Saturday, January 24, 2009

Revisiting Risk: Thaw Then Freeze

That's what I look like after a mistake in judgment. I look pretty much the same when I make the right choices. I'm careful choosing the days I'll ride. But I do make mistakes.

Impatience to ride and choosing to believe the sunnier of two weather prospects contributed to an error in evaluating the risk of riding this morning. And there was also the fact that I ignored the direct evidence that the driveway that was wet last night was ice this morning. Ignoring that I walked to the road to find dry, salty pavement. In my head I'm repeating the weather forecast, "…near 50 degrees this afternoon…" I'm standing in the road, it's 8 AM and the temperature is 27 degrees Fahrenheit.

On the road I am thinking about breakfast and not the ice. Out of town and into the countryside I begin seeing intermittent ice strips along the road from streams of water that ran during yesterday's thaw. I'm still not processing the data. Instead I point the scooter straight ahead across the ice, these patches that are still narrow. Breakfast in Centre Hall or Bellefonte? Ten miles or fifteen? My stomach is managing the ride.

A 50-foot wide swath of ice. Yesterday is was liquid water but now it is a big stop sign. It's not a little patch of ice. It's not black ice which has more traction to it than this stuff. It's shiny deep ice.

This is how a rider manages shiny ice:
  • Pull over and stop
  • Look in the mirrors for traffic
  • Push up the visor and admire the ice
  • Say to yourself "What the f…??"
  • Decide not to ride to Centre Hall or Bellefonte for breakfast
  • Admire the ice some more
  • Sigh
  • Begin picking out the least slippery path across the ice
  • Cross the ice
Right, cross the ice.

There's an element of machismo in riding. Perhaps less on a Vespa but it's still there. It evaporates crossing ice. Anyone watching knows you're an idiot. Or worse. Feet down pattering around as the scooter moves forward slowly searching for just a tiny bit of traction from a stray piece of gravel. The scooter moves in directions is shouldn't, boots find no purchase. Constant attention to the mirrors for traffic. I am fortunate in my little world that traffic is minimal to non-existent. No one is watching. I don't just look stupid doing this, I am stupid. Poor decision-making back in the driveway.

Over the next two miles I repeat the process a dozen times as each ice hazard seems to become more complex, like a puzzle book or increasing difficulty. My brain is working now to determine an ice-free route. That means a main traffic artery where use and excessive salt will mean less likelihood of ice. A half hour later I am at Barnes and Noble. Not the breakfast I planned but one requiring a reasonable amount of risk.

I sat and wrote this down before I forgot what happened. I like to forget things that don't go my way or illuminate me in a bright, positive light. It's one of the unexpected benefits of blogging -- learning something about how I operate. While I successfully managed the risk on the road I did not do a good job managing the consideration of risk to determine if I would ride. The mistaken application of a weather forecast for later in the day, ignoring the significance of ice in the driveway, and allowing my desire to ride cloud my judgment, all worked together to produce a failure in managing the risks I am willing to take.

I learned some things today. And I did bring home a giant chocolate chip cookie.


bikerted said...

I got nervous just reading that Steve. Ice is the worst traffic hazard in my opinion. Pleased you made it through unscathed.

Rui said...

Hello Steve
I find your bloog because I alwais look for maners to cross the ice road. And after this days readind your bloog it´s a pleasure.
Rui (Portugal)

Robert said...

Enjoy reading your blog . Todays entry was exceptional writing . I'm glad you made it through safely . I don't ride but enjoy reading your adventures and seeing your photos. Do you mind saying what camera were you using today ?

Charlie6 said...

Good post, great description of what it feels like on ice....

Pretty sure I would have turned around if on my 1150RT, on my R80...not so sure. Then again, my judgement has been found "lacking" at times also. :)

Redleg's Rides

Bryce said...

The country roads look familiar to me...our similar roads
are like yours with one major exception, three and four foot high snowbanks. So as you noted, the snow melts, and then finds it's way across the road. And freezes. Here in Southern Ontario the sun shone all day January 25/08, however the ambient temperature was minus 12 degrees Celsius. So the snow will melt, then freeze when it crosses the road. Tomorrow morning will see a spate of accidents as the ice
is still there early in the morning when good scooter riders should not be venturing forth!

