The Lowest Temperature Ever Recorded

snow covered railroad tracksLike many (perhaps all?) cyclists I am obsessed with the weather and I scrutinize the forecast at least several times a day. It is how I always begin and often end my day.

This morning was no different. When the alarm started ringing at 3:22, I rolled out of bed and dragged myself over to my laptop to see what type of weather I would be dealing with on my commute.

Sometimes when I check the weather I am thrilled by what I see, other times I am disappointed and occasionally what I see makes me quake in my boots. But this morning was the first time that the weather report made me laugh.

Still half-asleep, I had glanced at the temperature that my local weather station was reporting.

-9999.0

Yikes, that is kinda cold! I decided I should either put on all of the clothes that exist in the world before venturing outside, or refresh the webpage. While I was refreshing the page a few times, the weather station apparently experienced a heat wave and began reporting 16F. Sixteen degrees is downright balmy after that type of cold! So either my town set a record for the lowest temperature ever or there was a slight glitch in the system. Personally, I think we set a record.

After that interesting start to the morning, I had a funny feeling about how the rest of the day would be. But it was a great day. It snowed during my ride to work, great big fluffy flakes-my favorite, and then it was brilliantly sunny on the way home, making the new snow sparkle like diamonds.

 

My bike feels like new!

snowbikingMy bottom bracket had been showing signs of premature aging (pedals aren’t meant to wiggle, right?) so last week I went up to my parent’s house to put in a new one. My dad was still at work but he told me to go ahead and take the cranks off.

“But I don’t think I can take them off by myself, I don’t remember how!” I sputtered.

He reassured me that I was quite capable of taking them off without him. So I dug around in the toolbox and found what I thought were the right tools and timidly set to work. But these cranks didn’t take my gentle suggestions very kindly. I had to unscrew those bolt using all of the strength I could muster, hoping that I was unscrewing them properly.

It took me a lot of huffing and puffing but eventually I was triumphant and both crank arms came off. I felt ridiculously proud of my accomplishment; my dad had been right after all.

bike crank arm

It actually came off!

 

Having a dad who is always willing to coach me through bike repairs is the best things a non-mechanically minded cyclist could ask for. He has a knack for pushing me beyond the limits of what I think I can do but also being there to help out with the stuff I can’t do yet.

And one thing that I quickly discovered that I couldn’t do on my own was to take out the bottom bracket. Even after my dad made it home the bottom bracket didn’t want to come out. But eventually, after working on it for a good thirty minutes, maybe even closer to forty five minutes, we were able to get it loose. (I say we, but really my dad did all the muscle work while I held the bike still.) Then I cleaned up inside the frame and we put the brand-new shiny bracket in. Don’t worry, thanks to salt, I am sure it won’t be shiny for long.

bike bottom bracket

Poor old thing

 

I also got new brake pads, which I installed today despite a strict warning on the package that said…

“Fitting and adjustment should be undertaken by a qualified mechanic.”

Slowly, ever so slowly, I am getting comfortable with working on my bike. I am starting to understand how different parts work and much to my surprise, actually enjoying the process. I can’t thank my dad enough for giving me a helping hand.

When the Snow Smiles Back

ice walls with bikeSnow makes me smile all the time. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day it would smile back.

On my commuting route there is a stretch of flat road that follows the river. For some reason or another, the majority of the exciting experiences I have while commuting happen on this section of road. (Personally, I think it is because the river is magical.)

Monday afternoon I was biking calmly toward home, wrapped up in my own little world when I came to this stretch of road.

Suddenly, I realized that today I was not the only one hanging out of the shoulder of the road.

There were hundreds of smiley faces inhabiting the asphalt. Salt from the plow trucks combined with the weather conditions had created an entire community of smiling snow patches.DSC02465

DSC02464DSC02466Not every face was a perfect representative of the classic smiley face, but the vast majority had an uncanny likeness.

I couldn’t contain my own smile for the next mile of my commute. How could I? There were little faces peering up and grinning right at me!

