Meltdown

A bit brisk out this morning, but we’re finally getting some dry weather and sun to help melt some more of the snow.  By next week, I may even be able to drag out the road bike.

Took my first complete loop through the park today since (checks ride log) January 28, not counting a Feb 2 ride where I rode out River Rd and turned around.  River Rd is completely clear out to the Orange Grove Swinging Bridge, and has obviously been plowed at some point, which is unusual.  Most winters, they just close the road off and let nature take its course.  The Grist Mill Trail is 90% rideable between the swinging bridge and the trail head, with a downed tree in one spot, and a couple of snowy sections which would probably be OK on a mountain bike, but were a bit too much for 700×23 road tires.  Lots of twigs and debris everywhere, but nothing too bad.  I’d say it took me an extra 5 minutes or so to get through it.  Tomorrow I’ll likely check out the section between the swinging bridge and Ilchester Rd.  Not much new with the River Rd park entrance..  much better than last week, but still not fantastic.  This stretch should improve further over the next few days.

The ride through Relay to UMBC was a grind.  All uphill into a strong headwind.  It was a good workout, but it’ll feel much better on the way home with the wind at my back.

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That hit the spot

I celebrated the end of February with my first long morning ride in forever (well, since February 4, which might as well be forever).  I took New Cut Rd into Ellicott City, then rode along River Rd to the park entrance on Ilchester.  The trail still looked too snow-covered for road tires, so I doubled back, rode up Thistle Rd, then through Catonsville via Oella Ave, Old Frederick Rd, and Edmondson Ave, for a total distance of just over 16 miles.

It was great to get a longer ride in.  February was brutal.  I’m holding out hope that within the next two weeks or so, I’ll be able to ride through Patapsco State Park again.  It always seems to take forever for the snow to melt in the park, because it doesn’t get much sun, and the ground temperatures are lower near the water.  I could probably get through the park with a mountain or cross bike and maybe some studded tires.  I’ll see what I can do about that later this year.  In the meantime, I’ll be seeing a lot of Catonsville.

I am still riding with “Power Grips” toe straps.  I wasn’t sure about them at first, but after several rides, I’ve decided I really like them.  The “extra long” size easily fits my hiking boots.  They’re orders of magnitude easier to get strapped into than toe clips; I’d say they’re no worse in that department than my Looks.  Being that they’re straps, I don’t get quite the “clipped in” feel that I get with the Looks, and there’s some to-be-expected “give” when I pull up on the pedals.  But, they keep my feet on the pedals, and I feel comfortable with them at high cadences (read: going downhill on a fixie).  I have the straps set to the smallest setting, and in this position, the ends of the straps tend to scrape the ground when I turn.  This is not a huge deal, but if necessary, I can fix it by trimming the straps down a bit.  This problem would likely be less noticeable on a bike with a freewheel.  All in all, I’m happy with the Power Grips.

Perspective

Took my first post-Snowmageddon ride in this morning, and it wasn’t too bad.  I wanted to do it yesterday (Thursday), but on Wednesday I decided to go jogging for the first time in, oh, around 6 months.  Then on Wednesday evening, I ground out another 10 miles on the trainer.  So yesterday, the executive decision was made to rest my legs, as I knew I’d be feeling the run, and I’m not 25 any more.  But anyhow..

It’s interesting how being on the bike changes one’s perspective of the road vs. driving.  For some reason, the snow-narrowed roads look a lot less daunting from the bike than they do from the car.  I felt a lot more confident biking on the roads than I thought I would based on driving them the past few days.  It’s an interesting phenomenon, and it raises an interesting point: it’s a good idea to drive your bike routes every now and then in various conditions, as it helps provide a sense of how drivers see and react to you on the bike, which in turn helps you learn how to ride defensively and safely around them.

I decided to bypass US 1 and attempt to hike into Patapsco State Park via the Howard County side access road.  It was doable, but it wasn’t fun.  There was about a foot of snow on the road and not much of it was packed down.  I ended up half-carrying, half-dragging the bike through it, which was very slow going and tiring.  Even so, it still may be preferable to battling traffic on US 1, even for a short distance.  Not sure what I’ll do on the way home.  If I’m going to hike this on any regular basis, it might make sense to lighten the bike up as much as possible, and maybe use a backpack instead of a rack trunk and panniers.

Snowpocalypse

Unfortunately, Snowpocalypse 2010 has put the brakes on bike commuting for the time being this winter.  If I can’t do it safely, I don’t do it, and the roads are not in good shape for biking.  I’ll be back out as soon as some of it melts, and/or I can find a safe route to take.

Over the past couple days, I’ve driven along some of my favorite bike-commuting routes, and here are my observations.

