Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Snow Day

I wake up, shower, dress, and start breakfast before a strange realization hits me. "Isn't it kind of dark for 9:00 in the morning?" Our front and back porches are covered with clear plastic sheeting, and this morning, they're packed with snow. Snow? Snow!! About 3 inches here in Sellwood and still falling. NPR is on the radio. "Portland State has also decided to close the campus today." What? A snow day? After 8 years at the University of Montana and zero snow days, I move to Portland of all places and, well, let's not analyze this all morning. Some days, the ride comes to you! A quick clothes-change and...

A couple walking through ankle-deep snow on the sidewalk smiles as I approach, zipping through a smooth patch of snow-covered side street. "Snow tires?" they ask. "Nope!" I respond, just as I hit another nasty series of transverse ruts and wrestle the front wheel as the rear fishtails. The couple's smiles change to those looks parents give a kid when he says, "Watch this!"--some mixture of amusement and concern.

I'm not lying about the tires. I gave my best snow tires away when I left Missoula last summer, figuring they'd just rot on a hook in the warm mists of Portland.* My snow bike, the one that's carried me on many a finger-numbing adventure in Montana, is also missing in action--disassembled at the moment as the result of an identity crisis since the move.

Different bike, different tires, the only constant is. . .riding in fresh snow is really, really fun. A few more loops around the neighborhood and I pretty much have my snow legs back. I decide to head downtown to see what the news folks meant by "paralyzed." I figure the bike path solves at least half of my two iron laws of snow riding: "Stay upright" and "Don't get smacked." The ground and cars are the two main things to avoid while snow riding, and it's hard to get very far from that first one for any length of time.

Parents and kids were all having a great time of it on the sledding hill near the Riverfront Park. I wasn't having such a great time of it at this point. The Springwater Trail would have been great about two hours ago, but at this point boot tracks had made it into a real minefield. The ride was rough, and my arms started burning from the effort of fighting the front wheel's wayward tendencies.

Ever adaptive is Homo bicyclus. Pretty soon I developed a strategy of riding in the fresh snow just at the edge of the path. This meant keeping the bars about 8 inches from the fence and occasionally having to fight back up the invisible path's dropoff, but my speed was up to 9 mph instead of 6. Things improved in the middle section around Ross Island Gravel, where I passed a cross-country skier. Where am I, again?

I crossed the Hawthorne Bridge into downtown, passing cars which were creeping along that crazy, frozen, open-grid steel deck. That's one bridge on which I'm happy to be "banished" to the sidewalk. A couple of folks downtown complimented my riding skills, not knowing that complimenting a rider like that is almost always bad luck. It seems like I managed to do something dorkspastastic each time. Mostly, though, I noticed the quiet. I think most people would agree that motor traffic is noisy. I don't think, though, that many of us realize just how all that noise adds up. Being on a bike a lot helps the realization, but noticing the near silence downtown when traffic is absent was really powerful. When was the last time you heard footsteps everywhere downtown? Eerie and...neat.

A quick stop at the office to collect a few things, and then I headed back to the bridge, white-knuckling the descent a little, I admit, as a few cars were sliding around on 4th. Missoula was flat unless you searched out the hills, and I think today's ride suggested a corollary to my laws of snow riding: "Snow, cars, and hills; pick two." Without violating either of the iron laws, though, I made it safely across the bridge.

This time I took city streets and fared much better. I've ridden quite a few tires in snow and ice, and each of them seems to have its strength. For these tires, the sweet spot turned out to be hardpacked snow, and I flew (relatively) along around OMSI, through Brooklyn and Moreland, and back into Sellwood. On 17th, I was able to keep pace with the #70 bus and cruise behind it out in the lane. Lots of folks having their own crazy fun in the snow gave me a smile and that head shake you give people who've gone nuts. I was happy to play the role today.

Stay upright, don't get smacked, and have fun out there.

* the best all-around snow (not ice) tires I've used are the IRC Mythos CX in 700x42; today I was riding the Avocet Cross II in 26x1.9



Blogger shaun said...

Sounds amazing. It would be nice if we could get some snow out here! Send some our way, please. I commented on one of your blogs last year, but I'm not sure if you saw it. Hopefully, you'll see this one. Anyway, how are you guys doing out there in Portland, carfree? What takes you to Portland? Amanda and I are living in Baltimore but are hoping to move to Denver within the year. It's been too long since we've spoken. Let me know how you're doing. I'll leave a couple of email addresses below.

Shaun (or)

8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Joe,

Welcome to Sellwood. Just found your site. I'm sure we've passed on the Springwater -- I'm somewhere between a Bob and a roadie, but if you waved or said hello, I waved or said hello back.

Enjoying your musings. Welcome to town.


4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your snow day really inspire me. I live in Quebec, Canada, and here we have a lot of snow every years. I was doubting about getting a winter-bike but what you said sound like so much fun to me, next winter I will surely travel by bike instead of by bus.

(Sorry for my poor english but it's only my second language :) )

11:00 AM  

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