The temperature never successfully broke -30 C (-22 F) this week.
On day 1, commuting to work in temperatures around -40 is an adventure. I finally got to try out my new Christmas polar bear mittens, which exceeded expectation when it comes to warmth. I got to take my Skookum parka out of the closet and see if it was as amazing as I remembered (it is). And, I’m not going to lie, I got to be the crazy winter cyclist, that people shake their head at. ”You rode your bike in this?” they ask – and I take their awe with pride. The cold weather couldn’t keep me down, couldn’t stop me from my daily routine, and couldn’t keep me off my bike.
But, by Friday, the routine has lost its novelty. I’m tired of the pre-ride ritual of layering on all my clothes. Every day I get to work, exhausted from battling the cold – soaking wet from all the energy it’s taken to fight the freezing lubricants, and rigid tires. I’m annoyed at the people that say to me “You rode your bike in this?” with their disapproving tone, like my bike riding is somehow causing the cold snap. Maybe if I got with the program and jumped in my car, we could climate change this problem away.
Some of my annoyance is because of the cars that drive past me on my morning commute. In these temperatures I try to stick with the paved pathways. It’s too cold for a helmet – I need all the hats I can get on my head. And at -40, cars spew thick exhaust that lingers in the air, too cold and dense to dissapate. I have no desire to ride through the fog of petroleum products. More importantly, the cold snap has left people cranky, and less inclined to follow general traffic rules. Apparently at around -35, martial law is enacted on the streets of Whitehorse and you can do anything you want. On Wednesday, I was crossing 2nd avenue when a car rushed passed me, honking its horn and shaking its fist. It may have been too cold for them to roll down the window, but the message was pretty clear. I had obviously inconvenienced this driver. I may have been crossing on a green light, and they may have completely blown a red light; but that’s really not the point. What was I doing on their street in the first place?
The car vs. bike debate seems to be renewed in the chill of January’s coldest week. I sometimes wonder if the anger is due in part to the inconvenience of a car in this weather. There’s parts to plug in, windows to scrape, gas-line antifreeze to inject – from atop my little bike I can hear the cars grumble down the street – metal scraping, and engine struggling. Our esteemed Mayor Bev Buckway told a newspaper earlier this year that bicycle commuters “can be really scary for cars”. Sometimes I imagine that through a windshield I look like a crazy flesh eating zombie that at any moment could jump through the passenger window and eat someone’s brain. Putting my overactive imagination aside, I can see the concern. If a car hits a bike on the road, there’s huge repercussions for a driver: police reports, insurance costs, car repairs, and probably hundreds of hours of paperwork. All things most cyclists don’t have to do – because they are dead. I wonder if cars know that in the 58 car/bike accidents that resulted in fatalities in 2005, the cyclists are up 58 to 0 when it comes to deaths. I’d say they don’t need to be too scared.
But, it’s easy when the weather’s bad and you’ve almost been killed by a giant box of metal, to become bitter. The truth is that 99% of cars are great. They are courteous, they are kind. Lots of them give me a little wave as the go by (and not with their middle finger). I’m not stupid, I know that sometimes I delay a car by 5 or 10 seconds, because it takes me that much longer to get through the round-about. But, most drivers seem to be okay with that. In fact many vehicles try to cede right of way to me (which by the way is completely unnecessary and can be kind of dangerous), stopping to let me cross the street, or make a turn. So instead of making this post about the crazy winter drivers, I’m writing it to thank the not so crazies. The ones who scrape their windows, so they can actually see the human powered commuters on the sidewalks. The ones that follow traffic laws, even when it’s cold. The ones who don’t yell at me or threaten to kill me. And most importantly, the ones that don’t maim me on my way to and from work. For you, I am truly grateful.