Cycling Adventures in Beautiful Brazil

When I left the United States on January 18th, I had a plan. A simple plan.

  • Buy a bike in Ji-Parana.
  • Buy a turbo trainer so that I could use the bike effectively in a small village.
  • Take the bike and trainer to the village.

Buying a bike was simple. Thank you, Streetbike! Finding any sort of bike trainer, however, proved to be impossible. My sister and I had visited every bicycle shop in Ji-Parana and they had all told us they had no turbo trainers. But the last bike shop, Palace of Bicycles, held out a beacon of hope. They did not have a turbo trainer, but they were sure one of the other shops did. So the super helpful lady at Palace of Bicycles picked up the phone to call the other bicycle shop. She had a bit of trouble convincing the folks at the shop that they did indeed have a trainer, but with her persuasion they decided to take a look around. Sure enough, they soon found it hanging on the wall, in plain sight.

I was in business at last!

Once we made it out of the city, over six hours of bumpy red dirt roads and across a river, we made it to the village and to my sister’s small thatched roofed home. I set up my bike on the hard dirt floor and then it was time to ride!

I had never ridden a bike on a trainer before. I had certainly never ridden a bike in such humid heat before. Let me tell you that this distinct combo of bike trainer and humid heat produces an amount of sweat that is extremely overwhelming and absolutely disgusting. I had rivers of sweat running down my arms and dripping merrily onto the dry dirt floor! Dabbing the sweat away with a towel helped temporarily but once a few seconds passed my arms became the Rio de Sweat once more.

As I kept riding the trainer every day, I soon grew accustomed to my new cycling (aka sweating) regimen. I was quite pleased with my bike/trainer setup. But the children in the village were not only pleased by my shiny red and black bicycle, they were enthralled! All of them took at least one turn pushing the pedals. Two of the girls, however, made it part of their daily routine to gleefully ride my little bikey. And once they discovered that three girls could ride on the bike-all at the same time-they realized my bike was way cooler then I was! Is there anything more joyful then three little friends giggling on a bike?

I had to leave the jungle and my newfound friends far too soon. But my Brazilian bicycle adventures were far from over, there were many more memories to make in the last ten days while I was in Ji-Parana.

In Ji-Parana, I rode my bike “for real”, without the turbo trainer, for the first time in ten weeks. I felt so giddy to be riding down a road with beautiful fields on both sides and with the wind, the glorious wind in my face. The traffic on the road was light and the cars gave me a respectful berth. But at the very end of my ride, something happened that shook me to my core.

I saw a dog. I thought the dog hadn’t seen me, so I kept riding past, unperturbed. Somehow that single dog multiplied suddenly into a pack of three dogs, all lean and fast. I sprinted with all my might, with my vulnerable legs only inches away from a dog’s leering teeth. Foolishly, I had provided myself with no protection for such a scenario, even my water bottle was tucked into the bag on my back. I screamed,”NO!!!” at the top of my voice, but the dogs didn’t even flinch.

There was no way out but through. I went for it, accelerating like my life depended on it. My life didn’t depend on it, of course, but my left leg sure did. The triumph of leaving a pack of athletic dogs in the dust was soon mine and once I could breathe again, I looked up to see three guys leaning on their motorcycles, laughing at me! What to me had been a narrow escape and glorious victory, had been to them the unexpected sight of a screaming girl weaving her way amongst three canines. Feeling that my version of the event was more justified, I plastered on a huge smile that hopefully said, “I was totally in control of the situation and bested those fierce beasts” as I passed them by.

On the rest of the ride I berated myself. Free roaming dogs in Brazil aren’t aggressive, they just like to chase things. If I had slowed down to a boring pace when I first saw that dog, my legs would not have been put in such peril. Lesson learned. I decided to continue riding the same route in the days to come to make sure I got over my fear and could put my new plan into action.

And it was on that very same road that I met a group of cyclists out for a ride. I couldn’t help myself, I had to go talk to them! They were very friendly and although I could barely communicate with them, camaraderie among cyclists crosses language barriers and we had a great ride together. I even tried to tell my dog story to one of them in very, very broken Portuguese. One of the cyclists did speak English and he told me of his travels which have taken him all over, even to New York City. It was a wonderful experience and I even got invited to come back and ride again sometime!

