A Tiny Treasure in the Snow

new snowLast night when I checked the weather before going to bed 1-3 inches of snow was predicted.

When I started biking to work there was a touch of snow covering the side streets in town. But then winter went wild and suddenly I was in the middle of an all-out snowstorm. The temperature was close to freezing so the snowflakes were gigantic and heavy. Just beautiful.

Visibility was very low, but at this time in the morning no one is on the roads, so it really isn’t a problem as long as I am careful. I wasn’t all alone out the storm, however, I startled a group of three deer and they scrambled across the road in front of me.

Their hooves slid on the slippery pavement, leaving behind odd slashes in the snow. I guess bikes and cars are not the only ones to need studs on the road in winter.

Throughout my ride, I kept my ears tuned to listen for a snowplow. I figured one would come by and clear the rapidly increasing layer of heavy snow. But a snowplow never came and the closer I got to the restaurant, the deeper the snow became and the slower I trudged along. But I made it to work in the nick of time, albeit rather sweaty.

The storm was long gone by the time I rode home, but it had left behind over a foot of snow. The sun was shining on a landscape that had been entirely reinvented. Everywhere I looked, I could see sparkling, perfect snow. This route, that I have ridden hundreds of times in the past few years, felt like a new road that I had just started exploring.

The only problem with the road is that the snowplows had done their work and it was completely and utterly clear of snow. And the short trails that I can normally take on the way home were completely impassable on my bike because of the deep snow. It is no good to just look at pretty, new snow-snow is meant to be played in!birdbox in snow

So I stopped at a trail and pranced around in the snow for a bit, exploring the woods. In the middle of my wanderings, I found a tiny treasure in the snow. Amidst dead, prickly vines and brown fruit I discovered a single red fruit (I don’t have the slightest idea what kind of fruit or berry it is) peeking out in the sunlight. It was just a small blob of color in a sea of snow, but it made me smile.red blob

Bicycle Time Travel

trail ridingThis weekend was bright and sunny, a weird contrast to the severe storm the East coast experienced. It was also cold; Saturday and Sunday morning both began with subzero temperatures.

I was a bit unnerved by the fact that the last time we had subzero weather my freehub decided to give out on me. Doug from Four Season Cycling had assured me that nothing was wrong with the freehub, it just needed new, more suitable grease. With guidance from my dad and this video, I had flushed the old grease out and regreased the hub, hoping that my problem was solved.

Everything ran smoothly on my commute Saturday morning  with the temperature at -4. When I woke up Sunday morning it was -9 outside. Usually I just ride straight to church, which is just a mile up the road, but I wanted to test my bike out to make sure everything was working properly. So I left my house before sunrise to ride in the coldest temperatures possible. I didn’t do this to have fun, I was on a serious ride to test out my bicycle, I don’t think I even cracked a smile…

…Well, until I found a trail to ride through the woods.

The bike worked perfectly in the cold which made the trail even more fun to ride. Once I was back on the road, I saw an Amish buggy turning onto the same country lane that led to my church. Without hesitation, I turned onto the road behind it, but as I was doing so, I saw another Amish buggy turning behind me.

The next few seconds were comical as Amish folks seemed to pop up in every direction.

There were buggies coming from the right.
And the left.
There were groups of Amish ladies walking on the road dressed in black capes.
And also groups of boys and girls.

I found myself smack dab in the middle of the Amish community as they made their way to a family’s home for church!

For a few minutes, I felt like I had been transported back in time to early colonial America. Then we (meaning the procession of Amish folks and a lone cyclist) came to the farmhouse where the service was quite obviously being held.

The barnyard was full of Amish men who bustling about, talking and getting their horses situated. Well, they had been bustling about, but when they saw me, everything slowed to a halt.

With a bright colored jacket and blinking red lights, I supposed I stood out from the somber, dark tones of their community.

Suddenly, I felt like I was intruding on something very private. I did the only thing I could do, I waved awkwardly and gave a faint, “Hello”. Several of the men gave a jolly wave in return, which smoothed things over a bit, although I did see an elderly man with gray whiskers and twinkling eyes looking at me and laughing quite heartily.

My Pastor laughed quite loudly as well when I recounted my tale. I guess some test rides aren’t destined to be serious.

church

This church is the prettiest one in town, which explains why I took pictures of it during sunrise and not my own church….

Stopped by the Ice

ice 2My ride home from work today was aided by a rare beast: the tailwind. It is about time, he seems to avoid me as much as he can when I am pedaling home after work.

The roads were clear and I was setting a good pace. I was excited about the possibility of arriving at my apartment earlier than normal.

As I crossed the river, with four miles left to go, I noticed something cool (as in actually cool) in the trees.

It was ice. Big slabs of ice.

The receding water had left ice shelves in the swamp area near the river. I had to check it out.

Leaving my bike leaning against the guard rail, I scrambled down the bank, approaching the frozen swamp with caution. Was it really as frozen as it appeared or would it crack under my weight?

