A Friendly Ride

Biking to work this morning was delightful. At least for now, the weather has abandoned the idea of warm, humid mornings and replaced them with crisp, cool temperatures. For the first time in months I wore something to protect my ears. I am sure there are a few more hot days in the near future, but the bulk of the heat of summer has already passed.

It was warm and sunny in the afternoon for the ride home and many people were working out in their yards. I waved to everyone I made eye contact with and they all smiled or waved back at me.  A bike is such a friendly form of transportation, I love that I can connect with people in a small way just by riding past and waving.

The entire ride was filled with micro interactions. A few people I knew gave friendly honks as they passed me in their cars. A random car driver flashed the peace sign to me out the window (which I was too slow to respond too, of course). An entire flock of songbirds sang to me as I pedaled by.

I arrived home feeling with a smile on my face. My chosen mode of transportation may not be the fastest, but it may just be the best.DSC01060

Country bike goes to the big city.

DSC01124Twenty-five miles north of where I live lies the “big city”. Pretty much everyone who lives in my community travels to this city whenever they need to get some serious shopping done. I don’t like shopping, especially serious-type shopping, so I avoid visiting the big city whenever possible.

But yesterday my youngest brother was playing soccer at the city’s fairgrounds and I decided it was time to face the city, on my bike, for the first time ever. My bike and I stick to rural areas and small towns but now it was time to face the music and see how we would fare in the world of urban biking. We were both a bit on edge. On the ride, I kept glancing at my clipless pedals. Was I really skilled enough to clip in and out properly in roads with bazillions of cars and traffic lights?

The last two miles into the city were all downhill and suddenly, without warning, it was time to turn left and join the city traffic. Gulp. Here we go.

But it wasn’t bad at all, to surprise of my bike and I. No cars honking or crowding us or trying to cut us off. Even though my mind was on hyper-alert mode, I was able to enjoy the fact that I can keep up with cars in the city. I had imagined getting stuck behind every red light, but I was able to stay with flow of traffic and cruise through green light after green light. I think I actually had a bit of fun, but don’t tell anyone that!

I even got to ride my bike, for the very first time, on a designated bike lane, complete with symbols. Strangely enough, none of the cyclists I observed actually used the lane. Most rode on the sidewalks and while one guy was riding in the bike lane, he was riding against the flow of traffic, directly toward me.

“Are we playing a game of chicken?” I nervously wondered.

But he swerved into the street and avoided ramming into me, thank goodness.

The highlight of the night was hanging out with my family, watched my brother’s soccer game. He scored the first goal of the season (you go bro) and his team won 4-1.

I was able to make my way out of the city before nightfall and then my bike and I got lost in the calm and coolness of a late summer night. But we must not have actually gotten lost because we ended up at home.

As I pulled into the yard, my neighbor was pulling out in his car.

“Oh man, you get me every single time!” He called out the window. “I always think the police are after us!”

Hehe, I love my flashing red taillights.

Biking is making me younger.

DSC01056Throughout my teen years and into the beginning of my twenties, I lived a sedentary life. I also really love food (which is why I cook in a restaurant). It doesn’t take much to figure out that the combination of those two factors wasn’t good for my health. My energy levels plummeted and even completing a regular shift at work left me drained. I didn’t have the motivation to accomplish much outside of work, all I really felt like doing was sitting around and watching my favorite cooking shows.

But then I started biking to work. Not all the time, but once or twice a week. Although it was fun and it felt good to be out in the fresh air, those ten miles to or from work seemed endless. But as many of you have experienced in your own lives, biking can be rather addictive. Three years ago, I started biking to work whenever I could.

And then my definition of “whenever I could” started changing. First I bought lights so I could commute by bike even in the dark. I began to ride my bike as transportation to other places as well. And I started to go on short morning rides just for fun.

