Can’t outrun winter

Days before winter? Try hours, time for one more run
Published December 14, 2008

Winter’s catching up with me. Ever since June’s solstice, I’ve been dreading the shorter days and weather that’ll keep me cooped up and off the bike. The weather reports said there was a good chance of rain last night and an even better chance today. When I woke up to blue skies, I wondered if this morning might be my last chance for a ride, my last chance before the sun goes into hibernation for the year, the sky soaks the landscape and all life’s joy succumbs to the sucking black hole of winter. In earnest, I geared up and in unprecedented fashion was out the door and on the road before 10:30 AM.

My goal was to ride The Loop, stop somewhere for photos, and outrun the oncoming weather system by making it home before getting wet. Anticipating that it’d be cold, I wore top and bottom thermal layers under my gear but even early in the ride, tracing Highway 1 through Pacifica, I was starting to doubt that it was enough. The coast is cool during the warmer seasons, but when weather turns frigid the ocean air tends to resist chilling more so than inland mountain back roads. I feared what cold might welcome me later.

The second sign that I was about to fail in my attempt to outrun the weather was a bit more subtle. On the approach to 92, other motorcycles were few and far, far between. Highway 1 is usually teeming with motos but not today. Bicyclists outnumbered motorcycles ten-to-one, a ratio that persisted on the back roads. To wit, I crossed paths with only two motorcycles on Skyline, and just two more on the way back to Highway 1.

Where Skyline starts at 92, the sky’s open and the road winds uphill. But it soon dives down the mountain as the forest canopy closes tighter and tighter, encroaching on and eventually blotting out the graying sky. In moderate weather, the scenery is fantastic, but today the landscape conspired to freeze off my fingers–among other things. Deeper into the hills, trickles of water glossed the roads. I was stuck behind some slow drivers, but with slippery asphalt and numb hands to work with, the slower pace was actually welcome.

I pulled into Alice’s parking lot when I reached the intersection of 35 and 84, desperate for a chance to warm my paws. I stuck my hands between gaps in the Ninja’s fairings for warmth and cupped the end of the muffler. A couple of notes on warming: 1) The muffler is a good source of heat to warm your hands as the can gets pretty warm but won’t burn you through gloves, but 2) the exhaust pipe before the muffler is not a good part of the bike to touch, even if you’re covered in leather. Ask me how I know.

You can’t outrun winter. But you can outlast it

Four or five guys on sport/standard bikes had arrived just before me and were off their bikes sharing anecdotes of weather. I asked one of them which direction he’d come from, hoping to confirm that my plan to take 84 back to Highway 1 would bring me warmer weather. But he also came by 35 and advised against running 84, suggesting it’d be colder since it’s nearer the ocean. But he had a foreign accent and I’ve lived in California for more than twenty years. Surely I know better.

It’d be quality irony if my wisdom proved wrong, but I was right. 84 wasn’t afflicted with the same wicked chill of 35. Even better, 84 was dry. There’s really something special about 84; the flow of the turns and camber of the tarmac inspire infinite confidence. Though I did cross a few stretches of 84 mired in mud tracked in by trucks from the soupy shoulders, I’d still have to advise that if you’re under-dressed in the San Francisco Bay Area, in mid-December, running away from an imminent rainstorm, ride Highway 84 instead of Skyline.

Or stay home. You can’t outrun winter. But you can outlast it.