Why I Quit Winter Cycling

Anyone who knows me well has reached the conclusion that when it comes to winter in general and winter cycling specifically, I am a bit crazy. I love winter.

I couldn’t imagine not enjoying the sparkling jewels littering the sun-lit snowy fields, the pure, achingly frigid air that fills the lungs or the delightful snowflakes that fall so gently. I couldn’t dream of spending the winter months anywhere other than Lewis County, plowing my mountain bike though snow drifts to my heart’s content. I couldn’t fathom anything that could draw me away from the all encompassing season of winter, away from the cold, the ice, the wind and the snow.

But a single phone call turned out to be so significant that I happily abandoned my glistening, snowy fields on January 18th, with scarcely a second thought. You see, last summer, during a Skype call, my sister invited me to spend a few months living with her. Due to certain circumstances in her life it would be beneficial to have another person come and stay with her for awhile and she knew that I wanted to experience the world she lives in.

My sister, born and raised in the frigid northeastern United States is now a missionary in the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil. I knew that by accepting her invitation, I was making a trade: giving up the final months of white winter snow in exchange for the hot, humid, rainy and green jungle of Brazil.

But to be honest, I had no concept of how brilliantly and aggressively green a rainforest truly is. Plants grow in the rainforest with astounding speed. The fertile soil of the Amazon Rainforest, the hot humid climate and endless supply of rain combine forces to ensure rapid growth. Giant corn stalks in the jungle gardens? Sugar cane stalks that tower over my head? They were planted only a handful of months ago.

 

During my jungle visit, I’ve been keeping my eye on a banana plant with two tiny offshoots emerging from its base. Banana plants grow to astonishing heights, which makes my mind classify them as trees although technically they are giant perennial herbs. Offshoots continue the lifecycle of the banana “tree”, as the main stalk dies, the new shoots take over. Every so often, while I was washing dishes under the mango tree, I would happen to glance past a few hens scratching in the dirt and maybe a roaming dog or two to see those two little tendrils stretch their paper thin fronds toward the warm sun. Over the course of the past ten weeks, I have see this pair of banana shoots grow and grow and grow some more. By the time I left the village this Tuesday, those two offshoots that once were barely peeking out the soil have grown strong and tall, with leaves reaching past my head.

Jungle magic.

Much of 2017 was bleak and gray for me. Like this blog, my life was dormant. Sure, I kept on going about my everyday life, but some essentials were missing: the spark of new ideas, the passion for new adventures, joy, wonder and my enthusiasm for life. My relationship with God became stagnant as well as many of my relationships with my friends. That’s all I will say about it for now, but I do want to write about it in the future, I don’t want to pretend that that time of sadness wasn’t real or didn’t happen.

But to get to the heart of the matter, I had become so focused on myself that I had stopped growing.

I didn’t realise that when my sister invited me on this jungle adventure she was offering me a chance to grow. But that is exactly what happened. It wasn’t nutrient rich soil or daily rainfall that sparked my growth, it was love.

  • It was the love between my sister and I that grew deeper everyday as we went on thrilling little jungle adventures with her friends, laughed at jokes old and new, gave each other countless big hugs and prayed and sang together. My sister encouraged and challenged me to keep following Jesus and loving him more.
  • It was the love of the people who live in this tiny jungle village who opened their arms to me as if I was a treasured member of their family instead of a strange foreigner with very white skin who can’t speak their language.
  • It was the love of the children who played silly games with me, made bread with me, giggled when I dramatically acted out stories in English and gave me great big hugs when it was time to leave.
  • It was the love of a God who has always been right beside me, loving me through all my ups and downs.

Oh, how wonderful a thing it is to be loved! And how wonderful it is to love in return!

It turns out that love, mixed in with a good dose of jungle adventure and a splash being a part of something bigger than myself is just the right soil for me to grow in. Looking back on my almost three months in Brazil, I feel just like those two little banana sprouts.

I have grown.

