15 March 2011

Commuting in Winter

iPhone sunrise
After my first-ever January 60-miles-in-a-day ride, I thought getting a 60-mile-day each month this year would be an awesome goal.

February rolled along, and my plan to ride to work at least once kept getting pushed back for one reason or another. By the last week of the month, I realized even a short February ride just wasn't going to happen. Maybe next year.

Nothing wrong with 11 months with 60-mile days, though, if I can attain that. Got another 60-miler Monday, and it may be my first-ever March winter work commute. I've logged many March miles in years gone by, but I don't know that I've done 60 miles in a day in March.

Monday's ride made me grateful I was not able to ride to work in February. I would have had darkness on both ends, and Olympian Allison Dunlap said it well: "Riding at night is a whole different beast." She said cyclists who compete in 24-hour events are, paraphrased, nuts. Riding at night is not for cyclists who are not nuts, in my opinion. I'm crazy about cycling, but I'm not nuts.

In total darkness, I ride with a powerful headlamp attached to my bike. I must ride much slower than usual, especially on curves and downhills. At night, the familiar is anything but. It doesn't matter how many times I've traveled the same path; it seems foreign when I ride it in total darkness. I have to wait for my headlamp to show me where I'm going on hairpins, and this time of year, there's still a lot of gravel on the roads. Gravel and rocks are treacherous beneath road bikes.

Team Leopard Trek cyclist Jens Voight in the movie "Chasing Legends" said, "All you've got for protection is a tiny little helmet, and your connection to the ground is two square centimeters of rubber touching the ground, and you're sitting on it. I just don't want to die there. I don't need to take any crazy chances."

(If you visit the Jens link, which you should because it's totally worth the visit, refresh often; you won't be able to stop laughing.)

While riding through wooded bike path, my headlamp combined with my own motion makes everything seem alive. Shadows in the trees move. When I see eyes in the headlight beams while driving at night, I have a vehicle wrapped around me. On a bike, there's nothing but air between me and whatever critter is staring at me, trying to figure out if I am a threat.

Monday morning's coyote quickly bounded away, thankfully. A few years ago, the eyes in the headlamp's beam belonged to a much shorter black animal, one with a prominent white stripe down his back... definitely the scariest critter I've ever encountered in the wild. Thankfully, he too decided to beat feet instead of confront me. I would have been no match! And I doubt my co-workers would have welcomed me with open arms if Stinky had reacted differently.

The duck resting a little too close to the bike path Monday morning, however, was understandably vocally angry with me for intruding, and the resulting ranting quack that shattered the predawn stillness nearly sent me airborne, so startled was I.

About an hour into my ride, I still couldn't see the horizon, and I noticed as if I'd just grown feet that my toes were cold. Next thing on my list: new neoprene booties!!! My ears, however, stayed toasty warm beneath my balaclava and the turquoise wool earwarmers custom made by The Knackful Knitter.

After the sun finally painted the sky red, then pink, the warming ball of fire washed the sky and landscape with a glorious gold. I didn't have my camera. I left it at home, thinking I might not have room in my pack for the Nikon AND four layers of clothing if daytime temperatures reached the nearly-60-degree forecast. I pulled out my trusty little refurb iPhone and snapped a couple of photos. They aren't as good as what my Nikon can do, but better than no photo at all. Stopping for a photo stretch also gave me a chance to move my heavily bundled but icy cold fingers and toes.

I pass nine coffee shops each way during my 30-mile ride. In the frigid darkness, I was so tempted to stop at every single Starbucks because I could hear peppermint hot chocolate calling my name. But they don't make it in sugarless. I successfully resisted temptation. Yes, they have hot herbal tea, and that would have done the trick, but Tazo apparently doesn't know my name and did not attempt to capture my attention.

I also was tempted to detour and portage my bike on the train after my toes got cold. I kept chanting, "60 miles. 60 miles. 60 miles." Once again, I resisted the urge.

After the sun came up, I was able to pedal faster, which heated my blood just enough and pumped it all the way to the tips of my toes and fingers. I made it in to work, where I enjoyed a free cup of sugarless hot chocolate. No peppermint, but the steamy beverage still hit the spot. After showering, I wished I could keep my feet in a bucket of hot water all morning long.

The ride home in the evening was more normal, but I wasn't able to pedal fast enough to elude darkness for the entire return trip. About eight miles from home, my headlamp alerted me it was almost out of juice. Oh, how I wished The Lizard would drive by and save me from the last three climbs.

About two miles into the warning light on the headlamp, The Lizard did indeed drive by and flirtatiously honk. Traffic was heavy, and he kept going, knowing deep inside I would not be happy if I didn't get my 60 miles. His rear view mirror didn't give him a good view of me desperately trying to flag him down.

"Come back!" I cried. "Come back!"

He couldn't hear me.

So on I pedaled.

I made it. The light didn't go out until after I parked my bike in my living room. Got my 60 miles for March. Woohoo.

I might be waiting, however, until we have about 30 more minutes of daylight before trying this again. I'm sure I can come up with plenty of valid excuses for not not being nuts again until April.


  1. You certainly have drive and determination. I am so glad you achieved your 60 miles.

  2. The colors in your picture are breathtaking!

    I wonder how the angry duck looked ;)

  3. Sheer, unvarnished stubborness. There's just no substitute for it!

    Glad you made 60 miles *safely*. There are so many things that can go wrong(er) in the dark on a commute.

    You're making me like sideways at my bike and wonder if Spring is gonna be here ANYTIME in the next month. I miss riding outdoors on skinny tires.

  4. I think that you are nuts, but in an awesome way!!! Way to go, and what a sunrise!!!!!!!!!! I wish that you'd had your Nikon with you.

    I love riding in the dark but only if I have a sunrise awaiting me during the ride. Starting and ending in the dark is much harder but I've done it (on our trails). The glowing eyes are the hardest part...

    Way to go. 11 months of 60 milers would be great!

  5. I see you are catching up with the miles you promised yourself! Poor duck being shook, to who knows where, when he saw you a comin'!
    I'm so glad you kept your ears warm with the warmers...I'd like to see a picture of you in the balaclava.

  6. Oh my gosh, I am so glad your headlamp made it all the way home. I can barely walk to the bathroom in the dark at night without running into something; I can't imagine riding the way you do. Woohoo, congrats on your 60 mile ride!!!


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