Sunday, March 10, 2024

Like it or not, Daylight Relocating Time is here

 The semi-annual avalanche of snide memes and loud lament held off almost entirely until the day of clock change arrived. Then the usual players emerged, like the one that supposedly quotes a Native American saying only white men would cut the top off a blanket and sew it to the bottom and think that they have a longer blanket. By deftly misinterpreting the process, the joke sets up its straw man for an easy takedown.

Daylight Saving Time suffers from a lot of problems, but it was never intended to make the day longer, only to reorient us relative to sunrise and sunset, because we had long ago given up living according to natural light fluctuations. You want scheduled things like public transportation and regular business hours? Something else has to move to accommodate the desire to have lighter evenings and not have sunrise at 4 a.m. when you don't need to get up until 6.

Of course any specific example will trigger specific rebuttals from debaters who then take a victory lap as if they have demolished the entire case for changing the clocks. Fortunately, this blog has such minuscule reach that I seldom if ever get buried in comments.

This year, it looks like the weather might cooperate with the earliest possible start to my bike commuting season. This is good, because being stuck in motor vehicle traffic was making me crazy. My time in transit to work can vary as much as 20 percent depending on what idiot I get stuck behind on the two-lane road with limited opportunities to pass. My time in transit on the bike never varies that much unless I have a flat tire or a mechanical issue. The most likely mechanical issue is a broken shift cable, which would make the ride more strenuous, but doesn't make me several minutes later. In bike season my primary cause of tardiness is that I'm easily distracted by things around the house that delay my departure, but I'm damn sure not going to drive just because of that.

Arriving a little off the mark at work, I usually work a little extra at the end. Sometimes I work even more to make sure that things are caught up before I take days off. Thus the late daylight becomes even more critical for a safe ride home.

Years ago, I put lights on my commuting bike, and upgraded them steadily to the present system with a very functional dynamo head and tail light system, augmented by assorted battery lights. I can see well on a dark road, and have a lot more then the minimal legal requirement for lights to make me visible to motorists. After many seasons I can tell you that these are completely inadequate, especially now that motor vehicles are equipped with blinding banks of blazing lights that completely obliterate the view of anything else when two such beasts approach each other in dusk and darkness. People pop those headlights on while the sun is still up, blinding or at least distracting each other well before actual nightfall. I gave up trying to claim space on the roads at night. On the dark stretches of open highway, if a single vehicle is overtaking, they can see me well enough. But as soon as vehicles are approaching from both directions, a cyclist disappears in the solid blackness and blinding glare. Add a bendy, hilly piece of road and it gets much worse.

Protected pathways would be nice until human predators realized that cyclists would make easy pickings thereon. This danger will vary from place to place, but there is no defense. Carjackings prove that the armored shell is no defense either, but a locked car in motion presents a much more difficult target than a cyclist who can be taken down with a trip wire or just kicked from a dark corner. 

If you ever want proof that humans are basically good, just look at all the potential mugging scenarios that don't happen.  There is a lot of easy meat walking and riding around out there. The vast majority of the time we get way with it. And that's as it should be. But I feel less vulnerable riding at a good steady pace on the roadway than I do on an isolated path in the woods where I'm illuminated and someone with bad intent would not be. I hate to have to think about it, but humans have been preying on each other since before we were humans. Because of this, I make the most of daylight while it lasts.

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

The towel is thrown

The Wolfeboro Cross-country Ski Association picked a good year to institute snowmaking. But it wasn't a great year. Atmospheric conditions were so poor for snowmaking during December that we had nothing to offer during the Christmas vacation period, which is one of two major blocs of income for the ski business in the northeast US. Downhill areas fared somewhat better, particularly ones a bit farther north, with more elevation to augment the less than ideal temperature and humidity. And then we had record-setting rains in January that caused flood damage to trails for every winter activity.

By February we had the snowmaking loop up and running, but it hasn't survived the first week of March. Snowmaking isn't magic, and key sections of it lost cover in the warm weather that has dominated the winter. The trails are closed and the shop has gone to spring hours. Even if we get a late March blizzard, it will be falling onto bare, saturated ground in many areas.

In a strange twist, I had more opportunities to get out for a concentrated workout in prime time this winter because of the wretched conditions. I haven't come into a bike commuting season with this good a fitness base since we shut down the shop at Jackson Ski Touring in 2009. Up there, with trails right outside the door and a narrower scope of operations, it was much more convenient to rotate each of us out on many days to get that beneficial shot of conditioning. It enhanced our efficiency and kept our credentials fresh, while also providing a great launching pad for the next season's riding.

The ski/bike alternation changes muscle use in ways that help the cyclist more than a year-round cycling routine would. But in the transition from one to the other, you notice what you're missing. At the start of skiing I would have to build upper body strength and all of the steering and stability muscles that take the rest of the year off. At the other end, going back to the bike, I find myself in the lower portions of a hill climb with only my legs to propel the machine, carrying all of the muscles used to push the ski poles now providing mostly non-functional weight.