Biking became a passion for me and I decided that I was going to try to biking through the winter. I had no clue what I was in for. Waking up an hour earlier to get to work on time, piling on layers of warm clothes, heading out into subzero weather, trudging slowly through deep snow – it took a measure of determination. It was also the most amazing experience of my life. It made me love winter with a surprising fierceness and cemented my desire to live without a car. Winter taught me how thrilling it is to explore the world and push myself to my physical and mental limits on a bike.

Once winter was over, I bought a road bike and began biking even more, over six hundred miles a month, just for the joy of it. That girl who just a few years ago struggled with low energy is gone. I am constantly surprised by how much I am able to do.

This Monday, for the second Monday in a row, I woke up at 3:30 am for my regular morning shift at the restaurant.

I biked 10 miles to work.
I worked on my feet for 10 hours.
I biked 10 miles back home.
*Interlude of one hour to shower and take care of my dogs
I biked 10 miles to an ice cream shop.
I met up with four other cyclists and rode 15 miles.
I biked 10 miles home.

Thirty minutes later, I was in bed, my alarm set at 3:30, ready to wake me up for another day of work.

It is earth shattering to me that I actually have the physical and mental stamina to work all day and then go out and bike. To see myself slowly transform from a being sedentary couch potato to living an active life, amazes me. And all it took was some time and a bike.

Every day I get older, that is a simple biological truth. But try telling my body that because every day I feel younger, more energetic, more full of life. Biking has reversed the aging process, I feel like a young twenty-something with the energy to take on the world.

And that is exactly what I am.

Surviving the heat of summer.

I personally believe that there are four types of people currently roaming the earth. There are people who thrive in the heat, people who thrive in the cold, people who thrive in both and people who don’t seem to enjoy either!

I am not fortunate enough to enjoy both hot and cold weather, but thankfully I am not unfortunate enough be to uncomfortable in both. I am the type of person who thrives in cold weather.

So, as you can imagine I was not thriving at work today with the thermometer in the kitchen flirting with the 100 degree line. Heat drains me and I was working as if moving at one-tenth of a snail pace was the current fad. In my heat scorched mind I listed off the prep I had to get done before the end of my shift.

Slice tomatoes
Slice bread
Make potato salad
Cut French fries
Make beef gravy

Languidly, I moved through these tasks often forgetting basic details. Yes, slicing tomatoes requires using a knife, so yes, I need to get one. And before cutting French Fries it would be helpful to have a bucket to put them in. My brain simply doesn’t to focus well when it is melting under the force of unrelenting heat.

But with only an hour left in my shift, I knew I needed to get my prep work done promptly. So I downed a glass of ice water and pulled through as best as I could. My shift over, I headed outdoors to my bike who was impatiently waiting for me in the shed.

Surviving the intense heat of summer is trying at times. (I use the phrase “intense heat” somewhat tongue-in-cheek here, I know New York summers are mild compared to the raging heat of other locales.) But guess what makes the hottest summer days a bit more bearable? Going out on the road on my bike. A steady breeze cools my face and restores my sanity, allowing me to feel human again.

And as I rode home today, enjoying the wind and fresh air, I spotted something that gave me hope.DSC01110
Autumn is just around the corner so I think I will survive.

I never thought it would actually happen…

DSC00819For months I have done my best to find other people to bike with. Aside from wonderful bike rides with my family (shout out to my awesome big sis) I have been unable to connect with any other cyclists. I was beginning to think that all the bikers I see are lone road prowlers who never ride in packs. But on Saturday, my boss casually dropped a bomb. She mentioned that a group of cyclists meets up in front of an ice cream shop in town on Monday nights. Say what?

The same ice cream shop that I had called and asked whether they had any organized bike rides and been told, “They aren’t doing that anymore.”

Thrilled by this new knowledge that weekly bike rides were indeed being held, I decided to show up and check it out for myself. This is easier said than done, though, because the ice cream place is in the town where I work, ten miles from where I live. My timing would have to be perfect to make it back and forth by 6:00 pm.

