Monday 19 January 2015

The River and the Epic Ice Beard

When I looked at the temperature in the morning, it showed -12C with a "feels like" of -22C. It's been an unseasonably warm winter this year, so there really hasn't been an opportunity to acclimate to that kind of temperature.  It would be my coldest ride to date.

But hey, I didn't sign up for winter cycling because it was easy!

For clothing I wore what I usually would in slightly warmer temperatures (winter jersey, thermal tights, cycling liner, thin toque, merino wool socks, hiking boots).  I added some knee warmers underneath the tights and wore a rain coat as a waterproof layer on my upper half.  I also put a hydrapak on, inside the coat so it would stay warm enough.  Since I was planning on being out for more than an hour, I tossed an energy drink in a bottle cage.

Top view of goggles with foam cut out from vents.
It was cold enough out to justify wearing my goggles.  On previous trips I had problems with them fogging up.  I had tried a couple of fixes but they would always steam up when I was pedaling hard.  A fellow cyclist pointed out that a lot of goggles are vented but the vents are covered with foam.  The foam would tend to keep heat and moisture in the goggles, defeating the purpose of having vents.  Since they weren't doing me any good as-is, I decided to cut the foam away from the top vents.  I kept it in place for the side and lower vents.

Usually I would try hitting the water front and make my way to the parkway.  But I've been trying the same thing for two weeks and I end up having to walk my bicycle through the snow.  This time around I thought I'd try a more direct route.

I was a bit nervous about taking a county road.  In my area the county roads have paved shoulders but that's also where the plowed snow sits.  Lately the plow trucks have been pushing the snow further away from the road.  The effect has also been enhanced by people snowmobiling next to the road.  Not the best surface for a regular bicycle tire but it was perfect for my Ice Spiker Pros.

I was hoping for some luck with the parkway.  I hadn't been out that way for quite some time due to the deeper snow.  There is no snow maintenance but I was hoping the cold made a crust that could support my bicycle.  Unfortunately it didn't turn out well.  There was a crust that would support me when I stood on it but the bike kept breaking the surface and sinking.  I still might have been able to follow the deeper vehicle tracks but drifting powder snow ended up filling them up.

With nowhere else to go, I took the only low-speed route out of town.  While most county roads have a limit of 80 km/h, this particular road topped out at 60km/h.  It wasn't well plowed and ran parallel to one of the best maintained roads in the area.  Most vehicular traffic was local and the road was nice and quiet.

I had made it out to the bridge when I got to thinking about riding on the frozen water.  To be honest it's been a recurring thought ever since I got studded tires in the fall.  I pictured myself rolling unencumbered on the icy surface, with a cheshire cat grin on my face.

After some scouting I found the entrance to get inside.  It was laden with many tracks from pick up trucks, cars, snowmobiles and ATV's.  The winter traffic on the trail packed down the snow enough so I didn't sink.  It was still challenging to ride on but in a fun sort of way.

One of my concerns about winter off-road cycling was about other trail users.  How would they react to sharing with a cyclist?  Would I be accepted as a fellow outdoorsman?  Or would I be shunned for my non-motorized form of transport?

So far it's been good.  I've tried to make eye contact, be courteous, polite and friendly.  If I'm unstable where I'm riding, I pull to the side and signal for others to pass me.  In return I've been treated with greetings, smiles and nods, and given lots of space.

It was around this point that I realized I didn't have a single fogging issue, even after pedaling hard on a snow-covered off road trail.  My goggle modification was working perfectly.

I reached the entrance to the river (Actually, an artificial lake off the river) and cautiously rolled onto the ice.  I chose this location as it was a popular one for ice fishing.  If the ice is solid enough for people and sheds, it should be strong enough to support me.

I wasn't there long before I started feeling very nervous.  You see, falling through the ice would be very dangerous.  It's difficult to get back out and five minutes in the water can kill you.  I had no safety equipment to help me get out.  As I approached the huts I also noticed very few people ice fishing as it was a week day.  While the sheds were still there, I'd seen them fall through many times when abandoned by their owners.  I decided to err the side of caution and keep my trip very short.  Better to come back when lots of people were fishing, or when I wasn't by myself.  Or at the very least, some safety spikes to help pull myself back onto the ice.

So with some reluctance I hit the trail going back.

It was around this point that I noticed my energy drink had been turning to slush.  Riding in the off road area had caused me to bounce around a lot, which meant energy drink would make a thin coating all over the inside of the bottle.  That part would freeze almost instantly.  I had to shake it up in order to get the frozen sides off.  Normally a bottle is pretty good for an hour but within 45 minutes it was literally energy slush.

My water was faring much better.  The waterproof layer I had on wasn't breathable so it retained a lot of heat.  That heat kept my water warm enough to stay in a liquid state.  Each time I drank I made sure to blow air back into the nozzle, so there would be less chance of it freezing in the nozzle or attached hose.  Worked like a charm!

The rest of my ride took place on road.  Shoulders were decently plowed and back roads were pretty safe with most vehicles going slowly.

To be honest the only vehicle that got close to me was an Ontario Provincial Police cruiser.  I would have thought they would have given space, seeing as it is a big issue to move over for them when they are pulled over.  Guess not!  Ontario is going to be instituting a law to give cyclists room so it should be less of a concern in the future.  Three feet if travelling below 50 km/h, four if travelling between 50-80 km/h and five feet if travelling faster than 80 km/h.

At the conclusion of my ride I felt cold in my toes, but everywhere else I felt just fine.  I had been using my hiking boots as they were windproof but I think I had better start looking at using bulkier winter boots with a few sock layers.

I was feeling fairly victorious at conquering the cold temperature.  I decided to go for a selfie.  I assumed I would have some frost in my beard but I was not ready to see EPIC BEARD ICICLES!  I ran into the house to show Goldilocks.  She took an additional photo from the side.  I don't know how I managed to have an icicle form without noticing, let alone three separate instances!

The funny thing was I had stopped in a nearby town to catch my breath at a mid-way point.  People had been staring at me like I was from another planet.  I assumed it was because it was full blown winter and I was on a bicycle.  In retrospect it probably had more to do with the ice formations accumulating on my beard!

I figured they'd come off easily but I was surprised to find them frozen solid in place.  It took ten minutes in the house before they had thawed enough to come loose from my beard.  I could have got them off sooner with warm water but I wanted to see just how kick ass my beard icicles were.

I now consider a large unkempt beard to be an integral, essential part of my winter cycling experience.  The fact it had three icicles and I didn't feel it, is an testament to how well it performs as insulation.  Plus it means I don't have to spend time cleaning it up!