I am in Maine!

My family and I drove up to Maine yesterday for our cousin’ s wedding. It always great fun to see our extended family and when it is for a wonderful occasion like a wedding-well that makes it even better.

There is even a slight chance that we will go to the ocean today! I adore the ocean but I have only been to visit it a handful of times.

Pain in Perspective

Sometimes biking hurts. My legs burn while I climb a hill. My body is sore after a long ride. My mind wants to go faster than my limbs say they are capable of.
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Last Wednesday, I arrived at my church to set up everything for up worship practice after a fast, hard bike ride. I was running up and down the stairs, getting the sound system ready to go. My legs were like little lumps of jelly, protesting each dash up the staircase.

But then the other singers arrived to practice and I found out that one of the ladies has recently been diagnosed with moderate-to-severe arthritis. She also needs a knee replacement. To stand up for any length of time, she has to rock on her other leg to be able to endure the pain.  She remarked that if she stayed in bed all day, the pain would go away. But since she is the primary caretaker for her seven year grandson who is as adorable as he is energetic, laying in bed all day is simply not an option.

Instantly, grumbling at my sore legs felt massively silly and juvenile.  This lady lives with her pain on a daily basis. Pain that won’t let up, pain that signifies an aging body, pain without any benefits. She goes through so much suffering but she bears it with grace and poise.

I can’t help but see the contrasts with the pain I “endure” on my bike.

My pain is temporary.
If I want to make any discomfort end, the solution is simple. Back off, slow down, stop. Voila! Pain eradicated.

My pain is healthy.

Every time I push my body to go faster and further than it wanted to go, I am increasing my fitness and endurance. It makes me better at something I love to do.

My pain is optional.

I chose to make my body feel this way by pushing it beyond what felt comfortable.

My pain is satisfying.
When my body complains, it means I am working hard on my bike. And working hard on my bike feels good. It is fun to see just what my body is capable of.

This past week whenever I was out on my bike and my brain made me aware that what I was doing wasn’t comfortable, I reminded myself that this is the good kind of pain.

Someday, maybe due to an injury or an illness I will have to deal with “bad” pain. But until then I am going to be thankful for the discomfort I feel on my bike and the benefits I derive from it.

The sheep have nothing to do with this.

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Cute sheep need to have their picture taken.

For some reason, many people assume that since I don’t own a car and bike everywhere instead, I will be more than willing to sympathize with them in the trials of car ownership. (For the record, this assumption is correct.) My coworker was telling me this morning how annoying her car is and how much of her budget it eats up each mouth.

Then she said, “I wish I could bike like you.”

I tried to explain to her that she totally could do it. Personally, I started out small, biking twenty miles a week and it gradually snowballed from there. Hopefully, one of these days (the sooner, the better) she will hop on her bike and see how awesome and doable bike commuting is.

On my ride home from work, I was pedaling along a side street when I saw a car beginning to back out of a driveway.  My habit is to pause and ensure the driver sees me before I continue on. I was a good thing I stopped, because he didn’t.  He pulled out of the driveway without a glance to see if there any traffic behind him.

Thankful for dodging the car, I let out a relieved sigh. Then it pulled up beside me.

“I am so sorry, I didn’t see you!” the driver exclaimed.

He is not the first driver to pull out in front of me, but he is the first to apologize for his error. I am awarding him bonus points. I will not award myself any bonus points, however, because my response was pitiful.

“It’s okay, I am always on the lookout for cars!”

As the car drove on down the road. I processed what had come out of my mouth. Seriously, girl? I totally made it sound like since I was on the lookout for him, he didn’t need to be on the lookout for me. Oops. I am gonna to be cautious  on the road and bike as defensively as possible, but I also expect my fellow road users to do the same. I need to think up a better response in the event that something similar happens in the future. But at least I didn’t say, “I’m good, thank you!” 

Last cold morning?

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I don’t think this little corn plant enjoyed the crisp morning as much as I did.

When I opened the door to take my dogs out for their morning walk, I realized just how cold it had become overnight.  I thought about throwing on an extra pair of pants to keep my legs warm on the ride into work but I just couldn’t do it. This might be the last below freezing morning we have for a while, I couldn’t waste it by being perfectly warm on the way to work!

Maybe that’s a little weird, but I think it is a little weird when people wish for hot, humid summer days. So there. By the time I arrived at work, the cold was nipping a bit at my legs. It felt like a winter morning all over again when I changed my clothes and saw that my legs were slightly red from the frosty air.

During my shift at work, the boss’s son dropped by on his bike. He is 13 or 14. He and his dad are going on a five day, 400 mile bike tour this summer so they are trying to get in 450 miles before the big ride. We talked about our bikes for a bit and he showed me his bike computer and all the stats, obviously so excited to rack up as many miles as he can over the summer.

I love reading cycling blogs online, you all inspire and encourage me in so many ways. But being able to talk to someone “in real life” and see their enthusiasm for riding, especially at a young age, is completely, totally awesome. Until he said, “So do you have any bicycling tips for me?” and my brain got all scrambled.

