End of the Errandonnee Era

Errandonnee 2015 ends today. It was great fun seeing what everyone was up to on their bikes these past twelve days! Many thanks to MG from Chasing Mailboxes for organizing this friendly challenge.

Another one of my coworkers told me today that she and her boyfriend are thinking about biking to work. When she first started working at the restaurant in November she thought I was nuts for riding to work, but my evil plan to convince people that biking to work is awesome is slowly starting to gain traction.

The weather on my trip home was perfect. Forty-four degrees! Although I kept my earmuffs on since my ears can be sensitive to the cool air blowing past them, my gloves and jacket came off. It is t-shirt weather!

I have never felt so connected to a seasonal change before. I feel the world waking up, as strange as that sounds. I can feel myself coming alive with the return of warmth. Winter is a stately, calming season, where snow drapes gently but securely over the land. Spring is full of energy: roaring brooks, chattering birds and budding trees.

Before arriving home I stopped at the Post Office to mail an international letter. I made it just before the window closed, thank goodness. It really isn’t best to plan errands that are time sensitive after work because I never know exactly when I will be able to head home.

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This ramp leading up to the Post Office was great fun to run up and down as a kid. These days though I climb the stairs, how very adult of me.

Then I biked all the way over from the post office to the local library (about 100 yards, what a trip!) to return a few books. I also poked around for a few new books to read but it can be tough to pick out books just from their covers. The library was closing at 5 o’clock so I didn’t have time to browse through any pages. Eventually, I found an audiobook which should come in handy now that I have gotten bitten by the spring-cleaning bug.008

To work (10 miles)
3:40 am to 4:40 am
Weather
28F, 7 mph South wind

From work plus errands (10 miles)
3:30 pm to 4:55 pm
Weather
44F, 7 mph South wind

Errand #11 Post Office (Non-Store Errand)
Distance: 0.5 miles

Errand #12 Library (Arts and Entertainment)
Distance: 0.5 miles

Saturday Commute

I had an odd day.

My morning started out great, I got to sleep in until 3:05 am! I am finding out that getting out the door takes less time when I don’t have to don a gazillion layers and tons of face gear paraphernalia. Plus, biking to work takes less time because my legs are actually free to pedal properly, the roads are clear and spring is having this weird “you should go faster” effect on me.

The ride into work was calm and peaceful, just the way I like it.

But mid-morning one of the waitresses told me to come out into the dining room, as one of the tables of customers wanted to see me. Instantly, I was nervous. I really dislike going into the dining room when there are lots of people around and I had no idea what this couple wanted. Did they have a complaint about their food?

Nope.

They had seen a crazy cyclist biking in a ice and rain storm in early January (from what they described I think it was this night) and had been wondering all winter who I was. This morning they had overheard a few of the “regulars” talking about me, put two and two together and found their mystery biker. They exclaimed that I was tough albeit insane. After chatting for a few minutes I went back to the kitchen.

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I apologize for the picture, but at least there is candy!

 

Along the way home from work I stopped into an adorable country store to buy cabbage and some goodies to surprise my brothers with at church tomorrow since they just finished the last game of their basketball season. I went inside, snapped a picture of the candy shelf only to have the owner of the store (a sweet Mennonite lady) pull me aside.

“So you are the girl who rides your bike all the time!”

Apparently, she and all the store employees have been keeping a close eye on me and my travels all winter long. She curiously plied me with many questions, which I was more than happy to answer. As she chattered on about the various conversations she, her family and employees had been having about me throughout the winter, I began to feel my stomach start to turn just a bit. When we ended the conversation, she happily told me that she was so excited to tell all her sisters (there are 16 siblings in her family) that she had finally talked to the winter biker!

I bought everything I needed, left the store and started packing my panniers. I was going to take a picture of the cute storefront, but when I turned around, camera in hand, several people were watching from the windows and I completely chickened out.

