Whenever possible, bike.

DSC00768I have been told that every day is a good day for a bike ride. So I went for a bike ride.

An hour into my ride I decided to stop for breakfast so I went in a convenience store to eat. As I was buying my apple and sandwich, the cashier, a girl somewhere around my age, asked me if I had come on a road bike. When I replied in the affirmative, she told me that she had just bought her first road bike and was eager to try it out.

I smiled. “If you ever want to bike with someone I am always up for a ride!”

She wrote down my name and phone number on a piece of paper, who knows, maybe we will be able to ride together in the future.

It drizzled a bit on the way home, but the heavens decided to save the majority of their fury for later in the day. I was surprised to see a weasel on the side of the road, I don’t ever remember seeing one out in the wild before. The weasel was just as surprised to see me, it slid back into the underbrush before I could snap a picture.

I bike so frequently on some local roads that I know all the potholes and ridges of the road by name. This one I call the “Grand Canyon”, a crack in the road that threatens to swallow every passing bike tire. I have rated it a “7” on the road obstruction scale. Although it is fairly easy to spot and avoid, this geological feature is extremely dangerous to the unobservant. I wonder how many bike tires have been victimized by this yawning monstrosity.

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The “Grand Canyon” from the view of a passing cyclist.

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The “Grand Canyon” from a small rodent’s point of view.

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My tire fits right in, with plenty of wiggle room.

I came home greatly refreshed by my few hours of pedaling. I even managed to go through a section of road work with minimum angst, which felt like a small victory.

So much for a calm bike ride.

When my alarm went off Friday morning at 3:35 am, I crawled out of bed reluctantly. I hadn’t slept well and my body was still fighting off this cold-sickness stuff I have got going on. But at least my headache was beginning to clear up. Thankfully, I was really busy all day at work. I was running around like crazy until two o’clock. But from two to three o’clock, I was dragging like molasses. It was all I could do to keep my eyes open. On days like this, I make myself a promise. I can take as long as I need to bike home.

So my commute home started out calm and gentle, I was just enjoying the wind on my face and the song of the birds. I had only biked about two miles when I saw my mom’s vehicle pull over to on the opposite side of the road. How very odd. She jumped out of the car and started waving me over.

And then all of a sudden my sister popped out of the car! I was stunned.

“Honey!” I called out.

She ran over and gave me a great big hug. I couldn’t believe it! She is really, truly alive* and back in the USA**! It is kinda spectacular.

After talking with her and my mom for a few minutes and making plans for how we were going to spend the night, I waved goodbye and started to bike again.

I completely forgot all about how tired I was and how slowly I was going to bike home. When I am excited, I can’t pedal at a conservative pace. I booked it home, grinning like a lunatic.

*My sister had been gone for 18 months, I didn’t know for sure that she was still real. Sure, she emailed me, but someone could have hacked into her account. Yes, she sent me letters but forgery is a thing. And how did I know for sure when we talked on the phone that her voice wasn’t cleverly prerecorded? As for seeing her on Skype, well, holograms have been used to deceive people before. (At least in movies.)

**She had strongly inferred that she was coming home July 1st and then whenever we mentioned that date, she never corrected us. That is her side of the story, at least. The truth is she lied to us and made us all emotional wrecks by coming home early. I have never been so happy to be an emotional wreak though, so I guess I will forgive her. Maybe.

Ahh! She is really, truly home! My heart is happy.

Hill Repeats (Kinda)

I woke up this morning and knew instantly that something was wrong. My throat was sore, my body ached, my nose was all stuffed up and horror of horrors, I had a headache. Generally, I like to think that I am tough when it comes to enduring aches, pains, bruises and wounds of various types. But when my head is aching? I act like a pathetic, whiny child. My head hurts, obviously I’m dying.

To combat my cold symptoms (because apparently some pathogens think it is the end of January, not the end of June) I went out for a ride in the bright sunshine. I decided to do a series of hill repeats but being in rebellious child mode, I did it my way. I climbed the same hill, four times, I just took a different route to do it each time. Yeah, four times probably isn’t an adequate amount to call it hill repeats, but I am gonna call it whatever I want to call it. (That is the kind of mood I have been in all day.)