I am not good at giving people advice, especially off-the-cuff like that. I stumbled around for a reply, muttering something about “drinking lots of water is important” and “shifting makes a huge difference”. (His mom had mentioned to me that he usually stays in the same gear, a habit his dad is trying to break him of.) Oh well, at least now he knows that while I may be an avid bike rider , I am no bike wisdom guru!

Dairy cows make me happy. Tractors make me fast.

With the help of a few rainy days, a thick, lush layer of grass now covers the ground. Farmers have begun to let their cows out to the pastures to graze. This makes me very happy indeed because a herd of Holsteins, grazing peacefully in a green field is one of my favorite things to see.

This morning, during my ride, I stopped at such a field to take a few pictures. I don’t know what it is about black and white bovine calmly munching green grass, but this common scene never fails to tug at my soul.  All the cows were spread out evenly throughout the field, but none were close by the fence so I started trying to coax them towards me.DSC00489

“C’mon babes. Just come a little closer.”

They stopped eating and turned to stare at me but remained motionless. For a few minutes we just stared at each other and I was about to move along when one brave bovine started to trot towards me.

Herd mentality can be a glorious thing. Soon every single cow was moving across the pasture to the place where I was standing. We are all friends now. DSC00504

Not long after my little cattle encounter, my ride took a turn for the serious. A giant tractor swung into the road behind me and suddenly it was game time.

I read blog posts about various cyclists out on a ride and often they mention being passed or passing other cyclists. That never seems to happen to me. On the rare occasion that I do see someone out on their bike, they are always headed in the opposite direction. I can smile and wave at them, but I can’t test my pace against theirs.

But living in a rural area does have an upside: I get to race farm vehicles. Whether it is a pickup truck pulling a swaying wagon of hay, a manure spreader or a tractor pulling various farm implements, my duty in life is to stay ahead of them.

So instantly when I heard the roar of the tractor’s engine, my legs went into overdrive. As I came up to each farm along the road, I would think, “Okay, the tractor will probably turn into this farmyard.” But no, it kept chugged steadily right behind me. Horrors, was it gaining on me? I pounded the pedals for all I was worth. Surely the tractor would turn off the road before the next hill came up! But at the bottom of the incline I could still hear the engine rumbling in the background. So I raced with all of my might to the top of that hill and then-blessed silence. I showed that tractor who owns this road!

It turned out to be a very agriculturally-oriented ride.

Got milk?

My skills are improving.

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In my pre-road bike, pink mountain bike-only world, water bottle cages didn’t exist. To hydrate myself I would pull over to the side of the road, dismount, pull my water bottle out of my backpack or pannier, drink some water, put my water bottle back in place and then climb back on my bike and set off again.

Water breaks, at least on routes that I use frequently became highly ritualistic. On my commute home, for instance, I had three traditional stopping places. Taking a water break at each location wasn’t mandatory, but if I wanted to stop for water there were only three places I allowed myself to do so. My options were: beside the farm with the constantly escaping livestock, next to the field of friendly cows and/or just before the hill into town.

But the old traditions have been laid to rest with the arrival of my road bike and its life-changing water bottle cage. It is a magical device indeed, allowing me to drink water at will without the need to pause my ride.

On my first trip on my new road bike, pulling the water bottle from its cage seemed more life-threatening then life-changing. And actually drinking from the water bottle while pedaling? Probably tops the list of most dangerous things I have ever attempted in my life. I was certain I going to crash my bike, I was wobbling that badly.

Once the agony of trying to slide the bottle back into the cage without crashing into the nearest ditch was finally over, I made the executive decision that in the future I would only attempt to drink water on quiet country roads. That way, if I crashed, at least I would crash in private, with some measure of dignity intact.

What a difference two weeks makes! Today, I pulled that water bottle out with ease, drank from it without breaking my cadence and slid it easily back into place with barely a glance.
I am practically a pro.

I Love My Bicycling Lifestyle

DSC00412Every day I feel so blessed to able to live “by bike”. These are just a few little things that happened this week that made me glad to be living the way I do.

Laughing at advertisements in the mail.
Car insurance companies send me these very serious letters detailing how I am sure to save money by switching to their company. Haha, fifteen minutes won’t save me fifteen percent on my car insurance. Silly Geico, I don’t need any car insurance!

Entertaining children.
When I am babysitting children who are getting nervous because they can feel a storm coming, using my clipless shoes to stomp around like a horse is the perfect distraction.

Being prepared in a medical “emergency”.
During a visit with a friend, her little boy decided to spear himself in the mouth with a stick. I was able to whip out my bike headlight and check his mouth for injuries.

My new ride is cheap compared to a car.
My coworker and I bought new “vehicles” during the same week and this Monday she told me that because of her monthly car payment she is going to have to move back into her parent’s house. I hugged my bike extra tight that night.

Having my nephews imitate me.
When I arrived at my sister-in-law’s house I discovered that my two and three old nephews already have their future bike purchases planned out. One of them is going for a yellow road bike and a green mountain bike, the younger one wants a pink mountain bike like his auntie. Then for part of the morning they and their sister pretended to zoom around the living room on their bikes.

