Saturday Commute

I have become a controversial figure.

Just before jumping into bed last night I called my boss to see what she was thinking about opening in the morning, since the weather was supposed to be severe overnight. She told me to come into work at 6:30 am.

I woke up at 4:00, ready for anything, which was good because we got another 18 inches of snow overnight. Usually, I take the dogs on a walk before leaving but there was no way their little legs could carry them through several feet of snow. Instead I shoveled out an area of yard for them to walk around in, like a snow exercise pen. At 5:00 I headed out the door.

The roads were decently clear, at least they seemed that way in comparison to yesterday! Just out of town I saw a van stuck in a snow bank, so I pulled over to ask if they needed to use a cellphone or if they wanted help pushing the vehicle out of the snow. Not to brag or anything but my brothers and I are pro vehicle rescuers. I think the combo of a 15 passenger van, circular driveway and bad plowing we experienced in childhood has something to do with that.

But the people assured me they were fine, their brother was coming to help them, so I biked on. The shoulders were still not well plowed so when visibility was good I took the lane. The good thing about lowering the pressure in my tires is increased stability, the bad thing is soft tires make biking slower and more strenuous, so it took me forever to get to work. I am going to play around with tire pressure this coming week to find a good balance between speed and safety.

I caused an uproar at work today. Many of our early morning customers are regulars and they know and frequently discuss my odd biking habits. They knew that I was biking through the winter, but now that the weather has turned wintery for real, they don’t think it is appropriate for me to be out on the roads. I am in the kitchen, of course, but the waitress told me that they were saying that every car that passes me should offer me a ride. Please don’t wish that on me! If I need a ride I have a cellphone and I will call one of the dozens of people that have offered to help me out when necessary. Although I totally appreciate any car that stops to see if I am okay, if every car did it I think I would go insane.

One guy is so concerned that he offered me an apartment close to the restaurant so I wouldn’t have to bike anymore. Even though they don’t approve of my mode of transportation it is nice to know that these guys care about my safety.

By the time I left work the skies were clear. I love cold and sunny winter afternoons right after a snowstorm, the landscape gilded with shimmering white magic. It still took me a thousand years to get home, definitely overdid lowering the pressure. A few people were out walking taking advantage of beautiful afternoon. So I earned a “Good luck”, “You’re brave” and my favorite, a snort of incredulous laughter.

Wow, what a week!

To work (10 miles)
5:00 am to 6:25 am

Weather
10F, 5 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: Got a little warm, vented jacket. In spite of my torso being toasty warm, my legs grew cold, silly legs.

From work (10 miles)
2:00pm to 3:20pm

Weather
10F, 14 mph Southwest wind, 23 mph gusts

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: Stayed warm except my nose found the wind chilly.

Friday Commute

MT220937

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!

150109-145750

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

150109-145925

….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

150107-172015

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.

Monday Commute

Three weeks of non routine sleeping has finally caught up to me. I didn’t sleep well last night and setting my alarm early to make sure I got to work on time despite the weather didn’t help my sleep depravation.

Let me explain the weather we have been experiencing the past few days.

Saturday morning: nice thick cover of snow, below freezing temperatures
Saturday night: strong winds, temperature rises, results in heavy rain
Sunday: above freezing, very strong winds, most of the snows melts
Sunday night/early Monday morning: temperature drops, decent snowfall
Monday: temperature continues to drop

Weather can have some serious mood swings, I’m telling ya!

So I set off this morning in the swirling snow. The roads were well plowed and other than a few white-outs the ride was uneventful. While the ride itself was uneventful, my mind was slightly off-kilter from lack of sleep. I kept thinking that I heard a snowplow coming up behind me and I would glance back…to see a completely deserted road.

But I kept coaching myself that I couldn’t become complacent (I used the example of the villagers in “Peter and the Wolf” to motivate myself) because the next time it would be an actual snowplow. The phantom snowplows continued to stalk me for the entire ride. (Can I get a restraining order against them?) Of course the only snowplows I ended up seeing were coming from the opposite direction.

The last two hours at work were a struggle, my eyelids kept asking pesky questions such as, “can we close now?” “what about now?” “who are you to tell us not to close?”. Thankfully I was able to get out of work right after three. Once on my bike I got my second wind, sadly, it turned out to be a mere cat’s paw. My solution to low energy? Low speed. I cheerfully, slowly trudged along, breathing in the brisk air.

