A Canyon Demolished

Once in a great while, tax money is actually used to benefit taxpayers. Shocking, I know.

In the past week, two roads that I use frequently, were repaved. The one ten mile stretch really, really needed it. If someone had asked me what road I would like to see redone, that would be the very one I would choose. The entire road and especially the shoulder were all torn up and nasty. It was a total pain to ride on. Bone jarring, tooth rattling nastiness. I had to constantly be on the lookout for potholes. This was where the infamous “Grand Canyon” resided along with many of its perilous cronies.

But out of the blue, like magic, it is perfectly, absolutely beautiful for biking (and driving too, I suppose). I am thankful to the powers-that-be for making smart choices. But mostly I thank the construction crew for working through the unpredictable fall weather to make this road a great place to bike. These shoulders make me very happy indeed!

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Before. I called this the “Grand Canyon” for its dangerous width and length.

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After. No more canyons or potholes! Hooray!

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To bike or not to bike…

DSC01651Outside, the wind is howling. This wind is strong and fierce, blowing at close to 30 mph with sudden gusts reaching up to 60 mph. Wind this powerful is so unusual for our area that the weather dudes have issued a “high wind warning” and the local school has canceled any after school programs. The power has gone out several times already.

Because I occasionally have the brains to make intelligent decisions, I went for a bike ride this morning before the rain and wind had a chance to make their appearance.

As I am sitting here, looking out my bedroom window, I am rather curious. What would it be like to ride my bike in such high winds? The force and passion of the wind is a thrilling and terrifying thing, I just want to get out there and experience it firsthand. Okay, you know what I am really thinking.

What does a 60 mph tailwind feel like?

But I already rode today and I have no obligations, no where I have to be. I suppose I should just do the sane thing and stay put, lest I get knocked off my bike by an angry tree branch. Not likely of course, but I guess I don’t need to risk it, right?

I was out walking my dogs a few minutes ago and looking up I saw a few large birds circling overhead. They simply spread their wings and let the furious wind toss them through the air at it’s whim. They laugh at me.

“We aren’t afraid of the gusts, are you? No? Then why are you heading back inside?”

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No wind can knock this football down…

And as I am typing this, I can see a football swaying in a tree close to my window. It laughs at me.

“I am doing just fine in this wind, come out here and see if you can hack it!”

Today I am going to let inanimate objects and soaring birds laugh at my weakness. I don’t care what they think, I am staying inside. Really.

Race Recap

Did I mention that I was racing this Tuesday evening? No?

Well the reason I didn’t tell you that I was racing is because I did not know that I was racing either.

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I got to stop and visit with a lovely herd of cows.

Here’s how it happened. I biked to the big city today to watch my little brother’s soccer game (he scored two goals and his team won, yay!) and to do some clothes shopping. It turned out to be a 60 mile trip in total.

The ride home was beautiful. I saw the sun set in the west and then a gloriously orange harvest moon appear in the east. So big and so bright! As the sky grew black, it’s light became even more brilliant.

About twelve miles from home I passed through a small village. An Amish horse and buggy pulled onto the road right behind me.

And that, my friends, was the beginning of my first ever eight mile road race. (But not my first ever Amish horse and buggy race.)

For the first few miles I was able to keep the pounding horse hooves at bay, but as I was climbing a hill, the clatter of horse and wheels grew loud and I knew the safe, courteous thing to do was let them pass me. So I eased up while they overtook me.

I was able to get a good view of the vehicle and its occupants. This wasn’t a typical closed buggy but a open, lighter carriage. Seated in the carriage were an Amish couple and I am going to go out on a limb here and say that they were two young lovebirds out for a nighttime drive.

They continued down the road setting a pace of 17-18 mph. Once I got over the hill I was able to catch up to them and I spent the next mile or so biding my time to attack. We came upon a slight downhill grade and I went for it, crouching into the drops and pedaling like mad.

Three miles later they caught up to me, again while I was on a hill. (Someone needs to work on her climbing skills…) This time when they passed me it was with clear intent. No more games, they were in it to win it. But so was I. So I clung as close as I dared as they ramped up the speed to 20-21 mph.

Passing cars must have observed us quizzically. A bike with flashing lights following behind an Amish carriage with flashing lights. It is an odd combination, I admit.

I had caught my breath while following behind the clattering wheels and now the question became, when do I make my move and win this thing for good? We were coming up a small slope and I decided to attack once we were over the rise, if the coast was clear.

I took one last swig from my water bottle and mentally prepared myself. This time I wasn’t gonna back down. Full throttle all the way. But as I was thinking these motivational thoughts, the horse and carriage turned left, off the road.

NOO!!! Game over. I lost!

But even though I lost, the last four miles of my ride felt like winning. I passed another horse and buggy and I went full throttle anyway even though there was no one left to race. I pulled into my yard feeling like a million bucks. As I took my dogs for a walk, I could feel the effects of my ride, my body was flooded with a crazy rush of endorphins.

I  had the time of my life riding furiously in the crisp night air. And from the way the Amish couple looked back at me, I am pretty sure they did too. The attitude of the horse, however, is unknown.

