4,000 Miles

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Thank you, little bike!

One year ago today I decided that winter was officially over and I took my bike out for a ride…

I haven’t stopped riding since. In my first year of year-round biking and living car-free I clocked over 3,000 commuting miles and more than 4,000 miles altogether. I have learned and grown so much this year, it has been by far the best year of my life.

So what has 4,000+ miles in the saddle taught me?
Here are just a few things.

-I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength

-I am more powerful and brave than I thought possible

-Living an active lifestyle, aside from its health benefits, is fulfilling and just plain fun

-It is possible to be healthier even without changing how I eat (Not saying that I shouldn’t eat healthier in the future though…)

-Beauty is everywhere

-A slower, simpler life doesn’t mean a less exciting life

-Adventure is out there and riding a bicycle is the perfect way to find it

-The journey is often more exciting than the destination

-To never live a certain way just to satisfy “cultural norms”

-I have so much to learn about cycling

-I have so much to learn about bike mechanics and maintenance

-Skunks rule the night

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One year ago, I appear to be contemplating life and the possibility of eating my own hair. (Sorry, I couldn’t find many pics from this time last year, I avoided cameras like the plague at that point.)

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Today. Truly, this shows the power of an active lifestyle because I sure didn’t change my eating habits! My fitness is still a work in progress, but at least there is progress.

The Tide is Turning


Photo credit: revwarheart from morguefile.com

Yesterday in my post I mentioned that my family and friends were strongly opposed to the idea of me continuing to bike through the winter.

But the truth is I had made my mind up before they voiced their disapproval. During the summer I had been dropping hints that winter biking might be in my future, but I think that everyone was fairly optimistic that I would come around before winter arrived.

One late August day I was driving with my dad when I decided that the right moment had come. I told him that I was going to bike through the winter. It was frightening for me to voice my plan out loud because at that point I knew I needed to be 100% committed to it.

And 100% committed to defending my plan in the debates that were sure to follow.

Then I asked him if he would help me get my bike ready for winter and to my surprise he agreed. I didn’t know if he would or not, considering the fact that he wasn’t totally on board with my winter transportation scheme.

But now? He is totally on board with my winter transportation scheme. This week, he told me that a guy a his work had said that he needed to buy his crazy daughter a car and my dad apparently bragged on the fact that I didn’t need a car.

I live in a small community and word travels fast. Several people have come up to me and it has been obvious that my dad told them about my biking adventures. He has definitely moved from the “winter biking is dangerous” camp to the “winter biking is cool” camp.

As the winter has progressed, everyone (including me) has realized winter biking is not a one way ticket to injury. The tide is turning and my friends and family are becoming supportive as I share the joy of plowing through snow. I give them props though, even when they were opposing my winter biking plan, I still felt like they were supportive of me as a person.

I have to admit that having their support (or at least neutrality) on the subject feels great. I respect the opinions of my family and friends; so blatantly going against their wishes and advice was rough.  Now that they are slowly getting behind me, I feel even better pursuing a car-free lifestyle.

But they should be prepared, the next step in my master plan is getting them out biking with me!

“Love + Love = Fear” ?

DSCN0027[1]Some equations make sense. Others, like the title of this post simply do not add up. But the above equation was true in my life until the middle of November 2014.

I love winter.
I love biking.

But to combine those two factors seemed crazy, dangerous and scary. Biking in the winter? In snow? Over ice? What about snowplows? Visibility? Falling? Unplowed shoulders? Out of control drivers? I faced all the possible scenarios in my mind and they were frightening.

My friends and family were not helpful in calming my fears. I don’t blame them, they just wanted me to buy a car which they seemed to believe was some sort of magical safety device.

Death by snowplow was a common prediction.
“We will be reading the obituaries”, was a common joke.
“I trust you, but I don’t trust the drivers on the road”, was a common argument.
“I won’t be able to sleep thinking about you on the road at night”, was a common plea.