After getting back on the road, I had to take a few deep breaths and calm myself. All of a sudden the scrutiny of being the crazy girl biker felt overwhelming. I felt threatened and creeped out when I thought of all the cars that have passed me over the winter and wondered, maybe for months, just who I am and what I am doing on the road in the snow. All the times friends and family have told me about times they have overheard others talk about me came flooding into my mind, haunting me.

Obviously, the dread that had settled over me had been triggered by the day’s events and the shy, introverted side of myself was making me cower. Fearful thoughts started to bog down my mind.  I had take those thoughts firmly in hand and remind myself that the people I had spoken to today were just friendly, kind people who were concerned about my welfare (and sanity). The curiosity and concern of others is nothing to be afraid of.

And then I thought of an exchange between myself and a coworker that happened just before the end of my shift. She is considering buying a bike and riding to work because she wants to have more drive and energy while she is at work.

It is pretty amazing to know that I can maybe inspire people to ditch their car and pedal to work. Or maybe seeing me will remind them to dust off an old bike and go for a Sunday afternoon ride sometime this spring. That makes any scrutiny worth it.

Plus, this was my first winter biking, by next year I will lose my novelty status. Two winters from now I will be a standard part of the landscape and hopefully joined by other winter bikers. That would be downright awesome!

To work (10 miles)
3:30 am to 4:30 am
Weather
33F, 16 mph Southeast wind

From work plus store stop (10 miles)
3:15 pm to 4:45 pm
Weather
40F, 8 mph Southeast wind

Errand #10 Country Store (Store)
Distance: 4 miles

Friday Commute

011It was on my journey home from work that it became crystal clear that spring has arrived.

Sugaring season is here!

All along my route Maple trees had been tapped and the gentle “tink, tink” noise of drops of sap against the bottom of pails could be heard.

Maple syrup is magical. Simply collect the sap from Sugar Maple trees and then boil until the density is just about right, and voila! Maple syrup. Not only is it a 100% natural sweetener, it also has a beautiful flavor that nothing else in the world compares to.

And if maple syrup bores you, you can just take it, boil it a little longer, pour it over the snow in swirls and then eat the taffy-like result with a fork right out of the snow.

Or boil it a little longer, stir it while it cools and make yourself some maple butter.

Or boil it a little longer and make maple candy. I told you maple syrup is magical!

The sap runs best when the temperature remains below freezing during the night but soars above freezing during the day with the aid of the early spring sun. We hope for a good run of those temperatures so that there will be a successful sugaring season. The sap is collected from the trees and taken to sugar shanties which are basically sheds where wood fires are kept burning brightly to boil the sap. I will try to remember to take a picture of a sugar shanty tomorrow.

We are fanatical about our maple syrup around here. The syrup we make in our area is the best in the world and if anyone tries to argue otherwise, we just laugh and shake our heads because we know the truth.
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To work (10 miles)
3:35 am to 4:40 am
Weather
17F, 10 mph Southeast wind

From work (10 miles)
3:20 pm to 4:25 pm
Weather
41F, 13 mph Southeast wind

It’s Worth the Headwind

003I was able to do one of my favorite things today: bike up to visit my brother, sister-in-law and their four children. The ride up was really nice, thanks to a hard-working tailwind.

When I arrived at their house the three oldest children greeted me at the door asking various questions about my bike ride.

“Did you bring a helmet?”

“What color is it?”

“Where are your boots?”

“Can I see your light?”

“Are you cold?”

Even though my nephews are three and two years old, they understand auntie more than most grownups. “You don’t like cars. You ride your bike.”

We read several books together, one was titled, “Good Night, Good Knight.” After reading it twice we acted out the story. I got to be the good knight and they played the three little dragons (their youngest sister is a little young to be a proper dragon) and hid in their deep, dark cave otherwise known as a large cardboard box.

They have such wonderful imaginations and will happily play make-believe for hours. It is great fun. After they settled down for a nap, I started home.

Since I had a wonderful tailwind on the way there, it was only natural to have a stiff headwind on the way home. It really slowed me down but I did make it home eventually. 015 021

Errand #9 Nephew’s and Niece’s House (Social Call)
Distance: 26 miles

Tortilla-Centric Errandonnee Day

It’s day number seven of the Errandonnee!

