I would be missing out.

Last night my mom called me to tell me when she would swing by to pick me up for my brothers’ basketball game. A little while after we hung up I realized that I didn’t need a ride, this game wasn’t in some far off city, it was in a nearby town that I know well. I think I floored her when I called her back to tell her that I would bike to the game, she still doesn’t understand that I genuinely like to bike places.

It always feels awkward going somewhere dressed to the nines in my biking gear, but I was able to slip into the bathroom quickly and change into normal attire. Holding one of my little nieces during the game was super fun. Watching my brothers lose the game after a valiant first half was not so fun.

After the game I changed back into my somewhat damp outfit and got back on the road. I had not traveled far when a truck pulled over in front of me and a family friend who had watched the game motioned me to stop. He tried to convince me to throw my bike in his pickup.

“It is so cold out. Where are you headed?”

“Just back to my apartment.”

“Ha! That is over 10 miles, let me give you a lift.”

I attempted to pacify him by stating that I was not cold, that I love biking in
winter and that I would be just fine. He was not buying it. His frustration was obvious, why couldn’t I just be a normal person and do normal people things like ride in a car?

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity I was able to bike on. But during my ride I thought about what normal people doing normal people things may miss out on while rushing home in their heated cars.

They miss the clear, black sky with the stars dangling so close to earth.

They miss the happy crunch of studded tires through ice and snow.

They miss a time of calm reflection.

They miss the simple joy of watching the glittering snow.

They miss breathing in the crisp cold air.

They miss the warmth of muscles working together to climb a hill.

They miss the exhilaration of coasting down a giant hill.

They miss the sound of the wind rushing past their ears.

They miss the peace of a landscape covered in white.

They miss the little bunny tracks sprinkled alongside the road.

They miss the feeling of well-being that comes after a hour long ride.

You can’t pry me off my bike, I would miss out on too much.

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Saturday Commute

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A bit colder than this.

My coldest commute so far.
My slowest commute so far.
My hardest commute so far.

I love Saturdays! I learned a lot about myself today. I am stronger, tougher and dumber than I ever imagined.

At 3:35 after I covered myself in about thirty layers of clothing I headed out into the -17F darkness.

Minus seventeen by itself wouldn’t be too bad but…

-You know how you were told in school that when air is cold it contracts? It’s true. My tires at 35psi yesterday acted like they contained no air this morning.

-My bike has a rule for -17 degree weather. Thou shalt continually pedal. If you stop pedaling for even one split second, you must be punished by the chain slipping off the gear, which you must then stop and reposition.

-My ski goggles don’t really fog up unless you dare to stop and bend down to reposition chain. Then they protest by fogging up like crazy.

-My bike has an additional rule for -17 degree temperatures. All shifting is permanent until the bike decides otherwise. Biking on the second lowest gear of a bike is not exactly fast, in case you never noticed.

-If you don’t fully charge your headlight, accidently leave it on high and spend an inordinate amount of time on the road, it will run out of battery two miles before you get to work.

Usually my morning commute is a gentle, peaceful ride that I enjoy immensely. Today I fought for every inch of road. My legs screamed, my brain screamed, my back screamed, my neck screamed. No matter how fast and hard I pedaled I felt like I was going nowhere. That is because I was going nowhere. My average speed was just above 5 miles a hour. Many people walk that fast.

At 4:45 I called my coworker to tell her that I would be late, but that I should make it before we opened to customers at 5:30. I bumbled slowly on, aware that a single phone call could have me at the restaurant in 10 minutes with no effort on my part. But even though it was rough, I knew I could make it, I knew I wanted to make it. So I did. At 5:25 I rushed into work, performed a quick change act in the bathroom and started cooking breakfast. I cooked breakfast like I have never cooked breakfast before. I think it had to do with the adrenaline still rushing through me combined with the knowledge that I had faced my toughest challenge yet and conquered it.

