This story is short. The weather service forecast a severe snow squall. I ignored it.
I stopped to make the photograph less than a minute after the snow began. It was still an interesting novelty and the full implication of what was about to happen hadn’t struck me yet. A few minutes later I couldn’t see. And a few minutes more it was almost impossible to proceed.
Riding in the winter, in snow, can be an interesting challenge. But not always. On this day, riding in a snow squall was a different beast entirely.
The day started simply enough, at least after I got past the cold and mounted the scooter. Despite the temperature being 27F when I left for work the sky was blue and my heart was warm. Sunshine has a marvelous effect of minimizing the cold. Or at least how I perceive it. In the winter I look at the weather forecast closely to assess what I’ll face during a ride. And more importantly, to determine if I’ll ride.
All systems were go with the only cold weather concern being the possibility of ice on the road. Adjusting focus for that possibility isn’t always easy, especially when it “feels” warm and looks warm. But experience has enough power to overcome delusion and scan for ice.
The meaning — slower speeds, especially in curves, and the assumption that ice could be anywhere. On this morning I didn’t see any ice on the road and was not required to give way to any traffic due to my lower velocity.
The route to work was familiar. My belief — I could ride it with my eyes closed. A few hours later on the way back to work from lunch I would test that theory. And learn a thing or two about riding in a snow squall.
The ride to work was lovely despite the cold. Earlier, while walking the dogs, I was not sure I even wanted to get on the scooter. The thought of putting on all the layers of gear, the wires for the electric gloves, and basically the preparation for the dance. I’ve not ridden enough sub-freezing rides this season to have a rhythm to putting on the gear. I make mistakes that require removing things. Like buttoning up the riding jacket only to realize I forgot to string the wires inside for my Gerbing Gloves.
The current preparation time for cold weather riding is close to ten minutes. Even longer if I use my new heated insoles. If I were riding frequently that time would drop to about five minutes. Especially if I don’t have to search for important components like my polypropylene balaclava.
If Currier and Ives were etching images of scooters in the snow they might start with something like this.
I had gone home for lunch. I saw a weather alert declaring a severe snow squall would strike making travel hazardous. Scanning the list of counties I saw “southern Centre”. “We’re not southern,” I tell myself as I look at the sun shining outside. And off I went.
By the time I stopped to make this photograph ten minutes later, I was worried whether or not I would make it back to work or if I would have to abandon the scooter somewhere and walk. Or hole up for a while until the squall passed.
When the snow arrived I decided I had to get to my office fast. The snow was beginning to stick to the road and I was having more and more trouble seeing the road ahead of me due to the snow in the air and on my visor. I made the decision to turn onto the same farm lane I used earlier during my morning commute. It would eliminate concerns for other traffic and the gravel offered more traction.
Things went downhill from there.
This was the most intense snow I’ve ever ridden in. The snow was freezing to the helmet visor requiring a clawing action to remove it. Snow quickly plugged the air vents creating a foggy mist on the inside. Raising the visor to see quickly coated my glasses not to mention the stinging crystals of ice driven into my face from a strong wind.
But I could ride this route with my eyes closed. So on I went. And despite my eyes being wide open I couldn’t keep the Vespa on the gravel road. Twice I found myself in the pasture and I was moving extremely slowly to make sure I didn’t run into a fence. Part of me felt exhilarated at the challenge while the angels of my better nature were berating me for being a jerk again.
I managed to reach the pavement of the parking lot near a baseball field. I know exactly where I am. And then I sense the road is taking me into the woods. There are no woods here. The surroundings aren’t familiar. I have no idea where I am. For the first time in a long, long time I feel lost.
A FedEx truck passes me and I decide to turn around and follow hoping I’m led to the main road. The turn is tricky because the road is snow covered and slippery. I don’t have the winter tires on the Vespa. I’m completely unprepared for the situation.
Reaching the main road near Beaver Stadium I see the FedEx truck waiting. It’s almost impossible to see anything in a near whiteout. Cars appear out of the white and disappear again. The truck disappears and with great difficulty I edge near the road. I have almost no traction. I can’t move into the road with any speed at all.
So I’m forced to spin around and creep into a parking lot and park with my back to the wind and snow. With the heat gloves on high, I try to regroup and make a plan of attack to go the final mile to my office.
Five minutes later the visor is relatively clear of snow and I sense a softening of the blowing snow. Not sure if that’s true but I want to believe it. The plan — ride straight across the road to the other side and not try to make a turn in the snowy grease on the road. Once on the other side I can creep along a bicycle lane or even move on to the sidewalk if necessary.
A quick self-portrait before seeking the warmth of my office. The snow drove hard into every part of the helmet because of the need to continually open the visor to clear fog and snow. The rest of me was dry and warm. The First Gear Kilimanjaro IV riding jacket did it’s job.
By the time I left the office four hours later the snow was gone though the roads had patches of ice from the earlier snow. More riding decisions to make weighing speed, traffic and likelihood of ice.
The ride home was without incident. Before I left an email went out from administration warning of bad roads, closings and accidents. Was not sure what I would encounter but was relieved to find the traffic light, the roads clear with only an occasional patch of ice near the road edges, and a fine ride to end the work week.
In the driveway I noticed the ice build-up on the front fender and reflectors. There was more on the wheel and brakes and ice on the floorboards. Reminders of a brief encounter with a sudden snow squall.
I’ve had enough of winter.