Then I realized the water had already receded, the only thing underneath the ice was shallow pockets of air. Emboldened, I stepped onto the ice and found it to be as firm as a concrete floor. I walked around on the icy, snow covered surface; looking at the tiny footprints left by woodland creatures and snapping photos of the stunning ice shelves. Some looked like tiny caves and others looked like tables. It is in these moments that I wish I knew how to take better pictures and/or had invested in a better camera. I want to remember how wonderful these unique ice sculptures really were!ice 1ice 5ice 3ice 4

As I headed back up to the road, I saw a man striding from my bike back to his car. I suppose he stopped to see if the abandoned bicycle was a sign of a human in distress, but once he saw me returning from my swamp wandering, he figured I was okay.

By the time I reached town, the sun was beginning to set. I arrived at my apartment much later than I had originally anticipated with a huge smile on my face. That is the magic of biking in winter, it slows me down but in the process it gives me memories I hope I will never forget.

How long does it take a cautious person to learn how to ride no-handed?

Winter riverFourteen months ago, I started this blog. Back then, I had no bike handling savvy whatsoever. But then winter came and it taught me some valuable lessons. I learned how to ride in snow and more importantly how keep my body relaxed even in tense situations.

In the spring I bought my road bike and the  first thing I had to learn was how to wrangle my water bottle in and out of it’s cage without falling over in a heap. (Not to mention the struggle of actually drinking water while on the move.)

It took some time, but I did get very comfortable riding one-handed. Logically, the next step was teaching myself to ride without using either hand for balance. I practiced, and practiced and practiced this skill over the summer without ever mastering it.

One day I happened to watch a video online and it mentioned getting comfortable having either hand off the handlebars before progressing to no hands at all. Ah ha! I had been solely using my right hand to retrieve my water bottle, while my dominant left hand steadied the bike.

So I took time to get comfortable with taking my left hand off the bars for extended periods of time. By now it was late fall and I switched to using my mountain bike. For some reason, I found the mountain bike even harder to balance no-handed than my road bike.

On a rainy day, my handlebar covers started sliding off. For whatever reason I grabbed the squishy ends. It was perfect! The flexible ends of the handlebar covers gave me enough control over the bike to assure my cautious side that I was safe, but still forced me to balance the bike using my body. I became more confident taking my hands off the bars but I was still unable to jump over the hurdle of guiding my bike without any hands; I only rode no-handed when I could keep a perfectly straight line.

Until today that is.

This morning was bright, sunny and cold; one of those days when I decide that winter should never, ever end. As a bonus, there was a slight tailwind helping me out as I pedaled down the road.  I was singing and my hands wouldn’t stay still. At one point I realized that my hands had not been on the handlebars for a long time and that my weight was balanced perfectly over the bicycle without them.

It had clicked!

For the rest of the ride I giggled uncontrollably every time I took my hands off and guided my bike without them. I may or may not have squealed at the top of my lungs,

“I am actually doing it!!!”

After working so long on this skill, having it finally come together feels absolutely magical.

 

 

Blood, sweat and (no) tears

My day started out perfectly. I checked the weather, put on my biking clothes, walked the dogs and ready to head out the door, I started to clip my pannier on my bike rack.

That’s when it all went wrong.

I noticed my bike bounced oddly while I was adjusting the pannier cord. With a sinking heart, I grabbed the rear tire and sure enough it was very soft indeed.

There was no time to waste. I took the wheel off my bike and pulled out the tube. I pumped it up but I failed to find any hiss of wayward air. I checked the tire for any sharp objects, but there were none.

I figured my tube had a slow leak, if I pumped it up well I would make it to work and then I could worry about fixing it later. But once the tube was inside the tire once more, I could not get the pressure above 30 psi. Weird.

So I tried to locate the leak all over again, dunking the tube in a sink full of water. But there were no bubbles-anywhere!

“I am going mad.”

I thought to myself.

“I must have put the valve in the pump wrong…or something.”

The tube went back on the rim, this time it was going to work. I knew it.

But once again the air hissed out as fast as I could pump it up. I was running out of precious time. Was it time to call someone with a vehicle to rescue me?

bar mitts

This is even a time trial bike, because bar mitts and aero bars are the same thing! I think…

 

I have a stubborn streak when it comes to riding in cars, they are always my last resort so I wracked my brain. Surely there was a way out of this mess. Finally, an idea hit me. I could use the rear wheel off my sister’s bike because her rim allows for schrader valves and I had several tubes with schrader valves lying around. I frantically got a tire and tube on the rim, pumped it full of air and then wrestled the wheel onto the frame on my bike. While I was maneuvering the wheel onto my bike, my hand got pinched. My reflexes kicked in and I yanked my hand free.

Blood, nice.

One way or another I managed to get out the door only 30 minutes late.

Now was my chance to make up for lost time. Usually my ride to work is a calm affair with steady pedaling on an easy gear. But today I approached my commute as a ten mile time trial, that I had to win.