Two of the group cyclist’s photos are courtesy of Salles, who shared them with me!

What made my time cycling in Brazil really special were all the rides my sister and I went on together. Most of them were shorter rides, running errands all over Ji-Parana, but on two occasions we left the city behind and enjoyed a quieter, more rural road. I might have even been lulled into thinking we were back in Lewis County together if it weren’t for the tropical trees and pairs of macaws flying overhead.

As I leave Brazil, I bid a sorrowful goodbye to this beautiful country and it’s wonderful, friendly people, but most of all to my dear sister. It is hard to be excited about returning to the United States even though a bike adventure, more thrilling then I ever dreamed, is right around the corner. It’s time for me and a friend to go on a bike tour. It’s time for Mongolia!

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Spring is getting serious

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The river has melted!

It is warm enough for fog to exist again! I got to bike through some nice, dense patches this morning.

I have always liked the feeling of being swallowed by fog, with its air of mystery. The only downside to fog is the lack of visibility and prior to this winter I was always a little fearful biking in such conditions.

This morning, however, I was as confident as could be. Winter has taught me how to be cautious but fearless.

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The grass is getting greener every day!

This afternoon the temperature soared to 55 degrees! I left work wearing a t-shirt and pants. With the sun shining brightly I felt warm from something other than my body heat. So weird. A cool wind blew over my arms and around my ears, man that felt great! I pedaled home faster then I have since the beginning of November.

 

First spring cyclist sighting! On the ride home I passed two cyclists going in the opposite direction.

Gotta admit, when I see a cyclist decked out in an official looking jersey on a nice road bike I get just a tiny bit star struck.

Have they actually won races?
I have no idea but they look like they have which is good enough for me!

But how do I know for sure that spring is for real?DSC00020
A bug flew into my eye.
Yup, spring is officially a thing.

Corncob Trail

Yesterday on my ride home I noticed that the snowmobile trail which intersects the road I was biking on had thawed and turned very muddy. That got the wheels in my mind turning. Mud would make the trail impassable for snowmobiles, the obvious conclusion being that it was time to turn the trail into a designated bicycle path.

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My lens got a bit of mud on it, oops.

So today I veered off the shoulder of the road and into the mud.011It is always fun to get off the road and head for the hills.
023But when I crested the hill and went around a bend the mud was replaced by a layer of corn stalks, husks and cobs. I had never biked over corn paraphernalia before and  quickly discovered that it is super bumpy. More like jarring.  I began to follow this trail of corncobs and was led into an open field where the wind had blown powdery snow into the ruts of the trail.

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Ruts filled with glorious powdery snow.

All I can say is, my bike handling skills have really improved over the winter. Even though I was biking through snow over a bumpy surface that I couldn’t see or predict, I was able to stay upright.
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028I crossed the field successfully and then began to traverse a section of hardened snow. While crossing a small stream that was underneath a thick cover of snow, one of my legs plunged into the snow and my boot got stuck.
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After making it over the stream I was able to bike on top of the snow. But every little while the rear tire would sink deep into snow and need to be rescued. Then me and my bike came to a barbed wire fence. The trick was that the fence was hidden under the snow where we crossing. I got off the bike to walk over the fence, knowing that if I was super unlucky my leg could plunge into soft snow right where the barbs would scratch it. But today wasn’t my super unlucky day and the snow held until we made it over the fence.

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You can see part of the fence here, a few posts are barely sticking out over the top of the snow before the whole thing disappears under the snow.

A few hundred yards of hardened snow later, we came into the fairgrounds and headed home. Can’t wait for Monday.

Friday Commute

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Dirty mountains of snow.

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Sugar Shanty.

The animals are starting to emerge now that the power of winter is weakening. I saw a skunk and a confused little field mouse on the way to work. Skunks were out in full force last year and it seems that the trend will continue this year as well. Though I don’t mind seeing skunks and it’s pretty easy to avoid them on a bike, I wish good luck to all the drivers on weaving a path through the minefield of walking stink bombs.

