Well, that was dumb.
It was already snowing lightly and a stiff breeze was coming out of the southeast, making the 20º bite through my gloves. But I've made a rule to drive only when I need to, and a six mile trip downtown for a meeting with an established client who doesn't expect me to dress up didn't qualify as needing a car.
Besides, you start making excuses on the marginal cases, and pretty soon you're driving out of habit again.
The trip took longer than usual with the loose snow, and the digits were seriously numb, but the LL Bean flannel-lined jeans, fleece vest and letter jacket over light shirt layers and balaclava under the helmet worked just fine. A nice, gingerly ride.
But heading back...
Now it was downtown at the start of rush hour, with two more hours' snow accumulation and traffic churn. Lanes I'd easily ridden on the way in were clogged with cars and the shoulders... Well, there were no shoulders, just four or five inches of snow that kept changing consistency over pavement the varied from lumpy to slick.
On the way in I looked daring or eccentric. On the way back, plumb crazy.
Pedaling through deep brown sugar snow over ice requires a soft-pedal technique. You must feel the amount of resistance beneath your tires and exert no more torque than necessary to keep moving forward — preferably in a straight line. But straight lines are not always possible, so then the idea is to let the bike go where it wants to, sort of like letting a kayak find the channel the water has already cut.
Maintain your speed and follow the bike, don't try to control it.
As the snow deepens, the bike may wander toward a curb or in front of an approaching car. The choices narrow. Trust the driver or dismount?
By Mickey's Liquors on the North side, I did a bit of both, trying to stay upright in front of a Cadillac as the four lane narrowed to two. In the approaching dark, it was possible to know someone was behind you, but not to judge whether they'd try zipping past too close. The four young dudes in the Caddy waited courteously for me to wobble and then give it up.
"You gonna kill yourself," one said as they drove by. This is not something many white Minneapolitans want to hear at night in this neighborhood. I detected neither malice nor sympathy.
I thought of the late night biker found bludgeoned in South Minneapolis this fall. Police, based on a statement by one of the suspects, speculated he'd gone out for a drug buy — proving to me they know little about fanatical bikers. I wondered what the story would be when they found my body in the morning after getting nailed by a car in the dark.
Why else would he be out on a night like this? the cops would ask, and at least half the city would agree with them. (Forget the fact I am lit up like a minor Holidazzle character. That might be considered proof of drug use.)
The streets with traffic were a little more clear, but also more dangerous. Intersections — crosshatched with snow, slicked by braking tires and complicated by turning cars that had absolutely no idea what I was doing — presented another set of dangers. Uphills, if you lost control, meant a walk to the top. Downhills, not as bad, but you had to control your speed without sliding. Then, snowbanks are your friend, like the semi runout lanes on mountain passes.
A slippery trip that took roughly 45 minutes door to door required twice that time on the return. It was fun in the sick way, but now I may add one more "need" on my list of reasons to drive.