I pushed myself to the limits of my endurance and I found that I can go beyond that.

I can bike in winter. I can bike in snow. I can bike in sleet. I can bike in storms. I can bike in cold. Living car-free in every season is what I have dreamed of for several years now. But now I am actually doing it! I just have to remember from now on that living car-free is a lot easier if I properly inflate my bike tires.

To work (10 miles)
3:35 am to 5:25 am

Weather
-17F, 3 mph Southeast wind

I wore
Head: head band, ski goggles, balaclava
Torso: two thermal undershirts, soft shell jacket, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves with liners
Legs: two pairs of yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Head, good. Torso, little good warm. Hands, good. Legs, got very cold on the last leg (hehe) on the ride. Feet, stayed warm but then became cold probably as a reaction to my freezing legs.

From work (10 miles)
3:55 pm to 5:10 pm

Weather
17F, 16 mph Southeast wind, 28 mph gusts

I wore
Head: balaclava, ski goggles
Torso: two thermal undershirts, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Good stuff.

Friday Commute

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Okay, this photo isn’t very accurate because road conditions were different, plus I didn’t see a “Sheriff car” but it was the best I could do.

Just when I thought winter biking couldn’t get any better…

All the schools in the area took snow days and my boss decided to close early so I got a partial “snow day” too! And believe me it was a snow day. Starting out the journey home wasn’t too bad.

I made a deal with myself before I left work, if the weather was nasty when I got to the hiking trail I would stop and do some off road biking, but if it was nice I decided it would make sense to take advantage of the clear conditions while they lasted. When I arrived at the trail, visibility was low so I took to the woods.

The snow was a little deeper than last week, in a few places it was up to 10 inches. Biking through 10 inch snow is doable, but starting in it was impossible for me, so I would walk my bike to an area where the snow was not as deep. I took a jaunt through the woods for about half an hour.

Just before heading back to the main road I was struck by the sudden urge to test out a tip I had read online. Lowering the psi of your tires was supposed to give a bike more traction in the snow, and I knew I needed good traction to stay safe on the eight remaining miles. I didn’t have any equipment with me so I took a fallen twig and let air out of my tires until they were decently soft.

As soon as I started off, I realized what a huge mistake I had made. Why in the world had I never tried this before? It made a giant difference in my control over my bike. Fishtailing was almost completely eradicated and when it did occur it was a very lazy and half-hearted fishtail.

Visibility became so low I didn’t dare stay in the plowed lane. Instead, I took the shoulder where the snow was up to six inches deep (I used my fingers to measure depth). I went along slowly and steadily. The falling snow was magnificent and despite the adverse conditions I was thoroughly enjoying my ride. A guy passed me in his pickup and then pulled over to the side. As I came alongside him he asked me, “Are you going to work or are you out for fun?” Neither of these were the precise truth so I went with how I was feeling, “Oh, for fun.” “Holy cow! (He didn’t actually say cow, that is my G rated paraphrase) Be careful, don’t get wasted by a car!” I thanked him for stopping and continued on.

As I was coming up the last hill into town, the sky cleared. And then another car pulled up beside me, a jeep this time. Two guys and the man driving was our county Sheriff. The guy on the passenger side asked me,

“Are you okay, are you good?”

“Yeah, I am great!”

“Alright as long as you are fine…”

At this point the Sheriff gave me a smile and thumbs up.

“Thank you guys for asking, I really appreciate it!”

Oops, I would have said Sheriff or Sirs or something if I had thinking properly, but carrying on a conversation while handling my bike in deep snow is tough! I am pretty happy though, I now know for sure that my local Sheriff is not against winter biking unlike the mayor of a neighboring city.

I arrived home super tired but it is the good, endorphin-filled, satisfied tired of a good day’s ride. It was worst conditions I have biked in so far and I made it and loved it! That feels amazingly good!

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Whoa, who is behind the balaclava? A dark, brooding, mysterious….