Ever had one of those days when your life seemed to center around tortillas?

This morning when making breakfast I realized my apartment was devoid of any bread products. Horrors! Obviously I needed to change that. Fast.

I got out my flour and oil and started to make tortillas until I hit a snag. Using a little baking powder in tortilla dough gives the finished product a great texture but I couldn’t find it anywhere.

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When snow starts melting you find interesting things that were buried during the winter. Anyone want a windshield wiper?

I jumped on my bike and went down to the little corner store to replenish my baking powder supply. Upon entering the store, I spotted a huge plastic tub filled with water on the floor. Sign of spring(and poor maintenance): leaking roofs.

Of course within ten minutes of returning home I found my lost baking powder. After making all my tortillas I decided to take some over to my grandparents and hang out with them for the afternoon.

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Do you think they will let me in if I bribe them with tortillas?

My Grandma and Grandpa are some of my favorite people in existence. Grandma is blind but she has never let that stop her and she has one of the brightest, most inquisitive minds of anyone I know.  Grandpa puts people everywhere to shame with how active he is in his community and church. He also tells great stories about his prankster days and has the wit to go along with it. They were married four years ago, at the ages of 83 and 76 and their wedding was the cutest thing ever.

After leaving their house, I made some chicken wraps with the tortillas and took them up to church for supper. Usually for worship practice on Wednesdays I walk up to church, but since it is the Errandonnee and all, I biked. For the first time since autumn, at the end of worship practice there was still daylight left! It felt great to coast downhill to my apartment with a cool spring breeze against my face.002

Errand #6 Corner Store (Store)
Distance: 1 miles

Errand #7 Grandparents House (Social Call)
Distance: 2 miles

Errand #8 Worship Practice (Personal Business)
Distance: 2 miles

Upper Body Update (week 14)

I was quite the tomboy growing up, constantly trying to keep up with my older brother. I was proud of being the girl who wasn’t afraid of creepy crawlies, the dirt or the cold. I would work alongside my brothers: lifting heavy logs, boxes and furniture. I was known as the tough, strong girl.

But then I reached that awkward preteen phase and I began to question whether I was strong or just plain fat. I started to distance myself from my “strong persona”. It was pretty easy to do: I simply stopped acting like a tomboy and stopped helping out whenever there was heavy lifting to do be done. I didn’t want to be known as strong anymore because I was afraid that was somehow linked to my weight in people’s minds.

I became weaker, less confident and more overweight.

Fast-forward to now. I am starting to realize that working on my upper body strength is about more than just getting stronger. In a way, by building my muscles,  I am rebuilding my identity. I want to be strong again. 201503100203262015031002082720150310024905

Monday Commute

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Early morning in the restaurant.

Yesterday after church I went up to my parent’s house. I made tacos and then my dad and I did some maintenance stuff on my bike. My mom offered to spread some old blankets over the living room floor so I was able to hang out with my brothers while cleaning my bike. (They stole my laptop to watch America’s Got Talent youtube clips on the couch.)

We took apart the front wheel and I learned about cone wrenches, jam nuts and the 20 little bearings that make my wheel spin. Once I finished cleaning all the pieces I put it back together with a little coaching from my dad. He will make a bike mechanic out of me yet!

My view of daylight savings time in the fall:
“Yay, one more hour to sleep tonight!”

My view of daylight savings time in the spring:
An evil government conspiracy to make us believe they can control time.

I made the mistake of not putting all my clocks forward so this morning when I woke up the clock on the stove read 1:55. Mentally, that was pretty disheartening. So I changed the time and instantly felt slightly more energetic. That is a lie, changing a stove clock does not create energy.

But do you know what does make me more energetic? Getting out on the road and being under the light of a smiling moon. It was unbelievably warm out and it felt so good to have the wind blowing against my face.

