When it comes to winter commuting on foot or bicycle, I divide the world into two groups. There are the rough-toughies like Brian Edwards of Raymond. (More on his amazing feats later in this column.) And then there are wimps like me.
I bike to work two days a week through most of the spring, summer and fall. It’s a lovely four-mile ride on neighborhood roads and trails from my home in Portland’s Deering neighborhood to Back Cove and then downtown.
I parked the bike in early December, when my fingers started going numb. But even wimps can push themselves to do a modified commute. At least, that’s my plan.
I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to drive as far as the Back Cove parking lot near Hannaford twice a week and walk from there, a distance of about a mile each way. It will give me a little fresh air and exercise, and it will avoid the hassle of parking downtown.
I have no interest in suffering. So I wear warm clothes, including a down L.L. Bean coat that a friend calls my sleeping bag. OK, it won’t win me any fashion points. But zip up the hood, and it sure is toasty.
I buy hand-warmers by the box and consider them the best investment ever. I keep one pair in my car at all times and another in my backpack. If my commute were in the dark, I’d also have a headlamp.
Perhaps you could try a similar approach to winter commuting. Set a modest goal.
Why be like all of those people who buy gym memberships in January and never actually exercise? Just try walking a short distance. Give yourself a bye if the weather’s too cold or icy. On the days when you do start your day outside, you’re bound to feel energized, not to mention virtuous.
If you want to be inspired, consider Brian Edwards’ commute. He bikes most days, year-round, from Raymond to his job as an electrical engineer at Enercon Technologies in Gray. That’s a distance of about 25 miles round-trip.
Edwards logged more than 6,200 miles on his bike in 2015, equivalent to crossing the country twice.
His wife, Kelly, works at the same company. She drives their car in on Mondays with supplies, then commutes by bicycle until Friday afternoon, when she drives home. Last year, she racked up more than 4,000 miles.
“My rule of thumb is that I ride every day unless there is a concrete reason that I can’t, like a blizzard,” Brian Edwards said. Even then, he’s pushed his luck. Once, he was caught on trails in heavy snow and pedaled for two and a half hours to get home.
The ride brings lots of challenges. During the summer months, Edwards bikes on narrow rural roads with crumbling pavement and cars whooshing by too close for comfort.
In winter, he rides bikes with fat, studded tires. He crosses Little Sebago Lake once it’s iced over. Then, he winds his way through the woods. While that trail route shaves off a third of the mileage, it takes up to twice as long, plus another 15 minutes on either end to don or take off many layers of clothing.
On his commutes, Edwards sees deer, fox, wild turkeys, lynx, rabbits and lots of gorgeous sunrises. He keeps a blog (thecandidcyclist.blogspot.com) so that his friends can enjoy his photos and hear all about his adventures.
Two winters ago, Edwards hit a patch of ice in the woods and crashed hard, injuring his shoulder. He got back on his bike and rode the rest of the way to work. When the pain didn’t subside, he went to a quick-care clinic and discovered that he’d broken his collarbone.
“I was off the bike for a whole week,” he said, with the deadpan delivery of a stoic.
Edwards, ever the engineer, says he likes bicycle commuting because it’s efficient. “It lets me get my bike workout in,” he said, “it gets me to work and it saves money on gas.”
I would add another plus to winter commuting, whether by foot or bicycle: It gives us a way to go from dreading the cold weather to enjoying it. We’ve all chosen to live in this winter wonderland. We might as well embrace it. And what better way than to commute to work by our own power?
Shoshanna Hoose is a freelance writer who walks and bicycles in Greater Portland and beyond. Contact her at [email protected]