I never let any of them know that their words were petrifying me. It was game face on. On the outside I was cool, collected and ready to conquer whatever winter threw at me. The reality was quite different. I actually got better health coverage in preparation for whatever winter would bring. I worried about my gear, my tires, my ability. I was scared stiff.

Until I started biking in snow. To my utter surprise and delight, I found it fun, a ton of fun actually. Every  scenario I had conjured in my mind started being replaced by reality.  Winter biking was much easier, simpler and more achievable  than I ever dreamed it would be.  Then I rode through the first heavy snowfall of the winter and I felt safe. Protected. That ride I learned that God with me in my winter biking adventures and after that any remaining fear was gone. The past few weeks I have continued to have a blast in the snow. I keep finding out more ways to enjoy the winter.

I have always loved winter, but this is my favorite winter ever. I used to claim that I loved biking, but that pales to the attachment I feel to this humble mode of transportation now.

My equation was flawed.

Not Snowshoes

As a total winter biking newbie, I learn new things constantly. Today was a day of discovery.

A while back I found out that biking on trails covered with fresh snow up to ten inches was hard but crazy fun. Unfortunately, soon after my discovery winter decided to intervene and cut my fun short by dumping a few feet of snow into the mix.

But this morning the sun was out and I headed to the local fairgrounds to do some experimenting. I thought that it was possible that the slight thaws we have experienced the past few weeks might create a stable base to ride on.

Yeah, no. You know that when your bike is stuck far enough in the snow so that you can sit on it safely without moving that you will not be going far. I had a blast though. There was a trail that was groomed for snowmobiles and walkers that was hard packed enough to ride on. So I did bike on that path and tried to use it as a launching pad to gain enough momentum to transition to the surrounding snow.

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Surprise! My bike does not look like this.

The result was comical. My front wheel would promptly sink and become immobile and the remaining momentum would cause the back wheel to buck into the air like an angry horse. Thankfully, the fairground was deserted.

My bike is awesome in snow. It is not fazed by slush or ice. But it is not a pair of snowshoes.

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.

A dead guy made me do it.

Why did I decide to bike in the winter?

I am not athletic.

I am not super fit.

I am overweight.

I am not fast.

It doesn’t really make sense that someone like me would try to conquer the elements. But here I am. A dead guy made me do it.

My parents homeschooled me, which means I got to do nerd-ish things. One of the nerd-ish things I did was to memorize the entirety of Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death speech”. It is an epic speech. One sentence of his oration has stuck with me ever since.

“The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.”

This is not just a true statement for battles, for wars. It is true in all of life. Strength and natural ability do not guarantee success. Nope.

The battle belongs to those who are aware and cautious.
The battle belongs to those who go out there and fight, the ones who lay their lives on the line.
The battle belongs to those who courageously move forward despite doubts.

Biking in the winter isn’t for athletes or superheroes. It is for those of us who actually do it.

Frozen

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“The cold never bothered me anyway.”

I think the writers of Let it Go secretly spied on my life and based this line off me. Ever since I was little I have been scaring my poor mother by refusing to wear proper apparel when out in the cold. I never wore coats and barely wore gloves or hats or socks. I embraced the cold. When you are outside, my philosophy was that you should feel like you are outside. The wind should touch your skin, should make your cheeks burn.

It really is amazing how our perspection distorts reality. By telling myself that I was warm, I really would feel warm. When others around me would be huddling together for warmth, I would stand up straight and refuse to shiver. I would tell people, “I feel the cold but I don’t let it inside me.”

Until.
That fateful day when I was sixteen. My sister and I went for a walk in close to zero degree weather. A stiff winter breeze was blowing but of course I decided against a hat. As we walked I felt the cold hit my ear in a way I had never felt before. But I didn’t fear the cold, so I walked on never mentioning the pain to my sister.

We returned home and instantly when I got inside I could tell something was wrong. My ear throbbed and started to swell. Before long it was thick, fire red and velvety to the touch. Yay for frostbite! Everyone found it funny that Bri, who never got cold, could get frostbitten.

