Although I haven't been posting with great frequency this Winter, I have been riding.

A lot.

As of this posting I have surpassed 1,000 miles before the first day of Spring.

This isn't the first year that I've bike commuted through the Winter months, but it is definitely the year that I have done it most. I decided to leave the excuses behind and bike as much as I could. Snow, sleet, rain, ice, unplowed paths ... I experienced it all this year, and it was a lot of fun. One thing that helped to motivate me was Freezing Saddles, a friendly competition run by some people on the Washington Area Bike Forum. The basic idea is that you get put into groups of 10 people and get points for riding (10 per day ridden, 1 per mile). My team is currently in 2nd place, after starting in 11th. I've definitely had a lot of fun with the competition, and have made some great new friends along the way. The competition goes until the last day of Winter (next week), but I will definitely keep the riding up, no matter what the weather brings.

One of the hardest parts of riding through the winter was the fact that the Mount Vernon Trail is not plowed. I have studded tires, and while they are almost magical on ice, snow and icy ruts are still a very challenging obstacle that can make a 14 mile commute quite difficult. Arlington County really stepped up to the plate this Winter and plowed their trails just like they plow their roads, but my route does not go on those trails. Alexandria City also has done a good job of clearing off some of the alternate routes I've found, for which I am grateful. Unfortunately, the National Park Service, who maintains my main route, the Mount Vernon Trail, did not follow suit. As a result, I found alternate routes into work with a lot more on-road riding with the help of other people on the forum. I now have a route that limits my exposure to the MVT when it is an icy mess to about a quarter mile, and avoids the 14th Street Bridge (which DDOT doesn't plow either) altogether. Hopefully the NPS and other governmental agencies will make alternate routes unnecessary in future years by plowing the path, but until then it is good to have another way to commute. The cost to plow a bike path is a rounding error in comparison to a 4 lane highway (in the same park). It is time to stop discriminating against taxpayers who don't want to use a car to travel through a national park.

What might surprise many people is that actual riding wasn't particularly hard or unpleasant this Winter. With the right gear, it is possible to be quite comfortable out there. The coldest day I went out on the bike was 0°F with a wind chill somewhere around -13°F. It was the only time during the Winter where my bike glasses formed a sheet of ice from the moisture from my breath (which also made icicles on my beard). It was surprisingly okay to ride, though. I had 4 layers on top (base layer, another wool base layer, wool jersey, and jacket), 2 layers below (fleece lined bib tights and wind pants), wool socks, biking boots, foot warmers, hand warmers, liner gloves, lobster style gloves, and a hat under my helmet. Although getting dressed could be a chore, once I got out there and my core temperature rose from riding, I was quite comfortable. A lot of people thought I was crazy to ride on some of the coldest days, but I always got into work with a big grin on my face that no other form of transport can provide. Every day I was on two wheels I was saving about $14 compared to metro (fare, gas, and parking) or $25 compared to driving (gas and parking). That adds up quickly, and even with the cost of maintenance and equipment, biking not only pays for itself, but generates a surplus.

I am looking forward to a lot more time on the saddle this year. I won't lie, it will be nice to have warmer weather and not need to spend a long time getting dressed for the ride. But, I will (and already do) miss the solitude on the trail on a cold Winter's morning, frost glistening under the first rays of the sunrise, everything quiet except the sound of my tires against the pavement and that of my own breath as I move alone beside a frozen Potomac River.