Mad Max Mountain Man
By Cam Mather
Did you like that “alliteration?” Four “M’s” in a row!
I wrote about seeing the movie “Chasing Ice” recently. I said that it is a powerful movie and it is. In fact it is changing my behavior.
We didn’t get any snow here until December 21st. For the first 3 weeks of December it was quite mild. It was depressing. I grew up near here and I remember the lead up to Christmas as being cold and snowy.
Normally I would have put my bikes away by December. When I lived in the city I rode my bike year round, but here in the country our roads are pretty icy during the winter. I once rode my older bike after the salt trucks had been on our road and what a mess it made of the bike! So I stay off the road in December. Well, during a usual December. Climate change is so great because it’s extending our cycling season!
Michelle was in town one December Saturday running errands and she brought back a DVD from the video store. It was an overnight rental, which meant it had to be back on Sunday or it would cost us another $5. Now we could have afforded the $5, but sometimes I just like a challenge. Getting that video back on the Sunday was just the challenge I was looking for. It was about -5°C (about 27°F) in the morning. It usually warms up during the day so I thought I would wait until the afternoon to ride my bike into town. I worked on firewood in the morning and there was quite a wind chill, but I had decided I was riding that DVD back to town no matter what. (Town is 13 km/8 miles on “the Mountain Road”.)
By 2 pm it was still 5° below and the wind had picked up. A normal or logical person would jump in the car, turn the key and burn gas to get the video back. Or just pay the $5 penalty. Even if I saved paying the $5 penalty, I would have spent that much on gas. So I was pretty much committed to riding it back.
The challenge is always what to wear. If I wear a winter coat I know I’m going to get really sweaty and then chilled when I stop. So I went with 4 layers with a windbreaker on top. I was fine from a core body temperature point of view; it’s always your extremities that get cold. And here I must confess that I “drove/rode” the electric bike. I know what you’re thinking, what a crock, anyone can “drive” an electric bike into town. The challenge is that the 26-km/17 miles round trip is about the bike battery’s limit on a warm day and it was darn cold so I was assuming this range would be reduced. Plus the bike is 4 years old now so I was assuming some degradation in range over time.
My other big concern was that the wind was from the east, which meant it was at my back on the way there. I hate that. I like to start out into the wind. I want the worst part of the ride at the start, then I know I’ve got the wind at my back on the way home when I’m more likely to be tired. If I started out into the wind and it was too brutal, I could just turn around. If I get to town and it’s brutal coming back into the wind, what I am going do, call Michelle and ask her to pick me up? Not likely. And I really find it takes way more out of you to ride in cold weather, or maybe I’m just feeling my age.
I took a balaclava for the ride home since I figured that’s when I’d need it riding back into the wind. Turns out I wasn’t five minutes away from home and my face was freezing, so I put it on. I also put on some old ski goggles that my cousin Dave had given me years ago. I hate watering eyes, so I had to deal with fogged up eyeglasses under the ski goggles instead. “You should get contacts!” suggested Michelle, but that isn’t going to happen, so I spent most of the time with my upper jaw stuck out directing my breath “down” or blew my breath out the sides of my mouth away from my face to keep my glasses clear.
It’s funny; I always wore a balaclava when I was a kid delivering the Globe and Mail morning paper in the winter. It seemed harmless. Now when I wear a balaclava I expect the black SUVs to arrive and rendition me or at least to be tracked by some government spy agency satellite. Cause really, riding a bike in below zero weather with a face mask and goggles on I look like a cross between one of the 4 horses of the apocalypse and one of the roving bands of hooligans on Mad Max, but without the motorcycle and weapons.
When I’m driving along on my electric bike at 29 km/hour (freezing my butt off) being passed by the odd pick up with “HEMI” emblazoned across the tailgate I wonder how the end of oil is going to affect people who so associate their self-worth by the cubic displacement of their internal combustion engine. And their weekend activities which also involve gas consumption in the ATVs and boats, and I’d say snowmobiles but even here in the north it’s not making much sense to own them anymore since there is less and less snow each year.
There are a few hills on my ride that I walk the bike up. My attitude is to save the juice for level ground. Plus I like to get my butt off the seat once in a while. My electric bike is a great bike, exceptionally well made, but it’s heavy. It’s got to be three times the weight of my road bike, which my cousin Dave also gave to me. As I’m pushing this mass of steel and lithium polymer up the hill I think about how much energy it’s taking, in the form of Michelle’s awesome granola. Then I think about how much energy is required to push our 2,000-pound Honda Civic up that same hill, and I’m blown away. Then I think about how much energy is required to drag a 5,000-pound F150 up that same hill, and I am terrified. Because I think as this cheap oil starts running out and people can’t afford F150s anymore, there are going to be a lot of pissed off people out there. Cause someone used to a “Hemi” engine isn’t going to be happy with a “lithium polymer” battery on a Schwinn electric bike.
I on the other hand, am ready to embrace the inevitable. Now I’ve just got to figure out how to modify one of those clear plastic protectors (from a snowblower) for the bike to keep me out of the darn wind in December.