Small victories: last night while riding my sturdy steed, the olive green Surly Longhaul Trucker (which should come with a handlebar bottle cage that fits a huge trucker Pepsi), I triggered a traffic light. A very small victory indeed, but that’s fine with me.
Today in snow: a cold, fluffy dusting.
Today in biking: To the store, Blockbuster, the bank. Only a few gaping stares from four-wheeled passersby, safely and securely nestled in heated or at least vinyl seats, music blazing, engine roaring, elements kept at bay. Last week a friend’s boyfriend thought I was a bike riding Mormon, since I had black knee highs and a black skirt on. Today, a kid in a Subaru with his parents got really excited and licked the window when I cruised by. I may never understand what that signifies — and that’s fine.
Last winter was for me the start of something adventurous, fun and maybe a little crazy. I decided since my husband and I bought sick touring bikes in Europe at the end of last summer, why shouldn’t I keep riding my lovely, shiny bike and encrust it in ice and magnesium chloride? We bought studded tires for it, slapped them on and I preceded to find out that riding in snow was an interesting but entirely possible challenge.
Sometimes winter biking feels like toeing the line between upright and falling down. Sometimes winter biking is just riding a bike on dry roads in really cold weather, with my 107 studs per tire smacking the road like a cowboy trying to get a lazy horse to trot. Other moments, the ride is a combination of both — cruising downhill nonchalantly, one might suddenly encounter a giant pile of snow left by an errant plow. Or perhaps the section of bike path that was blissfully clear two days ago has now been dotted with rocks, mag chloride sludge and a drift the size of three large fat women stacked on top of one another. During these moments, it is strongly recommended to pray to whichever higher being you believe in, take a swig of anything vaguely alcoholic you might have tucked away in your 800 fill down jacket and plow through whatever obstacle exists like you and your bike are made of pure diesel.
I thought about starting this blog several times last year as a record of the eclectic adventures I’ve had by just getting on a bike. Whether I was just riding the mile to work at Arapahoe Cafe or the Evil Empire, er, Starbucks or the 20 or so around the frozen lake for exercise, people would often look at me as if I was some sort of mysterious specter rising out of the wintry gloom, their eyes bulging behind smudged and frosty windows. Other times they would laugh and point, as if I were an elephant at a circus balancing ever so precariously on a round, red ball. Sometimes they would point and gape as if I was a bizarre anomaly, like a two-headed cow in one of those perfect happy farm pictures they slap on organic milk cartons.
In any case, these interactions are what pushed winter commuting past the realm of purely fun into funny. Here are a few of my favorite moments with from last winter (not in any particular order):
1. At a stoplight, the guy next to me rolls down his window and says, “I have those gloves.” I’m like, “Sweet, do you like them?” “Yep.” Then we sit awkwardly at the light for awhile, his window rolled down. He keeps stealing glances at me, and then the light skips us so we have to sit there even longer.
2. At another light (many of these happen at lights), a man in a gargantuan Bubba truck (naked lady mudflaps, massive wheels, lifted truck, tinted windows, probably those little balls on the back) rolls down his window and yells, “What the f*ck!?”
3. During three separate times in one afternoon of running errands around Frisco, Silverthorne and Dillon I am asked how I can ride a bike in “those boots.” The boots in question are really old fake Ug-ish types that are mostly waterproof and boast some really sexy tread. One of the perpetrators is an elderly gentleman who nearly slides through a stop sign because he’s too busy waiting for my life-changing answer, which is something like “Because they’re comfortable.”
4. In the midst of one of last year’s endangered-species-kind-of-rare snowstorms, a lady pulls up to me to ask if I need a ride. I tell her I’m happy on my bike, but thank you. “But it’s snowing,” She says. “It’s okay! I have studded tires and a really warm jacket.” She’s cruising at 5 miles a hour next to me. “But it’s snowing,” she says again. “I know!” “Are you sure?” “Yep!” “But it’s snowing.” Now I’m annoyed. “Oh really?” I say.
5. At the grocery store, I parked my bike and went inside for groceries. When I came out, a bro-bra in oversize tall tee, some sort of day glo colored pants and goggles asks me if that — he points with a cigarette — was my bike. I nod the affirmative. He nods back, racking his brain for something that doesn’t start with, “Sick,” but can’t quite overcome his tall-tee tendancies and says in a really drawn out fashion, “Siiiiiiiiiiick.” Then, “Is that your pink seat?” I tell him something like, “No, I stole it from a bum in Denver.”
6. Last winter, I opened for Starbucks a few times which required arriving at an eyelid peeling 5 a.m. In these wee hours, no one else was out but a handful of snowplows and myself. Cruising down our road during one of those first wee hour shifts, I burst forth with head and taillights blazing. Four snow plows moved to the roadsides as one, as if practicing for a street version of the Nutcracker Suite. As I passed each massive plow poised amid a dancing swirl of frigid snow crystals, each driver would give me a blank stare and one of those slow, unbelieving waves.
7. Countless times at Starbucks, male customers would ask whose bike was outside. Their tones would be incredulous, admiring, amused. I would identify myself or be identified by another barista and these little love hearts would appear in their eyes. They would lean on the counter with the assuredness of James Bond, delving into territory they were certain no man had ever charted. “But isn’t it cold out there on a bike in the winter?” “How far do you ride?” “You rode here! That’s incredible!” They would sip their double tall, extra hot, nonfat lattes while flexing their non or partially existent biceps, unaware that foam was caught unattractively in their slightly graying mustaches. I would put on my best fake smile, making sure to gesture emphatically with my ring finger, adorned as it was by what was at that time my engagement ring. “Yeah, it’s fun.” If the flash of my green diamond didn’t deter, I had a nearby reserve of 195 degree water at my disposal.
8. At yet another light, I look over at what was probably a Subaru with a Thule rack. There are a couple guys inside, probably wearing Patagonia. They grin at me and rub their arms to signify that it’s cold outside. I gave them a thumbs up. They gave me a thumbs up. They looked at each other. They looked at me. They rolled down their window. I pretended not to notice. “Hey, what’s your name?” Miraculously, the light changed and I started off. One of the guys was still leaning out the window as I pedaled the opposite way. Just imagine this event in several episodes — change the color of the Subaru, and maybe the clothing brand to Mountain Hardware or Northface. Arm rubbing is also optional.
9. At the grocery store again, a man asks me in a heavy Texan accent, “Did you ride from Canada?” I am wearing jeans, tennis shoes and have one of my panniers collapsed and out of use. I glance at my bike and pause, to see if this all sinks in; but, he’s still waiting eagerly for my answer. “No… I live in Dillon.”
The ‘sylva’ lining in all of this: this winter, like a slow mystery novel, has only just begun to unravel. And right now, it’s trying to snow — so, I better go ride my bike.