Mind most of our rural roads get a coating of salt in the wee small hours from local municipalities if only to create a false sense of

Still Steve, as we all age we tend to become more cautious, I hope!

hrw115 said...

If you don't kill yourself riding around like this in this weather - I'll kill you for even attempting it!!

Your loving daughter (in this life).

Conchscooter said...

Nothing ventured nothing gained. Of course standing around in a public loo holding a camera and looking gloomy while dressed like a bumble bee carries risks all its own...

Hilton Hamann said...

Hi Steve
Great post and something I have never experienced. I too ride a small scooter but in my neck of the woods -- South Africa -- we tend to suffer from the opposite problem.
I have been following your blog for the past year or so as I too share the passions of motorcycling and photography and enjoy combining them.
I have included your site on my blogroll.
Keep up the good work.
My blog:

bobskoot said...

When I saw those ice pictures it gave me "goosebumps on top of my goosebumps" , too scary. Temps up here are just below freezing during the nights, and just above freezing during the days which makes for ice on the road for my 7am commute. You are braver than I

irondad said...

That was a gnarly piece of ice! I appreciate your honesty. We never make each other better if all we share is the pleasant "fluff". Mistake or not, you are a worthy rider!

I'd have gotten up some speed then pulled the clutch and coasted through. Wait, you have no clutch do you?

That was a shallow buildup with the sole purpose of teasing you a little. You looked so forlorn in the mirror!

Actually, I once left home for my 23 mile ride to work. Halfway there, on the freeway, freezing rain started. I was half there. What to do? Same distance to work as to go home. I was riding the old Honda 900 Custom. I rode the rest of the way in the ice, doing what you described. Truck drivers chaining up looked at me incredulously. Took me two hours to get to work. I was pretty darn happy to hear the boss giving the folks who called in a bad time. Bateman made it on his motorcycle. What's wrong with you!

I made a bad decision and had the audacity to be proud of it!

So I'm in no position to make any sort of judgement about your ride.

By the way, I know absolutely nothing about machismo!

Michael said...

Never had that happen.
Never done that.
I'd remember if I had done something that stupid.
Nope, never done that.
You had my stomach in knots, and thanks for reminding me of MY lapses in judgment,
Ice is the worst thing to be stuck in. Returning the direction you came from to get the car? Why? You have to do it all over again. Ahggggggggg! Ice.
But I was just sitting here thinking as the snow falls this AM.
When I get home from work tonight, I'd like to ride, just a little. Then your Blog.
I know there is ice under the snow.
I warned my kids about it last night. But I want to ride and I have in two days...............
Thanks for clearing my head!

Orin said...

The Spokane Street and Alaskan Way viaducts looked just like the third picture Monday afternoon. The weather forecasts for Seattle had high temperatures a bit above 40, but that milestone was not reached. But I still had to get to class, and I was committed... the only place to get off was Seneca Street, downtown. I made it, somehow.

Coming back, I stuck to the surface streets, which were dry. The ambient temp readout flashed 31 in some places, and as high as 46 (?!) in one spot, briefly. But the low-level bridge had a micron-thick patina of ice, save for a 2-inch wide bare spot in the middle of the lane.

I was a bit too eager to ride, too. I made it there and back, but I think only because a lesson needed to be learned...

Scootin' Old Skool

cpa3485 said...

On Sunday night they predicted an ice storm that would start about midday Monday with light snow thereafter. So I elected to take the bus to work and not ride the scooter. It turned out that the ice and drizzle did not start until about 6:00 pm and I probably would have been okay to ride that day. But it really was not worth it. I am glad I didn't ride although I almost always want to ride.

Part of the problem is that riding is so enjoyable. It has become such an important part of my day. The feeling of freedom and independence is so exhilarating to me that I want so badly to ride every possible day that I can (within reason). It is easy to second guess the forecast, but when it comes to ice or snow, it is really not worth it. There will always be another day.

Maybe part of the indecision is because there might be a little bit of daredevil in all of us. In my younger years I was a pole vaulter, and many people thought it was too dangerous. I admit I had a few "crashes", but the enjoyment of flinging myself 13 or 14 feet in the air was so incredibly exciting. In a maybe strange sort of way, I get a similar type of "rush" from scootering.
No I am not like Evil Knievel, but you have to admit there is a lot of excitement that draws us to riding. As I get older I am less willing to take chances, but there is still that feeling of excitement I get from riding that makes me crave it even more. Maybe that is part of the reason why the decision to ride or not ride can be difficult.