At 3:20 I left work and biked home. Once home, I scurried around like a little squirrel; feeding and walking my dogs, taking a shower, checking my tire pressure and grabbing a bite to eat. Then I rode back to my workplace, dropped off my excess stuff and headed nervously over to the ice cream shop. I had no clue what I was getting myself into.

But when I arrived, I could not see a bike anywhere, even with my tunnel vision bike eyes. So I went inside and was told that, yes, there were normally bike rides on Monday night but usually people would be there by now. And no, they didn’t have phone numbers to contact anyone.

I went outside feeling sad. I knew it was too good to be true. I would have to wait until next Monday. But just in case, I biked a few miles and then looped back. Still no bicycles. Maybe just one more little loop, just to make extra sure…

As I rounded the very last turn, I saw a blessed sight. A man on a bicycle! And he was headed straight for the ice cream shop storefront. Hallelujah! Soon he was joined by another cyclist and I pulled over to meet them.

We were the only ones who turned up, but they assured me that normally they have a larger group. They started asking me questions about my biking and where I lived and worked. Then one of the guys said, “There was a woman who biked to work in the winter this year…”

All of a sudden he cut off and looked me straight in the eye. I must have given it away somehow because a look of understanding crossed his face. “It is you, isn’t it. I passed you on the road in the winter and I thought to myself, that person is slow to be biking out in that weather!”

I laughed. He is not the first person to think that I am a bit insane to bike in snow, but hey, I just happen to think it is loads of fun!

So then we got to the actual biking part. Twelve miles at an easy, conversational pace. They talked about their own biking, one of them bikes in charity rides as well organized races, the other fellow has started biking for his health. It was good fun, I will do my best to be at the front of that ice cream shop next Monday.

I still can’t believe it! I get to bike with people!
Boy, isn’t life grand?

Summer Hiking

DSC01101I spent the better part of my day hiking in the woods with some awesome people. It felt great to be with people I love, enjoying the beautiful woods. I must admit it felt kinda weird to be having conversations with people while exploring the trail, I am so accustomed to just listening to the sounds of the woods in silence. It was a good weird though!

Someday, I am gonna come back here with a mountain bike, the scenery is worth seeing again and most of the trail will be pretty easy for a inexperienced off-road biker.

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The Temptation of New Pavement

DSC01038On my ride home from work today, I was faced with a dilemma. It was the same dilemma that I have faced for the past few days.

Should I forsake my regular commuting route in favor of a freshly-paved side road?

On Friday, Saturday and Monday, I stayed strong and continued homeward without testing the smooth, new pavement. Routine is important, after all, more important than gliding along a perfect new road…

I caved today. Well, technically I didn’t, my bike made the executive decision to deviate from our regular homeward route. My bike makes good choices. The fresh pavement was fast and silky smooth. Plus, our detour made the journey home feel like a bit of an adventure. On adventures, you must take pictures, or so I am told. So I stopped and attempted to photograph butterflies who were as camera-shy as they were beautiful. A German Shepherd was barking from across the road, so I soon gave up and continued down the road, until I turned onto a road that had not been paved, ever.

That’s when I remembered that I had left my sunglasses behind. Oops. I began to make a U-turn so that I could go fetch them, but since I have the bike handling skills of a five year old, I didn’t turn tight enough and my front wheel was threatening to plunge into a ditch filled with bushes. Clearly, I needed to brake. But as I was braking, I realized that I would have to unclip to avoid falling over in a pitiful heap. Normally, I prefer to unclip my right foot, but in this case, setting down my right foot would tip me over into the ditch.

“Haha, you are going to fall!” Taunted a helpful little voice in my head. I accepted the inevitable and prepared to tumble into some previously undisturbed shrubbery. But completely of its own volition, my left foot unclipped and suddenly I was standing upright. I have no clue how that happened, but I am glad it did.

Under the watchful eyes of the German Shepherd, I retrieved my sunglasses and then my bike and I went home.

Adding five miles to my commute? Maybe I should do it again sometime.