I do have some major bones to pick with the race organizers though. Can’t they at least inform all participants in a race where the finish line is located?

She has a name.

DSC00937For the final post of the 5 day challenge, I have decided to reveal the name of my road bike. On this blog I have referred to her as my Trek or my road bike, but in real life she has an actual name. It wasn’t that I intentionally kept her name a secret, she has just grown into her name so gradually that I never bothered to mention it. But since Gary nominated me for this challenge, and all of his bikes are lovingly named, I have decided it is time to tell you the name of my faithful summer companion.

Her name is Winter.

Pretty dumb name for a road bike that will not be biking in snow, right? That is what I thought the moment her name flashed through my mind as my dad and I were driving her home for the first time in May. I figured I would come up with another, more suitable name later, so I shelved the idea of calling a summer bike, “Winter”.

But as I spent the spring and summer with her, riding around the countryside of Northern New York, I realized that there was no better name I could give my bike.

Really, the only reason I even decided to buy a road bike is because of winter. Last winter solidified my love of biking and I came into spring with the urgent desire to bike more miles and also faster miles, than I ever had before. It didn’t take me long to understand that I needed to buy my first road bike.

Also, her name is a reminder to me that I can do anything I set my mind to. When I have been out riding this summer and I face some kind of hardship; maybe a headwind or a giant hill or low energy or seemingly endless miles-her name reminds me that I can make it-just like I made it though winter.

Her name reminds in particular of my first subzero commute, a ride so hard and painful that I arrived at work 25 minutes late. I remember the exhilaration of finally bursting into the restaurant, with a smile on my face because I finally knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I could bike through winter. I use that commute as an example to myself of how worthwhile it is to push through obstacles, because that is how I get stronger, mentally and physically.

Everything I have done on this bike is the outgrowth of my winter biking experience.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that her color scheme is white and silver.

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Winter biking is a very serious matter.

Have I mentioned that Fall is fun this year? It has been a blast and one of the best things is that my friends, family and coworkers have switched from trying to discourage me from winter biking to teasing me about it. This is a welcome change!

Here are a few conversations that took place in the past week:

After biking to work in below freezing weather.
Boss’s Husband: Did you have your heater going on the way over?
Me: Sure did.
Boss’s Husband: Good thing, otherwise you would have died in this cold.

A customer has told me to call her if it is too cold or snowy to bike.
Coworker: Oh, you can offer her a ride alright, but she’ll never call you, she likes biking too much. You should see her in winter! For the first four hours of her shift she is all excited from biking in the snow, the next two hours she is tired and looks like she needs a nap and then the last four hours she is all pumped up because she knows she is going to be biking again soon.

I nearly burst out in laughter, is that actually what I am like in winter? Man, I must be annoying to work with!

My boss is talking about the weather forecast.
Me: Is it supposed to snow again soon?
Boss: Shhh! We don’t talk like that around here!
Me: OOPS! Sorry, I like snow.
Boss: I know, you’re disgusting.

On arriving home from work, I notice that my landlord is repairing a window on the downstairs apartment so I call out a cheerful “Hello!”
Landlord: What are you up to young lady?
Me: Just getting home from work.
Landlord: Are you biking to work tomorrow? It’s gonna get down to 20 degrees.
Me: Nice!
Landlord: You are a diehard aren’t you?
Me: Yeah, I guess I am-but so are you.
*He gives me a blank stare*
Me: You drive that car, in any weather, many more miles then I ever go! We may use different kinds of transportation, but we are both still diehards.
Landlord: Hey, whatever you say. Has anyone ever told you that you’re weird?

As I am leaving work, dressed in full rain gear, I say goodbye to a coworker.
Coworker: Whoa, Bri! I haven’t see you wear that much clothing in a long time! It must be cold out.
Me: Yup. (So eloquent.)
Coworker: I hope you wear your facemask soon, that always makes me laugh.
Me: (Very sarcastically) I am glad I can brighten your day.
Coworker: At least your weird clothing keeps you warm.
Me: Very true!

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I have no idea why this outfit makes my coworkers laugh…

This post is the fourth post of the 5 day story challenge. Gary, from PedalWORKS was kind enough to nominate me for this challenge and he wanted to read more about cycling in snow and cold.

In lieu of nominating someone everyday of this challenge, I am inviting anyone to post about a weird or funny bike ride that for some reason hasn’t made it on your blog yet. I would love to read them. Let me know about it and I will link you in my successive story challenge posts.

A time to slow down.

002After buying a road bike this May, I have learned just how fun going fast can be-flying down hills, whizzing around corners, racing tractors and sprinting until my heart is pounding. But soon I will be switching over to my new mountain bike, which is rugged and capable, but not nearly so fast. It will be sad to leave to retire my speedy steed of summer, but the truth is, winter biking (at least for me) is all about taking it nice and slow. It is amazing how many times taking the speed down a notch makes winter biking easier and more enjoyable.

