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Sunday, December 18, 2005

"If anyone has any extra prayers, could you please send them up my way?" Or, it's snowing in Portland.

"If anyone has any extra prayers, could you please send them up my way?" 
--bus driver, TriMet #4-Division, earlier this afternoon

Why yes Virginia, it is snowing in Portland. What's that you ask, you thought it never snowed here? Well, generally it doesn't, but maybe once or twice a season we'll see the powdery white stuff in the city.

Today's snowfall caught me unawares. Earlier in the morn, the sky was bright and sunny, yet cold like it's been the last week. Around noon a bank of clouds arrived from the south. No big deal, I thought. More typical (read: wetter and warmer) weather was expected to return soon, so I thought it was a prelude for that. I hopped on my bike and headed for the anonymous big-box office supply store where I would make copies.

Halfway through my copying, I overheard someone walking in and exclaiming "It's sleeting outside". Sure enough it was. Damn. I was supposed to go to a holiday party later on, and when any type of real-winter precipitation occurs in the Rose City you can expect a total shutdown of the town. (Sure enough, the party got scrapped.) Also, I was on a bike, which isn't fun to ride in the ice. Thankfully the sleet changed to snow by the time I was done, and I started on my 2 mile bike ride home.

It wasn't so bad heading down SE 7th. The snow made everything eerily beautiful, and you could almost hear the city rapidly grind to a halt. Though I'm not its biggest fan, I don't mind snow every once in a while. If it's limited to a couple snowfalls per season and if the snow is gone in a day (which is generally how it happens in PDX) I'm fine. It's when the snow lingers, turning into dirty slush and puddles of ice I get frustrated. I spent a lifetime of winters in Connecticut so I'm not in any hurry to return to that type of weather. Maybe that's why I dig the rain so much.

At Hawthorne and 7th I saw the 4 bus and decided to hop on. The bus driver was not happy. I wouldn't be either if I had to drive such a lumbering device through treacherous conditions and responsible for the safety of lots of people. At this point there was maybe a half inch of snow on the ground. For our friends in more wintry environs, that doesn't sound so bad. But the thing about snowfall in Portland is not the volume, it's the fact that the region is so unprepared for it. I think there is a total of 15 plows to cover a city of 180 square miles and 550,000 people. Basically, roads don't get plowed here. We're lucky if they get a little sand on them.

The lumbering sled-bus continued up Division. Traffic was traveling 5-10 miles per hour, and it looked like traffic was getting worse as we approached the hill between 20th and 30th. Every time the bus approached a stop, it did a li'l slide from left to ride. Deciding I was better risking it on my own, I got off at SE Division and 20th, where I did a li'l shopping at the overcrowded grocery store. Unlocking my bike I saw a car stuck in the middle of the intersection, and the crowd at the bus stop helped push it on its way.

Now came the tricky part: how was I going to get my bike up the hill? I could either walk it up Division or ride it using the quieter (and most likely slipperier) back streets. I said fuck it and rode.

And it wasn't that bad! I just kept the bike under control and went slow. I didn't slip, slide, or fall once. Part of the success I think was due to the fact I had two loaded saddle bags on the back, weighting down the bike for traction. It's like Back East when I was younger and drove a rear-wheeled-drive General Motors death wheel: during the winter I loaded the trunk down with bricks and heavy objects. This was working in the same way on my bike.

Halfway up Clinton at 26th I ran into Eric from Stumptown Printing. We rode up Clinton a little bit side by side, making cars pass far to the left (which is pretty crucial in this situation). A block from my apartment I saw an abandoned car on the sidewalk, front driver's tire flat. Must have slid off the road. I got back to the apartment and went ahead and swept the stairs of snow.

So enjoy the wintry weather while it lasts! If you are on your bike, remember: load up your saddlebags and keep a low center-of-gravity!

As for ZooBomb tonight, there is the obvious con of cold weather and slippery, treacherous conditions. But the Pro is that MAX is running about every 10 minutes throughout the night to keep overhead wires clear of ice. So all-night ZooBombing?

For more info on biking in the snow, go to icebike.
For more info on all winter bike riding in a place that has real winter (like Chicago), go to bikewinter.
For TriMet snow route and delay info, go here.

UPDATE 12/17/12: This post got mentioned in Bikeportland.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the report Shawn. I'm down in So Cal and I can't believe I'm missing all the excitement! be careful out there...


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