David said...

Ice, it can kill you, it sinks ships, crushes bridges, and is mighty tasty in a glass of tea on a hot day. :)

I too have felt the need to ride when there was a large sheet of ice between where I was and where I wanted to go. At the time I had an old Honda CB750k, fully decked out with Windjammer fairing and bags. We made it across the ice in the parking lot and onto the relatively dry street. It was worth the short term stress for the long term joy. As a pilot friend of mine put it, you enjoy the hours of flying interspersed with moments of sheer terror when taking off and landing. Motorcycling is a lot like that for me. Sometimes it's ice, sometimes it's an idiot in an SUV not paying attention. Same danger. Yet I still ride, 35 years after getting my first bike. Some folks think we're crazy for riding when and where we do. I think we've just discovered the secret of happiness.

Dave T.

Steve Williams said...

bikerted: I think you're right, at least about natural hazards -- ice is the worst.

Rui: Thank you for your kinds words. I hope you continue to find some riding enjoyment or information here.

Robert: I was using a Canon G9 for the pictures in this post. It is my camera of choice for most of my riding.

Charlie6: I can't imagine a big bike on the ice. If I had a motorcycle I would probably prepare it for winter storage.

Bryce: I already feel myself growing more cautious. Not sure what's changed but I am a lot more mellow when it comes to not riding...

Heinz N Frenchie said...

OMG, just reading about it was scary. We have to agree with your daughter. That was an insane decision. We want to read your blog for many more years so please don't do that again.

Steve Williams said...

hrw115: OK. I will be more careful and stick to the dry roads.

Cold is ok right?

conchscooter: Public loo.... don't hear that everyday around here. When I was making that picture I sort of wondered what someone would think if they walked in. But since I posted it I guess I don't care that much...

Hilton: I checked out your blog and it's pretty cool. Nice to read about how things are going across the pond and south! I'll keep track of your blog.

bobskoot: In this case I don't think there was much courage. It was stupidity followed by "how do I get myself out of this?"

Ice is best avoided.

irondad: Sometimes we just make bad choices and if we are fortunate we don't have to pay for them. I just hope over time I make fewer bad ones.

Machisimo--- that's what happens when you push the starter button.

Steve Williams said...

Michael: I'm glad my post could help you clear your head. It's probably better to spend time with the kids than ride when it's nasty out. Probably? Definitely!!

Orin: Don't you just hate seeing that temperature indicator flashing around 32 degrees when there is moisture in the air? It's like you just have to wait and see what happens. I am always dragging my feet to see if things are icing up.

cpa3485: I never got the rush from pole vaulting, just a life long lower back twinge from a bad plant with an aluminum pole. Our high school hadn't gotten those fancy fiberglass poles yet. And no airbag in the pit. Just a bunch of shredded foam. One school still had sand. It didn't take me long to become a triple jumper. And a bad one at that!

But I do understand the rush of riding. Foul weather seems to make my senses prickle with anticipation (most of the time) and it is during those times that life seems pretty damn exciting.

Steve Williams said...

David: I think for a lot of us riding is the secret to happiness. And you just can't explain it to most people. It is something that has to be experienced.

Ice can kill. I agree with that.

Steve Williams said...

Heinz N Frenchie: Even I agree with my daughter. Saw her on the bus on the way home from work tonight. Lots of snow blowing in a strong wind and I told her "I could ride in this if I had to..."

I could. If it was an emergency. It wasn't and I didn't. And won't.

I'll try and stick around and post a few more things on Scooter in the Sticks.

Paul said...

s. I laughed. We all have machismo on motorcycles... until you have to cross ice. That levels the playing field. We are all little girls on ice. Paul (in Orlando rode on the sand this week)

Bob Olcott said...

Steve-Thank you the wisdom. I started out on dirt roads, after a snowstorm. At 4:30 am, I had to try my road-made it about 30 feet. Decided to wait for the town plow and his sander. Made all the difference. Made it a mile and a third to a plowed but unsanded road. Rode very slowly, very very slowly. Met the plow 1/2 way down, and expressed my gratitude for his sander. Then onto pavement adjacent a watershed area (Low/No Salt Area)--went down twice without injury, or damage to the scooter, and made it to a well plowed and salted US hwy with 40 MPH speed limit. The next thirteen miles were a piece of cake...Bob

American Scooterist Blog said...