When work has been hard and my energy is waning with the setting sun,
I slow down.
When the beauty of a clear night sky takes my breath away,
I slow down.
When I have overdressed and start to sweat,
I slow down.
When everywhere I look is glittering, sparkling snow,
I slow down.
When my ski goggles are fogging up from my huffing and puffing,
I slow down.
When I am mesmerized by a thousand snowflakes floating gently to earth,
I slow down.
When I am wrapped in warm clothes from head to toe like a mummy,
I slow down.
When the wind howls against me,
I slow down.
When the wind howls against me
and I am biking through deep snow,
I slow down.
When the wind howls against me,
and I am biking through deep snow,
up a never-ending hill,
I slow down.
When the wind howls against me,
and I am biking through deep snow,
up a never-ending hill,
while coughing and wheezing like an old mountain goat,
I slow down.
Way down.

Yes, I bike slow in winter. Slow enough to make it possible for elderly snails to leave me in the dust (thank goodness there are not to many snails out and about in the cold). But like the hare and tortoise learned long ago, “slow and steady wins the race”. That is especially true in winter.

Wait a second…

If the tortoise and hare had raced in the winter, the hare would have won because the tortoise would have gone into hibernation. Maybe I have followed the example of the wrong animal! This year, should I switch to short, sporadic sprints with long breaks of rest in-between? A hare surely knows more about how to deal with winter than a tortoise….

This post is the third post of the 5 day story challenge. Gary, from PedalWORKS was kind enough to nominate me for this challenge and he wanted to read more about cycling in snow and cold.

In lieu of nominating someone everyday of this challenge, I am inviting anyone to post about a weird or funny bike ride that for some reason hasn’t made it on your blog yet. I would love to read them. Let me know about it and I will link you in my successive story challenge posts.

How I learned to bike in snow

DSCN0019[1]My bike handling style, can be summed up in a single word, “tentative”. Going into the last winter, I  had never been a risk taker, never pushed the boundaries, never attempted to ride off-road, no-handed or anything of that nature.  My bike handling skills were at a basic, beginning level.

But then snow started taking over the road and suddenly, I had to learn how to ride on something other than pavement or a hard-packed dirt road. Biking in deep fresh snow was a blast but it was also terrifying.

White-knuckled, I rode, trying to force my bike to keep a straight line in the light and fluffy snow. My rear wheel was a traitor though, constantly twisting around like it was an independent entity. Then I learned the trick of lowering my tire pressure to the lowest recommended psi. Take that little traitor! Fishtailing was still a common occurrence, but it felt slower and gentler, so much easier to handle.

Lowering the psi did give me increased traction but the extra rolling resistance slowed my average speed way down. So I would pump my tires up when the road were clear and then release that pressure when I was biking during or after a snowstorm.

Coming into the month of January, I was starting to gain confidence in the snow. After all, even though my bike twisted around like mad when it couldn’t contact the pavement or ice (which my studs would bite into) the only time I had fallen off my bike was when I misjudged the shoulder’s edge and tumbled into a ditch.

Then, one day when I was biking home from work someone stopped to ask if I needed a ride. I uttered my standard, “I’m good, thank you!” and they drove off. I smiled to myself, so thankful that I discovered the world of winter biking. I didn’t want to be in a car when I could be pedaling through snow! I felt happy and free and as I was biking through the brilliantly sparking white snow, somehow the skill that had evaded me all winter, began to click into place. Which was weird because I didn’t even know that this was the skill I had been looking for all along.

It wasn’t really a skill, it was more a mindset shift. I had started to trust my bike. My iron grip on the handlebars was loosened and I let the front wheel guide the bike and I through the snow. When the bike shifted under me, instead of fighting it,  I let it move underneath me. I was no longer a dictator trying to force my bike in a rigidly straight line-we started working together.

That was the missing puzzle piece. Once I started working with my little pink mountain bike, riding in the snow became increasingly easier and more fun. I could pump my tires to their max psi and not suffer for it. The last few months of winter sped by fast and before I knew it the days of snowy commutes were over.

I miss the sheer joy of plunging into deep snow on my bike. But winter will soon be here and I can’t wait to learn more about how to bike in snow.

Over the summer, I found a video that would have really helped me at the start of my snowy travels. But it wasn’t in existence yet and it has a rather misleading title.

Every main tip can be applied to biking through snow although there are a few differences. First, the video makes biking through sand (or snow) out to be tougher than it really is, probably because they are coming from the standpoint of using this skill in a race. The skinny tires probably make it trickier as well. When I am out biking there is no pressure to get through the snow as fast as possible. Second, when there is ice on the road and there are rocks and chunks of ice littering that road but hidden under a layer of snow, big studded tires are always the way to go.

This post is the second post of the 5 day story challenge. Gary, from PedalWORKS was kind enough to nominate me for this challenge and he wanted to read more about cycling in snow and cold.

In lieu of nominating someone everyday of this challenge, I am inviting anyone to post about a weird or funny bike ride that for some reason hasn’t made it on your blog yet. I would love to read them. Let me know about it and I will link you in my successive story challenge posts.