Tuesday, February 1, 2011

In which I accidentally commute in a Blizzard

It was all because of the parking sticker.

The Scientist is out of town, and his Cambridge resident parking sticker expired yesterday.  I tried to get it replaced yesterday, but the lines were ridiculous- close to 2 hours.   So I thought I could go extra early this morning, and wait out in front of the building until they opened.   Unfortunately the Cambridge City hall Annex, where they handle such things is a long walk from the T, a long walk from my house, and not terribly reachable by bus.  However, it's just a block from my normal bike route.

And yes, the forecast was for insane amounts of snow (another 18" after both storms are done!?!)  but the real snow wasn't supposed to start until the afternoon/ evening.   And it wasn't snowing when I left the house- a flake or two, but nothing serious,  so I decided to saddle up.

The ride to the parking office was fine-  it was starting to come down harder, but the roads were clear, and it's a short ride.  Amazingly they were open early, and the line wasn't really long, so I waited 20 minutes and emerged victorious- only to find that it had started to REALLY come down while I was inside.  visibility was poor, and there was an inch of snow already on the ground, with more coming fast.  It was also unusually cold,  the online weather said it was 17.

The bike parking room at the Cambridge city hall annex- looks pretty full!

I had to ride to the T at least, so I got back on my regular route and decided I'd ride to MIT and decide then if it was better to ride or ditch the bike at the Scientist's office.   Despite the snow,  the ride was OK.  I went slow,  the cars all were going slow, and nobody hassled me. I had a couple of slippery moments, and had to put my feet down a couple of times for stability, but it was  OK, so I decided to ride all the way in.
It's a little tricky to leave things at MIT when the Scientist isn't there- the basement is card reader controlled, and I didn't get his card before he left, plus I was worried it would take longer to get to work that way (I was already a bit late).

Although it ended up being fine, and I think it was an interesting experience, I don't think I'll do it again.   For one thing, it was really hard to pay attention to traffic.  I was so busy concentrating on not wiping out, and avoiding hazards hidden under the snow that I wasn't as vigilant as I think is prudent when biking in downtown Boston traffic.  Also,  several times I saw cars sliding when they tried to stop, including one right in front of me.  I'd hate to think what would have happened if it were behind me (and this was a conservatively driven Volvo station wagon, not a daredevil cabbie).

Finally, although I was generally warm enough, in wool tights,  jersey dress, wool sweater and my red wool coat,  my gloves and my leather boots got pretty damp, and thence cold.  Despite an extra pair of wool socks inside my boots, my toes were freezing by the time I arrived.

Gilbert is resting comfortably, dripping onto an old cardboard box we keep in the office for this purpose.  He'll probably be stuck here for the rest of the week, but there are worse places for him to be.


  1. Ha, and I thought I was being bad for waiting until last week to get my permit renewed (my punishment was riding over on the coldest day of the month).

    If the Scientist is an MIT employee, MIT will give you a spouse/partner ID card, but whether this will get you into the basement of the Scientist's building may be up to the building's gatekeeper. Might be worth asking about though.

  2. In my defense, since I don't have a car, I was doing it as a favor for the Scientist who is traveling. I also want to have our visitor parking permit for a contractor later this week.

    I have a MIT ID, but it doesn't open the door :(

  3. Have you tried plastic shopping bags over the gloves?

  4. Whose the Ninja Biker now?

  5. yeah, cars at the hands of inexpert drivers is one of the reasons why I opt not to ride in excessively slippery conditions. On my old suburban commute, I saw an oncoming BMW fishtail and swing into the opposite travel lane as it was rounding a curve, and if I had just been a few seconds faster, it would've taken me out. Scary stuff.

    I picked up a pair of SealSkinz waterproof socks a year or so ago at REI and while their waterproofness after prolonged exposure to the elements is somewhat questionable, they've been useful as an insulating\moisture blocking layer underneath my boots for winter riding.

    Still, hooray for making it in and making it home. The 'chocolate chip cookie dough' streets last evening did not look pleasant to ride in at all.

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  7. @ Anon-
    Oh I definitely had lights- front, rear, flasher on back rack and extra planet bike superflash on my bag just for good measure. Oh and I was wearing a bright red coat for extra measure.

    Steve and Cris,
    Despite my gloves being wet, they were actually reasonably warm- I think because they're shearling they retain their R value pretty well when wet. I should look into some kind of wind/ waterproof liner socks- do you typically take them off when you arrive? Do they breathe, or do they turn your feet into sweat bathtubs?

  8. I do swap out my sealskinz when I arrive in the office. They breathe ok though it's worth keeping in mind that their wicking ability is highly dependent on the shoe that encases them.

    On wet, mildly cold days I'll just wear the Sealskinz and a pair of sandals. If it's colder, I'll have a wool layer underneath. If precipitation is heavy, the socks will eventually get saturated and my feet will be wet, but not as wet as if I just wore cotton or wool socks. If precipitation is light, my feet stay dry and sweat is wicked away fairly easily.

    For snowy conditions, I'll have the sealskinz and a pair of calf-high boots. The boots and socks will keep the outside moisture at bay, but over time, my feet will sweat into the socks. Again, though, compared to what would happen if I was just wearing wool or cotton and, say, I got buzzed by a car that cascaded me in cold water, it's still nice to have that added external moisture blocking

    For skiing and winter hiking ... they're really only useful as a second layer in the event that snow gets through the gaiters or ski pants. at the end of the day, they're fairly damp from internal sweat.

  9. The part about cars sliding is the scariest. I've seen cars in front of me slide when there's just a dusting of fresh snow - not cool.