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….um okay. You pull off the balaclava only to be met with this…creature.

To work (10 miles)
3:50 am to 4:55 am

Weather
16F, 26 mph Southwest wind, snow

I wore
Head: balaclava, ski goggles,
Torso: two thermal undershirts, rain jacket
Hands: new winter gloves
Legs: yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: three pairs of socks, boots
Comments: Perfectly warm.

From work plus trail riding (10-11 miles)
12:20pm to 2:35pm

Weather
21F, 18 mph West wind, 33 mph gusts, heavy snow

I wore
Head: balaclava, ski goggles
Torso: thermal undershirt, rain jacket
Hands: two pairs of knit gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: three pairs of socks, boots
Comments: Overheated a bit when the wind took a break.

Wednesday Commute

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The current state of my bedroom window

I have reached a new low!

I went to work for an extra half day today. The ride to work was, to use a nice term, exciting. Basically I biked through a heavy snow storm with less than 5 feet of visibility on occasion. This is actually much safer than it sounds, trust me. The state road where I spend 90% of my commute is a glorious road any cyclist would be jealous of. It is a two-lane road, but the shoulders are just as wide as a normal lane, so essentially I get a lane of road all to myself, which is extremely comforting in low visibility situations. In addition, when the road are as bad as they were this morning everyone drives slowly, in the center of the road (I got a lane and a half to myself) and most people don’t go out anyway. I was passed by a whopping three cars. My only job was staying upright and staying on my side of the road. See, safe!

The weather itself was so enchanting, there is nothing better than riding through giant snowflakes as they fall from the sky. I rode along vaguely thankful for that summer around fifteen years ago when traveling to swimming lessons was such a drag because the road was being torn up to expand it from a normal two lane country road to a two lane road with super-size shoulders. I remember thinking back then what a dumb thing to do, all that work just to put in gigantic shoulders.

I rode along vaguely thankful that I had stopped on a whim to take a water break and just happened to see that new snow begging to be biked last week, otherwise I would probably be freaking out biking through the several inches of unplowed snow. Vaguely thankful, I remembered the job offers I had almost accepted but turned down to keep this job…thankful that I had decided to go to Brazil and was inspired to commute full-time to work…thankful for those articles on winter biking I stumbled on causing me to question what was possible…

Finally it all clicked. I suddenly realized with clarity that none of these circumstance were by accident. I may have shocked my friends and family with my decision to continue biking through the winter, by God always knew. He knew that I would be a winter biker when I was born, he knew when I was a disgruntled nine year old sitting in a hot car waiting for construction workers to finish expanding a section of road, he knew when I started my current job, he knew when I was visiting Brazil, he knew when I was searching randomly through the depths of the internet.

He knew that I would need some practice in the deep snow before encountering today’s snowstorm. I didn’t happen to miscalculate the time I needed to get to work last week, I didn’t happen to stop for a water break (I never stop for water breaks on the way to work), I didn’t happen to be right by a snow-covered trail that happened to catch my eye. No, it was part of a plan.

God knew. He prepared the road for me and he prepared me for the road.

I continued to bike to work, stunned by this sudden epiphany. Even though Christmas was just two weeks ago I forgot what it was all about. God with us. God is with me and he is also ahead of me, he knows what is going to happen in my life and he goes before me to prepare the way, while continuing to prepare me for the way.

I have spent years of my life afraid of change, of the future, of things beyond my control. Those fears were swept away this morning and if I continue to remember that God knows the future and will prepare me for the future, they will never return.

I wish I could describe what it was like riding in the falling snow, feeling the care of God wrapping around me like protective blanket, nothing I can write comes close to capturing that feeling. When someone comes up to me forty years from now, worried about their future, I will say, “Well I was biking in this snowstorm when…”

The ride home was gorgeous, fresh snow covering the countryside. It was largely uneventful except for one small fact, my record low for winter biking has now officially changed from 9F to 0F. If anyone understood how exhilarating that fact is to me, they would worry. A lot.

