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  1. #1
    The Rabbi seely's Avatar
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    Am I crazy for considering pre-Spring touring north of the Mason-Dixon line?

    (This is an x-post from Reddit's r/bicycletouring if it sounds familiar.)

    I've searched here and there and couldn't find many records of trips north of the Mason-Dixon starting in late February or early March. I'm wondering if anyone has attempted it, and has any advice (or words of warning) for me.

    I was laid off in November and would like to take the opportunity while I'm on "paid vacation" to set out south from Grand Rapids, MI through Kalamazoo, Chicago and down old Rte. 66 to Missouri to ride the Katy Trail from east to west.

    I'm a former bike mechanic and accustomed to riding in all weather, but have not done any extended trips this early in the year. I am realizing I'll be carrying more weight and my gear will take up more space, but I am thinking its doable.

    I have a few thrift store wool sweaters, tons of wool socks of varying thicknesses, waterproof shoes, wind/water resistant lightweight winter jacket, etc.
    Your input, please. I am guessing the trip, in total, would take around 20 days though I have no real schedule to keep.
    commuter turned bike mechanic turned commuter (also a Velocity USA employee, but this is my personal account)

  2. #2
    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    Short answer: Yes.

    Long Answer: Yyyeeeeeesssssss.

    Real Answer: Hell, I don't know.

    I grew up in Northeast Ohio. I biked everywhere. Until snow hit the roads. Then I put it away. I have fond memories of getting that bike out on the first decent day and riding it down roads that were wet with melting snow, but clear enough to get rubber on the pavement. And that's problem #1. If riding in winter means snow, then connecting the tire with the pavement is an issue on all but the most traveled roads. If you have studs on your tires, maybe that helps. Maybe the roads you travel won't have snow. Or maybe you just figure the roads themselves will be clear, and maybe they will, but problem #2 as I see it is no shoulder. At least where I grew up, roads became rather more narrow in the winter months. Auto traffic kept the travel lane clear, and snow plows tried to do the heavy lifting, but that often meant piling up more snow in the shoulder. Roads that I happily traveled 9 months of the year were often fine for car driving, but I kept my bike off of them because there was no room for passing. I'm all for vehicular cycling in the city, or maybe even on rural stretches in good weather/visibility, but sometimes expecting people to see and to be able to slow down is just a recipe for disaster, which brings me to problem #3: Everybody else. I've done enough snow driving to know that I don't want to do any more. I've completely lost control of my vehicle and had it slide off the road at less than 10 miles per hour. Sometimes, often, you don't even realize how slick the roads are until you try and stop. Say, for instance, there's a bike in the road where you never expected to see one, and you tap on the brakes to find that all they do is put you into a skid. I've seen a line of traffic that kept going with just enough visibility to see the tracks in front of them.

    These days I bike year round. Rain or shine. And snow, I've biked in snow a couple of times down here, too, but I stay to the greenways as much as possible, and when we get snow here, it's a fraction of what I saw in Ohio. All the things I mention above are things I think about, because I wonder if I could continue my car-free lifestyle back where I grew up. The answer I've come up with is that I think I could do it in a city. All the traffic moves pretty slowly, and snow management is better. Plus I feel like there's plenty of foot traffic year round, so using sidewalks, walking the bike, or just plain walking should be options. But in rural areas, I don't know if I could pull it off. A nice fat tire bike, maybe some studs, and the back roads might do the trick. But I'm a city dweller now, and I don't see that changing.

    Of course all my issues have to do with snow, and even north of the Mason-Dixon, you don't always have snow in winter. In northeast Ohio we did. When I lived in central Ohio, my biking season was a lot longer. In Columbus there were probably only a few days a year that I would want to stay off my bike for safety reasons. The rest of the time I would just stay off because it was cold. So that's another thing that's an obvious, but manageable problem. You'll certainly want to carry more and warmer clothing than normal. If you're camping, that's a related set of issues in terms of sleeping gear. But there are enough people who camp in full snow in full winter to know that it's doable. I think I've gone down to the mid to upper 30s and was fine. I prefer a little warmer. The other issue is less daylight. Shorter travel days, and, what I think would bother me more, longer nights just trying to stay warm.

    That's a lot of negativity, so perhaps I should soften it to say that at that time of the year, you might be fine. My biggest issue is snow, and I'd hesitate to ride on snowy streets unless I had the bike for it and had routes that would keep me off the busier streets. If you're riding at the end of the snow season for that area, it might not even be an issue. I have no idea of weather and conditions around the Katy Trail at that time of year, but at least that's a nice, long section away from cars. And the more bike packing adventures I read, the more it seems like with the right set up, you can ride just about anywhere, any time. The trick is to stay warm and safe while doing it. And if you do it, I sure hope we hear about it.

