Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Commuting to Work

I've lived in Aspen for over 13 years now (just a few more to be considered a local) and I can count on one hand the number of times I've used motorized transportation in order to get to work.  That means the other few thousand times I've walked or ridden my bicycle.  And I'm proud of it.  It's my little hat tip to Mother Earth.  Of course, living in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, Mother Earth doesn't always make it easy.  Here's a few tools I use to level the playing field:

Nokians.  These baby's are essential winter gear if you're crazy enough to even think about cycling to work in the winter.  And yes, I fall into that category.  These are Finnish made, 240 carbide studded, absolute monsters.  They set me back about 80 US Dollars a pop ... but they were worth every penny.  Ice is my main concern when riding in the winter here, and studded snowtires are the best bet to keep myself upright.  They are no guarantee of course, but they actually perform really, really well.  Surprisingly well in fact.  I believe I've only hit the deck like 3 or 4 times total so far ... not bad.  Sure, if I turn my tire sharply on ice with any kind of speed, I'll likely go down ... just like if you were to do that same thing in a car, you'd be doing donuts.  So, although awesome and essential, they're not a license to ride like a madman.  It's winter out there for goodness sake, I take my time and try to be as careful as I can.  And that's not always so easy when I'm bundled up like an Eskimo while trying to ride in sub zero degree weather.  On those days I sometimes question my sanity, but, not being able to shift gears aside, riding is still possible.  There are, however, those occasional 12 inch snow days when riding my bike just isn't an option (believe me I've tried) and so I break out some of these:

Studded Snow Cleats.  These are also essential.  Carbide studded cleats that pull over your shoes.  By the way, the carbide studs are important because they don't wear out ... nice feature.  Unfortunately, I pretty much need to use these things any day I choose to walk in the winter.  And that's because I have to walk through the West End of town which I believe, no I'm certain, is the absolute last place they snowplow in Aspen.  Have you ever seen those picturesque all white Winter streets that look so clean and beautiful?  Well, the West End is like that all Winter.  And as beautiful as it is, it's also a pain in the ass to walk or ride through.  Alright, enough of my little rant.  Having studded cleats to wear on that ice rink is a real lifesaver.  Another nice thing is that I just pop them off when I get to work and don't have to change shoes.  As important as it is to have good studs, its probably even more important to stave off hypothermia:

Wool socks with Toe Warmers.  Yep, gotta keep those little piggies nice and toasty.  The warmers themselves don't activate until you open them and stick them to your socks.  Once opened they last about 5 or 6 hours.  One word ... Awesome.  I've always had problems generating heat in my hands and toes, and these suckers have solved the toe issues (still working on the hands).  And probably the number one essential piece of clothing:

Neck Gaiter.  Absolute must have.  The dilly here is that you have options on how to wear it depending on the temperature.  When its freeze your fanny off cold, I have the thing pulled up over my nose and mouth.  As it gets less frigid, perhaps just over my chin.  Part of the awesomeness is that when it's 20 friggin below zero and you have the thing pulled up over you nose, you feel the heat and moisture from your breath on your face.  I wish that was funny, but there have been times when that was the only thing preventing my face from freezing off.

Winter Ninja
So, if Winters here can be so harsh to commute a pied or on two wheels, why don't I just take the free bus into town right?  What's the old saying - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger?  I don't know, like I said in the beginning, it's a small token to keep my personal impact on this planet down.  I may not do it for the rest of my life, but for now I've made a difference, and that's all that matters.

Now I want to be clear about something.  I'm not suggesting or even advocating that everybody needs to minimize their commuting impact.  Sure it would be nice if more people could, but we're all at different places on this journey called life.  Some people are way into recycling, some are going all green energy, some are even trying to unplug all together.  And still others could care less about all of this stuff.  If we were all the same, Life would be pretty boring.

Is there a Primal spin on all of this?  Not really.  I suppose my commute contributes significantly to my move around more often that not premise that I laid out in the Exercise post, but there are many ways you achieve that - most of which don't involve risking your life riding your bicycle in freezing weather, on the ice, to work.

PS  A few things before I hit publish on this
  1. It's -10 F here right now
  2. I just did my sprints outside
  3. I'm going to ride my bike into work in 5 minutes
  4. Perhaps I should stop by to see the Doc and have my head checked out


Chuck said...

where do you sprint in that weather?

Aaron said...

Hi Chuck,
You can see the 'launching pad' (as I call it) where I sprint in the first pic of my Foundations Exercise II post. I had to search a bit for a place with the right conditions to be able to sprint in the winter.
Surprisingly, I've yet to encounter conditions there that I would consider too dangerous to do hard sprints. Maybe sometimes I can't go 'all out' if there is a fresh layer of snow, but I can go hard enough to get the benefits I'm after nonetheless.
So what I had to find was a place that is plowed after it snows, but has very little foot traffic. It can be a bit complicated, but its kind of like finding Goldilocks 'just right' porridge. Also, on rare occasions I've used the carbide cleats to assist with icy conditions.
Having said all of that, I do think that there is another option to do outdoor sprints in Wintry conditions. And that would be to find deep snow conditions and go for it. It would almost be like sprinting in slow motion. You would get one heck of a leg workout to boot.