Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Winter to the end

The two toughest months of winter around here are March and April.

No matter how substandard the principal months of winter may have been, nothing is going to get warm and nice until well into May. Maybe July. Although astronomical spring doesn't officially start until the equinox in late March, meteorologists consider March to be a spring month. With the change of daylight in the second week of the month, the mornings will look like January, but the afternoons will look like April. There will still be nothing to look at, but you'll be able to see it.

There have been exceptions, but the only ones I can think of were 1988 and '89. And I was a lot younger then, spending most of my spare time in winter hanging out in harsh mountain environments until the season shifted enough for me to get back into bike commuting and a bit of sport riding. My sense of what was cold and nasty was probably considerably influenced by that.

In 1990, I began riding the commuting route between my little spot in Effingham, and my jobs in Wolfeboro. In 1992, jobs became job, but the schedule was still usually at least five days a week. Because the roads around here are not well suited to bicycling in winter weather, I did not push my luck in snow, ice, and darkness. Even with improved lights and studded tires, the danger in the dark and frozen months is much greater as roads are narrowed and drivers are less patient. And they weren't all that patient to begin with.

My precarious economy depends on the money I save by using my bike to commute in the nicer months. I will get out there before the weather is very inviting, because it's the best way to get in shape while reducing car use. It also means that I have more of the rest of my time to devote to other things I think are important. But the best of it is definitely high summer, when I don't have to deal with layer upon layer of snug-fitting clothing for the ride at either end of the day.

Commuting takes place in the margins of the day. One of the cruelest things about early season commuting is that the middle of the day might be stunning, but the morning is frozen and the evening is raw.

Park and ride commutes salvage some riding when I might need a car for other things at either end of the day.

Trail-dependent riders have to deal with difficult or impossible riding conditions as whatever we got for winter melts away. As mountain bikers have to invest more and more money in engineered trails, they're actually voluntarily staying off of their own riding surfaces when heavy use would rut them up horribly. Meanwhile, the road is just the road. Frost heaves are much less of a problem on my bike than in my car. Potholes are a problem for everyone. Even there, I manage to skinny past most of them with only minor course corrections. Stay alert!

Back in the olden days, when we just went out and rode our mountain bikes on whatever we found, other users were doing way more damage than we were. The only limit on our willingness to ride in slush, ice, and mud was our willingness to clean our bikes and ourselves afterward. Indeed, one of our local riders who slunk off from the mountain group in the late 1990s said that he "just got tired of cleaning (his) bike all the time." I was already starting to think of mountain biking as a bit of a good walk spoiled, so I was fine with the group's focus shifting back to the road.

After a couple of seasons making the effort to join the Sunday road rides, I flaked off from them because it was interfering with my commute. My life's work turns out to have been riding to work.

I have chosen employment based on whether I could ride to it. I was so committed to the concept that I would actually show up for job interviews on my bike. Later on I drove like a normal person. That alone did not seem to enhance my success. I got some, didn't get others. I have ridden my bike at least a few times to every job I have ever held. The better world for which I strive is one in which bikes are fully legitimate, accommodated users of the public infrastructure. You should be able to pedal to virtually all locations that you can reach by other individualized transportation, without fearing for your life from the negligent and hostile acts of other road users.

Yeah, I know: people are shit, and you will always be in some peril because of this. But there could damn sure be less of it. It dulls my joyous anticipation of commuting season, but just one drive to work behind some idiot drifting down Route 28 like they're piloting a hot air balloon reminds me of how completely unimpeded I am on the bike. The drifting idiot at 43 miles per hour isn't slowing me down when I'm giving it all I've got to maintain 17. More likely 15.

All that lies far ahead, beyond the laborious crawl through whatever late efforts winter throws at us, just to reach the drab gray weeks that follow. Hey, if it was nice here it would be crowded.


Steve A said...

Daylight savings at least puts the afternoon commute, with its heavier traffic, during daylight. OTOH, it can get depressing when the morning commute is entirely in darkness.

cafiend said...

My full route would be in daylight, although it would be a race in the evening. But the weather controls everything. Wimpy winters often seem to lead to a nasty early "spring."