Sadly, I did not learn my lesson. Last year some friends and I were making homemade ice cream up at my parent’s house. Someone dared me to see how long I could stick my hand in the mixture of water, ice and rock salt. So I stuck my hand in. And left it in for almost two minutes. This was A Bad Idea.

When I took my hand out I noticed my fingers were white and felt waxy. So I slipped into the bathroom and plunged my hand into cool water. Pain shot up my arm and I felt nauseous and feverish. For the next half hour I writhed in agony as my hand unthawed. For the next week my fingers felt like they had been severely burned.

Yes, the pain the bad. But that was not what bothered me. What scared me was that it was easy for me to hold my hand in that rock salt water. I could have easily kept it in for a longer period of time. That’s when it hit me.

I could probably freeze to death without it ever bothering me.

I still love the cold. I delight in that crisp feeling in the air. I didn’t close the windows in my apartment until the temperature dropped below freezing. I will never wear a proper winter coat. The cold continues to be my friend.

But I now realize it is a friend with dangerous powers.

Reasons that Rural Riding Rocks

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A tire on my sidewalk Monday when I got home from work.

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The tire Tuesday morning, before we got hammered with snow again today.

To everyone who commutes and bikes around in cities, I bow down to you. I simply do not know how you do it. Actually, living in the same rural area my whole life I cannot fathom how anyone could survive just living in a city. The longest stretch of time I “lived” in a city was two weeks. I barely made it.

Even though I have great respect for city cyclists, I just have to tell you that biking in the country is way better than the best biking perks a city has to offer.

I am a huge animal lover. So one of the reasons I think rural biking is best is because of all the animals I get to see on my commute. Every day while commuting I pass farms with:

Cows
Horses
Donkeys
Alpacas
Sheep
Goats
Chickens (careful not to run over the free range ones)
Guinea fowl
Pigs
Cats
Dogs (there is only one that chases me, he got hit by a car once while running after me, but his leg is better now and he is faster than ever)

Biking past livestock can actually be quite an experience. I was biking home one day when I saw a herd of 30ish cows grazing in a field next to the one they were supposed to be contained in. This did not surprise me since this farm had recently been dealing with escapees. I as went past I called out to the nearest bovine. “Hi there!” I said in a cheery tone of voice. (It is very rude to pass farm animals without a greeting.)
She stared at me transfixed for a moment and then bolted in the direction of the field she was supposed to be grazing in.
When the other cows noticed her running one by one they all started to run. If you have never seen dairy cows run before, you really should put it on your bucket list. It is quite a sight.
As cows were stampeding back to their pasture they climbed a small rise. Coming toward them on the other side of the rise was a herd of about twenty sheep, seeking out better grazing after their own escape.
When the sheep saw a herd of cows running toward them they turned tail and booked it back to their own pasture. I never got paid for my service as a herdbiker, but the reaction of those sheep was worth it.

I also see many wild animals.

deer
skunks
raccoons
coyotes
muskrats
beavers
opossums
porcupines
geese
ducks
great blue herons
owls
vultures
eagles
falcons
frogs
snakes
rabbits
mice
turtles (I have helped a couple of snapping turtles cross the road so if you ever lose a toe or a finger to a snapping turtle in NNY, blame me.)

It is amazing to see tons of different animals on my commute, it makes biking that much more enjoyable.

Just to warn you I will probably be doing more of these “rural riding” posts.

Blood Donation and Biking

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My Bike

I hope you had a great day, because I had a great day.

Real winter Biking

All the local schools had a snow day. So I did the only rational thing possible, I set out for a bike ride. I went up a couple nice-sized hills to my parent’s house. My mom was really scared about me biking up, she kept asking my dad to come pick me up from town. (My parents are the sweetest.)

But when I finally made it up to their house (I went at a wind and caution induced speed) she told me a was a hero and made her feel like a wimp. She kept insisting I retain my biking gear so she could take pictures of me (lol) but she couldn’t find the camera, so I shed my gear, promising her that she could take pictures when I was leaving.

So I puttered around the house for a few hours helping out with some cooking and cleaning, getting stuff ready for Thanksgiving. Then I set out to head home.

