Back on the bike after ice storm

I rode my bike to work today for the first time since the ice storm that hit the Baltimore/Washington area this past Tuesday and Wednesday.  My usual commute takes me through Elkridge, Relay, and Arbutus, MD, including a short trip through the Patapsco State Park Avalon Area.  Today, the roads were fine for the most part, actually a little drier and less salt-strewn than I expected.  The park, however, was still a massive sheet of ice, and being that I was on a road bike with skinny non-ice-friendly tires, I skipped the park and did a short detour onto U.S. 1 instead.  Biking on U.S. 1 is never my first choice, but it was only 1/4 mile on a stretch that has adequate shoulders.  All the same, it was the first time I had ever biked this stretch, and fortunately it wasn’t too bad (aided, I’m sure, by the fact that it was 9:30am and traffic was thinning out).  Nice to know that I have this option available in the future on days when the park is impassable.

The roads weren’t too bad on the UMBC campus (my destination) either, other than maybe a little more salt than the county roads.  The sidewalks were passable.  On the roads they use what appears to be the same salt the county uses, but for the sidewalks they use this weird white foamy-pellety stuff that sticks to shoes and tires, and gets tracked all over the place inside the buildings.  Thanks to full fenders, my bike stayed pretty clean for the entire ride, until the very end when I rode on the sidewalk.  Now the tires are covered with this crap, and I’m sure there’s a long trail of it leading from the front door to my office suite.  (Update — apparently this is Calcium Chloride, and come to think of it, it looks suspiciously similar to the Calcium Chloride “Hardness Plus” pellets I put in my swimming pool.  Wonder if it’s cheaper per pound…)

The ride home should be interesting.  It’s sunny right now, but apparently it’s supposed to cloud up through the afternoon and there’s a chance of snow showers.  We’ll see how it goes.


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..

The Joys of Winter Biking

Took my first fall of 2009 yesterday.  We were coming off two straight days of rain, it was 7:45am and the temperature was right around freezing.  All of that adds up to (you guessed it) ice on the road.  Most of the roads were treated and in pretty good shape, but in my infinite wisdom I decided to extend the ride with a lap through the State Park.  And in the park, the roads were..  not good.  Long story short, I was coming down a hill, braking a bit, hit a previously-unseen patch of black ice, and the bike promptly came out from under me.

Falls happen so quickly and suddenly that it’s often hard to tell right away what happened and if there’s been any damage.  Sometimes it doesn’t become apparent until you try to get back on the bike and resume the ride.  In my case, I ended up completely undamaged (yay for slippery ice and multiple layers of winter clothing) but my front wheel was knocked out of true.  Turned out to be a loose spoke.  A quick twist with a spoke wrench got me back on the road.  I also had to re-position my front fender, which I did after the ride.  So apparently my front wheel must have taken some kind of impact, although the fall was so smooth that it’s hard to picture how it could have happened.

I guess I should count myself lucky that this was such an easy fall and it happened in the park where there’s no traffic.  It’s been north of 20 years since I last did any regular riding in the winter, but this was enough to remind me of the perils of icy roads..