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!”

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.

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.

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.

The Snow and The Missing Dog

We are only two days into 2016 and already it has managed to be an adventure!

winter stormA good amount of snow fell yesterday so I had the chance to do one of my favorite things-bike through a silent, snow covered woods. The new year couldn’t have started out much better than that.

I am typically a very cautious bike handler-I avoid anything that puts me in danger of falling like the plague.

But when I am alone in the woods, sheltered by the trees, I feel bold enough to go beyond my normal comfort zone. It must be the thick layer of snow, making the ground seem closer and softer in case of a crash. Every time I get a chance to ride in a snowy forest, I leave with a better understanding of how to handle my bike.

That is not why I bike in the woods though. I bike in the woods because it is a blast!winter berries

We got even more snow overnight, I saw lots of snowplows on my commute this morning. When my shift was over, the coworker who was taking over for me mentioned that her red lab, Brady, had gone missing that morning. She asked me to keep an eye out for him on my way home.

As a fellow dog lover, my heart sank. There is nothing worse than not knowing where your dog might have run off to.

But I had a hunch.

If I were a dog, exploring the world by myself for the day, I would head over to visit the free-spirited, bold animals that reside on Fence Fail Farm. Who knows? They might even share a few valuable tips from their years of experience as escape artists to a fellow escapee.biking by the stream

I didn’t have a lot of faith in my theory, because my coworker lives a mile or two away from Fence Fail Farm, but as I pedaled slowly past the farm, I carefully scrutinized each dog on the property. The two border collies, a beagle, a non-descript hound…

…and a red Labrador.

I chuckled and called my coworker. Then I tried to coax Brady over, but he was clearly enjoying his newfound freedom and was not interested in leaving his new friends. Even bribing him with my emergency stash of energy bars didn’t work. He gobbled one chunk of Clif bar that I tossed his way but he didn’t seem too enthused about the taste. Maybe peanut butter flavored bars would have been more alluring!

My coworker’s husband soon came in his truck to pick up the wayward canine and once the pair were reunited, I went on my way.

Biking commuting has so many benefits, but I never expected finding a lost dog to be one of them.

0% Chance of Snow

snow on my commuteWhen I checked the weather before heading to work this morning, the forecast said there was no chance of snow. But before I had even finished my ride to work, snowflakes were flying through the air.

It continued to snow off and on all morning.

My boss came in and was wiping her snowy shoes on the doormat.

“It wasn’t supposed to snow today!”
She exclaimed.

Then she looked me right in the eye.

“Don’t look so happy about it, Bri!”

But I couldn’t help myself, I was excited to see a bit of snow covering the ground. My boss shouldn’t be sad for long however, because the meteorologists are predicting rain tomorrow afternoon. Secretly, I am hoping they will be wrong again and the rain will turn out to be more snow. Don’t tell my boss.

winter cycling glovesIn other news, I wore one of my Christmas presents on the way to and from work today. My parents gave me Borealis winter gloves from Planet Bike and I had to try them out. The temperature hovered around 20 degrees and I had a stiff headwind in the morning. Even though I just used the outer shell, my hands stayed wonderfully warm and super cozy. Niceness.

If I am loopy, I blame the chemicals.

Shammah in snow

I don’t know who is more excited about the snow, me or my dogs.

After bidding my dogs farewell this morning, I carried my bike down the stairs and out into the snow.

 

Locking my door behind me, I set out down the road. The streets in town were covered by a few inches of snow and it was still snowing steadily. When I hit the main road, I found that it was well cleared and I was able to make good time, giving me the freedom to explore a few trails along the way to work.

It was a great ride but I did make a grave mistake, I pulled my water bottle from it’s cage and unthinking, put it to my lips.

Yuck!

All the salt and who knows what chemicals from the road had coated the outside of the bottle, including the nozzle. From the sloppy state of the roads I should have known that would have happened. I cleaned my mouth out as best as I could. Now if my body corrodes from the inside out, at least I will know why!

I arrived at work feeling ready to tackle the day, although I must admit it was hard to be stuck at work when I knew that there was fresh new snow outside.

But finally I cooked one last meal and my shift was done. I scurried around quite comically, until at last I was suited up and ready to face the cold again.

Everywhere I looked there was beautiful snow and the closer to home I rode, the deeper the snow became. Passing snow plow drivers waved at me and suddenly it felt like no time had passed since last winter. Everything clicked into place and I felt so happy and light, like I was back where I belonged. Don’t get me wrong, I had so much fun during the spring, summer and fall…

…but winter will always be a special season to me.

 

The Waving Issue

DSC01983

Look! My best picture of a deer yet! You can almost see the deer in this one.

This morning I was busy at work cooking breakfast and minding my own business, when a short man barged into the kitchen, past the swinging doors that are clearly marked, “Employees Only”. Startled, I turned toward him as he said in a loud voice that echoed through the kitchen,

“I waved to you yesterday when you were biking but you didn’t wave back!”

I smiled. If I collected a penny every time someone came up to me and said this, I would probably be able to use my winnings to buy a candy bar at a convenience store. However, this is the first time anyone has ever stormed the kitchen to tell me.

I would love to be the friendly cyclist who waves to everyone who waves to me, but it really is quite the daunting task. I would have to stare deeply past the windshield of every passing vehicle to monitor whether the driver was waving or not. And cars go by so fast! Also, I must admit, though I try to remain aware of cars to stay safe, my focus while biking is elsewhere.

I am riding past funny animals and beautiful trees and flowing rivers and puffy clouds and corn fields, which I find more interesting to look at then cars driving down a road. People who are outside, working on their lawns are much easier to smile and wave to then people in a speeding car.

But I have a solution for the customer who came back into the kitchen to tease me this morning.

“Ride a bike and I promise I will wave to you every time I see you on the road.”