A couple of guys in a pickup truck slowed down and the guy on the passenger side stuck his head out, “Are you alive?”. Now I realize that I was moving at the pace of something dying, but I thought it was obvious that I wasn’t dead quite yet. While I was still processing this he repeated, “Do you want a ride?” Ah ha! That makes more sense! After thanking them and declining the offer, I pedaled home.

To work (10 miles)
3:40 am to 4:35 am

Weather
25F, 24 mph West wind, 36 mph gusts, snowing

I wore
Head: balaclava, rain jacket hood, ski goggles
Torso: thermal undershirt, rain jacket
Hands: two pairs knit gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: three pairs of socks, sneakers
Comments: My boots were still slightly damp from Saturday’s escapade, so I wore my sneakers and as many thick socks as I could manage. My feet stayed warm, yay.

From work (10 miles)
3:10pm to 4:25pm

Weather
10F, 8 mph Northwest, 17 mph gusts

I wore
Head: balaclava, rain jacket hood, ski goggles
Torso: thermal undershirt, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: yoga pants, thermal underpants, rain pants
Feet: two pairs of socks, boots
Comments: My face felt cold when there were gusts of wind but I was good other than that.

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.

Friday Commute (with bonus side trip )

I worked late today which was nice because I got to sleep in until 6:45, but it also weird because I am not used to getting to work at 9:45 am. During the middle of my ride to work I took a water break and realized I was going to arrive super early to work. I further realized that I was right next to a hiking trail covered in pristine white snow. Even though I was pretty sure the snow was too deep to actually traverse in I decided to try anyway.

Oh my! Why have I not tried this before! My mountain bike and I had such a thrill plowing through the 5 to 8 inches of powdery white snow. We went for about half a mile into the quiet woods when I decided it was time to turn back. I am so doing this again!

The rest of the ride to work was uneventful, the giant white dog chased and barked at me but that is pretty typical. But what happened at work was not typical. Get ready, Justl.

In the middle of my work day, a coworker tells me there is a giant white dog hanging around outside, instantly I know it is “my” giant white dog since he lives close to the restaurant. I go outside and slowly move toward him, avoiding direct eye contact. I reach out my hand, he sniffs it calmly then looks up at me with big sorrowful eyes. He seems a bit shy so I stand still until he walks away. Before this I was quite sure he would never actually hurt me, but it is nice to confirm that.

I am not absolutely sure, but I think he came over to apologize. My thought is that he made a New Year’s resolution to not bark or chase me anymore, but when I came riding by at an odd time of day he was so excited that he forgot. I could be wrong of course…

To work with side trip (11 miles)
8:20 am to 9:35 am

Weather 22F, 6 mph Northwest wind, snowing

I wore
Head: balaclava, rain jacket hood, ski goggles
Torso: thermal undershirt, rain jacket
Hands: two pairs knit gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots

Comments: My ski goggles always keep my face super warm, which can border on too warm.

From work (10 miles)
8:30pm to 9:25pm

Weather 14F, no wind

I wore
Head: balaclava, rain jacket hood
Torso: t-shirt, rain jacket
Hands: two pairs of knit gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Felt a little cold at first because my jacket was still damp from my morning exertion in the snow.

Saturday Commute

Last night I checked the weather forecast before heading to bed and saw that the temp was supposed to be about 20F. But this morning when I went outside to walk my dogs I really thought it felt colder than that. It was. At 11F, today’s commute clocks in at the second coldest of the season, hooray! I stayed warm though until I got to work and had to change into my frozen work clothes in the freezing cold bathroom.

My commute home was perfect. It was your classic winter afternoon, cold, clear, no wind and sunny with sparkling snow everywhere. I spotted 17 turkeys out enjoying the sunshine.

To work (10 miles)
3:40 am to 4:40 am

Weather
11F, 5 mph East wind

I wore
Head: rain jacket hood, balaclava
Torso: thin thermal undershirt, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves, knit gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots

Comments: I should have worn one more pair of pants as my legs got slightly cold.

