First snowfall of the season

DSC01436I set my alarm for twenty minutes earlier than normal this morning. The forecast was predicting snow and I wanted to be ready for anything.

I woke up to rain. How very sad. In the event that the weather changed, I took my sister’s mountain bike to work complete with my studded tires. I might need them…you never know.

Around 7:30, my coworker came into the kitchen.

“Look out the window!” She told me.

Hallelujah. Tiny snow flakes were swirling gracefully through the air. Throughout the day the precipitation continued, but due to the fluctuating temperature, it kept switching back from rain to snow. The ground was too warm for any snow to stick, when the flakes landed on the ground they melted instantly. I couldn’t keep myself from peeking out the window every now and then. I even took a few “snow breaks”. My reasoning was that if my coworkers can take smoke breaks outside, surely a break to enjoy the first snowflakes of the season is permissible.

By afternoon, the clouds had taken a break and it was no longer snowing or raining. Still, I left work on my sister’s bike, hoping for the best. And then halfway home it happened.

Snowflakes! The bike and I had a delightful time the rest of the way home.

Sure, there was no snow on the ground. And sure, the next snowfall is probably weeks away. But winter is a-coming!DSC01447

A Sad Tail

Biking is awesome, but it is not completely awesome. One of the major downsides of biking is getting a close-up view of road kill. Aside from their disgusting appearance and nasty smell, it is always sad to spot a dead animal on the roadside. It also begs the question, “It that what I will look like if I get swiped by a truck?” Happy thoughts indeed.

On my commute home today, I swerved to avoid a garter snake. I pulled over so I could get him off the road-I didn’t want to see his remains on my next ride. Upon closer inspection I realized he had already been injured by a car as I could see his tail was crushed. His head was battered and bloody, I am assuming from a prolonged struggle to drag his body off the road. No matter how he contorted his body he couldn’t gain enough traction to move his injured tail. DSC01424

I touched him gently and he jerked into a frightened, painful knot. Then I scooped him up using my rain jacket and set him down in the dirt beside the road. The uneven ground proved to be a easier surface for him to work with and he slithered into the grass. Poor little dude, I hope he makes it.

Well I think that’s enough depressing stuff for the day. If the weather forecast is to be trusted, tomorrow may bring fluffy white flakes of wonder to life. Time will tell.

One perfect failure of a test ride.

DSC01410Yesterday, in the afternoon, I took my newly acquired mountain bike on its first ride. After riding on the road all summer, I was excited to go off-road, so we went to a nearby snowmobile trail to try out our abilities. The trail is mostly thick grass and tall weeds with some cornfield sections mixed in for fun.

The grass was so thick it covered up all the holes, bumps and rocks. But my mountain bike, with its huge tires, ate up anything in its path. I stopped trying to figure out where all the woodchuck holes and giant rocks were located because this bike can take on anything.

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This is the trail.

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This is a deer stand.

I did forget one thing about this trail though. I forgot that it has a better view of the surrounding area than anywhere else I have been locally. From the high ridge where is the trail is located I can see the entire river valley spread out before me, with the Adirondacks framing it in the background. I can also look around and see my entire community. This view is even more spectacular right now because we are just leaving the peak of the Fall foliage season. Looking down into the valley I could see rivers of gold, strands of orange and patches of brilliant red. The bike and I stopped for awhile just to try to take it all in. I know there are many jaw dropping vistas all around the world, and I want to see some of them someday, but this one will always be the best because this one is mine.

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We continued on our ride, spotting deer and a few turkeys. The trail was over way to soon and I felt like I was just getting a handle on the feel of my new bike so we went back for a second time. We were going up an incline, when suddenly I was pedaling faster than I ever had before in my entire life. The chain had snapped.

The offending link had one side broken off. Nice. But because I am a newbie who is willing to try anything, I decided to make an attempt to hobble my chain back together even though I didn’t have any tools. Guess what? It didn’t work. But it did get my hands looking real nasty.

There was only one thing to do. I slammed down my seat post. It was time to use a specialized skill that I acquired last winter. Bikescootering. I sat on my bike and put one foot on the pedal while using the other foot to propel myself along. Gotta say, it is a lot easier in winter when there are snow banks to push against.

After getting off the trail, I walked my bike home except for sections when I could coast downhill. You see, bikescootering is a skill best kept private. Onlookers can die from observing bikescootering in action. That is where we get the phrase “die laughing”.

Overall, I think it was a great off road test ride. Test rides supposed to expose weaknesses in a bike. I believe I have found my mountain bike’s weakness. It needs a new chain.