Bikes are friendly.
Now that it is warm outside, people are returning to the great outdoors. It is fun to wave and smile at them from my bike while they are out in their lawns working or relaxing in the sunshine. I usually get a kind greeting in return.

I didn’t really mean for THAT to happen.

DSC00460Before I headed out the door to go on a bike ride this morning, I had a 75 mile route all planned out. But as everyone knows sometimes life has unexpected surprises waiting for us.

As I headed down the first few roads, I couldn’t help feeling that today was gonna be a great day. But I was wrong, today turned out be a perfect day.

The weather was perfect. Forty to sixty degrees is my ideal temperature and the day started out at forty-one and never rose above much above sixty. There was a gentle spring breeze blowing and the sky was clear.DSC00429

The scenery was perfect. Everything is green! There are apple trees heavy with pink or white blossoms-everywhere! And all the little new animals were out playing in the sun! Little baby lambs! And kids (the goat kind)! And calves! And foals!

Heading home, my 75 mile route was almost complete. But then I had a thought. When was I going to have another day like this? A day to myself without commitments? A day with perfect weather?DSC00471

I just couldn’t waste the rest of the afternoon stuck inside, could I? I knew I had a meeting to attend in the evening but I still had two and a half hours until that started.

So I went for it.
100 miles.
And it worked.

Don’t slow down!

DSC00366I found out today that I can make my commute home as hard as I want it to be.

The new bike came with a basic computer attached and though I haven’t inputted the tire dimensions yet, it still shows the time on the display. So a few days ago, out of curiosity, I figured out what my normal cadence is. I counted 70 rotations per minute on a flat strip of road.

When I got out of work today I was pretty tired. I needed something to perk up the ride home, so I decided to see how long I could keep my cadence up between 80-90rpm. Ten minutes in and my legs were beginning to burn, I slowed for a bit to take a drink out of my water bottle and then started plugging at it again.

Soon I was struggling to control my breathing so I downshifted while still maintaining that punishing (for me) cadence. Since last Tuesday when I got the bike I have felt so powerful on it, but now my legs were quickly turning into little lumps of jelly.

While going up a hill, I started to whimper like a little lost puppy and I thought to myself, “This is how you are supposed to climb a hill.” I made it up the hill without going below 85rpm and I have never been so happy to coast down the other side of that hill in my life.

With a mile and half remaining, my side started to cramp, so I picked a sign a quarter-mile away to be my breaking point. It felt so uncomfortable, but at the same time so fulfilling to push my legs to stay at the right speed until I reached that sign.

The rest of the ride home I went really slow. I guess my ten mile commute is only as easy as I let it be!

Road Bikes and Commuting

DSC00284Friday morning I rode my new bike to work for the first time. For ten miles in the dark countryside it was just me and the bike with a steady beam of light guiding our way.  I have biked on this road in the dark at least three times a week for over a year, but the route suddenly felt different, shorter. My eyes bugged out of my head when I pulled into the parking lot at work, saw the display on the bike computer and realized that my commute took me 34 minutes. My first reaction was to look at my bike in awe, my second reaction was to ask myself, “Does this mean I can sleep in longer?”

But just to make sure yesterday wasn’t some sort of fluke or miscalculation, I woke up at my regular time this morning. After getting dressed, walking my dogs and throwing everything I needed for the day into a pannier, I set out on the road. Thirty-five minutes later I made it to work. It is affirmative: I get to sleep in later!

I am still not sure how long it takes me to get home, however.  On Friday I forgot to check the time. As for today, well, my ride home was more interesting then normal.

Last night my dad came over and switched my bike rack from my mountain bike over to the road bike for me so that I didn’t have to wear a backpack to work. I love using panniers, unless of course I don’t clip them on correctly, which I believe was my downfall today.

My shift over, I was excited to get on my bike and see how long it would take me to get back home. I knew it would probably be take longer than coming into work due to increased traffic and the elevation change working against me, but I figured it would still take much shorter than on my mountain bike.

I was pedaling at a decent clip when I went over railroad tracks. All of a sudden my pannier decided to save me from an unknown danger and the heroic bag wedged itself between the rear wheel and bike rack, disregarding its own safety to halt my forward progress.

Pannier’s are an effective braking system, their only fault is that they aren’t very smooth in doing so. One moment I was pedaling happily, the next I was sliding all over the shoulder of the road at a rapidly decreasing pace. Thankfully, I have experience with fishtailing bikes from this winter (although nothing so wild and unexpected) so I was able to keep the bike under control until it slowed to a complete halt. I also unclipped properly and set my right foot down on the ground.

Somehow I still managed to topple over. Into the road, no less. But God kept me safe, bike and all. I never had a problem with a pannier twisting around and getting caught, I will be much more careful in the future.

But even though I fell over, took time to calm down and firmly reattach the wayward pannier, stopped again before going down a hill to make sure everything was fine and biked in a subdued manner for the reminder of my ride – I still made it home before four o’clock. Commuting with a road bike is awesome!