Saturday, December 12, 2009

Slip Sliding Into Winter

Now I remember why I always dread the coming of winter. It's not that I mind winter so much once it's here...but just knowing the snow's going to start and the wind's going to get cold always makes me wish for warmer days. After the ground is covered and the weather settles into glacial for weeks on end, I kind of get used to it and go on my merry way but the transition is always tough. I know it'd get pretty boring around here having the same season all the time but when you know it's going to get nasty and cold, it's like waiting to get a tooth filled. You know it'll be better once it's over but anticipating the drill isn't much fun.

The short days are the other downside to this time of year. I usually go to work in the dark and get home in the dark with an interval of grayish daylight somewhere in the middle. Or it's just dark the whole time and my entire world is in the headlights. Someone once said that the worst thing ever hung on a locomotive was headlights because once we could see at night, the railroads quickly figured out that they could make money 24 hours a day and most of us became nocturnal. My job typically gets called between midnight and five in the morning so I'm used to starting at "zero-dark-hundred" but in the warm months that usually means a daylight finish. Not so this time of year. Lots of trips its flashlights at both ends and frozen in between. Cold is the icing on the cake when you work all night.

Locomotive cabs can be like the meat drawer of a Frigidaire and if the door and window seals are shot, no amount of duct tape will stop the drafts. We used to crank up the hotplates 'till the breaker tripped on the decrepit Canadian National engines we had for awhile, just to take the chill off when the heaters would give out. The newer units are usually better and some can cook you right out but even now, I'll still get an NS 'sidewinder' on occasion with the door right in front of the engineer's seat. Those old monsters usually have rust holes you could throw a cat through and I've turned on the dome light a few times to find a snowdrift over the top of my boots with the heaters going full blast. You can't wear enough sweatshirts and long johns when you can look out at the snowbanks through the wall of the cab.

Somehow though, all of it is more tolerable in the daytime. Even running in heavy, blowing snow is easier when there's natural light. The long hours of dark and cold make everything harder. Trying to stay awake and alert when you're freezing is a tall order no matter how much sleep you've had. Nothing hurts like riding along poking holes in the dark and staring at swirls of snow in the windshield for hours on end. Your eyeballs get as dry and scratchy as the fuzzy dice hanging on the mirror of a '57 Chevy and you'd swear they were bleeding. The only advantage to the lack of daylight in winter is that when I do finally get near a bed, odds are it'll be dark enough to fall asleep and cold enough that I won't wish I was out pushing pedals somewhere.

Speaking of pedals...I'm already bike-deprived and it's only December. I refuse to take the new mountain bike out in the salt so if I go anywhere near the road at all, it'll be on one of the old steel battleships that usually reside on the porch. Hunting season has kept me out of the woods for three weeks and now the salt will keep me off the highway with either of my aluminum frames. Even if I could get on enough layers to actually keep my fingers from freezing off, dodging snowplows is somewhat more excitement than I look for in a road jaunt. I guess I'm getting old but the entertainment value of a frozen nose and aching knees has also faded a bit since I rode home from Florida one October on a Sportster (but that's another story).

I really do hate being a houseplant for a couple months though.

My road bike is still in the shop getting some attention anyhow so at least I won't be tempted to corrode that one into ruin even if it does get above freezing, which is probably a good thing. I know what happens when you ride all winter from past experience and expense...I pretty well demolished a bike in one year playing in the salt. The cables broke, the freewheel locked up, the bottom bracket digested itself and the chain resisted all efforts at lubrication until it kinked into a knot. It's bad enough to have to put the cars through the metal-eating crap but that's kind of a necessity to get to work. I'd rather not chew up vehicles I don't have to.

The good news is that winter always ends eventually, even in New York. In the meantime, I usually get some good pictures and tinker on the Harley or the leg-bikes (all of which have moved into the kitchen) until the days get longer, the salt washes off and the sun pokes out again. On two wheels or two hundred axles, spring always makes the ride a whole bunch easier.

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