Friday 9 January 2015

Closed Road Winter Cycling

Following snowmobile tracks along the river.
We recently had a fantastic winter day.  Cold but not too cold.  Snow that was light and powdery but not too deep.  In other words, the perfect day for a bike ride!

As much as I like to joke about being crazy for biking in Canadian winters, I don't think its far fetched at all.  Stop for a second and think... don't people do physical activity in the winter?  Snow shoeing, cross country skiing and skating are all winter activities that people participate in.  There are plenty of all-season activities that people do in the winter too, like running, walking and hiking.  So with that in mind, is winter cycling that crazy?  I don't think so.  But I digress; back to my ride.

No cars allowed!
Since I had a lot of success with the parkway last time, I thought I would give it another shot.  It's scenic, pretty fun to ride on and there's zero danger of becoming road kill.

There is a downside to a car-free environment.  It means you are pretty much on your own.  If you suffer a break down there is no ride coming to pick you up; you have to trudge out yourself.  One of my big worries was getting a flat.  Can you imagine trying to pump up tires with a hand pump when it's -30C?

Brief segue: I was chatting about this particular concern at my local bike shop when the owner gave me a CO2 pump free of charge.  Talk about an awesome store!

One of the things I find fascinating about this route is the rate of freeze going on with the river.  Despite living around rivers all my life, I've usually avoided going out and looking at them in the winter.  I have that stereotypical picture in my head of all bodies of water being frozen.So it feels a bit alien to see the water flowing while my breath is freezing to my beard.  You can also see the gradual freeze going on; shore, then solid ice, then slushy ice, then open water.  Or even more interesting, where the ice is super lumpy due to being formed while waves kept hitting the shore.

On the lake side things seem more frozen.  Closer to the main land there are people ice fishing.  I would really like to try biking on it; I'm willing to bet my studded tires handle the lake ice great.  But I don't know where the ice is safe or unsafe.  I also don't want to take the chance to bike on it solo; at least if someone else is there I can get help in case of emergency.

Speaking of people out in the winter, it's remarkably quiet here.  In the summer the parkway is full of people.  You see all kinds of cyclists in addition to runners, walkers, roller bladers, hikers and campers going from site to site.  Today the only other living soul I saw was a brave soul snowshoeing solo.

I made some really good distance and had almost made it to the other end of the parkway when I realized I would not be able to do it; I had three major problems.

The first big problem was with my water.  It's very important to hydrate in the winter due to the dry air.  You are also perspiring more than you think as the sweat will evaporate quickly. I had already burned through one 24oz bottle and had started working on the next one.

The next problem was food.  In the summer I usually have a variety of snacks, bars and gels.  I didn't bother on my winter rides because they have been shorter and bringing food wasn't necessary.  This time things were different; I had been out longer than normal and I could feel my strength ebbing and my appetite rising.  I knew the safe bet would be to turn around.

Last but not least... I was damn cold!  I was cold when I left the house but my physical activity quickly warmed me up.  But a chill had been creeping up on me the whole time.  Shorter rides haven't required extra layers of clothing; now I know longer rides means bringing more layers.  I'm glad I turned around when I did because I was completely frozen when I got home; I can only imagine what kind of bad shape I'd be in if I just continued.

So next time, extra water, extra food, chemical hand/toe warmers and some extra layers in a bag.  Even if I'm not intending on being out long, I might have mechanical issues or stuck for some reason and out longer than anticipated.  Frankly I'd rather be over-prepared than under-prepared.

All that being said, it was a really great day for a winter ride.  I was really cold when I arrived at home but it was nothing a hot shower couldn't fix.

Since I know you weren't tortured enough by my poor video skills last time, I made another time lapse video using footage from this winter cycling trip.  At least this time there was no frozen ice on the lens and you can see terrain for the most part.  There are times when I'm focused a lot on the area directly in front of my bike; it's because riding in vehicle tracks in snow can be dicey at times.

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