The Twin Cities received a short inch of snow overnight, which presents a wonderful contrast from yesterday, when the weather was over 40ºF and the sun was playing hide-and-seek with high, wispy clouds. Today looks like winter, yesterday looked like spring.
Likewise, today's ride contrasts strongly with that of yesterday. Today it was a solo tour along the Mississippi River, about 20 miles worth. Yesterday I joined in the congenial meandering of the Hiawatha Cyclery ride (a Saturday morning tradition for them), which is a loose, gangly, ever-shifting group of friendly cyclers. Truth is, we spent more time chatting over coffee than riding our bikes, but they call it a "ride" and who am I to argue?
Both outings were extraordinarily enjoyable. The group ride was filled with conversation and pleasantries, seasoned with a not-insignificant amount of bike geekery. It was just damned social.
Today, on the other hand, was me vs. fresh snow, a north wind and a single gear.
I set out on a loop that I ride frequently. It runs alongside the Mississippi from the Camden Bridge to either Coon Rapids Dam or Highway 610 bridge and back again on East River Road, across the Camden Bridge and home. It's a nice mix of road and trail, with lots of little river-flat add-ons. Wildlife abounds and it's beautiful.
With fresh snow, I opt to take the Schwinn Le Tour III (in the fastest of all colors) since it has studded tires. The roads are treacherous and the carbide is appreciated. At one point a car, turning into a driveway, overshoots by about 12 feet and bounces onto the curb. The side roads are slipperier than I thought! Prudence wins out over convenience and I slip onto the adjacent bike path for the rest of the ride. I normally like to ride on the road because it's safer, but slippery roads eliminate that advantage.
I admit to a nasty habit of listening to music while riding in the winter. My ears are already covered by a hat or balaclava, so the addition of earphones and an iPod seems like a justifiably short step with no drawbacks. Since I continue the practice and have not yet been mowed down by an unheard GMC Yukon, I am obviously on the right side of the safety equation.
With music in place I take off eastward along Victory Memorial Parkway. The wind is at my back and the trail is vacant. It appears to be a glorious day for a ride.
<Southern Man, Neil Young>
I pause a few minutes to take some photos by the small waterfall near Lyndale on Shingle Creek. None of them really turn out, but the image below is acceptable. The bike is old and crusty, but I love the color. It is a comfy, no-surprises ride.
<Won't Get Fooled Again, The Who>
The path runs alongside the Mississippi for the next three miles or so. The river is steel-gray and forbidding. As I come up from the riverside, a stiff breeze slaps me in the face. My single gear seems too steep and all of a sudden I'm huffing and puffing trying to keep my momentum. It takes a few minutes to adjust to the new level of exertion, but soon I'm spinning along, comfortably warm.
<Cold Shot, Stevie Ray Vaughan>
Crossing the 610 Bridge is loud and unsettling. There is only a short concrete barrier between the hurtling cars and the bike path, the river below on the other side. It's hard to cross here without feeling some anxiety, at least for me. I'm always amazed at how tremendously loud cars are at highway speeds.
<Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band>
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band>
The river crossed, I descend into the river bottoms again for half a mile or so. It's peaceful and quite pretty down here, only a few hundred yards from the mayhem of the bridge deck above. Some cyclers have been here ahead of me, there are three wandering tracks in the snow. Out of the wind it's easier to pedal and I start to cool off. I take a water and photo break near the riverbank. Some hardy bushes sport greenery while most plants are brown and dry. The river is ice free and a wood duck house lies abandoned on the frozen ground.
<The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Lynyrd Skynyrd>
The remainder of the ride is calm and still as I pedal with the wind. Snow plumes forward from under the silver aluminum fender and blows back, coating my legs and feet. The water bottle is skinned with ice and tiny tendrils of frost coat my face mask. When I stop, my sunglasses fog over. No part of me is cold, I'm working hard enough to stay warm. A hawk swoops down, skimming the snow-covered trail with its wingtips. Then it is up and gone behind leafless trees.
<Midnight Rambler, The Rolling Stones>
At this time of year, a 20 mile ride on the single speed, particularly with studded tires, is a good workout. I'm tired as I finish, but happy. The pleasure of my solitary pursuit lingers as I stow the bike and walk into the warm house to rejoin my family.