Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Cold Snap Cycling

At the point where water turns to ice, many cyclist turn sedentary. Sure, hearty souls who live in places like Minnesota or Alaska persevere in temps well below zero, but when you live in a more temperate climate you can make the very sensible case that if you wait for a couple of days, things will warm up so why not take it easy? And those slick roads, packed with SUVs and harried Christmas shoppers probably are not the safest places for a cyclist to be. This is why people buy rollers, indoor trainers or gym memberships. Or why they stay inside, packing on an extra layer of fat for the winter.

The high temperature today might reach the freezing point of water and Mike, Mark and I are riding. We are going where most of my "fun" rides go these days, east and up on trails and car-free, gated gravel roads. I'm the instigator of this action, the guy who sent the email referring to this as a "freeze your butt ride." I sent the email to 72 people. A vast majority of the recipients have good excuses or what is sometimes referred to as "common sense." Mike, Mark and I all have the things you need if you might be lacking in common sense. Things like warm clothes, studded bike tires and restless natures.

I have a Thermos Mug of coffee hanging from a carabiner on my Camelbak. The Camelbak is frozen but the coffee is still warm. I'm wearing multiple layers of wool, fleece and nylon and when I breathe out the moisture condenses in a cloud that quickly vanishes into the dry air. It has not snowed here, but the cold pulls the moisture from the air and deposits it in frost patches on the ground. Still water freezes, but the creek before us is tumbling swiftly and it's wider than I'd recalled. In August, the last time I was here, I'd splashed across it, hopping from rock to rock.

The rocks are slick now, many coated with a dangerous sheen of ice. Mike has the longest legs and the best rock-hopping judgment. He gets across and we pass the bikes to him. Mark and I have shorter legs and more cautious natures. Mark also as super-slick cleats on the soles of his shoes. After much debate of rock-to-rock paths and the addition of a handy board Mark found in the woods, we make it across. I manage to have my right foot slip off one rock and wind up wringing the damp out of one set of wool socks.

The day is bright and cold and while we are headed up Rattlesnake Ridge, we still are not quite sure where these old roads lead. The studded tires perform brilliantly and I'm thrilled with the way my new-old bike is riding. I don't have studded tires that fit my 29er Flight and when this 1985 Mongoose ATB Pro came into Bike Works last week and our Recycling & Reuse Coordinator priced it a $50 as-is, I knew I was getting another bike. After replacing the cables, housing, dry-rotted tires, and uncomfortable saddle, the bike was ready to roll. A couple of hours with some Chromax polish and the bike shone like a jewel.

We ride up, then down, then up some more. Then up a bunch more and we come the world's most uninformative road sign, two weather-blasted wooden arrows, one pointed where we've been, one pointing the other way. Years of wind and rain have erased any fragment of useful information. Mark's GPS tells us we are up in somewhere very blank. My map, brilliantly left back in Issaquah, tells us nothing. The time of day, the lowering sun and Mike all wisely counsel us to go back the way we came.

The descent is quick and cold. Studded tires rumble on the gravel but go silent when they grab the ice. Back at the creek, we cross using my method, using the bikes as a crutch and a third leg as we hop from rock to rock. We'd noted on our first crossing and now investigate the oddest thing, Maglights in the water. Fishing around with a stick, we retrieve not one, not two, but three different Maglights from the depths of the creek. How they got there, we have no idea. Actually we have a couple of ideas. One involves some four-wheeler, stuck and dropping lights and swearing. My more fanciful theory involves there being some upstream vein of Maglights and that we could make our fortunes by staking a claim to the mining rights for this patch of land. I'm sure we'll never know the true story of how the lights came to be in the creek, but I can tell you that these are tough lights. Two out of the three lit right up when we pulled them from the creek and I bet the third one just needs new batteries.

Mark flies past me on the post-creek descent, uttering what I momentarily suspect will be his last words, "oh shit, no brakes!!!" I guess dunking sub-freezing aluminum rims into an icy creek is a good way to coat them with ice. My old-school Cunningham-designed brakes are still working great and eventually friction reasserts itself and Mark manages to somehow get his Bianchi under control. The three of us pause to chip the worst of the ice off our machines and then continue down toward the world of men.

We roll down the freeway and the frontage road between Preston and Highpoint. The sun is setting as we roll down the gravel road by Tradition Lake and the trail underneath the power lines. Our lights pick out the rocks along the trail behind the high school and the beams glint and glisten in the frost.

In the cold, if you stop, you tend to freeze in place. But if you move, and keep moving, you find the damnedest things. Things like Maglights in a creek, things like sign posts that tell you nothing. Things that you don't understand.

There are odd things on the trail, weird things. Like the fortune cookie fortune we saw this morning, "Your mind will make your body rich."

We can't understand or explain everything.

It's better to be moving. I don't know why, but I know that it is.

Keep 'em rolling,



CedarWood said...

Cycling in the cold is intensely invigorating, I find. Gotta love it, especially when encountering the incredulous neighbors on the way back from town. "You cycled today?", they ask, as if I had done something miraculous.

Bob said...

Early gift from Saint Lucia, patron saint of light, who's Saint Day is December 13?

Robert Patterson said...

Thanks for taking me along--vicariously--on the ride.

I think I deserve a brandy by the fire after that ride, or at least a cocoa!

Small Adventures said...

Kinko that CedarWood,especially the part about the neighbors :-D

Sounds like you guys had an excellent ride,Kent,I envy it :) I rode today as well,but not having any cold weather riding Buds and being drowned the last 15 miles or so in a 38 degree F downpour with no rain gear to put on made it...well..."A bad day on the bike is better than a good day not" :)


Craig B. said...

Kent, you have any suggestions for studded tires? this is for road use, btw....

Dylan said...

Sounds like a great time! I love the new ride too (those Cunningham brakes make me drool).

I was thinking about throwing together some homemade studded tires (like this), because I'm feeling cheap, but the idea of icy mountain adventures sounds fantastic.

Kent Peterson said...

Craig B.,

Nokian and Schwalbe seem to make the best studded tires. Peter White Cycles in NH carries them and has some good stuff on his site about picking tires. See


Anonymous said...

Have you considered golf shoes or track shoes from Goodwill....?

cyclotourist said...

Another option: The Mag lights swam upstream to their spawning grounds.

chatty cathy said...

how bout a writeup on yer kewl new mongoose kent

Brian said...

Kent nice write-up and nice new bike! Don't know if you have seen this already but here is a link to the 1985 Mongoose catalouge. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

February is my two year anniversary of bike commuting. Yes, I started when most folks won't even consider riding.

We are currently in a cold snap, and it has been in the mid to high 20's. The weather even threatened snow (it did not snow, which bummed me out. I was looking forward to it).

Kent, thanks for the inspiration. The youtube film of you and your "It's junky, but I love it, and it gets the job done." bike is always motivating.

Mike Nevin
Sacramento, CA.

brother yam said...

Greetings from Minnesota!