From work (10 miles)
3:00 pm to 3:55 pm

Weather
22F, no wind

I wore
Head: rain jacket hood, balaclava
Torso: thin thermal undershirt, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots

Comments: Everything was awesome

Friday Commute

Strange start to the day. When I head out the door and walk to the small shed that I share with my downstairs neighbors I notice that there is frozen blood COVERING the ground. I open the shed doors (which are liberally sprinkled with dried bloody fingerprints) to find a dead doe and buck sprawled over the floor of the shed. Yay for hunting season! As I clip my panniers to the bike I notice that the buck’s hide is covered in cockleburs. Suddenly, I have an odd urge to pull them out. Thankfully the urge subsides quickly and I hop on my bike and pedal away.

On the way to work I was chased by a small barking white dog.
On the way back from work I was chased by a giant barking white dog.
Is this symbolic of something? Like is this winter gonna be really white and harsh?
Or is it the beginning of a pattern? Will I be chased by a polar bear tomorrow?

When I arrive home the buck is hanging from a tree and the doe is hanging up….wait for it…in the shed. Lovely. Oh well, I know my neighbors feel bad about it (I can hear them talking about it right now, lol).

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

Weather
17F, 8 mph Southeast wind, occasional light snow

I wore
Head: rain jacket hood, balaclava, ski goggles,
Torso: thin thermal undershirt, rain jacket
Hands: knit gloves, winter gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: My legs got chilly at times, next time I ride in this temperature I will see what adding another layer will do.

From work (10 miles)
3:10 pm to 4:15 pm

Weather
32F, 14 mph Southeast winds, 20 mph gusts

I wore
Head: rain jacket hood, ski goggles
Torso: t-shirt, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: nice and toasty

Friday Commute

Winter has found its way back to the north country.

My bike ride to work was peaceful and stars were glittering all across the sky. I should have stopped to savor them, but I didn’t.

On the way home from work half of  the shoulder was covered in about an inch of snow and assorted clumps.  So most of the ride I rode on the clean pavement, but I also chose to ride in the snow some of the way. I want to be ready if I ever need to bike on an unplowed road.

To work (10 miles)
3:45 am to 4:35 am

Weather 19F, 3 mph West wind

I wore
Head: balaclava, ski goggles, rain jacket hood
Torso: thermal undershirt, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots

Comments: The pinkie finger on my left hand got really cold, so I put it in with my other finger to keep it warm. I need to buy new gloves or mittens like right now, because my current ones stink. The only problem is I don’t know which I should buy. Too many choices!

From work (10 miles)
11:20 am to 12:05 am

Weather 23F, 10 mph West wind, snowing

I wore
Head: balaclava, ski goggles, rain jacket hood
Torso: t-shirt, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots

Comments: I love biking in the falling snow. My head really overheated with the balaclava, but I wanted to test it out today.

Friday Commute

If this post seems odd for some reason, I blame it on my downstairs neighbors who are currently gutting a deer directly below my window and making the strangest comments while doing so.

Today was my first commute to work in “real” winter weather. Last night in bed I kept almost falling asleep only to be woken up by thunder and lighting. I set my alarm for 2:22 am (an hour eariler than I usually wake up for work) in case it took me a long time to get to work due to heavy snow.

The few blocks I ride to get to the state road that takes me to work were badly plowed. I kept slipping and sliding around in the light powdery snow. It was kinda fun though, to be honest. Once I got to the state road it was smooth sailing, the road was alreadly clear so I didn’t need to worry about snow plows, thank goodness. Going downhill was still quite terrifing. My internal dialogue went thusly: “It’s gonna be okay, loosen your muscles, breathe, you are gonna make it…..” and I did. I arrived at work 40 minutes early. What can I say? I like being on time!

By the time I rode home in the afternoon the roads were nice and clear.

To work (10 miles)
3:10 am to 4:20 am

Weather
18F, 5 mph West wind, light snow off and on

I wore
Head: ear muffs, rain jacket hood, scarf, ski goggles
Torso: thin thermal undershirt, rain jacket
Hands: thinsulate gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots

Comments: I stayed warm until partway through the ride my legs randomly got cold for a few minutes.

From work (10 miles)

Weather
23F, 8 mph West wind

I wore
Head: ear muffs, rain jacket hood, scarf
Torso: t-shirt, rain jacket
Hands: thinsulate gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots

Comments: I have to get new gloves or mittens soon. My current ones make my hands sweat really badly.