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This tree and my cold would make great friends; they both still think it is winter.

I am trying to  learn the proper way to descend a slope on my road bike, going into the drops feels odd and I always wonder if I am actually doing it right. On my first descent, a truck passed closely on my left and started sucking me into its “draft vortex”. I fought to maintain my position on the shoulder which made me swerve into a patch of loose sand. The bike slid a bit and then began to wobble madly. My brain passed on a bit of helpful information.

“You are going to crash.”

It used to be that at the first sign of imminent danger I would freeze up, tense my muscles and grip those brakes sharply – not a formula for success. But over the course of the winter I learned to change my reaction to panicky thoughts. I gradually taught myself that they were actually a cue to keep my muscles loose and to use my hands gently and sparingly, if at all, on the brakes. That training held me in good stead today and by simply keeping my body loose I was able to get my bike back under control.

By the end of the ride I felt so much better, my legs were burning up the last climb and it made me forget all about my headache, at least until I got home.

First place in a horse race.

DSC00750Today I ditched my church. Instead I went up to the church my brother and sister-in-law attend. It was a special day for them; their four children were being dedicated and I simply couldn’t miss out on that.

While I normally get up to my own church by 8am, this church’s service started at 10am so I puttered around my house for a while, feeling like I had all the time in the world. Eventually, I looked at the clock and realized that I should be leaving right now if I wanted to bike the thirteen miles to the church and be on time.

Scurrying around my apartment,  I grabbed an outfit for church and threw on my biking clothes, making it out the door as fast as possible. Once on the road, I gave myself an inspirational speech.

“Move those legs like lightening or you are gonna be late.”

(I am a master of inspirational speeches, as I am sure you can tell.) Moving at as fast a clip as I could muster, I checked the time when I reached the halfway point of my journey. Oh, okay, I was actually going to be early. Sure enough, I pulled into the church parking lot along with the pastor and his wife with a good thirty minutes to spare before the start of the service. What a waste of an inspirational speech.

The church service was lovely, especially the dedication. My brother explained the meaning behind all the children’s name and we all prayed for each child that God would bless them and strengthen them as they grow.

After the service, my entire family had a barbecue at my brother and sister-in-law’s home and we were able to hang out for a few hours together. Hanging out with my family is one of the my favorite things in the whole wide world and it is about to get even better because my sister (who has been gone for 18 months) is going to be back home in ten days!  Just ten more days, I can’t hardly wait!

Then it was time to bike back home. I was pretty full from lunch so I took it nice and slow for most of the way home. But then I found myself catching up to an Amish horse and buggy. There were quite a few cars in back of me so I pedaled slowly behind the buggy while they passed us. When the coast was clear, I made my move into the middle of the road to pass the horse and buggy.

There are quite a few Amish families living in my area, I have seen and passed them on the road many, many times. They are two speed vehicles: I have never seen an Amish horse cruising along the road at any other speed than a walk or steady trot.

But when I pulled into the middle of the road to pass this particular horse and buggy, something weird happened. I noticed the horse trotting a bit faster than a normal pace. Could it be? No way! But then my beliefs were confirmed when the horse broke into a charging gallop. The Amish were racing me!

A grin spread across my face wider than the entire continent of Antarctica. They wanted to race, huh? It was on. With a quick glance to make sure the road was still clear behind us, I swung into action. I pedaled with a hot fury and soon I was in front of the buggy, pacing parallel to the horse. A horse in full gallop is a beautiful thing, but seeing all that power out in full force added with the noise of a rattling buggy was slightly un-nerving. I had a moment of self doubt and slight fear but then I kicked it up one more notch and found myself in the lead. I continued to pull ahead with the horse putting out a valiant effort for a few more moments until it was slowed back down to a walk.DSC00743

As I disappeared from sight around the next corner, I knew exactly what the horse was thinking.

“If I wasn’t pulling this huge black thing, I would have so beat her.”

It has been a perfect day.

Some days are good, some days are bad and once in a great while?
A day turns out perfect.

Today has been one of those perfect days.

