26 January 2008

Polka Ride: I tried

Goodness, I think that I have become a winter bike snob. All day I was asking people (though mostly indirectly): hey, are you going to the Polka Ride later? That Critical Mass thing? And most of them shook their heads: no, it's just too cold outside for me. And I was like, what do you mean it's too cold? It's 14 degrees [Fahrenheit] out there; that's not cold.

I got a pretty late start heading downtown, especially considering all the time I ended up wasting on the Lakefront Path to take pictures. The first time I stopped to do so, I braked hard and swung my handlebars around 90 degrees [of arc] like I usually do when I suddenly see a promising photo opportunity in front of me--quite forgetting all that packed-down snow that was under the tires. You can guess what happened.

But oh, this time it was worth it.

I rediscovered the Lakefront Path on the cusp of a snowy evening, the austere beauty of the lakefront in winter. Peacefully deserted despite the rush of traffic just a few feet away on Lake Shore Drive, hidden right there in plain sight for everyone else to overlook.

I used to walk there all the time, even this time of year. I can't remember when I stopped doing that, but it must have been just long enough ago for me to forget what it's like.

And the downtown skyline, as ever, hovers there between the water and the sky.

At about that point my toes, hitherto uncomfortably numb, were beginning to feel like the nails were being ripped off with pliers by skilled CIA agents while the federal government insisted that I wasn't really being tortured. I mean, the pain was unbearable enough, but on top of that was the indignity of getting cold feet despite ample experience outdoors in such weather. I was finally beginning to understand the trick with the plastic bag corners over your toes--it's not to keep out water, it's to block the wind. Pedaling is quite different from walking in several respects that don't become apparent until the temperature drops to a certain level and you spend a certain length of time doing it.

It was 5pm, the start of the ride, and I'd only just passed McCormick Place. I began to worry that I might just miss the whole thing. The ride never actually gets going until closer to 6pm, at least in my experience, but I'd never experienced the ride when it was 14 degrees [Fahrenheit] and threatening snow. It seemed that a much smaller and more tightly knit group of people was expected to attend, and why waste time hanging around in that weather when everyone you know has already arrived? But I pressed onward toward the ped bridge at 18th St.; I was enjoying the journey, despite my literally cold feet, and that mattered more to me than the destination.

Except by the time I got to the Loop it was dark and I had rejoined the rest of civilization in the form of peak rushhour traffic. I've done that before, too, but the bulk of winter clothing on my head and neck greatly restricted my ranges of vision and motion. I felt a significant reduction in maneuverability as a result; I began to panic, being unable to glance around quickly at what was going on around me. The bike bumped and skidded over every minor obstacle--potholes, cracks, sloppy pavement, manhole covers, you name it--because I was concentrating so much on the vehicles in front of me. I was risking a nasty fall among too many cars to avoid one of them running me over. The journey wasn't fun anymore, and I probably wasn't even going to make it to the destination.

At Jackson Blvd. I tried to swing around a bus that had stopped in front of me, but my feet skidded violently on the pedals and for a frightening moment I nearly did lose control. After recovering I wondered how that had happened--and realized with a deep inner chill that I couldn't feel my toes at all. That's the beginning of frostbite, I know. I hopped--limped, rather--off my bike and onto the sidewalk, crossed the street, and flagged a #6 bus stopped at the intersection. The driver sat through another light cycle while I put my bike on the rack, which no doubt annoyed all the other passengers who were already annoyed enough at being stuck in rushhour traffic, but I didn't care. I was in no mood to stand around waiting for the next one.

On the way back to Hyde Park I clenched my fists and tried not to concentrate on the searing, agonizing pain in my feet as my toes warmed back up again. It had begun to snow. I bitterly wondered how my photos of the lakefront would turn out; perhaps the whole thing wasn't worth it after all. A lengthy shower and a nap later, here they are, and here I am, another Friday night on the Internet because it's too cold for me to do anything else. I tried, really.


At 26 January, 2008 09:13, Blogger reallyboring said...

Aww, no polka :-(

I did the November mass, on a day when it was hovering around 20 degrees, but thankfully not snowing. That one was pretty rough, and I had to rethink my whole strategy for keeping warm after that. (More layers!) I had enough of an adventure just biking a mile and a half down to campus last night for a film screening while it was snowing, but at least it was warm when I got there.

Hope your toes are OK!

At 28 January, 2008 11:43, Blogger Dingbat said...

I know what you mean about the lakefront in winter. During our early-December cold snap, I biked out to the point after work one evening. It was pitch black out on the lake, and cold enough that the heat from the cars on Lake Shore Drive created a summer-like shimmer to the lights from downtown--except, of course, that the air was at its winter transparency and every individual shone brightly as it danced.


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