  3. #3
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    Yes, you are crazy!!! But as the saying goes, it ain't no fun bein' normal!

    It's doable and could be a great adventure. There is a blog on crazyguy - two guys went from Montreal (I think)to DC in jan or feb. Ran into heavy snow. It slowed them down but they made it. Really, it's about your tolerance to cold weather and poor riding conditions. Then again, maybe you'll luck out with moderate temps and no snow. Good luck!!!!
    I'm just trying to be the person my dog thinks I am.

  4. #4
    Dirt Bomb sknhgy's Avatar
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    One thing to keep in mind. For a period in the spring the Katy is mushy. I believe you will find this on the days where the trail freezes at night but thaws during the day. Maybe someone knows more about it.
    However, if you found that to be the case I don't think it would be a problem to re-route yourself onto nearby roads.
    more cops have been killed by donuts than guns in chicago it is a medical fact ask any doctor.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Gravity Aided's Avatar
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    A wee bit drafty on Route 66 through Central Illinois, but that all depends on your attitude about cold and your ability to ride through it. At about Lexington or Normal on Route 66, you'll start to notice the wind turbines . It is a touch windy here in the spring, but don't let that dissuade you . If you are going on Route 66, use the route provided by the League of Illinois Bicyclists. That is a good and comfortable route which rather paralells 66, which is stil used as an accesss road for Route 55. By Central Illinois , you should be in improving weather by late Feb or early March. Weather is very unpredictable and may be the real wild card in your ride at that time of year. Last couple of weeks of January and first couple of weeks of February are usually the worst winter has to offer .

  6. #6
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Bring warm clothing , and you can always Mail it Home whenthe temperature average rises..

    Note the cold fronts dont respect state borders , and so It can get cold on the Gulf Coast.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Gravity Aided's Avatar
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    Or you could drop it off at a Goodwill for the next cyclist heading North .

  8. #8
    Walmart bike rider gpsblake's Avatar
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    It's doable if you can keep yourself dry along with your clothes and if you are staying at hotels at the end of the day. The keeping yourself dry is the important part. If you can do that, I think your tour will be a success.

  9. #9
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    You don't say what your plans are for overnights - camping, warm showers, motels? The weather can be very unsettled in Missouri and Southern Illinois in March with the collision of cold and warm fronts stirring up all kinds of interesting stuff from severe thunderstorms to tornadoes. I'd want to have a small weather radio with me, just in case, especially if you are camping on this run. I would be very cognizant of the weather and the possibility that it might change rapidly and detrimentally.

    http://www.ccrane.com/radios/weather-radios/

  10. #10
    Senior Member lanahk's Avatar
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    I don't think you'd have any trouble on Rte 66 at all, but, as noted by sknhgy above, the KATY gets mushy with freezing at night and thawing during the day. I have friends that ride it year-round, and it can become very spongy in the afternoons. Depending on your tires, you may sink into the trail a couple of inches. Not only does this mess up your bike, it makes the trail hell for those that come after you.

    Another consideration is that none of the trailheads will have water turned on until April due to freezing. Most of the toilets are pit toilets, and area businesses will still be open, but it's iffy.

    Check out Bike Katy Trail for trail conditions, discussion and advice.

    Other than that, dress for the weather and have a great time!

  11. #11
    Senior Member Gravity Aided's Avatar
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    Might add that the infamous Tri-State Tornado occurred in March 1928, crossing Missouri, Southern Illinois, and Southern Indiana. Forward ground speed was estimated to be above 70 mph at times. Thunderstorms alone can be pretty big events in the area you are crossing. Haven't had alot of activity in recent years, but don't leave anything to chance any more than you have to.

  12. #12
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gravity Aided View Post
    Might add that the infamous Tri-State Tornado occurred in March 1928, crossing Missouri, Southern Illinois, and Southern Indiana. Forward ground speed was estimated to be above 70 mph at times. Thunderstorms alone can be pretty big events in the area you are crossing. Haven't had alot of activity in recent years, but don't leave anything to chance any more than you have to.

    http://earthsky.org/earth/recap-of-d...8-march-3-2012

    Summary and maps of the outbreak of severe weather from 2012 - although geographically not exactly in the same area.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Gravity Aided's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Altair 4 View Post
    http://earthsky.org/earth/recap-of-d...8-march-3-2012

    Summary and maps of the outbreak of severe weather from 2012 - although geographically not exactly in the same area.
    It can happen here, but midwestern spring weather seems to have been more moderate the last few years . Lulls you into a sense of complacency , then drops the hammer on you.

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