I was focused on keeping my cadence as high as I possibly could but while I climbed a large hill, my pedals locked up. I hopped off the bike and flipped my headlight backwards expecting the worst. Mind racing, I inspected the derailleur. The chain was stuck behind the gears and a few violent tugs set it free. We were back in business. I called my coworker to let her know that I would be late, in case she started to wonder what had happened to me.

The rest of the ride was a blur and as I came to the final stretch I sprinted as hard I could, this was a time trial after all!

I stepped into the restaurant six minutes late. Technically, I lost the race but as I walked to the bathroom to clean off the sweat and grime, I was startled when I realized that the most prominent thought in my mind was,

“That was kinda fun!”

Next time though, if I have any say in the matter, I would prefer to skip the bleeding part.

But I want to stay in bed…

The past few days have been tough for me emotionally. This morning when my alarm went off I didn’t want to get out of bed. At all.

But I can be a sneaky person. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t feel like doing much today, so last night I called up my sister-in-law and told her I would come up for a visit in the morning. I was stuck. Even though I felt like staying home all day and doing nothing, I dragged myself out the door and onto my bike.

As I headed out of town and started climbing hills I met a wicked crosswind that blew soft new snow everywhere. Guess what that means?

snow dunes

Snow dunes!

This bike ride was starting to seem like a brilliant plan. There is nothing I love better than wildly destroying snow drifts that dare to place themselves within my reach. Mile after mile I grinned as I saw new stretches of pristine dunes begging for me to plow through them.

After decimating all the innocent mounds of snow that I could possibly find, I arrived at my sister-in-law’s home. Entering her house is one of the best things ever, because my two nieces and two nephews always greet me with heartwarming excitement. We had a lot of fun together and I even was able to take them outside which was wonderful. I love playing in the snow with little ones!

Mid-afternoon, after eating a few chocolate cookies (my sister-in-law’s cookies are the best ever) I had to leave and they waved out the window as I started biking down the road. It was snowing very hard, but the wind had died down. Massive flakes floated silently to the ground. Snow is always beautiful, but these extra-fluffy, extra-big snowflakes made my ride home something special. farm in snow

I did end up crying during the ride, however. Yesterday, my older sister left the country and she won’t be back for three years. I am very excited and happy for her, but man, it really hit me today how much I am going to miss her! Being able to spend time with her for the past six months has been so wonderful, it is hard to say goodbye.

But I can’t stay too morose when I out on a bike ride. When I see the beautiful world all around me, I remember that God, who created it all, is with me. His love will help me through any sadness and hardship, no matter how big or small.

By the time I reached home, darkness had fallen. A sense of joy swept over me, the day had been full of precious moments and big smiles. I am glad I decided to get out of bed.

Thumbs Up

Bike at work

Arriving at work

It rained Saturday and Sunday, making all of our snow disappear. When I went to bed last night the wind was howling and rain was pounding on my window.

The morning brought a whole new world. The temperature had dropped, transforming the rain into soft, fluffy flakes of snow. My ride to work was beautiful-for the first time this winter I got to bike through a snowstorm in the dark.

Riding through the falling snow under a black sky was incredible. I just wanted to stare into the millions of snowflakes as they whirled and danced gently to the ground, but I managed to keep most of my attention on the road since sliding into a ditch is not ideal.

My world was small, out on that road. It consisted of only two things: the snow on the ground and the snow in the air. What a wonderful world to be in!

I know that I can pray to God anytime and anywhere, but out in a snowstorm like this I can feel His presence so close to me. It is one of my favorite times to talk to God, out in the peaceful splendor of whirling snow.

A fox tiptoed daintily across the road, leaving tiny footprints. I wondered if he was commuting as well, or just out enjoying the weather.

It was favorite commute so far in 2016 and I arrived at the restaurant pumped and ready to work hard.

But I didn’t end up working very hard. All the local schools had a snow day and many business were closed as well, so my boss decided to shut down at 9:30. Then came the exciting part; getting my boss’s car that had become engulfed by a giant pile of snow, onto the road. It took a lot of shoveling to dig the poor thing out. Then I stood on the road and made sure it was all-clear before giving my boss the go ahead. She zoomed up the small incline though the deep snow and onto the road.

car in snow 2

This is my boss’s car, after four hours of being in the parking lot

Then I went to the shed, took out my bike and simply carried it to the road. Using a bike for transportation in the winter comes with perks!

Going home took a long time. The road hadn’t been plowed for a while and the visibility was terrible. Not wanting to take any chances, I clung to the right side of the road, out of the reach of the cars.the road home

Over the course of my ten mile journey, I spotted three vehicles that had slid off the road. I asked one guy if he wanted help (he had help on the way) but the other two cars were so stuck that they had been abandoned.

brown river

The rain created a lot of run off, turning this stream into a nasty brown river

One guy, in a beat-up pickup, told me to get off the road, even though I was already on the shoulder and completely out of his way. Maybe he actually said, “Your lights are cool.”

While I was biking through town a guy shoveling snow saw me and nudged his buddy.

“How’s the ride?” He asked.

I grinned and gave him a thumbs up.