The next time someone asks me why I bike through the winter, I will just tell them,

“If I didn’t bike, I would miss out on the smiley faces!”

Record smashing

Last winter, I began biking year round. I was determined to conquer the snow and cold and I will admit, it was scary at first. It took time to learn how to deal with riding in freezing weather and my beginning attempt was slightly disastrous. But I got the hang of it and by the end of winter I had successfully ridden in -18F.

By the time this winter rolled around I was raring to go. I couldn’t wait for a chance to ride in even colder temperatures and set a new personal best.

But this winter has been a warm one and subzero temperatures have been a rarity. With half of February already past, I had begun to give up hope of having the opportunity to break last year’s record.

Then this weekend a cold front swooped in with the power of a mighty eagle.

When I got out of work on Saturday afternoon, the temperature had fallen to -15. That got me to thinking. What if the temperature continued to drop overnight like it often does? Sure enough, the forecast for Sunday morning was -21.

I went to sleep with butterflies in my stomach, half from apprehension and half from excitement. When morning came I would get my chance, maybe my only chance of the season, to ride in super cold weather. Oh man, was I really ready for this?

Waking up to a cold apartment felt like a good sign. I checked the weather.

-26
And still dropping.

I dressed more carefully then I have ever dressed in my life.

Wool socks.
Base layer.
Thick layer.
Windproof layer.
Boots.
Earmuffs.
Balaclava.
Goggles.
Helmet.
Thin gloves.
Thick gloves.

Once everything was precisely in place I carried my bike down the stairs, locked the door behind me, plunged my hands into my bar mitts and set off down the road.

The first three miles were spent mentally checking and re-checking every part of my body to make sure it was still warm. As faint colors started to appear in the Eastern sky, signaling the beginning of sunrise, I began to relax and enjoy the ride.

I listened to the squeaky sounds of the cold snow under my tires.
I saw comforting puffs of smoke rising from every home.
I smelled the tangy-sweet scent of silage, hay and cows as I passed farms.
I felt the cold air rush in to fill my lungs.

As dawn continued to paint the sky, I began to feel an inexpressible joy come over me. Oh, what a day to be alive! I pedaled on, warm and happy.

Well, mostly warm. Every part of me felt fine, except for my lower back and butt.

They were freezing right off!

I had made a tactical error, one of the layers I was using was too short to provide full coverage and the cold air was seeping right through my jacket. This turn of events was unexpected and slightly amusing. I found that getting out of the saddle to pedal got me feeling warm once more, so I spent the rest of the ride alternating between standing and sitting down.

As I pulled into the parking lot of my church, I felt an overwhelming rush of endorphins and with it complete elation.

Fifteen miles.
In an hour and thirty-five minutes.
At -28F.

Good times.

Winter came back!

DSC02454After a few weeks of mild, spring-like weather, winter has returned with a vengeance. When I got up this morning, the weather station was reporting -6. I rushed around the house getting everything ready to venture out into the cold.

Reinstall bar mitts.
Mount two headlights on the handlebars.
(They run out of charge quickly in the cold.)
Put on a bunch of clothes.

It was a bit of a hectic start to the day, but once I was out on the road surrounded by the peaceful darkness of early morning, time slowed down again. It was a great ride and I stayed warm the whole way, even bordering on too warm.

On the way home, I was trying to hurry and get home at a decent time, but a strong wind prevented me from going at a fast pace. It was frustrating but once I gave up the idea that I was in a rush, the ride became much more enjoyable.

I even listened to my bike when it told me to use a trail. My bike has the best ideas. The trail was great fun to ride, filled with bumpy ice patches and crunchy snow.DSC02459

At the end of the trail, a miniature pinscher charged me, barking furiously, as if I was an alien sent to earth for the sole purpose of abducting his human. Thankfully, his owner was able to convince him that I was not a threat, and my bike and I made it safely back home…

…to our spaceship.

Make it a great day.

DSC02441February is flying by, I can’t believe we have already left the first week of the month behind.

