Monday, 11 March 2013

Wonderful Winter Commute

Today there was going to be a chance I'd wake up to snow. I did wake up (happy days) and there was snow. Only a dusting, no more than 10mm.

Whilst out walking Melba, who loves running around in the snow, I was able to check the conditions. Was it icy under the snow? Is it windy? Is the snow melting? It seemed fine so I decided to carry on with the commute in.

Having breakfast I thought about the bike. I switched my pedals back to my SPD last week as I thought the bad weather was finished with. I thought that the conditions outside weren't too bad and I have enough confidence to ride clipped in on the snow. I also decided to take some pressure out of the tyres to give a bigger footprint. The thing with I found this morning with 700C x 35 tyres is it is very easy to let too much air out. I pumped some back in, and conscious of beginning to run late, set off for work.

Every bump and stone had me on edge as I thought I was going to pinch flat at any moment. Looking at the tyres though, they weren't deflated that much. It was just the spongy feeling keeping me worried. I arrived at work just in time to clock in, but I needed to shower to freshen up and to warm up.

During the course of the day, the weather was up to something weird. One moment it would be tossing hailstones off the windows, the next huge snow flakes fluttering down. Look again and there was brilliant sunshine and blue sky. A colleague originally from Poland claimed he'd never seen such crazy weather before! There was no way of knowing what it would be doing at leaving time.
Hailstones on the windowsill
I pumped some more air in my tyres and set off. The snow was just starting and took a while to get going. I was enjoying the ride a lot and was still on the roads in Spennymoor. The studs in the tyres were making their unmistakable crunching noise so I knew I was safe as I kept the pace up. Within 10 minutes I had hit the start of the Auckland Way, a 4.5 mile public bridleway linking Spennymoor and Bishop Auckland. It used to be a railway line, but has been long since abandoned. The winds that had been gusting had snapped twigs and branches off the trees and they were scattered everywhere, like little arms reaching out of the snow at my wheels. A lot of swerving was required! By the time I reached the outskirts of Binchester, the wind was really howling and the snow was horizontal.
Arriving at Binchester
This proved to be a good photo opportunity - only my phone crashed after a couple of shots. I thought the sudden drop in temperature had affected the battery severely or it just crapped out as it was recording my route via Strava and trying to get the position of the photo and upload the photo to my Google+ Stream. I stuffed it back into my pocket, jumped back in the saddle and let it reboot.

I was really enjoying myself now and it dawned on me that it because it was light and I could see my surroundings! The mornings have been gradually getting lighter, at the moment sunrise is generally when I set off for work, about 6:35 am  As I'm going to work, I'm conscious of being against the clock; but coming home there isn't as much pressure (it depends on what is for tea!).

As I dropped down out of Binchester and in towards Bishop Auckland golf club, I stopped at the top of High Park (a pretty useless link, but shows you where I mean) and took some more photos. There is a series of stone bridges here and they looked quite picturesque. The icicles hanging from the inside of one of them looked quite threatening though!

Approaching High Park bridges

Steps leading up to footpath into High Park

I once tried to ride my mountain bike down these...I didn't get far!

You are wearing your helmet - right?!
After snapping these pictures, I carried on homeward. I noticed the traffic to my left at Park Head bank crawling as I cruised past the golf club. I looked right and saw the sun setting.
Snowing and sun setting. The golf course is beyond the trees on the right
I made it home in one piece. I could ride in the traffic of the town at the pace of the cars; it was pretty busy. The traffic in Bishop Auckland is pretty bad when rush hour arrives and I try to avoid driving at these times if I can as you're in 2nd gear 3rd tops for most of the time.

I got the bike locked up, changed into a different jacket, switched boots and headed back out with Melba for even more snow fun.

Rides like this aren't just rewarding for the physical exercise, the great views, the challenge of adverse weather conditions or being the only person out on the trail - one of the best things is coming home, having a hot shower and getting into some clean, warm clothes and sipping a steaming cup of tea. That's the gold medal right there.

These photos and a couple more can be found here.


I have just checked the historical weather data for Bishop Auckland as I had forgot to mention temperatures:
Setting off home: 4:20 pm, 0 C with a windchill of -6.4 C.
Arriving home: 5:20 pm, -1 C with a windchill of -7.5 C.
These are the observations taken from Wunderground here.

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