In addition to the ski sessions, I got out once or twice a week to climb the neighborhood mountain. The trail is listed in an old Appalachian Mountain Club guidebook as 1.4 miles to the summit. Elevation gain is 1,144 feet. The trail climbs gently for about the first third, and then steepens. A preliminary effort brings you to a traverse of a couple of hundred yards along a contour to reach the base of the most rugged section. Above that the grade lets up slightly on the way to a more or less level few yards approaching the summit. There's a fire tower that is not abandoned, but is usually unoccupied. During the winter there is never an observer. The trail is popular enough that the footway is reliably packed down. People do it in a variety of inappropriate footwear, but so far none of them have had to be evacuated by emergency responders. 

From the first hike in late January until the most recent one yesterday, the surface has been different each time. The first time it was a well packed snowshoe trail firm enough to go up without wearing the snowshoes. It's very rude to posthole a trail, stomping deep footprints into it because you don't bother to bring snowshoes. Going up it's easy to place your feet lightly and commit your weight gradually. I wore snowshoes to descend, because your body weight always arrives with more force as you step down. 

Snow fell before I got out on the second hike, but other hikers had a few days to pack it down before I got there. From that point on, no new snow was added. When the weather stayed somewhat cold, the trail changed only a little. I did see the tracks of one intrepid skier one day, and on another the unbelievable signs that someone had ridden a bike down it. I didn't see clear signs that they had ridden up it. And the tires didn't look super wide, almost like plus-size, 3-inch rather than full fat. Mixed in with tracks from snowshoes, hiking boots, and ice creepers were the prints of street shoes and sneakers. 

I was going to begin riding this week, but the forecast indicated that I won't be able to be consistent enough with it to make the initial discomfort worth it. I banged out one more tower hike instead. This is prime hypothermia season. Temperatures above freezing, ranging either side of 50°F (10°C) fool a lot of active people because we need very light layers while exerting, and may feel comfortably warm for a few minutes after stopping. The temperature on the summit that cloudy day was solidly mid 40s. I felt quite comfortable on arrival. I put on a fleece jacket because I knew I would want it soon. Indeed, with a fairly light but persistent breeze I soon felt like I wanted more clothing than the fleece. Rather than dig out the extra gear, I gathered up my stuff to head down. But I had the layers if I needed them.

Hypothermia gets you when you don't expect it. You get cold on a winter hike, it makes sense. We do hear about poorly prepared people who get into trouble and even die out there in the winter. But most people have some idea that they should bundle up a bit at the height of winter. It's in the transition time, into early spring, when acclimated outdoor types might overestimate the mildness. It happened to me one April day decades ago, on a cloudy afternoon with some showers in the forecast. I set out around the mountain on the fixed-gear, wearing sufficient clothing for the best of predicted conditions, but with nothing extra in case things deteriorated. They deteriorated. Sprinkles began before I has half a mile down the road. Those turned to a steady rain. I kept going. The route is all or nothing. There is no way to cut it off. Once you reach the halfway point on the far side of the mountain you need to keep going the rest of the way.

Theoretically I could have gone up to one of the sparsely distributed houses along the route and asked for shelter, but apparently I would literally rather die than bother anyone to bail me out for my stupid decision. I don't know what kind of shape I would have been in if my spouse at the time had not thought to go out and collect me. She correctly guessed my route and drove it the opposite direction to intercept me. These days I am alone most of the time, so I have to pay closer attention to the list of essentials any solo traveler should have.

The roads will now present the best venue for consistent activity for maybe as much as a couple of months. Back when mountain bikes were relatively cheap and definitely simple, we rode on found trails rather than courses designed and constructed at great and ongoing expense. We would charge out on the rotting ice of snow machine trails and woods roads, crashing into icy water, grunting though deep mud, and laughing about it. Not anymore, though. You don't put in hours of labor on loamers, or thousands of dollars on more elaborate trails and then go ride them when they're wet and soft! Horrors! And the bikes themselves demand such loving care to keep them ready to throw off of 9-foot drops that you don't want to crap them all up with a bunch of abrasive silt on mere dirt roads. The gravel demographic might be a tad more open to muddy roads. Fat bikers might try their flotation on some of them as well. My fixed-gear is still coated with adobe from my ride on New Year's Day, when the dirt part my favorite local loop was sloppy from the rain we'd gotten during Christmas week. Mud season has to come sometime, but I try to avoid having to do too much cleaning over and over again.

If I can get straight into commuting, I won't have to ride the muddy dirt roads or stick to the entirely paved options to get base miles before undertaking the more serious effort of lugging my tired old ass and my day's load of crap to work and back. My 30-mile daily commuting distance puts the day's effort into the realm of a real ride, even though it's split roughly evenly into 15 miles morning and evening. That work day in the middle keeps me on my feet. The rides are also in what passes for rush hour around here, so I'm dealing with hurrying drivers on all sections of the route. I need to be combat ready.

Fortunately, most motorists just want to get past a cyclist with the least delay. A honk, a yell, a thrown object -- these are impulsive acts not meant to delay overall progress. If a rider is careful to offer no greater offense than the mere audacity of claiming some space on the road, the vast majority of drivers just want to go by and get on with their lives. Only their fellow motorists inspire the urge to have a tank battle right then and there. But that's a story for another day.