Last week, although it seemed so brief, was a good week for me. I biked 201 miles which is the farthest I have gone in a week since I retired my road bike for the winter. Besides biking, work went well, I was able to spend time with friends and family and I began some projects that I have been putting off for awhile.

Good weeks don’t happen by accident. On January 31st, while I was visiting at my parent’s house, I picked up a book randomly lying around, titled- Coach Wooden: The 7 Principles That Shaped His Life and Will Change Yours and flipped to the middle.

My eyes fell on this quote,

When I was teaching basketball, I urged my players to try their hardest to improve on that very day, to make that practice a masterpiece…It begins by trying to make each day count and knowing you can never make up for a lost day.

Those words drew me into the book and I quickly read through that chapter, which was entitled, “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece”.

Then I came across these words,

“Have a great day” is a passive statement. But “Make it a great day” means that I am in charge of making my day great.

I couldn’t get this principle out of my mind, so every day last week I set out to make that day the best it could be. My goal was to go to bed each night knowing that I had spent my time wisely and done my best for God, for others and for myself.

It was fun thinking of ways to fill each day with meaning and purpose. On the other hand, it was sobering to realize how much of my time I fritter away carelessly. The mornings that I don’t go into work are my main weakness, it can take me a few hours to really get up and moving.

So tonight I am setting out all my bike gear. That way when I wake up in the morning it will be easy to get out the door for an early morning ride and get a jumpstart on the day.

I can’t wait to see the sunrise!

 

The Danger of Hydration

DSC02426Yesterday was a busy day for me. I visited my sister-in-law and my little nieces and nephews and I also went to my brother’s basketball game.

So when I started the morning with an aching brain, I was not very pleased. If there is one thing I absolutely cannot stand, it is the throbbing pain of a headache. There are people I know that live with chronic headaches and migraines, and I simply don’t know how they do it.

Thankfully, I rarely have headaches and when I do have one it can always be traced back to one of three causes: sickness, sleep deprivation or dehydration. I felt healthy and I have been sleeping well so the cause of my headache was surely dehydration. Mild dehydration is pretty easy to fight against.

“Just add water!”

For the rest of the morning and into the early afternoon, I made sure I drank plenty of fluids and sure enough, my nagging headache disappeared.

Then it was time to leave my sister-in-law’s house and ride to my brother’s basketball game. I had only been biking for a few miles when I realized that in my haste to banish my headache, I had overcompensated slightly in my intake of fluids.

For the next thirty miles, I stopped at every convenience store I could find to use their restroom. My habit is to buy something if I stop to use a store’s restroom, it seems only fair. But yesterday, I did duck out of one store without purchasing anything, I guess I will have to go back and make it up to them sometime!

But other than the frequent stops and the misfortune of losing a glove somewhere along the way, the ride was amazing. I have been along this road plenty of times in a car, but this was my first time on a bike. There was a category 3 hill to climb which was exciting to me because although I live in a hilly area, we don’t have many long climbs. There was also a plentiful sprinkling of little rolling hills on this road, which are always fun to go up and down.winter scene

My family and I had a great time watching my brother play, he always seems to have fun on the court and he played well last night. Unfortunately, the game did not go our way and the opposing team won by a single point. Despite the ultimate loss it was a well-fought, exciting game.

Then it was time to head home. I must admit I cheated.

I biked to my brother’s game, but I rode back in the van with my family because they are awesome and willing to give me a free ride when I decide I need to sleep before work. I checked on mapmyride: I climbed 1,644 feet and descended 2,121 feet, so I clearly got the easy end of the deal. There was a category 2 hill right before I reached the school where my brother was playing. I coasted down that hill into the city knowing that I would not have to climb up it that night. Honestly, I felt a bit guilty.

It was a wonderful route to ride so I have made a promise with myself. I will re-ride this route and next time, I will bike home.

New Roads to Ride

horses by the windmillMy life has been busier then normal lately. I had some great bike rides in January but all of them were on familiar roads, mostly for the sake of transportation.

I have been itching to try out a new route and just have a day to meander around the countryside, when I woke up this morning I knew that today was the day.