It was snowing on the way home! Okay, I shouldn’t really say it was “snowing” but there were snowflakes falling from the sky so it kinda-sorta counts. We may get up to three inches of snow tomorrow afternoon and all I can say is the shoulders of the roads better not be plowed when I get out of work or it will be a total rip-off.014

You know the saying, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone”? I have had fun biking through the snow but I didn’t realize I would miss it quite so much when it no longer covered the road.

The past three nights I have been dreaming about bikes and snow in different  scenarios. (In one I was leading a group of friends in biking through this epic snow cave. They kept asking if  the walls would collapse since it was so warm outside and I would just reply, “Yeah, it is possible”, while calmly continuing to go father into the cave.)

So hopefully we will get some nice snow tomorrow or I may spend another night guiding my helpless friends to an icy demise.

To work (10 miles)
3:40 am to 4:40 am
Weather
20F, 7 mph Southeast wind

From work (10 miles)
3:15 pm to 4:20 pm
Weather
32F, 9 mph South wind

Saturday Commute

It is day three of the Errandonnee. I was going to count yesterday’s commute towards the Errandonne but that kinda failed. Thankfully, today’s ride was uneventful. Mostly.

I startled a bird that was in the snow bank this morning. It took off to fly…and went under my hands, flapping against my jacket for a brief second before fluttering away. If I had any presence of mind I could have grabbed it, stuck it my pannier and then counted my commute under the “You brought WHAT on your bike!?” category.

Poor bird (I think it was a pigeon or dove) I probably shocked it out of its early morning rest. But at least I wasn’t a two ton pickup truck!

When my work day had ended and I was changing back into my biking clothes I suddenly realized something. It was warm enough outside to wear sneakers! I am so used to putting on my huge men’s hiking boots that I forgot that sneakers are actually a viable footwear option. For the first mile my feet felt beyond weird in them. A good weird, of course.

Even though it has started snowing again, it feels like spring out. When I started this blog it was mostly to gather information for myself for the next winter (like a chipmunk gathering acorns). That is why I insisted on recording all my layers so meticulously. I really (like really, really, super really) think I have enough information about that aspect of winter biking so from now on I will simply record the weather, distance and time.

To work (10 miles)
3:25 am to 4:25 am
Weather
20F, 21 mph Southwest wind, 28 mph gusts

From work (10 miles)
3:15 pm to 4:10 pm
Weather
26F, 17 mph Southwest wind, light snow

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This is the shed that my bike hangs out in while I am working.

Errand #4
Work (Work or Volunteering)
Distance: 20 miles

Friday Commute

As I started my ride I was awestruck by the beauty around me. The snowy landscape was gleaming from the light of a full moon making it the brightest morning I’ve experienced so far this winter. Two deer crossed the road underneath the moon night and I drew in a deep, contented breath, knowing this was going to be a peaceful, beautiful bike ride through the snow.

Until it wasn’t.

I had just descended the hill coming out of town, when my bike decided to revolt.

My bike and I have come to a mutual agreement about subzero rides. As long as I keep pedaling constantly, my bike will be nice to me. But if I coast at all, my bike does have the right to let the chain slip, which I then have to adjust before moving on.

But this morning my bike was having none of our little contract. The chain was slipping over and off of the gears, while I was pedaling. Not cool.

I readjusted the chain, and started pedaling. Success only lasted for three pedal strokes, however. After going through this process multiple times and having more trouble and less success each time, I realized that I was going to have to attempt getting to work without the help of my bike. (My dad’s hypothesis is that trapped moisture somehow prevented the freewheel from working in the cold.)

Maybe I could lower the seat and use the bike as a scooter? Nope, the seat would not budge. Then I discovered that while sitting on the saddle I could kick the snow bank on the edge of the road with my right foot and propel myself forward.

This proved effective as well as strenuous. I took breaks from bike-scooter-ing by jogging alongside my bike. It felt like a bizarre workout; push my bike along until my leg was on fire, then run until I was out of breath, repeat.

At almost the five mile mark, I checked the time. There was no way I could make it to work on time at this pace, or even make it before the restaurant opened. It was time to call in a rescue vehicle. Stink. Figuring that my dad (who had kindly come and installed new derailleur pulleys as well as serviced my front brakes the night before) wanted to wake up early on a Friday morning, I dialed his number. In fifteen seconds flat our conversation was over and he was on the way. (Isn’t he the best?)