I appreciate the honest assessment even though you made the trip unscathed.

Before I was married rides like that were the norm. Now with a wife and two five years olds, tomorrow is another day and I can ride then.

Winter is a long way from done here in central Minnesota. My life is at a different stage than yours. In that my kids are still young and my wife, vibrant and joyful. I can't risk those rides not so much for my abilities, but the worry I would put them all through just to do it.

When the kids are grown, have stepped into their world and my life is in a different stage I might revisit my desire for those winter rides.

You brought back some nether-region muscle clenching memories Steve! I do miss it.


Motorcycle Philosophy said...

Last November me and a couple of friends tried to ride up Sherman Pass, and encountered patches of ice similar to your photo. Except I was on a fully dressed Harley-Davidson Electra Glide, about 800 pounds of bike. I was really nervous, but managed to get through some of it. Until, finally I lost control and dropped it.

The trick, I've been told, is to build up a decent amount of speed, and coast over it, holding it in a straight line, no brakes, no acceleration. Accelerate on snow, or on patches of asphalt. It's when you're riding very slow that the slow-speed wobble will tip you over.

Joe said...

I'm sitting in Somerset and I just wrote a post about the thaw and freeze thing, and then I came here and saw that you'd written about ice. I swear it was in that order!

I'll be passing through your neck of the woods this afternoon on my way back to the valley. Watch for a friendly wave!


Rie21 said...

Hello Mr.Steve...
I see Your Blog, and I think your post was so good. I like to read your article and photos. I wanna exchange My Link to You, have Your Link in My Motorcycle Relevant Links in My Blog. I hope You do same My Brother. Thank You before.

Steve Williams said...

Paul: Sand wouldn't be a picnic either. At least it would be a softer fall!

Bob Olcott: It is a great feeling to depart from treacherous roads and onto smooth dry pavement. Accomplishment, persistence, and knowledge that we applied our skills successfully makes for a great ride. Glad you managed things well. Now you know what you can do if you have to.

Harv: Good to hear from you! I was wondering how things were going up in the frozen north.

Time of life definitely affects our risk tolerance. And that is as it should be. I think. I didn't ride when my kids were little and I never really considered it. I'm with you.

"nether-region muscle clenching memories..." That's great. Maybe a title for a novel you're writing???

Motorcycle Philosophy: With a CVT transmission on the scooter there is no freewheeling across ice. There is always some torque on the rear wheel that is effectively a brake. With a big cruiser I would not even want to attempt the stuff I try. Too much weight and I shutter at picking up the bike. My poor aching back.

Attempting the Sherman Pass is a big deal with snow on the road. I bet that caused more than a little philosophizing after you were home!

Joe: I always have an eye open for riders! We'll cross paths one of these days.

Steve Williams said...

Rie21: Thanks for your kind words from the other side of the planet. I'll check out your site.

Baron's Life said...

That self portrait is very good...!
Still don't kow about riding in the snow...scary, dangerous...suicidal?

Wendy Holder said...

It is strange, isn't it, how we can sometimes know the facts and yet lead ourselves to believe that we should go ahead?
We're lucky that most of the time nothing terrible happens. It's often the realization of what could have happened that really scares us and hopefully helps us in the future by learning from our mistakes.

Jeremy Z said...

Just catching up with my favorite riding blogs. When I read your blog, I wonder what you do for a living. You're quite a good writer and photographer. You're kind of a more sober version of Peter Egan.

What made me start reading riding blogs again? I had my first ride of the year yesterday. It was 55° in the north suburbs of Chicago yesterday. I took Burgertime ou... well never mind. You can read my blog if you're interested. ;) (

Angelo said...

I don't know if you have already considered the use of a sidecar, at least for winter riding period? I don't have any experience, but it is my understanding that it would provide more footing, so to speak.

If I was doing the riding you do, I would not be challenges myself with icy roads for anything.

Sure looks like a fine place to ride though.

postalhoot said...

i think step 4 is the funniest thing ever! :)

nice blog, i enjoy reading it. it will help me in planning future rides.

Touring Motocycle Tires said...

Oh My God! Just stick to the dry roads. You are lucky and the whole idea was insane. But on the better part of it, it was a crazy adventure.