Finding a route to ride, feeding and walking my dogs, getting all my gear together and eating breakfast seemed to take me forever! It never ceases to amaze me that when I need to leave for work in the morning it only takes me a half hour to get ready but on my days off it can take me a few hours before I finally drag myself out the door.

But eventually I found myself on my bike heading down the road. It was a nice, slightly sunny morning and the temperature was predicted to stay between 25-30 degrees throughout the day.

Within a few miles I was pedaling down country lanes that I have rarely, if ever, been down before. It is great fun to explore new roads, never knowing what will be around the next bend or over the next hill.river 2

After an hour and a half I took a quick stop at a convenience store to have a snack and refill my water bottle. Going back outside, I felt rather chilled and even after ten minutes of biking my body wouldn’t warm up. I hadn’t brought along extra clothes which now seemed like a grave mistake.

“Oh great,” I thought to myself. “You are in a pickle now.”

I pedaled furiously down the road trying to warm up, worrying that the reminder of my ride would be spent with cold toes and freezing fingers. But then I saw the hill. It was a great big old hill and I let out a sigh of relief, there was no way I still feel chilled at the top of that hill!

My route took me through four state forests, where there were trees, trees and more trees. I don’t think I have ever seen so many chipmunks and squirrels in my life, they were everywhere, chattering or darting across the roads. It was so quiet and calm in the woods, a perfect place to think and pray.bike on icy road

After stopping again for a bathroom break and more water, I came across my favorite road of the ride. It was a dirt road covered in ice. My studded tires seemed so delighted to sink their teeth into the icy surface. But then I came to a long downhill stretch of road where the ice was mushy and mixed with mealy snow. My tires could not find anything to grip onto as the bike started to slide feverishly down the hill. I thought I was about careen wildly off the road and crash but I reminded myself…

Relax.
Trust the bike.
Don’t you dare touch the brakes.

Once we were safely at the bottom of the hill, I let out a wild laugh. I could feel the adrenalin rush for the next several miles.

Before long my ride was almost over and I felt tired and happy, having accomplished my mission for the day. It is wonderful to know that there are so many roads in my local area that are just waiting for me to explore them.

How to make people smile in winter. (Unintentionally)

If you happen to see me out biking when the temperature is lower then ten degrees Fahrenheit, there is a good chance that I will be wearing this to keep my face warm and protected.trail riding

This ensemble is composed of a helmet, which is covered by a waterproof shell, a balaclava and a pair of ski goggles. It is a setup that works well for me, it keeps me warm in the coldest temperatures but is breathable enough that my goggles don’t fog up. Thankfully, it is also super comfortable to wear.

There is just one drawback to wearing this: I look quite ridiculous. A glance in the mirror tells me as much, but unfortunately there is overwhelming evidence even aside from my reflection.

First of all, the most common reaction that occurs when I am spotted wearing my winter gear is that people burst into spontaneous giggles. Also, it seems impossible for people to look me in the eye. Instead they seem to focus on my nose and their mouth tends to twitch at the corners while they are talking to me.

Then of course, there are the things people say to me while I quickly putting on or taking off my headgear.

You look like Darth Vader!
But…I am not anyone’s father…

Going to rob a bank?
Yes, I have a speedy getaway vehicle, the cops will never catch me.

Haha, you look like a ninja!
Would a ninja use flashing red lights to be easily seen?

Are you a spy?
Of course not! No way!

You look like you are going skiing.
That’s true.

You look creepy.
I know. Muahahaha!!!

So why am I talking about wearing a balaclava and ski goggles when it is currently 36 degrees outside?

Well, it has been warm for days and will likely be warm all week. I don’t know when it will be cold enough to wear them again and that makes me sad.

Not because I miss my alter-ego self where I appear as a ninja or bank robber that no one can pass on the road without staring at…

…But because I miss cold days and falling snow.

Or maybe I just don’t like the rain and dirt hijacking the roads and making me and my bike look like we survived a sandstorm.