Getting Ready for Winter-New Bike Day

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Last winter I was so focused on my needs as a winter biker that I neglected the needs of my winter bike almost entirely. The lack of care resulted in my little pink Diamondback’s demise. It was clear that restoring my bike to a useable condition would take more money than it was worth. I needed a new (to me at least) mountain bike to stick studded tires on.

Today my dad and I dropped off my brother and sister at the Syracuse airport. Then we went bike shopping and found this little guy. He is a 2007 Gary Fisher Marlin and as soon as I went around the parking lot, I knew that this was my new winter bike. It just felt right. So I brought him home.

My dad left him on the doorstep and left me in a quandary. Should I put him in the shed or carry him into my apartment? I have been carting my Trek up and down the stairs from the first day I got her. (Incidentally, that is the main reason my fitness has improved over the summer. It’s not the actual biking, although that helps.)

Did my new mountain bike deserve the same treatment as a road bike?

I guess not, because I started to wheel him into the shed. But I couldn’t do it. Instead, I picked him up and carried him up the stairs. He is talking to my Trek right now.

Soon it will be time for a proper test ride.

Aren’t you scared?

DSC01254Living car-free in a small town makes me something of an oddity and people come up to me all the time to talk to me about my biking. The most commonly asked question is, “Aren’t you scared?” I always explain that no, I am not scared, biking on the road is not dangerous and that I have loads of fun doing what I do. They often counter this so I try expand my answer. No, biking is not completely safe, but neither is driving a car, flying in an airplane or any other form of transportation. (Hint: there are very few activities in life that have no risk attached to them.)

I must not be very convincing because the conversation usually ends with some form of, “Well, good for you, but I would never do something like that.”

Lately though, when I am giving that answer, it feels like telling a lie. For the past month or so something that happens all the time has started to frighten me. It never used to bother me but now-when people talk about their own reckless behavior on the road it really scares me.

I am in the middle of a conversation with two teens and suddenly they are talking about texting on the road and other unsafe driving practices and I feel my face go pale.

A guy brags casually to me about how fast he can drive to a certain town and I can’t stop my heart from pounding.

Last week, a lady came rushing into a meeting. She triumphantly proclaimed that she “went seventy-five miles all the way, it was a sacrifice I was willing to make”. That’s an actual mindset people drive with? I shuddered visibly, enough that it must have caught her attention. I rushed to explain, mentioning something about the fact that I didn’t mind waiting a few more minutes, and how it is always worth it to take your time on the road to keep yourself  and others safe.

Completely unperturbed, she replied, “Well, this meeting is important to me.”

Ahhh!

Now before I go on, let me explain that I understand that safe driving is a much more complex thing than going down the road at a certain speed. Simply following the posted speed limit doesn’t guarantee safe driving while exceeding the speed limit doesn’t automatically tip someone into the “reckless driving zone.” There are different roads, different weather conditions, different drivers with different abilities and experience levels. I get that.

But these stories scare me. I picture myself on the road, pedaling unprotected on my bike while reckless drivers rush by. It doesn’t make me want to run out and buy a car-it makes me want to curl up in a ball and never venture on a road ever again, regardless of the mode of transportation. I don’t know why people drive recklessly. I don’t know why people talk so casually about their reckless driving.

But there is one thing I do know. The way to stop myself from being afraid it to get on my bike. Reality saves my fearful mentality. I remember that I know how to bike safely and minimize risks. I see every car pass me carefully and courteously. I am confident and sure. Being a cyclist is not a scary thing, no matter what tales people tell.

Getting Ready for Winter-Acclimatization

I don’t know about where you live, but around here October has the power to unleash a few snowstorms at whim. So I am doing everything I can do to insure that when the snow flies my bike and I will be ready for it.

An important part of my preparation for the coming winter is getting my body used to colder temperatures again. Back in April 35 degrees felt balmy, but right now it feels downright chilly. There is a purpose to autumn beyond pretty-colored leaves and pumpkin patches and that purpose is to be a transitional period into winter.

For the past few weeks I have been using the cooler autumn temperatures to let my body get used to keeping itself warm again. I don’t do anything too weird or drastic, but after the heat of summer I do have to ignore the impulse to throw on layers of clothing just because the temperature has began to drop. Here are a couple things I am doing to get my body thermostat adjusted.

I keep my windows open and the heat off.
I love a fresh breeze anyway and after so many warm nights in summer the crisp air helps me to get a good night sleep. If the temperature stays below freezing all day I will probably shut my windows, but only until the temperature gets warm again.

