Ice Road Biking!

As the episode opens the camera pans across the chaos on the road. Showing snapshots of ice, of the winter blizzard that is gripping the Northwest. The people that are braving the cold are bundled to the brim, their breathe leaving a trail of frustration as it exits their noses. Cars are shown abandoned on the side of glistening roads. Weather bulletins are flashed to express the panic that is sweeping across the region. The worst cold snap in decades. The most early season snow on record. The worst traffic hazards ever recorded. Chaos!

We begin to zoom in on Longview and the Columbia River. Industry, as always, is unfazed. The logging trucks have chosen to ignore the warning, the invisible danger lurking on the roads. Even though the sky is clear, the port facilities are coughing gloom into the air. The smoke and steam freezes as it leaves the plants cooling towers. The temperature is only 20 degrees, but the effect of the sighing plants is that hell has frozen over. A bright sun is climbing into the sky.

The camera continues to tighten in on the large river, afloat with trees, boats, ships, but no ice. We see the traffic on the bridge, the traffic cautiously braving the frozen roadway inching their way up and over the massive river. Soon we see a spec crawling along the arc. Dressed in a bright yellow coat, the biker appears through the tailpipe clouds.

The camera cuts to an interview with the biker sitting outside a gas station. As the patrons and employees struggle about in their overbearing coats, the image of the biker dressed in a simple nylon jacket and light hat exposes the contrast of the situation. The viewers have already begun to question the motives of this lunatic, but his calm demeanor and smirking expression do nothing to assuage their confusion.

Biker: “I guess I should explain what I am doing here. I am trying to get to Argentina, so I am going south. The weather is quite pleasant, really. Once I am in rhythm and moving I hardly notice the cold temperatures. The sun is shining and the air feels fresh and clean. When you spend enough time outside, the harshness of the environment is lessened. Without the constant reminder of what the warmth of a car, or building, I actually adjust quickly to the weather.”

We show our character laboriously pedaling his burden along the frozen shoulder of Highway 30. The road traffic is calm, and the plows have been busy throughout the night. All their effort, however, has hampered our traveler. The chunks of snow and ice that were pushed off the road are now frozen in the path of our biker. The camera zooms to see his tires bouncing through the chunks of frozen muck, ricocheting around the bigger obstacles. Everything seems poised to throw him to the ground.

Biker: “I often don’t have feeling in my feet, but that too seems normal. After a few hours of cold, or wet, my feet just seem to disappear and it feels like the bottoms of my legs are attached directly to my pedals. I know that this is less efficient for proper biking, but it seems to just cut complexity from the equation. It certainly isn’t the best of days on the road, but I get some enjoyment out of the fact that I am more driven than all the drivers on the road. All these drivers feel so brave for facing down the storm and stepping into their cars and trucks, only have to pass me on the road.”

Driver (Tall and gruff, wearing a hooded sweater under a denim coat. He has a knit cap on his head emblazoned with the Caterpillar logo and is leaning out his truck window to talk to the camera.): “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I rounded the corner and saw this guy on a bike. Even with my 4-wheel-drive I had a hard time getting up the hill in my neighborhood. I don’t know how he can do it, the roads are terrible, not to mention that it is freezing. Where did he come from anyway?”

The camera is following alongside the bike, a foot off the road and next to the biker, watching the pedal swoop around and around. The only sound is the ice giving way under the skinny tires. There are leaves that are frozen to the ground, trapping a pocket of air under their burnt umber umbrella. When the tires hit these leaves they shatter like a crystal goblet, releasing a hiss of air. It is delicate and mesmerizing, the simple crush of tires on the ice and the way the trapped remnants of fall are released.

Biker: “The sun has kept me warm all day, but it is melting and turning the roads into a wet mess. As soon as it disappears, everything will freeze up, including me and my bike.”

The camera pulls out to show Portland in the distance, shrouded by clouds.

As the biker pulls to a stop at a traffic signal the camera zooms in on his drive-train. It is caked in ice. As he pushes off from the pavement and lumbers to get the mass moving, pouncing on the pedals and dancing to get his frozen feet to find the clip-in pedals, the chain moves around and under the front chainring and then disappears into a cavern of ice built up on the rear derailleur. The system is still functioning, because the chain emerges at the top of the cassette and moves in a horizontal line over to the chairing, repeating 90 times a minute. A gray ice-block growing off the bike frame is all that remains of the front derailleur, locking it in place as we watch him constantly try to shift to a lower chainring in order to climb the hills. Ultimately defeated, he leaves everything where it is as he slogs along for the last 10 miles through Portland to his resting place.

Biker: “I am not trying to prove that there is a point to this, that I am better or smarter for what I am doing. At best, I hope to prove that I might not be a lunatic, crazy and dumb for my pursuits. There really isn’t much of a reason, other than moving south and seeing the world. I put myself here, and am taking it as it comes. It can be fun, though, to be a little strange and different. I smile every-time I think about the expressions on the faces of the drivers that see me plodding along through the ice and snow. What must they be saying to each-other? Ultimately I have to remember what someone once said about my efforts, ‘when it is good it’s good, and when it is bad it’s bad.’ Was today good, or bad?”

The lights of Portland are beacons of warmth as the camera makes its final pull away from the story. Night has fallen and the clouds are like blankets of ice eventually blocking out the city.

One Response to “Ice Road Biking!”

  1. Caitlyn says:

    Good thing many a Bozeman winter trained you for dealing with numb extremities…although you haven’t even had the usual cold-season-training session of the Christmas stroll! We haven’t either, and already it has been way below zero. Ah, Montana winters.

    Your comment about being strange and different reminded me of a quote from elementary school that has always stuck with me:

    “To be weird is to be different, to be different is to be unique, to be unique is to be special, so why be normal?”

    Just take care while you are being special and ice road biking!
    Lots of love from everyone here at 511.

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