Tonight's Critical Mass, held within the boundaries of the new Arctic Circle, was
memorable. Five hardy (and crazy?) bicyclists meet at the usual spot: Charles and
Redwood streets. We typically meet there at 5:30 p.m. on the last Friday of every month. We
typically depart at 6:00 p.m.
At least two of us are doing this because Mark C. has already promised to buy the
first round of drinks afterwards. (We’ll go to the South Pole for a free beer.) So
we bundled up and set out, dodging the snow and ice covering significant parts of
the streets. When you ride a bicycle in the cold you can get out of breath and feel
very strange inside. The brain shuts down a bit in not altogether good ways. Eventually,
though, you recover and often feel very strong for doing it.
As six o'clock is rolling around it is about 17 degrees out with a windchill of about
10 degrees. Riding even short distances is a workout. At CM’s meeting spot there
is snow and ice everywhere. We shiver, watch our exhalations meet the cold air and
then start the Mass.
It's a low-key ride. We average taking up about 1 1/2 lanes of traffic (i.e.,
sometimes it is one and other times two). We quickly learn that the seasons have
no affect on the SUV drivers. They maniacally ride past us with the same trademark
fury and aggression they display in summer. A few car horns are honking but most
of the drivers negotiate the delay we're causing them silently (but furiously).
We ride up Charles street and endure the vehicular "criticism" at Saratoga street. We
ride up a hill and then down it; taking a right at Center street. From there it is
right on St. Paul. On a normal day St. Paul is probably the most dangerous street in
North America for bicyclists. Tonight, however, there's very little traffic and
surprisingly it poses no real problems.
Left on Pratt street. We ride in the right lane, bemoaning the lack of any bicycle
lanes in the section of town that receives the most public subsidy. The Inner Harbor
is a Disneyland for only the automobile drivers. The highlight of this stretch is
when a couple in a car shouts out “Critical Mass!” approvingly. That’s us! We ride
underneath the pedestrian bridge and then spontaneously take up two lanes, enduring
much criticism for doing so. Left on President's. Left on Fayette.
On Fayette we start out fairly mellow, single-file on the left side. As we progress
we begin taking up two lanes, with very aggressive driving all around. Horns
honk. SUVs drive past with homicidal intentions but we determinedly stick to our
course. Minutes pass and we have left a war zone. We take a right up Charles street.
At this point I am concentrating on keeping up with the others. I am riding with
two full-time commuters with plenty of experience with winter bicycling. (These
guys actually seem to PREFER riding in this weather. They climb hills like they're
no big deal.) We pass Center street. Take the right fork and go up and past the
Washington Monument. Cars are vocal as we circle around Washington's Monument. (The
Monument was dedicated in 1815 with a crowd of 25,000 on hand to celebrate--and no
drivers. That must have been a great party.)
The most courageous moment comes when we five go up the hill on Charles street just
south of Chase street. An aggressive driver maneuvers his car ahead of four riders
in the Mass, coming between us and a lone rider in the front. This doesn't faze
the guy up front much, though. Without assistance from anyone he deliberately
slows the driver down, enduring much verbal hostility in the process. Way to
Down Charles street, left on Mt. Royal. Destination: The Mt. Royal Tavern. The
inside is warm, the drinks are cold and the company is enjoyable. Mark gives
away very cool T-shirts from Critical Mass in Chicago. Thanks Mark.
This Critical Mass was about the need for some rebellion. We want to live in a
city which respects bicyclists as much as the SUV drivers. We’re willing to ride
in bitter cold to make that point.