I was able to hang out with my sister-in-law and my nieces and nephews which is always a blast. After that, I talked to my brother and a guy he works with. It was a conversation about a idea that I have and after talking with them, well, it might actually become a reality and that makes me so excited I can feel it from the top of my head all the way down to my toes.

And then I biked the fastest sixteen miles of my entire life at 21.8 mph. When I was trudging along at 9 mph this winter I never dreamed that I would ever be able to go that fast. I passed several farm vehicles with ease making me feel like a total speed demon. So fun! Then I arrived home and sweat began erupt from my pores in geyser-like fashion.

Now I am watching a bike documentary and it is quite inspiring and it almost makes me want to go for another bike ride before bed!

Jack of All Trades

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This little guy is killing it!

I really put my new trailer to work today, we went 19 miles together and climbed over 960 feet.

I used it to haul…
-trash
-laundry
-my laptop
-groceries
-two kids

Not all at the same time though, thankfully!

This was my first time hauling my own trash to the dump. Previously, I would bribe my brother with either food or money to drop in off with his car. It might seem like a tiny, even weird thing to finally be able to take my garbage to the dump completely independently, but it made me beyond thrilled. Look at me, my bike and trailer! We can do practically anything!

On the way up to the dump a pickup truck passed me, but slowly, because he was hauling trash as well in a (slightly bigger)trailer. When I got to the dump a few minutes later he told me he was impressed by how I kept up with him. The guys at the dump were really kind as well. One of them helped me carry my bags to the drop-off point and the other dude gave me a break on the cost I was supposed to pay on the bags.
First dump experience = win!

Then I went to babysit and since my trailer is actually a child-specific trailer, their mom was fine with me giving two of my favorite little boys in the world a ride. They are two and four years old and thought it was the best thing ever.

“Fast!” They would call out and I would pedal furiously (in a low gear for increased dramatic effect of course).

With a cry of “Slow!” I would coast, giving my legs a break, which I needed for what lay ahead.

I am a pushover when it comes to cute little kids that I adore, so when they asked to go, “Faster, faster, faster!!!” I coasted down a hill. Not just any hill though. A hill that is fairly short but has a gradient up to 13%. Have you ever pulled a 22 pound trailer with 65 pounds of kids in it up a hill? I never had before and I personally believe that no gears that exist are small enough to make that task easy.

There were two town workers cleaning the road on the hill and they asked me, “Will you be able to make up there?” I told them I didn’t know, but that I was going to give it my best shot. It took everything I had, but I climbed that hill with the best cadence I could muster. I was sweating bullets at the end but it felt great.

After babysitting, I went to the store and picked up groceries. It is so nice to be able to buy whatever I need to buy without calculating available pannier space. My world has changed, I could buy out the whole store and take it home with me if I wanted to!

My new trailer is awesome, with it I can do anything and everything I need to do in my day-to-day life without the help of a car. It feels wonderful!

I don’t mind eating you, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

DSC00608Dear Insect World,

First off, I would like to say that I think you guys are really cool. You are tiny, little things (no disrespect meant, of course) yet you make a huge difference in the world. You punch above your weight. However, I do have a teeny, tiny request to make of you in regards to biking etiquette and insect/human etiquette in general.

I don’t mind when you cling to me and use my shirt or pants as a rest area in between your flights while I pedal onwards, I get it, I am a tempting free ride.

I don’t care if you ambitiously spin webs from railings and road signs, causing threads of silk to become caught on my handlebars as I go past, even if I would advise you to move your construction location a bit further from the road as it really in both of our best interests.

I am not offended by you biting me and sucking my blood when I get off my bike to take pictures of the landscape or an odd-looking flower, but I think it only fair to warn you that my hand may turn into a lethal weapon.

I will not scream in fright if me follow beside me and buzz in my ear, I am a good listener even if your language is a little foreign to me.

I am not bothered if you come out of nowhere and bop me on the nose, leaving it covered in yellow pollen. I find it quite funny, in fact, to stare out of the corner of my eye and see nothing but yellow. Pollen is probably good for my skin or something anyway. So there are health benefits involved here.

I will not think less of you if you fly into my mouth and disappear into the cavernous void beyond. Free protein laden snack delivered directly to my mouth? Does it get much better than that?