As soon as the sun came up, we tipped over into above freezing temperatures! Oddly enough, even though the weather was so warm outside, the frost is so deep that the town I work in has a frozen pipe advisory.

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First sign of spring: bare roads.

The ride home was beautiful, bright and warm. What more can I ask for?

To work (10 miles)
3:25 am to 4:20 am
Weather
31F, 12 mph West wind, 20 mph gusts

From work (10 miles)
3:30 pm to 4:25 pm
Weather
36F, 20 mph West wind, 31 mph gusts

Errand #5 Work (Work or Volunteering)
Distance: 20 miles

Saturday Commute

It is day three of the Errandonnee. I was going to count yesterday’s commute towards the Errandonne but that kinda failed. Thankfully, today’s ride was uneventful. Mostly.

I startled a bird that was in the snow bank this morning. It took off to fly…and went under my hands, flapping against my jacket for a brief second before fluttering away. If I had any presence of mind I could have grabbed it, stuck it my pannier and then counted my commute under the “You brought WHAT on your bike!?” category.

Poor bird (I think it was a pigeon or dove) I probably shocked it out of its early morning rest. But at least I wasn’t a two ton pickup truck!

When my work day had ended and I was changing back into my biking clothes I suddenly realized something. It was warm enough outside to wear sneakers! I am so used to putting on my huge men’s hiking boots that I forgot that sneakers are actually a viable footwear option. For the first mile my feet felt beyond weird in them. A good weird, of course.

Even though it has started snowing again, it feels like spring out. When I started this blog it was mostly to gather information for myself for the next winter (like a chipmunk gathering acorns). That is why I insisted on recording all my layers so meticulously. I really (like really, really, super really) think I have enough information about that aspect of winter biking so from now on I will simply record the weather, distance and time.

To work (10 miles)
3:25 am to 4:25 am
Weather
20F, 21 mph Southwest wind, 28 mph gusts

From work (10 miles)
3:15 pm to 4:10 pm
Weather
26F, 17 mph Southwest wind, light snow

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This is the shed that my bike hangs out in while I am working.

Errand #4
Work (Work or Volunteering)
Distance: 20 miles

Friday Commute

As I started my ride I was awestruck by the beauty around me. The snowy landscape was gleaming from the light of a full moon making it the brightest morning I’ve experienced so far this winter. Two deer crossed the road underneath the moon night and I drew in a deep, contented breath, knowing this was going to be a peaceful, beautiful bike ride through the snow.

Until it wasn’t.

I had just descended the hill coming out of town, when my bike decided to revolt.

My bike and I have come to a mutual agreement about subzero rides. As long as I keep pedaling constantly, my bike will be nice to me. But if I coast at all, my bike does have the right to let the chain slip, which I then have to adjust before moving on.

But this morning my bike was having none of our little contract. The chain was slipping over and off of the gears, while I was pedaling. Not cool.

I readjusted the chain, and started pedaling. Success only lasted for three pedal strokes, however. After going through this process multiple times and having more trouble and less success each time, I realized that I was going to have to attempt getting to work without the help of my bike. (My dad’s hypothesis is that trapped moisture somehow prevented the freewheel from working in the cold.)

Maybe I could lower the seat and use the bike as a scooter? Nope, the seat would not budge. Then I discovered that while sitting on the saddle I could kick the snow bank on the edge of the road with my right foot and propel myself forward.

This proved effective as well as strenuous. I took breaks from bike-scooter-ing by jogging alongside my bike. It felt like a bizarre workout; push my bike along until my leg was on fire, then run until I was out of breath, repeat.

At almost the five mile mark, I checked the time. There was no way I could make it to work on time at this pace, or even make it before the restaurant opened. It was time to call in a rescue vehicle. Stink. Figuring that my dad (who had kindly come and installed new derailleur pulleys as well as serviced my front brakes the night before) wanted to wake up early on a Friday morning, I dialed his number. In fifteen seconds flat our conversation was over and he was on the way. (Isn’t he the best?)