Jungle magic.

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Now you may have noticed the title of this post is, “Why I Quit Winter Cycling”. But does living in a remote jungle village force a person to quit cycling as a whole? I wasn’t sure when I left the United States in January, but I desperately hoped the answer would be no.

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Making friends with winter’s most dangerous creature.

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Gary, from PedalWORKS was kind enough to nominate me for the 5 day story challenge. He wants to hear more about my experience cycling in cold and snow and because he has cool bikes, he gets what he wants. So here we go.

Last year, around this time I was preparing for my first ever attempt to bike through winter. Not only was I gathering the gear that would keep me safe and warm through the winter, I was gathering information in how to use that gear to keep me safe and warm through the winter. But try as I might, my safety plan had a few gaps in it. The biggest, scariest blank area was how to deal with snow plows.

Snow plows are no joke. They are massive machines weighing somewhere around thirty tons with the power to clear whatever stands in their way. It is common for snow plows take down mailboxes and damage fences, street signs and whatever happens to be in their path. And I was about to willingly place myself in their path.

Online, I couldn’t find any helpful information. The general consensus seemed to be that snow plows were the most dangerous thing about winter biking and your best bet was to make sure you stayed out of their way. But how, exactly? I pictured myself trying to drag my bike up onto a towering snow bank as huge snow plows barreled toward me at lightning speed. Scary stuff.

It got even more scary. My family and friends, in a desperate attempt to get me off of my bike and into a car for the winter, were constantly warning me how I was going to die if I carried out my foolish plan. And the number one way they predicted I would die, was, you guessed it, by snow plow. They made convincing arguments, and though I tried my best not to show it, I was scared stiff.

Then winter arrived. On the very night we got our first serious snowfall I finally found a helpful nugget of information. When you hear a snow plow coming, you cross to the other side of the road. Wow, I should have thought of that. But what if a snow plow sneaks up on me?

Haha. Snow plows don’t sneak. Ever. Scraping the road clean, they create a roar of frightening intensity. Hearing them was never a problem. Since I live in a rural area, traffic is light and I always was able to cross the road and wait on the opposite shoulder long before the snow plow’s rumbling arrival.

It didn’t take me long to recognize the awesomeness of snow plows. I would be biking to work, constantly evaluating where I should position myself on the road. The far right of the shoulder was safest from cars, but also had the deepest snow and was littered with chunks of ice and other debris. The left half of the shoulder had slightly less snow, but also closer proximity to cars. Then, of course, I could follow the rut created by cars, the easiest and fastest path, but did I really trust them to see me? It all came down to how good the visibility was.

So there I would be, out biking, in the dark of night, trying to maintain the optimum position when I would pull over to the side of the road to let a snow plow pass. I would return to find the road and shoulder completely clear. Awesome. No more evaluation necessary.

There was one glitch, however. My ears became a little too honed for the distant noise of a plow at work. Especially in the dark and especially when I hadn’t slept well, I would hear phantom snow plows that never materialized. I must admit, it kept me on edge. I would keep glancing behind me to see only open, lonely road.

As winter progressed so did my skills and winter biking savvy. I enjoyed biking in snow from the start, but as I gained confidence, I started to relax and notice more of what was going on around me, instead of focusing solely on the essentials. One of the things I noticed was that after I pulled off on the opposite shoulder, the guys in the passing snow plow would sometimes wave. So I started waving back.

Within a few weeks, they were all waving and grinning at me. One day I was walking home in the cold, dressed in the same coat and pants I use for biking. Two guys, high up in an orange snow plow, recognized me and gave me a friendly wave. I waved back, a huge smile on my face.

I had the privilege of making friends with my greatest winter fear, the snow plow.

In lieu of nominating someone everyday of this challenge, I am inviting anyone to post about a weird or funny bike ride that for some reason hasn’t made it on your blog yet. I would love to read them. Let me know about it and I will link you in my successive story challenge posts.