To work (10 miles)
3:50 am to 4:55 am

Weather
14F, 14 mph Southwest wind, heavy snow

I wore
Head: balaclava, ski goggles,
Torso: two thermal undershirts, rain jacket
Hands: new winter gloves
Legs: two pair of yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: three pairs of socks, boots
Comments: The temperature was supposedly 6F when I left for work but it was actually 14F, so I overdressed. I decided to leave my jacket hood down which was a great idea, it kept my goggles from fogging.

From work (10 miles)
11:10pm to 12:20pm

Weather
0F, 10 mph Northwest

I wore
Head: balaclava, ski goggles
Torso: two thermal undershirts, rain jacket
Hands: new winter gloves
Legs: two pairs of yoga pants, thermal underpants, rain pants
Feet: three pairs of socks, boots
Comments: Had some fogging issues with the goggles as a result of pulling my balaclava up over my nose, I am getting a better vented face mask in the mail soon, hopefully that will solve the issue. Also, at this temperature if I am not wearing my jacket hood I need to wear ear muffs to protect my ears better.

Saturday Commute

I headed out the door as soon as I could this morning determined to spend as much time on that trail as I could, despite my best intentions ten minutes earlier was the best I could do. I was able to spend thirty minutes in the woods plowing through snow left and right. My bike handling skills are not great, to put it gently, so it was a challenge to stay upright. What a great place to gain more confidence and experience, with the thick layer of snow getting injured from a fall was unlikely.

I stopped in the middle of my ride to take in the stillness of the woods and I let out a squeal of utter joy and delight, yup, it was as dignified as it sounds. God’s love for me is constant but sometimes I feel it in an overwhelming way. At that moment I felt his love around me, through me and in me. It made me feel so alive, so happy, so free.

Now for my tale of the journey home. The road conditions were exciting to say the least. It was raining steadily and there were frequent gusts of wind. As I hit the road I was faced with a choice, take the lane where biking would be easy, or ride on the shoulder which was covered in sheets of ice and chunks of snow. I chose ice. It was great, my bike was happily crunching through whatever had been pushed to the side by cars and snowplows.

Snowplows were out in full force but they were only plowing the lanes, not the shoulders. As I continued on my commute the temperature changed and the ice and snow of the shoulder turned to thick, heavy slush. I didn’t have much traction and decided it would be safer take the lane and trust the cars to see me in my reflective gear and flashing red lights. Which they did, although a few weren’t very happy about it. One car blared its horn and another guy stuck his head out of the window to shout, “GET OFF THE ROAD!!!!”

So I got off the road, found shelter in a snow bank, huddled down into the snow and waited until spring. Or not. It was a bit startling, as that is the first time someone has yelled out of a car at me in years, but it just gave me more adrenaline to finish my ride, so thank you random dude.

To work with side trip (11.5ish miles)
8:10 am to 9:40 am

Weather
15F, 6 mph Southeast wind

I wore
Head: balaclava, rain jacket hood
Torso: thermal undershirt, rain jacket
Hands: two pairs knit gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: My hands were numb for the first ten minutes but I balled them into fists until they got warm and from then on I had no problem. Also, I decided not to wear goggles and my eyes were fine in the cold, I did get eyelash icicles though.

From work (10 miles)
8:20pm to 9:45pm

Weather 32F, 14 mph Southeast wind with gusts, rain

I wore
Head: balaclava, rain jacket hood, ski goggles
Torso: t-shirt, rain jacket
Hands: two pairs of knit gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: I didn’t bring my leg bands so I tucked my rain pants into my boots. With the steady rain and heavy slush my feet got drenched. Not an exaggeration, at the end of the ride the water was up past my ankle, my feet were swimming! Thankfully it wasn’t cold out so my feet didn’t get chilled, although they looked like white raisins.