I will not become angry if you crawl underneath my shirt and sting me, although you will probably end up dead.

My only request is please do not dive-bomb into my eyes. That should be considered no-landing zone. I know I look like a target and the pupils of my eyes look like the bull’s-eye and it is probably the dream of every flying bug to make a perfect landing there, but it is not good. Not for me and my safety, not for you and your safety as one of your fellow citizens learned quite tragically this morning.

I had only two and a half miles of my morning commute left when Gerof (not sure about the spelling, his tombstone was too small for me to read properly) rapidly came into my line of sight and then onto my line of sight, making my line of sight become quite blurry for a shocking moment. Gerof then scrambled around in my eye somewhere for a brief time, which was painful and irritable to me and deadly for him.

I tried to retrieve his limp body but I was unable to until I reached my workplace (you know the location, a squad of flies are deployed there to storm the fortress of food anytime there is a breach in the defense system) and looked in the mirror to locate him. I do not want to make light of your grief at such a sensitive time, but even though he was dead, my eye looked the worse of the two victims.

Red and swollen, it looked like the eye of a monster (which I suppose you think I am since poor Gerof is dead). But I do not believe I am the monster in this case- my eye could have been spared, Gerof’s life could have been spared, if there was enforced regulation of “The Human Eye as a No-Land Zone” legislation.   It must be done for the safety of eyes and lives everywhere.

I don’t want to threaten you, just gently remind you that more cyclists on the road equals less cars on the road and I am sure all of you have relatives or friends who have met their end on the windshield of a vehicle. Make cycling safer for our eyes and we will make roads safer for your lives.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
The Red-Eyed Non-Monster

Edited to add
But it turns out the real moral of the story here is (thanks to timely reminders from MG and Jim) that a certain Red-Eyed Non-Monster should always wear eye protection to save her eyes and countless bug lives from utter destruction.

What road work means for an introvert on a bike.

DSC00738The month of June is here which means that road work has begun in earnest. I am delighted every time I see a team of construction workers decked in orange out working because that means we will end up with a better road. And better roads means better biking. Although cracks and potholes keep the route interesting, I prefer to go without those hazards if at all possible.

The downside of road construction is that I have to bike through them and that can be tricky at times. A few days ago I found myself behind a car, waiting for a worker to signal us to go through a work zone. His fellow workers were laying new asphalt on one side of the road, reducing the stretch of road to one lane only. After all the cars from the other side of the work zone had made it across, the worker changed his sign from “STOP” to “SLOW” and signaled us forward. As usually happens whenever I am under pressure, clipping in took a few tries.

In my mind “SLOW” in a work zone would be 25 MPH at the most, but the car I was following behind clearly took “SLOW” to mean 2.5 miles slower than the normal speed limit. By the time I had affixed my shoe properly to my pedal the car was long gone. I checked behind me to see if there were any cars but the coast was clear.

Then it hit me.

There was a line of (ever-increasing) cars waiting at the other side of the work zone for one reason and one reason only; they were waiting for me to get through. The pressure was on and I began to pedal my heart out. Construction workers were gawking at me like I was a alien from outer space with purple ears. (Have I mentioned before-I am an alien from outer space with purple ears.) I felt so awkward and out of place (that is a fairly normal feeling for an alien though). The faster I went, the more cars I could seeing waiting impatiently on the other side.

I pounded those pedals as fast as I could while still remaining alert and cautious because if a car could injure me, I would hate to see what a colossal construction vehicle could do. After making those cars wait for what seemed like an eternity I finally reached the end of the one lane zone. I could feel the scrutiny of drivers and passengers alike and my face started flushing red.

“Hi, folks! Yes, I am the annoying biker girl who has held you up on your morning commute.”

Oh well, if I was going to be the annoying biker girl at least I was going to be the polite, smiling, annoying biker girl. I said, “Thank you!” to the worker at the end and flashed my most charming (I hope) smile at the waiting cars and went down the road praying that I would not have to endure the emotional and physical turmoil of another work zone that day.

Why cycling is bad for socks.

