Editors Note: Some people are referring to this winter storm as Snowpocalypse. I refuse to use that title, as that’s what we called the much longer, much bigger storm in 2008. Try harder, Portland!
Well, sometimes the forecasters are right. The National Weather Service had been predicting a good “snow event” in Portland the beginning of the week, and it has come as promised. Now this snowstorm is not anything as big as seen in other parts of the country (well, bigger than what shut down Atlanta), but big enough for these parts. Remember, it don’t take much. How much? Looking out the window right now (7 pm on Saturday), I’m guessing at least six to eight inches cumulative. And now the freezing rain is coming down…
This is easiest the most snow we’ve seen in about four years, since the surprise storm of December 2009. (There was the snow in January 2012, but it happened overnight and was gone in the morning.) Of course it doesn’t compare to the big snow event during my Portland years, Snowpocalypse 2008, two-plus weeks of snow and sub-freezing temperatures, but I’m not necessarily complaining about that.
Anyways, the snow started in earnest around 10:30 am on Thursday when I left the house to meet Joe for brunch on N Mississippi. The 2.5 mile ride wasn’t that eventful, as it was mostly flurries, but the cold (20F/-7C) and wind did not make it fun. After brunch the snow picked up and it started to stick. Riding into the east wind was not fun with stinging snow blowing in my face.
I had to be to work at 3pm and do a couple errands along the way. The snow picked up and accumulated throughout the trip. It wasn’t too bad of a riding experience (I think the “semi-knobby” pattern on the Continental Speed Ride tires on my XO-3 definitely help in this type of snow), but my hands got a little cold even through the thick gloves I was wearing. While my rear wheel slid a little on a couple stops (I switch to rear-brake bias during snowy rides), I was fine for the most part. I was more worried about the auto traffic, as I witnessed some sliding and spinning.
It continued through my work shift on Thursday. By the time I got off work at 10 pm, there was an accumulation of three inches on the ground. Rather than trek the six miles back to my house in NE and then trek back in the morning (and rather than crash at work) I had made arrangements to stay at a friend’s house about a mile away in inner NE. The riding there (and back to work in the morn) was more interesting than it was in the afternoon. There was enough snow on the side streets that ruts had formed from tire tracks. When my front wheel hit the side of a rut it lost control a bit.And even with a good headlight it was hard to see all the ruts. On the main roads this wasn’t as much of an issue, as the snow was packed down, and my semi-grippy tires stayed in control. Thankfully there was barely any traffic on the main roads as the city had pretty much grinded to a halt.
The snow had paused during the morning on Friday but started up again in the afternoon. The ride home was a bit more problematic: the side roads were still heavily rutted, and now there was significant traffic on the main roads, significant enough that I didn’t feel like riding them. Through a combination of riding and walking I made it two miles to the Hollywood district where I stocked up on more groceries, and from there I decided to “wuss out” and take the bus the remaining five miles to my house. In between I passed through Laurelhurst Park because I knew it would be where the “action” is. And sure enough it was: scores of people sledding on the slopes in the park, plus a few token cross country skiers. SE 33rd on the west edge of the park was closed to auto traffic in order to become a safe sled/ski/snowboard downhill. Sounded like a lot of the steeper hill streets in Portland were closed to car traffic (whether officially or informally), and these slopes were taken over by snowy thrillseekers, just like what happened during Snowpocalypse in 2008.
Now we’re up to Saturday. The snow is still a-coming, and with the high never reaching freezing, none of it went away (or got slushy, thankfully). I have the weekend off. If you’re following along on the Home Version, you know that the only reason that I have a full weekend off (as I rarely get them) is because I was supposed to lead the bike camping trip to the cabins at Battle Ground Lake. Well, with this weather, it didn’t happen obviously. So I had a free weekend without a plan, and no excuse to leave the house, so I stayed in for most of the day. But as later afternoon rolled on, I got antsy to leave the house for a bit. Since I had nowhere to go, I could have walked, but being one part crazy, one part curious, I decided to do some more snowbiking.
The previous two days I used the XO-3 with it’s semi-knobby Continental Speed Ride tires. But I saw the limitations of that setup, so I decided to press the Crested Butte into action. After all, it’s a mountain bike with fatter tires. But slick tires. No problem: I have a studded tire *that I can use for the front, and a knobby for the rear. Basically the same configuration I used while snowbiking during Snowpocalypse ’08, but then I used my Univega Safari which had 35 mm wide tires. Now I’d have something closer to two inches wide. And since I want to test out the equipment, why not? Still, I was a bit apprehensive about going through the effort for what would probably amount to two days of use, because the last time I mounted snow tires it was quite the effort and took a lot of time. (Thick tires, narrow rim.) But this time it wasn’t bad at all, as the Crested Butte has wide (1.75″) rims. Overall the operation for both wheels took a bit over a half-hour, and I was ready to go!
How did the bike perform? Okay. Definitely better than the XO-3, but not as good as I hoped. I still had “wiggly front tire” issues from time to time. I guess I should expect this from snow biking, but somehow I remember an easier time, handling wise, during my week of snow biking during Snowpocalypse 2008. What’s going on? That time I had narrower tires and a less-optimal snow bike. I think there’s two big factors for this time: the snow is a bit drier, and it’s not as packed down. I don’t remember dealing with the rut issue back then. In fact, most roads had an icy glaze and I did fine.
Still, I somehow feel like I’m “failing” at snowbiking. I heard reports of other folks having more fun biking than I did, and get jealous. And all the fat bikers talking about fat biking, telling me I need to get one…jeez. Yes, in a perfect world, I’d have a fat bike. But I just finally got over being “totally flat broke” and am attempting to not go broke any time soon,** and am also trying to avoid acquiring any more bikes any time soon. Yeah, a fat bike would be awesome for conditions like this (which happen about every five years in Portland.) And I could maybe impress Nick C.*** or feel like I could hack a winter in Minneapolis or Anchorage.
I should just be satisfied with what I’ve done, and also be satisfied that this is about as “real” as winter gets around these parts.**** February is generally the beginning of what I like to call “springtime”, where the highs stay at about 50F or higher, warmer days happen occasionally (it’s pretty common to have a few 60F or higher days by mid-month), and the march to summer has begun in earnest.
And I am from a place that has “real” winter. While Connecticut doesn’t get as severe a winter as Minnesota, it does snow in winter. And yes, I drove in snow, because it was expected, not because I liked to, because I was expected to. I remember driving 30+ miles to work on a snow day because it was verboten that you would “call in” for something like a measly six inches of snow. And I would still get yelled at for coming in late, even though the roads were unsafe. So those of you who live in areas that experience “real” winters still, keep that in mind.
In any case, I’ve enjoyed what winter we got this time around. It would have been nice to get up to Mount Tabor or Washington Park, but there is still tomorrow. Though things will be more treacherous tomorrow, as the freezing rain will be falling all night. And by mid-week, it will all be a memory, as highs will be too warm for freezing precipitation. And I’ll just be thinking of spring…
*Innova brand. Yeah, the cheap ones. Not as good as Schwalbe, but for the amount of use I get out of them (once every three years?) why would I shell out the big bucks?
**Well, if I bought that Mongoose fat bike from Walmart, I wouldn’t go broke…
***I always want to impress Nick C…
****And we usually only get significant snow in December or January. This significant snowfall is rare, but even rarer to have it happen in February. The cashier at New Seasons says this is the most snow for February in at least 30 years.