Forty-eight Hours in Ulaanbaatar

Two mornings ago, Bekah and I flew in to the Chinggis Khaan International Airport and disembarked, breathing in the crisp, dry air. Our visit in Mongolia’s capital city has been a whirlwind since then; involving a staggering amount of jet lag, inordinate amounts of sleep to ease the aforementioned jet lag, the assembly of the bicycles, a trip to several stores to collect the last of our supplies, eating the best Korean food I’ve ever had and planning and downloading the rest of our proposed route.

These events have all been brightened by friendly and helpful people. Even when there was a language barrier, they were willing to go out of their way to help us out. Obviously, I can’t draw any sort of conclusions from the meager amount of time we have spent here but so far my experience in this city of 1.3 million people has been overwhelmingly positive. The staff at the hostel cautioned us about the traffic, mentioning that Mongolian drivers are unused to dealing with bicycles, but so far they seem completely fine to me!

But the time has come to head out of this unique city and into the Mongolian countryside. And what a countryside it is! With the exception of several remote islands, Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world. This fills me with varying emotions. On the one hand I am so thrilled to explore the vast expanse this country has to offer, but on the other hand I keep questioning myself: do I really have what it takes to be here and have I really planned enough for this crazy adventure?

I guess it is time to find out.

You can find a link to our tentative route on the Mongolia Tour page.

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Cycling Adventures in Beautiful Brazil

When I left the United States on January 18th, I had a plan. A simple plan.

  • Buy a bike in Ji-Parana.
  • Buy a turbo trainer so that I could use the bike effectively in a small village.
  • Take the bike and trainer to the village.

Buying a bike was simple. Thank you, Streetbike! Finding any sort of bike trainer, however, proved to be impossible. My sister and I had visited every bicycle shop in Ji-Parana and they had all told us they had no turbo trainers. But the last bike shop, Palace of Bicycles, held out a beacon of hope. They did not have a turbo trainer, but they were sure one of the other shops did. So the super helpful lady at Palace of Bicycles picked up the phone to call the other bicycle shop. She had a bit of trouble convincing the folks at the shop that they did indeed have a trainer, but with her persuasion they decided to take a look around. Sure enough, they soon found it hanging on the wall, in plain sight.

I was in business at last!

Once we made it out of the city, over six hours of bumpy red dirt roads and across a river, we made it to the village and to my sister’s small thatched roofed home. I set up my bike on the hard dirt floor and then it was time to ride!

I had never ridden a bike on a trainer before. I had certainly never ridden a bike in such humid heat before. Let me tell you that this distinct combo of bike trainer and humid heat produces an amount of sweat that is extremely overwhelming and absolutely disgusting. I had rivers of sweat running down my arms and dripping merrily onto the dry dirt floor! Dabbing the sweat away with a towel helped temporarily but once a few seconds passed my arms became the Rio de Sweat once more.

As I kept riding the trainer every day, I soon grew accustomed to my new cycling (aka sweating) regimen. I was quite pleased with my bike/trainer setup. But the children in the village were not only pleased by my shiny red and black bicycle, they were enthralled! All of them took at least one turn pushing the pedals. Two of the girls, however, made it part of their daily routine to gleefully ride my little bikey. And once they discovered that three girls could ride on the bike-all at the same time-they realized my bike was way cooler then I was! Is there anything more joyful then three little friends giggling on a bike?

I had to leave the jungle and my newfound friends far too soon. But my Brazilian bicycle adventures were far from over, there were many more memories to make in the last ten days while I was in Ji-Parana.

In Ji-Parana, I rode my bike “for real”, without the turbo trainer, for the first time in ten weeks. I felt so giddy to be riding down a road with beautiful fields on both sides and with the wind, the glorious wind in my face. The traffic on the road was light and the cars gave me a respectful berth. But at the very end of my ride, something happened that shook me to my core.

I saw a dog. I thought the dog hadn’t seen me, so I kept riding past, unperturbed. Somehow that single dog multiplied suddenly into a pack of three dogs, all lean and fast. I sprinted with all my might, with my vulnerable legs only inches away from a dog’s leering teeth. Foolishly, I had provided myself with no protection for such a scenario, even my water bottle was tucked into the bag on my back. I screamed,”NO!!!” at the top of my voice, but the dogs didn’t even flinch.

There was no way out but through. I went for it, accelerating like my life depended on it. My life didn’t depend on it, of course, but my left leg sure did. The triumph of leaving a pack of athletic dogs in the dust was soon mine and once I could breathe again, I looked up to see three guys leaning on their motorcycles, laughing at me! What to me had been a narrow escape and glorious victory, had been to them the unexpected sight of a screaming girl weaving her way amongst three canines. Feeling that my version of the event was more justified, I plastered on a huge smile that hopefully said, “I was totally in control of the situation and bested those fierce beasts” as I passed them by.

On the rest of the ride I berated myself. Free roaming dogs in Brazil aren’t aggressive, they just like to chase things. If I had slowed down to a boring pace when I first saw that dog, my legs would not have been put in such peril. Lesson learned. I decided to continue riding the same route in the days to come to make sure I got over my fear and could put my new plan into action.

And it was on that very same road that I met a group of cyclists out for a ride. I couldn’t help myself, I had to go talk to them! They were very friendly and although I could barely communicate with them, camaraderie among cyclists crosses language barriers and we had a great ride together. I even tried to tell my dog story to one of them in very, very broken Portuguese. One of the cyclists did speak English and he told me of his travels which have taken him all over, even to New York City. It was a wonderful experience and I even got invited to come back and ride again sometime!

