I awoke to calm winds and 16 degrees. Sounds like a good day for a bike ride to me. I hit the road on The Mule and was quite cold for the first mile. The only concessions I made to the low temperature were a long sleeve base layer (instead of my usual short sleeve shirt) and chemical hand warmers in my boots. I was a little worried, but once my blood began to flow it was like any other ride to work. I was totally comfortable.
I reached Dyke Marsh just before sunrise. As usual, it was glorious. I can’t recall the first time I saw a sunrise and truly appreciated it, but I was well into adulthood when it happened. I missed thousands of light shows!!!
The trail still had icy spots. The ones on the Dyke Marsh boardwalk were ridable, but when a section of the trail just to the north of the Woodrow Wilson bridge had black ice. I walked this bit and was glad I did. It was incredibly slick.
From the bridge to DC the trail was clear. Some patches of black ice on the trail opposite the Washington Monument caused me to ride in the grass for a bit but I can’t complain. It was pretty good riding with no wind to speak of. The troll bridge, the boardwalk underneath the TR Bridge, had abundant ice but it was all roughed up so I it was rideable. I had to focus hard on riding in a straight line, pedalling smoothly, and not tensing up. “Just relax. Breathe. Pedal gently.” Riding on snow and ice is a curious mixture of meditation and terror. I feel pretty good that I made it to work without once slipping.
The ride home was a whole ‘nother ballgame. Reports from co-workers were not promising. The sidewalks outside our office building were icing over from sleet and freezing rain. So, I packed up my things and hopped on The Mule for what could turn out to be a really interesting commute.
When I reached the sidewalk from the garage in our office building, I tested it with my foot. Not too bad. I duck walked my bike to the street. Test. Not bad at all. Off I rode. The street was wet and it seemed safe to ride on, but I wasn’t about to ride over the metal grate at 19th Street and I was super careful about riding on any painted lines.
I could see that the connector o the Mount Vernon Trail has a thin layer of sleet on it. I took a chance and rode down to the trail. I was doing fine until the switchback. As I came around the corner, I could see that the slope to the MVT was really icy. I slowed to a stop and grabbed a railing. Ice! Ay! I carefully walked the bike down to the pavement. It was a good thing I dismounted because I almost certainly would have crashed otherwise.
Okay, 1/2 mile down, 14 miles to go. This is going to take a while. I rode very gingerly down the trail. The surface would go from wet to sleet covered and back at random. The troll bridge was covered in sleet but I could see bike tracks and guessed that it was rideable. With great care I slowly rode the entire bridge. At the end I started breathing again. Then another concrete bridge. Same type of ice. Same success.
The asphalt trail went back and forth between wet and sleet-covered. I suppose the granualrity of the sleet pellets afforded my tires just enough grip so as not to slip. All my concentration was on keeping my arms and shoulders loose. If I tensed up and slid, I’d go down for sure.
After a couple miles, my confidence increased and I picked up speed. Thank god there were no ninjas or cyclists behaving like jackasses.
Each time I went down the slightest incline I held my breath. The two flyover bridges at National Airport were icy messes but I made it over both. The slight decline to go under the Metro bridge was scary. It wasn’t icy but a fall in the wrong place might send me skidding into oncoming traffic on the GW Parkway. No problem. The downhill just before the connector bridge to Crystal City was another tricky one. Got it!
If I didn’t have gloves on, I would have chewed my nails off by this point. I could have abandoned the MVT for the Four Mile Run trail and the streets of Alexandria which were likely to be treated but, having made it this far, I went all in.
Of course, the MVT bridge over Four Mile Run was an icy mess. Ha! Again and aganin I gambled and won. No sliding at all. I was getting pretty good at this. The beaver bridge (a boardwalk with a treacherous S-curve) was bad news, but I had it all to myself and could pick a straight line. Done.
The boardwalk around the Slaters Lane apartment building has one tight right turn. Gonna make it,. Gonna make it. Stay loose. Got it!
The concrete bridge around the power plant nearly got me. There were two big puddles on a curve. I looekd down and under the water were sheets of ice. I managed to come to a near stop and duck walked the bike over the ice.
For the rest of the ride, the trail was wet not icy. The wooden bridges from the Beltway south were more of the same but these were either very short or straight. I rode them all without incident. When I arrived home I was incredibly relieved. I put the bike away and went to my front door only to find this:
Snakes!? In January? In an ice storm?!