  • Lawyers Hill Rd and Levering Ave: Bare pavement, both lanes, a little narrow.  Doesn’t carry much traffic, so I would have no problem biking this.
  • River Rd between Lawyers Hill and Patapsco State Park: bare pavement, 1 lane wide.
  • River Rd park entrance: blocked by a giant mountain of snow and will probably be that way for a long time.  Access road hasn’t been touched.
  • US 1 between South St and Levering Ave: pretty good shape in both directions, but a couple spots where icy slush blocks the entire shoulder, which would necessitate riding out into the right lane.
  • Montgomery Rd between US 1 and Marshalee Ave: not too bad in most spots, but missing shoulder in places.  Would not feel comfortable biking this during rush hour.
  • Montgomery Rd between Marshalee Ave and Rockburn Dr: no shoulder.  Non-starter.
  • Rockburn Dr: one lane, poorly plowed and icy.
  • Kerger Rd: bare pavement, a bit narrow.  Could bike here.
  • Ilchester Rd between Kerger and Beechwood: Similar to south Montgomery.
  • Landing Rd: glanced at it while driving by on Ilchester, and what I saw did not look good.
  • Beechwood, Bonnie Branch and River Rds: single lane clear.  Could bike in a pinch, but not ideal.
  • Hilltop and Thistle Rds were both unplowed and closed off at River Rd.
  • Frederick Rd between River Rd and Oella Ave (Ellicott City Side): best of the lot.  Shoulders fully clear.
  • Oella Ave: single lane, not plowed very well.
  • Wilkens Ave from Rolling Rd to UMBC: decent shape, shoulder clear.  Bikeable.

On the way home, I’ll check out the conditions through Relay and Halethorpe.  But it looks like any route I take is going to be non-ideal, so I will have to pick the lesser of the evils.  Currently, that appears to be Lawyers Hill to Levering to U.S. 1, to South St and through Relay and Halethorpe (depending on what shape those roads are in; I’ll find out later today).

UMBC is cleared out as well as can be expected.  The head-in parking on Hilltop Circle works in my favor in these conditions, because to allow for parking, they have to clear the “buffer zone” between the road and the parking spots, which provides room to ride out of the travel lane.  Most, but not all, of the loop is clear.  But all the same, there are enough walkways clear that I can just cut through campus on foot if I had to.  All in all, they did a pretty good job.

On a totally unrelated note..  The other day I noticed that Home Depot was selling 50lb bags of Calcium Chloride “ice melter” pellets for around $17.  Calcium Chloride is among the more expensive alternatives for ice melter, and it’s not common to find it being sold as such at retail around here.  It is common to find it at swimming pool stores, where it’s sold as “Calcium Hardness Increaser”, often at prices of over $2 a pound.  So while $17 may seem like a lot to pay for 50lbs of ice melter, it’s an amazing bargain for 50lbs of  “Calcium Hardness Increaser.”  So, I picked up a bag to use in the pool this spring.  I would have bought more, but apparently I got the last bag in the store.

Snowblower

It’s actually snowing here in the mid-atlantic, although I’m predicting another non-event similar to so many others we’ve had in the past 3 winters.  I think that when all is said and done, we’ll end up with maybe an inch and a half of snow, not quite enough to cover the grass, topped with a light glaze of ice – A typical Maryland “wintry mix”.  Of course, the local news media has been in high gear since last night, leading off their 11pm broadcasts with radar maps, reporters standing in front of salt trucks, and dire predictions of rush-hour road catastrophes.  But for the most part, snowstorms in these parts rarely live up to the hype.

I have a snowblower that I bought back in late 2002, just in time for the big blizzard of 2003 (one of the rare storms that did live up to the hype).  It last saw action in February 2006, and since then it’s sat in my garage collecting dust.  I used to store it with the gas tank empty, but it would be an absolute bear to start that way..  so a couple years ago I started storing it with a full tank and a healthy dose of gas stabilizer.  That seems to keep it happy, providing I drain and replace the gas at least once a year.   Twice a year or so I’ll start it up to make sure it still runs.  I hadn’t done it for awhile, so I figured I’d fire it up this morning in case this latest round of wintry weather actually yields any “blow”able amount of snow.  And indeed, the snowblower started up pretty easily on its 9-month-old tank of stabilized gas.  The winning formula seems to be:

  1. Insert starter key.
  2. Check spark plug.
  3. Plug in electric starter.
  4. Close choke.
  5. Set throttle to full.
  6. Pump primer bulb 10-15 times.
  7. Crank electric starter until engine fires.
  8. Unplug starter.
  9. Slowly open choke as engine warms up.

I always feel sad starting up the snowblower, only to shut it off after 5 minutes or so of idling and return it to its resting place to collect more dust.  This morning, we had a slight powdering of snow on the driveway, just enough that the blower was able to pick a bit of it up and eject it through the chute.  So, I spent a minute or so blowing the powder off the driveway near the garage, which I could just as easily have done with a broom (or probably my mouth for that matter).  It was the first time the snowblower actually touched snow in almost 3 years.

Can’t wait to drive home this evening, when the roads will undoubtedly look like salt mines and the talking heads will be crowing about how we “dodged that bullet” yet again.

Welcome to Winter in Maryland..