and turn around.

My tyre tracks whwere I was turning around. Not sure you can see them as well, but fat-tire tracks are in photo too, but my narrower tires made a more definite mark on the snowy surface.

I ended up just shy of 4 miles for the ride, but also in a slightly optimistic mood for future commuting. I might try to ride a bike to work on Monday. After all, I can wear more layers and long underwear.

Two views from C Avenue Bridge. Dry Creek looking wet and all winter pretty in the snow (above) and a cleared bridge (below).

If I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Bonus image. Cute grandson in cute biking shirt. He turns one month tomorrow.

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