Not Without a Fight

DSC00025Yesterday, I stated that “spring is getting serious” and I stand by what I said.

However, winter is a fierce old warrior and dumped two inches of snow on us today in the early morning hours. At work people were complaining that, “It is April 4th, winter should be over by now”.

But winter is over, spring has already won. It has conquered the rivers. It has awakened the animals: birds, insects and mammals. It has helped the grass to begin growing again.

Now it would be perfectly acceptable for winter to save its pride and concede with dignity at this point. After all, winter had a good run this year. It draped the land in a thick layer of snow and held it there, unflinching for months. Now the power it once had wanes steadily every day, while spring continues to grow in might.

Winter, though, never surrenders. Today it summoned all the strength it could to cover the countryside in snow, knowing that the effort is in vain.DSC00029

Everywhere spring is taunting.
The river roars with victory.
The birds twitter in laughter at its feeble attempts.
The grass grows steadily greener.

People are grumbling as they trudge quickly through the melting snow.

Every instinct, every bit of common sense screams at winter to stop the fight, to move on, to rest and regain its power to use in full force at the end of autumn.

But winter battles on despite the taunts, the grumbling and the date on the calendar. While it has any strength left, it will fight.

And that is why I admire winter more than any other season.
It never gives up.

Saying Goodbye to Winter

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This river may still be frozen over but it is no longer covered in snow…

Warmth is slowly returning to the north country and winter is bidding us a reluctant goodbye.

When October 2013 came around so did the snowstorms and I retired my little pink mountain bike for the year. Winter did her best work and piled on the snow and cold. It wasn’t until the end of March last year that I was able to get back on my bike. It only took me few weeks into spring to realize how much biking and living car free meant to me. I started to explore the idea of biking through the winter and by the beginning of May a battle had begun in my mind.

To bike or not to bike.

I thought about it constantly; while I was biking to work, whenever I was on the internet and before falling asleep at night. I obsessively ran through all the situations I would face during the coldest months of the year.

How would I respond to snow? Ice? Falling? Sliding cars? Low visibility? Plow trucks? Was I strong enough? Brave enough? Committed enough? What if I was injured? What if I had to wake up really early to make to work in time? What was I willing to sacrifice to make it work?

For the rest of the spring, summer and fall my brain was continually filled with thoughts of winter.

Then the snow began and so did this blog. For 4.5 months I have been immersed in all of the cold, snow and magic that winter brings. This winter season has been an incredible time of growth in my life; physically, mentally and spiritually.

Essentially, it has either been winter or my thoughts have been focused on winter for the past 17 months. In that timeframe my perception of winter has changed dramatically. First, winter was an obstacle that kept me off my bicycle, then a dreadful, shadowy fear that haunted my mind and then finally and unexpectedly, winter became a season filled with adventure and magic.

But now I am saying farewell to winter.

It is time for spring.
And flowers.
And green grass.
And ugly but somehow cute baby starlings.
And mud, lots of mud.
And rain.
And long rides.
And faster rides.
And rides with people.
And I am just slightly excited.

I am going to start off this spring by biking every day in the month of April. (Thank you Kel, for introducing me to the 30 Days of Biking website.) After that, I have no idea what will happen. But I know it is going to be an adventure!

Thank you!

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I started this blog in November, a girl who had a tentative plan to see if living car-free was possible during a Northern New York winter. I had no idea of the fun and excitement that was just around the corner. Now winter is (basically) over and I made it. I made it through all the snow and cold and ice and wind. But I didn’t do it on my own, not by a long shot.

A huge thank you to the following for making my first winter biking experience successful, safe and enjoyable.

God.
Although I rode through the winter without human company, I was never alone. In my most fearful moments and in the incredible times of joy in the snow, God was there. He protected me and I could feel His love wrapping around me in stronger way than I have ever felt before. When I was delighted by the glory of the winter, I could feel His joy intertwining with mine.