Some people love socks. They carefully choose a pair of socks each morning to fit their outfit and mood. They wear exciting, colorful socks that are fun to slip into. At least I think there are people like that out there, but I don’t know for sure because I am not one of those people.

Each morning, I grab a pair of socks. If they match (or close to it), don’t have holes (that will be visible to others) and don’t stink, I shove them on my feet and then don’t think about them again for the rest of the day.

But starting several weeks ago, shoving socks onto my feet became a harder than normal task. I often wear knee-high socks (that only reach mid-calf, naturally) and they were rebelling against me as I tried to pull them up. As I have mentioned, I don’t think much about socks so I simply tugged harder and then went about my day.

Also starting several weeks ago, sometimes I would notice the hem of my sock biting into and rubbing against my leg as I walked. But as I have mentioned, I don’t think much about socks, so I would readjust them and go about my day.

Another funny thing started several weeks ago. When I peeled a pair of socks off of my legs at night I uncovered angry, red, slightly itchy lines where the sock had hugged my skin too tightly. Ouch! I believe I have already mentioned, I don’t think much about socks, so I would rub my calves a bit and get ready for bed.

I should have seen the signs. I should have put two and two together. I should have known!

But this morning in the bathroom as I was pulling on my biking clothes, everything finally came together as I happened to glance in the mirror. What I saw there made my jaw drop. My. Calves. Are. Huge. I guess biking over six hundred miles a month, for a few months causes certain muscles to go through growth spurts. Funny how that works.

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I stopped to chat with this cow and naturally we both bragged about our calves.

Now I have a conundrum on my hands and I won’t sugar coat it for you, this is a tough one. I have to choose between buying new socks or cutting back on cycling. It is going to be a hard choice to make so I think I will go and make a “pros and cons” list to help me sort my options.

The magic and danger of woods.

DSC00673Today I biked to a woods which my brothers and I frequently haunted in the days of our childhood. (Which was a very long time ago, indeed.)

DSC00700As soon as I stepped into the woods, I felt the same as these woods have always made me feel. I felt like I was in a different world, a different place maybe I had even stepped into a different time. This place crackles with magic and even as kids (maybe because we were kids) we could sense that instantly. Intuitively, we understood that in a woods as beautiful and as magical as this, danger must be close at hand. Beauty and magic nearly always comes with a price.

The problem with this woods and with many woods in Northern New York is that they are actually very tame locations. They are devoid of poisonous spiders, venomous snakes and aggressive predators. There were no dangers lurking behind the trees, under the rocks or in the stream.  DSC00618 DSC00640

But then we saw it. Or him, I suppose. There was a little man aiming a spear at us as he stood on a pile of rocks. We had no time to shield ourselves from this danger or even to be scared, because as soon as we spotted him, he had vanished. He had vanished so quickly that we hadn’t had a chance to get a proper look at him. Instantly, my eldest brother commanded us, “Bows and arrows at the ready, he may be back.” Eagerly, cautiously, we scanned the woods for signs of further danger.

“On the right, I see another one!” My younger brother called.

We spun, but saw nothing, not even a hastily retreating figure. After a few more sightings of these strange, slightly disfigured, spear-wielding fellows, we realized that no weapons were needed to scare them off. Merely meet their gaze with a steady eye and they were gone, almost instantly, although we caught a trace of their gait as they disappeared; a mix of scampering and shuffling with a bit of  skipping thrown in for good measure.

My five brothers and I soon coined a name for these men with wild eyes and faces crumbling from age and extended exposure to the elements.

Ancient Madmen.

To this day I know almost nothing about Ancient Madmen. Why do live in the woods? Have they been banished from another world? Why do they threaten humans with spears? And what makes them so afraid of our gaze? I don’t have any answers. But as I finished my stroll through the woods today, I spied an Ancient Madman standing close to my bike, looking at it curiously.

“Hey, get away from my bike.” I growled.DSC00670

At the first word he began to run back into the underbrush with his odd, frantic gait.

“You would want a mountain bike anyway…maybe go with a fat bike!” I shouted after him.

At that I swung onto my bike and headed home, body thrumming with adrenaline and bit of residual magic, courtesy of the glorious, wonderful woods.