By Barry Gantenbein
With a forecast calling for heavy snow, I hung my commuter bike in the rafters of my garage late Saturday afternoon. I needed to shift the snowblower to the front of the garage for winter, and had reached almost all of bicycling goals this season, so my bike is now hanging on a pair of hooks.
The promised storm left Waukesha’s streets and sidewalks coated with a snow/sleet/wintery mix. With a week of subfreezing temperatures ahead, and the sun setting earlier each day, the dreaded combination of ice and darkness seems to have shut down my bicycle commuting season. Since crashing on the ice and sliding on my face for 50 feet several years ago, riding in the snow no longer seems worth the risk.
Just 30 miles short of my goal of 200 miles for the month of November, I had hopes of riding to work this week. But looking back, it should’ve been clear that was never going to happen. The last day that I rode to work, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I discovered an unexpected dusting of snow when I peeked out the window that morning to check the weather.
Patches of ice could be seen and avoided beneath the light layer of newly fallen snow, so I decided it was safe to make a quick 10-mile ride before work. It didn’t begin well. Facing a snow-covered, steep driveway, I started my commute by walking my bike to the street on the grass alongside the driveway. I didn’t want to fall before I left my own property. Roads weren’t bad, as long as I stuck to the pavement cleared of the dusting of snow by passing cars and trucks.
When I reached the New Berlin Recreation Trail, I began to question my decision to ride that day. Snow still covered the trail, but I could make out the darker patches of ice, so I figured that I’d be okay. Following the bike tracks of the only person other than me foolish enough to ride the trail that day helped me steer clear of any hidden ice.
I made it to work without falling, but as I put my bike away, I muttered the magic words that end every cycling season for me, “That was stupid.” Almost without fail, those are the words that I say as I hang my bike up for the season. This year wasn’t quite that dramatic, but my fate was sealed as soon as I spoke the words.
There is still hope of breaking the bike out on weekends, as long as roads are clear. I managed to get the bike out twice over the Thanksgiving holiday, and conditions were a little better each time that I rode. The day that I hung up my bike, I rode 20 miles on the New Berlin Recreation Trail, which was clear except for icy patches in spots shaded by trees.
For a two-mile stretch of the trail, inspirational messages had been chalked onto the asphalt. “You Can Do It!” “Go, Go, Go!” “Believe” and others were scrawled in a variety of pastel colors.
It reminded me of riding through Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine region when I was in my twenties. For several summers, I regularly rode from West Bend to Mauthe Lake and back. At the spot where hills were stacked on top of each other, and my legs burned in an effort to reach the peak, someone had painted “Hills are all the fun” just where a cyclist’s eyes would see the words. It always made me laugh, and somehow helped me to keep going.
These scrawled lines had the same effect. I’ll keep going this winter as I search for days to sneak in a ride, clean my bikes for next season, and walk to keep in shape. You do the same.