My Dad.
He wasn’t 100% on board in the beginning, but that didn’t stop him from helping me out. Whenever I needed assistance or advice he was always happy to jump in. He also became a top winter biking apologist; I am pretty sure he is more skilled at convincing people that biking through the winter is awesome and safe than I am!

My friends, family and coworkers.
Almost all of them were reluctant about my crazy plan at first, but that didn’t stop them from offering me rides if I ever needed them. They also prayed for my safety, which gave me a boost of much-needed courage especially during the first few snowstorms.

You.
To everyone who followed my trek through the winter, reading and “liking” my posts, thank you! So many of you also took the time to comment with helpful advice, encouragement or anecdotes of your own. I don’t think you have any idea how awesome you are so I am going to tell you – you guys are really, super, crazy, out-of-this-world awesome! Your blogs have inspired and challenged me, reading them is a wonderful part of my day.

My bike.
Through the freezing rain, the sleet, the snow, the ice and the wind this little mountain bike persevered while I splayed out awkwardly over her frame. Even when I shoved her in cold sheds or left her out in the snow she remained my trusty, rusty companion. Sure, she complained in the cold and even once let me down, but it was her first winter too.

My studded tires.
You two rock! Thanks for never letting me down.

Snowplow dudes.
I don’t know why they seemed so scary at first, I think of them now as helpful friends. They were always cautious, professional and friendly and I am very thankful that they kept the roads in my community passable.

Random concerned strangers.
There were so many people who stopped to check if I was okay/ask if I needed a ride this winter, even though I was a complete stranger. Several times they pulled over in rather risky conditions, which was pretty heroic of them.

Motorists.
The drivers on the roads were overwhelmingly cautious and considerate around me throughout the winter. They refused to crash into me which was kind of them.

Winter.
I couldn’t have biked through the winter if there was no winter, right? Aside from winter’s joke of dropping the first subzero temperature on me in the form of -17, the weather was fairly decent in giving me time to adjust and buy more gear when I had chinks in my armor.

I am going to end this post with the song that became my winter biking anthem.

Let It Snow

I realize those are fighting words at this stage of winter. But I have to be honest here, I love winter and I am not ready for it to be over. Bring on the snow and the cold.

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Why is it considered normal human behavior to nag the weather gods for warmer weather and an early spring? Winter has its challenges but to me it is the most magical season. I have no idea how much longer winter will stick around so I am off to trample through the snow with my puppies and maybe make a few snow angels along the way.

My Three Winter Biking Fears

When I am confronted by family and friends about the insanity of biking through the winter I always project complete confidence in my safety. But the reality is I fear some things about winter biking.

Falling
I am terrified of heights, I have nightmares about falling, when I was younger I ice skated like my limbs were made from porcelain. Newbie winter biking and falling go hand and hand I’m quite sure. The question isn’t if I going to fall but when. And that is terrifying. What if it is in the middle of an intersection, or right in front of a car?

Sickness and Injury
Ever since I was a little kid I have gone out in the cold with t-shirts and sneakers even though people tried to tell me I “was going to get sick”. That idea, though mostly false, gives me shivers of fear. What if I get a bad cold and/or cough that won’t go away? Biking in the freezing cold and winter wind while struggling to breathe does not sound fun. And of course any kind of leg or arm injury could force me off my bike for awhile.

Snow Plows

Snow Plows seem like monsters. The route I use to bike to work has very wide shoulders and is generally free of any obstacles that would cause a snow plow to be cautious, so they plow with super speed. I am very visible with my reflective clothing and well placed high quality blinkies but I move much slower than a car. And cars will be the only vehicles snow plows will be expecting. My plan is to get off the road when a snow plow is approaching if possible.

I am not biking through the winter with the idea that it is perfectly safe. There are risks. It is more dangerous than biking in the summer. But driving in the winter is also more dangerous than driving in other seasons. I am way more confident that I can keep myself safe on a bike then I could in a car.