Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Weather Update

A solid foot of snow in my area has brought the snowbanks back to full height. They slump into the road, eliminating riding space. In other places the plow has scraped back an imaginary lane, skimming the snow at the level of the pavement, regardless of how the land really drops away underneath. Cyclists probably won't be fooled. It's more a trap for drivers trying to give each other passing clearance. If the right wheels stray onto the unsupported snow, the car suddenly lurches to the right. If the ditch is deep enough, you can require a lot of help to get out.

On this sunny day after the storm, the temperature has climbed just above freezing. It is supposed to get a little colder over the next few days, and plunge for the holiday weekend.

As far as I'm concerned, winter weather calls for winter sports and transportation, so I'm off on the skis and snowshoes until the weather changes again. It's all good, as long as I can get out at all.

This is all in keeping with the theme of Jarch, since March has always brought the whole bag of weather with it. It doesn't bother to conform to any standard like "in like a lion, out like a lamb." It will act like anything from January to May, sometimes in the space of a single day. And being 31 days long, March may be one of the biggest challenges in the New England winter calendar if you let yourself fixate on springtime. You really have to take things as they come. Ride in shorts one day, ski glades the next, all within a five mile radius of home. And I don't even live up in the actual White Mountains. For a bit longer travel, a resident of this area can play in full winter conditions in the morning and take that springtime ride the same afternoon, especially once the days pass 12 hours in length.

All that lies well ahead, beyond conditions we can't realistically predict. Mild conditions, even if snowy, give a deceptive impression that winter itself will be short.

You're not through with winter until winter is through with you.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


When Decembruary shut down riding with the sudden arrival of full winter conditions, Nordic skiers rejoiced and switched from dry land activities. Now northern New England introduces a new month, Jarch. It's just like March, only with less daylight. At night the temperature has barely dropped below freezing, if at all, while daytime highs in the north have hovered either side of 40. Some days have been much warmer, especially in the southern part of New Hampshire.

Warm days have eaten back the snowbanks so a lot of the drainage water that filled the biking portion of many roads can now flow off into the ditch. There's still a lot of snow in the woods, but less encroaching on the road.

My schedule has kept me in the car or at work, so I have not ridden. A snowstorm for tomorrow means I probably won't, either. But someone could, and no doubt many did.

Last week I went five days without exercise. By yesterday morning I cared about nothing but getting out onto the ski trails. Either that or get out the flamethrower. If I go too long without maintaining some semblance of fitness I just want a death ray, and I don't much care whether I use it on someone else or myself.

Knowing that I turn into a miserable son of a bitch when I don't exercise does not make me apologetic or ashamed to be so. It's better than reaching for some chemical stimulant. The urgent desire to be fit and active is a completely natural compulsion. It is the animal self advising the civilized self that your body needs to move or die.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

False Spring of Flowing Water

Primary Day here in New Hampshire has brought a great backdrop for politicians focusing on global warming. It feels like spring out there.

"Why didn't you ride?" asked a friend of mine at the polls.

I explained that I'd gotten a nasty head cold, after an 18-day work marathon over the so-called holidays. Thanks, Vacationing Public! But beyond that, mere warmth and sunshine does not make a good riding day when a deep snow pack still covers the landscape.

Thick snowbanks hold deep puddles and streams of silty brine along the sides of the road. You'll end up wearing plenty of that within a few miles. Wherever ice remains, water lubricates it for maximum slipperiness. Those snowbanks also narrow the road in many places, reducing passing clearance for motorists who will not expect cyclists in the first place.

A winter thaw is just a winter thaw. Two months from now one might take the chance that spring is coming early. Or perhaps within the next two months our early winter will slink away and leave us to the gray improvisation we've come to expect between November and April. That remains to be seen. Certainly the next several days sound tepid and marshy. But the snowfield in my yard still rises higher than my living room floor. If the pattern shifts back to chill, the snow will build again, and winter reign.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

I am the opposite of impressed

The other day, in a snowstorm so wet and slippery it was extremely difficult to stay on the road with four wheels, let alone two, I looked ahead to see a self-centered idiot on his fancy road bike, decked out in his winter finery, slithering precariously along a major highway, holding back a state plow truck and a line of other vehicles.

This rider did not look like a commuter doggedly making his appointed rounds. I'd never seen him at that hour on that stretch before, as I do with the regular bike commuters. He looked like a self-indulgent jackass bent on some personal quest at the expense of other road users with quite enough to deal with already.

Part of self-reliant travel is learning to use good judgment. What I saw was NOT good judgment. And since the nearest side road was in worse shape, whoever it was should have had ample opportunities to abort the mission before wobbling out in front of seven tons of steel-jawed death.

Oh well. It ain't me.