In the interest of staying warm and with the thought that there was a chance I could still magically make it to work without the need for rescue, I continued my scooter/jog routine.

I was disappointed with my inability to make it to work on my own, but the irony of the situation began to amuse me.

-When I started using my bike as a form of transportation a few years ago, most days I rode while secretly hopeing that someone would offer me a ride. If the weather was the least bit nasty (rain or wind, horrors!) I would be glad to use it as an excuse not to bike. But here I was in out in -16F, desperately trying to make it to work somehow.

-I was apprehensive about many aspects of year-round biking when winter began. The cold was not one of them, I knew I could handle subzero temps no problem. But the cold has turned out to be my bike’s arch nemesis.

-I was able to complete every commute in November, December, January and February. The first week of March is a different story.

-My dad and I were talking last night and he made the comment, “This could be the last time we get below zero temperatures this winter.” I expressed that I would miss them and that I was glad I had learned how to bike successfully in them. Oops.

All these things flashed through my mind and I had to laugh at the extreme irony of my morning. But when I looked to the sky, I realized the moon had been laughing at me the entire time.

Half way to work (5 miles)
3:20 am to 4:40 am

Weather
-16F, 8 mph Southwest wind

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava, headband
Torso: thermal shirt, soft shell jacket, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves with liners
Legs: 2 pairs of yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Who knew bike-scooter-ing is actually a really good way to stay warm?

From work (10 miles)
3:20 pm to 4:20 pm

Weather
18F, 17 mph Southwest wind, 23 mph gusts
I wore
Head: headband
Torso: thermal shirt, rain jacket
Hands: knit gloves
Legs: thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Sure, my face got a little cold, but it feels like spring!

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The giant white dog makes a cameo!

Errandonnee Day One

Today is the start of the Errandonee which will continue for the next twelve days. A huge thank you to MG for turning normal errands into a fun event!

I headed out the door at 8:45ish ready to conquer some errands. The sky was clear and the temperature was 6F. First, I headed off to the ice skating rink. Biking seems like the perfect mode of transportation to the local rink. But it is not. It actually creates a moral dilemma that I have to overcome every single time I bike over to the fairgrounds.

My bike is outfitted with a perfectly capable set of studded tires and each time I bike over to skate, the itch to test those tires on a huge, solid, gorgeous sheet of ice gets stronger. It is overwhelmingly tempting to just sneak my bike on the ice and try my skills out on a few figure eights.

But being the conscientious person that I occasionally am, I laced up my skates instead. After a good skating workout, ( a workout mostly for my ankles who think they have the right to complain after being stuffed into confining figure skates) I got back on my bike, did my best to plow through a few snowmobile trails around the fairgrounds and then headed to the bank.
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When I got to the bank, one section of the parking lot was covered in ice. To make up for denying my bike an experience on the ice at the fairgrounds, I steered over to the sheet of ice. My bike is great on ice. On my own, I am not so great, however, so I shuffled carefully to the entrance of the bank.

Handy tip when combining winter biking and banking-take your balaclava off as soon as you dismount your bike.

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Banking done, I pedaled up the hill to the store which is the pride of all America – Walmart. When I go to Walmart I always park as far away from the store as I can. I don’t really know why this habit persists but I just go along with it. I mostly needed to stock up on veggies but then I decided to try something bold. Okay, attempting the safe transportation of eighteen eggs on the back of a bicycle isn’t really that bold, but I have never tried it before. In the name of science, I decided to forgo any type of cushioning for the eggs. I just filled up my panniers with the rest of the groceries and then placed the carton of eggs on top sealed tightly in a plastic bag so that the creation of any egg mess would be contained.

I arrived back at my apartment (after forgetting several times that I was carrying eggs and biking over some decent-sized bumps) and to my surprise all the eggs are intact! Nice.

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Errand #1
Ice Skating (Personal Care)
Distance: 1 mile

Errand #2
Bank (Personal Business)
Distance: 2 miles

Errand #3
Supermarket, carried eggs home (You carried WHAT on your bike?!)
Distance: 3 miles