I chose a different route going back which was kind of a mistake. One of the roads was covered with gravel, and therefore I discovered a fun fact about combining gravel roads, studded tires and strong winds. Progress is slow. I think I could have walked faster.

Luckily the next road I turned onto headed in the perfect direction to catch a lovely tailwind. It felt like flying. But then I miscalculated the location of the edge of the road, slid and fell. Now in an earlier post I detailed that falling is one of my greatest biking fears. So I was shocked to find that I was not hurt at all and neither was my bike. Phew.

Got home, left my panniers, grabbed my ID, told my disappointed dogs I would be home for “real” soon, and rushed out the door to head to the blood drive.

Donating Blood

It was only about a mile bike ride to the blood drive but the roads were not well plowed. I slid around a little whenever I went through a thick layer of powdery snow, which was somewhat terrifying, but doable.

As a first time blood donor I was kinda unsure what to expect but the process was easy, simple and almost painless. I told my needle stick-er person (that is the official term) that I had been out biking for a lot of the day. When she took my pulse, she was slightly shocked. “Your pulse is not very high for having just biked here. You must bike a lot.” I swelled with pride. But then I remembered that “pride goes before a fall” and I stopped swelling. I didn’t want to fall on the way back home.  I arrived without any mishaps.

I am currently home, safe and sound cuddling my babies in bed.

Weather

19-21F, 21-26 mph Southwest wind, 35 mph gusts

I wore

Head: rain jacket hood, fleece hat, ski goggles, scarf                                                  Torso: thin thermal undershirt, rain jacket                                                             Hands: thinsulate gloves                                                                                                       Legs: yoga pants, rain pants                                                                                               Feet: pair of socks, boots

Comments: I stayed very warm, my face was overheating most of the time. I had to keep pulling my scarf down to uncover my mouth to cool down, but then a gust of wind would make me want to cover my face up again.

My Downward Spiral

Biking has become an addiction for me. I am trapped in its web and I don’t think I can possibly break free anytime soon. But as a warning to others I will outline my downward spiral into the world of cycling.

When I was a child my parents forced me to go on bike rides with my siblings. It was awful, I hated it. Biking was just not for me. Definitely. But of course my parents still got me a mountain bike when I was in my late teens. Thanks.

When I was eighteen I started my first “real” job and I decided I would rather bike to work than learn how to drive a car. I hated the thought of driving a car more than biking, apparently. This was the beginning of it all.

Stage 1
Biking four miles (downhill) to work. But I would never bike uphill, in rain or in the dark.

Seems completely innocent, right? I remained at that stage for over a year but then I got a new job and my sanity began to quickly erode. You see, I actually started to enjoy biking.

Stage 2

Occasionally biking ten miles to work. But only if I couldn’t catch a ride with someone.

Stage 3
Biking ten miles to work. But I would never bike home, in rain or in the dark.

Then I went to Brazil for a month. Many people in cities have crazy long commutes on public transportation every day. I came back to the States with a new attitude. If Brazilians didn’t complain about transportation taking up a large part of the day, why was I complaining? Plus biking was actually really fun and relaxing. That’s when I began to believe that it is impossible for me to waste time on a bike.

Stage 4
Biking back and forth to work if it was daylight. But I would never bike in the dark. That would be insane.

Then winter came and I couldn’t bike at all. For the first time in my life I hated winter. I decided that when spring came I would buy some good quality bike lights and try biking in the dark.

Stage 5
Biking twenty miles back and forth to work. In the rain, in the dark, no matter what.

I immediately fell in love with biking in the dark. But my ten mile morning commute started to feel really short and routine.

Stage 6
Biking twenty miles back and forth to work, plus a couple of ten to twenty mile morning bike rides on my days off.

Ever since the start of spring I have been weighing my options for winter. Should I buy a car or try biking? The answer was obvious.

Stage 7
Live car free no matter the season.

I am currently at Stage 7. The scary thing is the downward spiral may continue and I have no clue what will come next.