Two of the group cyclist’s photos are courtesy of Salles, who shared them with me!

What made my time cycling in Brazil really special were all the rides my sister and I went on together. Most of them were shorter rides, running errands all over Ji-Parana, but on two occasions we left the city behind and enjoyed a quieter, more rural road. I might have even been lulled into thinking we were back in Lewis County together if it weren’t for the tropical trees and pairs of macaws flying overhead.

As I leave Brazil, I bid a sorrowful goodbye to this beautiful country and it’s wonderful, friendly people, but most of all to my dear sister. It is hard to be excited about returning to the United States even though a bike adventure, more thrilling then I ever dreamed, is right around the corner. It’s time for me and a friend to go on a bike tour. It’s time for Mongolia!

Sunshine, Wind and Flowers

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Everything is bursting to life around here. Birds are building nests and laying eggs, new flowers popping up in every yard, the grass is a brilliant hue of green and the trees are beginning to bud. The world seems frantically alive with sounds, smells and vibrant colors.

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Other than a light rain this morning we have had eleven solid days of sunshine. My weird cyclist tan lines are coming out of hiding and starting to provoke comments once again.

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Squint and you’ll miss it…the beginning of the wonderful glove tan line.

But probably the most bizarre thing about having so many sunny, dry days in a row is that I haven’t washed my bike in forever! After getting into a steady routine of cleaning my winter bike every single day, the lack of maintenance currently needed is rather off putting. I carry my bike up the stairs after a good ride and stare in surprise as I realize that once again, she is completely clean.

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It has been so dry that Smoky the Bear is out in full force to warn of forest fires.

The wind has been active lately but I have stumbled upon a routine for my rides that makes the wind enjoyable rather than oppressive. I used to ride a lot of loops on my days off, but this spring I have found out and back routes to be even better.

I check the wind direction and then choose a road that will take me directly into its path. After riding into the wind as far as time and/or interest allow, I turn around and head home. It is an intoxicating feeling to have the wind suddenly at my back. The air seems to go still and there is a voice in my head that says, “GO!”

I have realized something about myself. It is easy for me to be motivated to ride my bike. But it is much harder to be motivated to ride my bike fast. I often slow down whenever the going gets rough to give my legs and lungs a break.

But with a tailwind?

I don’t know exactly why, but I can often push past the point of discomfort. I think my brain gets so excited with how fast my bike is going with the help of the wind that it forgets to complain. So I go as hard as I can and it is incredible. I have never been the thrill-seeker type so bombing down hills on my bike gives me a rare glimpse into the world of the adrenaline rush.

My brother and I rode together yesterday (we leave for Colorado in less than a month so we have been trying to ride as much as possible lately)  and it was the best fun to feel the wind’s power together. We came back home feeling like epic beasts.

91 Miles of Good Fun

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Today turned out to be one of those lovely days when I don’t have much planned and there is time to take a long, leisurely bike ride. Awhile back I promised a hill that I would come back and climb it someday, so I set out this morning, just before dawn to fulfill that promise. (As we all know, oaths sworn to hills are legally binding.)

Weather-wise, the day creepily mirrored Dan’s ride from yesterday. There was a light layer of snow on the ground when I left the house and the temperature was in the mid 20’s. I had the best seat in the house to watch the sun rise. As I climbed along a ridge up out of the valley where I live, to my left I watched as the sun rose over the Adirondack Mountains. It was beautiful.

The thoughts rolling around in my head were not so beautiful. My scaredy-cat side was out in full force, masquerading as common sense. I was going into this ride with two issues:  stiff legs and a minor saddle sore, and part of me wanted to abort my mission and head for home.

But deep down, I really wanted a day out on my bike so I set out to manage these nagging issues as best as I could. I have found the best way for me to get my legs feeling better is to drop down into a ridiculously low gear and just spin it out. And sure enough, 20 miles down the road my muscles decided to get back in the game. The saddle sore was similarly compliant, with a good dosage of cream it stayed calm throughout the entire ride.

It is weird what games my mind will play on me to try to keep me from doing what I have set out to do.

The miles flew by and before I knew it, I was sailing down the hill into the city of Rome. I stopped at Fort Stanwix and meandered about a bit, but I couldn’t really find anything more exciting than biking to do.

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Now it was time to go back toward home and face the hill. It turned out much smaller than I thought it would be, I got in a good rhythm and had almost made it to the top when I had to stop.

It wasn’t because my legs were unwilling to climb any longer. Not this time. It was because an Australian shepherd mix had decided he didn’t want me to climb any longer. He dashed over and staked out the shoulder of the road as his personal territory, barking furiously at me if I dared move an inch.

There was a time when I was bold in the face of any dog but since being viciously attacked a few summers ago, I err on the side of caution (and fear). Grabbing a granola bar, I attempted to appease the creature who was staring me down with fierce blue eyes. Just as I was starting to despair, a gentleman pulled his car over and chased the dog away for me. I was very grateful indeed, although I felt quite silly for not being able to handle the situation myself. Next time, I will be braver…hopefully.

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The rest of the ride home was calm and peaceful, I love it when an hour or two slips away while steadily pedaling. The only part of the ride that wasn’t calm and peaceful was discovering my favorite downhill section of road ever. Technically, this hill is smaller than the one going into the city of Rome but because of the gradient and great road conditions, I was really able to fly down the slope. For those few minutes I felt like a bizarre hybrid animal, a cross between a charging rhinoceros and a soaring eagle.

I know I said this the last time I rode this route but I am going to repeat myself…I have to bike this way again soon!

 

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.

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.