Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, December 23, 2004

It's kinda tricky riding a bike in the snow, but there are advantages. It's certainly easier on your tires, because the snow is soft, and there isn't as much friction. It's easier on your brakes because brakes are pretty much useless in the snow, so there is not point in applying them. And the traffic is better. Not as many cars, and the bike lane is empty except for the few hardy souls who are dumb enough to ride their bikes in the snow. Actually, it's not as bad as it sounds. I hit a patch of ice the other night, and that was not nice. But as long as the snow is packed, you have pretty good traction, more or less.

But it definitely takes me back. I can't help thinking of all those years in the trucking industry, when I was driving an 80,000 pound truck in the snow. For a truck driver, there are only two seasons--winter and road construction, and of the two, winter is definitely the most precarious. Especially for me, since I ran the northern tier. I worked out of Fargo, North Dakota. Part of the time, I pulled a flatbed. Then I was all over the country. But when I was driving for a refrigerated van line, I did a lot of runs across the northern part of the United States. We used to load imitation sea food from Japan at the docks in Seattle. We would take it to the kosher meat shops in Brooklyn or Queens, where the rabbi would be standing outside the deli shop, ready to check it to make sure it was kosher. It was a pretty consistent run, most of the time. For a while there, I could pretty much count on having blueberry pancakes at the truckstop in Missoula every two weeks. West of Missoula, the first pass is Lookout. After that, in Idaho, is Fourth of July. If you made it over Lookout, Fourth of July usually wasn't too bad. Coming the other way, the first pass out of Seattle was Snoqualmie. Snoqualmie is a very pretty pass, and very long. Most of the time it was not too bad, but if you happened to hit a weather system that was right for snow, it would dump mountains of snow on that pass. A standard tractor-trailer rig has eighteen wheels. Two on the steering axle, of course, then a set of doubles on each side of two tractor axles. Same thing again on the trailer. The maximum weight distribution was 34,000 pounds on each set of double axles, and 12,000 pounds on the steering axle. Generally, if I had a full load, and there was plenty of weight on my drive axles, I could go over "barefoot" without too much trouble. As a matter of fact, in all my years on the road, I only chained up once, and that was because there was a cop waving everyone over to the side of the road as I was coming up out of California going over the Siskiyous.

Anyway, as I was saying, as long as I wasn't empty, I could usually make it over barefoot if I kept moving. But if something made me stop, then I was finished. One time, I was coming up over Snoqualmie out of Seattle, and the snow was pretty heavy. But I was fully loaded, and I thought I would be alright as long as I didn't have to stop. Just before I got to the summit, don't you suppose there was a guy pulling a set of doubles who had spun out, and was chaining up. Those guys don't want to chain up anymore than anyone else, but the problem is that they just don't have the traction of a twin-screw. Those double trailer outfits are usually pulled by a tractor with only one axle. This is because they are usually light-weight, high-volume loads, which, of course, makes it even worse. Well, fortunately, I made it around him OK without having to stop, and managed to get over the mountain. Compared to that, riding a bike in the snow is small potatoes.

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