In the interest of staying warm and with the thought that there was a chance I could still magically make it to work without the need for rescue, I continued my scooter/jog routine.

I was disappointed with my inability to make it to work on my own, but the irony of the situation began to amuse me.

-When I started using my bike as a form of transportation a few years ago, most days I rode while secretly hopeing that someone would offer me a ride. If the weather was the least bit nasty (rain or wind, horrors!) I would be glad to use it as an excuse not to bike. But here I was in out in -16F, desperately trying to make it to work somehow.

-I was apprehensive about many aspects of year-round biking when winter began. The cold was not one of them, I knew I could handle subzero temps no problem. But the cold has turned out to be my bike’s arch nemesis.

-I was able to complete every commute in November, December, January and February. The first week of March is a different story.

-My dad and I were talking last night and he made the comment, “This could be the last time we get below zero temperatures this winter.” I expressed that I would miss them and that I was glad I had learned how to bike successfully in them. Oops.

All these things flashed through my mind and I had to laugh at the extreme irony of my morning. But when I looked to the sky, I realized the moon had been laughing at me the entire time.

Half way to work (5 miles)
3:20 am to 4:40 am

Weather
-16F, 8 mph Southwest wind

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava, headband
Torso: thermal shirt, soft shell jacket, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves with liners
Legs: 2 pairs of yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Who knew bike-scooter-ing is actually a really good way to stay warm?

From work (10 miles)
3:20 pm to 4:20 pm

Weather
18F, 17 mph Southwest wind, 23 mph gusts
I wore
Head: headband
Torso: thermal shirt, rain jacket
Hands: knit gloves
Legs: thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Sure, my face got a little cold, but it feels like spring!

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The giant white dog makes a cameo!

Errandonnee Day One

Today is the start of the Errandonee which will continue for the next twelve days. A huge thank you to MG for turning normal errands into a fun event!

I headed out the door at 8:45ish ready to conquer some errands. The sky was clear and the temperature was 6F. First, I headed off to the ice skating rink. Biking seems like the perfect mode of transportation to the local rink. But it is not. It actually creates a moral dilemma that I have to overcome every single time I bike over to the fairgrounds.

My bike is outfitted with a perfectly capable set of studded tires and each time I bike over to skate, the itch to test those tires on a huge, solid, gorgeous sheet of ice gets stronger. It is overwhelmingly tempting to just sneak my bike on the ice and try my skills out on a few figure eights.

But being the conscientious person that I occasionally am, I laced up my skates instead. After a good skating workout, ( a workout mostly for my ankles who think they have the right to complain after being stuffed into confining figure skates) I got back on my bike, did my best to plow through a few snowmobile trails around the fairgrounds and then headed to the bank.
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When I got to the bank, one section of the parking lot was covered in ice. To make up for denying my bike an experience on the ice at the fairgrounds, I steered over to the sheet of ice. My bike is great on ice. On my own, I am not so great, however, so I shuffled carefully to the entrance of the bank.

Handy tip when combining winter biking and banking-take your balaclava off as soon as you dismount your bike.

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Banking done, I pedaled up the hill to the store which is the pride of all America – Walmart. When I go to Walmart I always park as far away from the store as I can. I don’t really know why this habit persists but I just go along with it. I mostly needed to stock up on veggies but then I decided to try something bold. Okay, attempting the safe transportation of eighteen eggs on the back of a bicycle isn’t really that bold, but I have never tried it before. In the name of science, I decided to forgo any type of cushioning for the eggs. I just filled up my panniers with the rest of the groceries and then placed the carton of eggs on top sealed tightly in a plastic bag so that the creation of any egg mess would be contained.

I arrived back at my apartment (after forgetting several times that I was carrying eggs and biking over some decent-sized bumps) and to my surprise all the eggs are intact! Nice.

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Errand #1
Ice Skating (Personal Care)
Distance: 1 mile

Errand #2
Bank (Personal Business)
Distance: 2 miles

Errand #3
Supermarket, carried eggs home (You carried WHAT on your bike?!)
Distance: 3 miles