I dress for comfort, not warmth.
Frostbite is not a fun thing to mess around with, so when I am biking on cold mornings, I always cover my ears and hands. Beyond that, I dress to keep my torso and legs comfortable but not warm. It can be tricky to get right sometimes but I always carry extra clothing if I feel like I am getting chilled.

I use movement to stay warm.
Whenever I feel cold I try amping up my activity level before reaching for a long-sleeved hoodie. I want my body to do the work of keeping me warm without relying on extra clothing. If I have been sitting down, taking my dogs for a walk usually does the trick.

I stay outdoors as much as possible.
This is the most important one-the more time I spend outside in the changing temperatures, the more ready I am going to be for when it really gets cold.

It basically boils down to enjoying autumn the way it is meant to be enjoyed-without a parka!

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Two weeks ago

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Today

Of course the real question is, do these habits actually make a difference? Both of these photos were taken at 45 degrees Fahrenheit, if you look closely you can tell there has already been a slight change so far.

Three out of Three

DSC01251I had not one, not two, but three exciting commutes this week. My life is just one thrill right after another, I tell ya!

My Monday commute was an event of historic proportions. My sister biked along with me! For the first time ever an actual, real person woke up at 3:30 am just to bike ten miles with me. I didn’t even bribe or blackmail her, she wanted to come along.

For once I got to talk aloud on my commute without all the skunks alongside the road thinking I was going crazy. But I bet most of the regular early morning drivers thought they were going crazy-or seeing double. “Now there are TWO of them?” They probably thought to themselves.

My sister and I spent the ride talking, laughing and trying to find stars in the cloudy sky. It was a special bike ride that I will never forget.

My second exciting commute was on Friday. Although I felt tired after working all day, I hit the road home with an energy and speed that I didn’t know I was capable of. For maybe the third time since spring I had a tailwind on my commute home and it was a nice, steady one. I broke the old record for my ride home by three minutes and it felt amazing. Thanks tailwind, come back again soon.

Then, of course, today decided to be exciting as well. My morning commute started out great, with the temperature hovering around freezing. I was enjoying the crisp air. As I was going down the hill out of town, at about 25 mph, I looked up to take in the night sky.

Ahh, so beautiful!

Suddenly, my bike lurched and flew, awkwardly, over some large obstacle. We landed, miraculously upright, with a sickening, startling thud. I checked over everything mentally.

“The bike’s okay, I’m okay. I think we made it.”

Thud, thud, thud.

“Nope, the tire didn’t make it.”

So I switched out tubes carefully, but also as fast as I could in the darkness. Then I jumped back on and set off, speeding down the road as fast as I could to make up for lost time. No more looking toward the sky on this ride! I made it to work ten minutes late but I had so much adrenalin that I quickly made up for lost time. It wasn’t until I got out of work that I noticed that my little morning escapade had broken the plastic reflector on my rear wheel.

On my commute home nothing “exciting” happened. But the weather was perfection. I had a tailwind for the second day in a row and the temperature was fifty degrees. I don’t really understand it, but weather like this does stuff to me. I feel like a newborn lamb in spring-I just want to frolic and dance. Frolicking and dancing while pedaling a bike is hard, but I managed as best as I could.

A chill that lasts all day.

The month of October has arrived!DSC01357

And I couldn’t ask for more perfect weather to start off the month. For the first time since spring, when I woke up this morning it was chilly and it kept that edge of cold all day long even though the sun came out. There is one way and only one way to celebrate weather as spectacular as this-to spend as much time outdoors as possible.

First, I hung out with one of my little friends. We went and played at a wonderful wildlife center that is a stone’s throw from his house. We sang songs, looked for animals and took lots of pictures. For a not-quite three year old, his photography skills are impressive. (The first two are his.)DSC01279DSC01274DSC01270DSC01329DSC01336DSC01289DSC01325

It brought back fond memories to come here. The last picture above, of the water, shows the spot where my grandparents used to take me and my older brother. My brother and my grandpa would fish and my grandma and I would walk around the pond talking about anything and everything. It is one of the few memories I have of my grandpa before he died and it is a wonderful, happy one.

When my little friend’s mom got back home, I went for a bike ride. I went straight into a headwind for the first half of the ride and then enjoyed the wind on my way back. I forgot how great is it to bike in the sun without the temperature actually getting warm. I got home after 25 miles feeling pumped. I feel mean saying this because I know the majority of people prefer the heat, but, from here on out the weather is only gonna get better!