Monday Commute

Subzero weather returned this morning but due to a bit of experience and some helpful suggestions my ride went much smoother.

(Many thanks to Cyclerist, Jim, Joshhan and everyone else for their encouragement and support!)

Last night I put ten more pounds of pressure in my tires, lubed my chain and set my bike on a gear that would work for the entire ride. When morning came I was ready to roll!

I treated my bike like a singlespeed for the duration of my commute. No coasting, no gear changes, just constant, steady pedaling. (Except when going downhill of course, then I had to pedal like crazy.) This worked out very well and I didn’t have to stop once to adjust a slipped chain, hallelujah!

Because I didn’t have to stop biking at any point, the problem of my goggles fogging up was also eliminated. When I arrived at work and removed them I discovered little spikes of frost about half a centimeter high along the inside of the bottom vent. So that was the white thing I kept seeing in the corner of my eye!

Sadly, one factor remained the same as my last subzero commute. I thought it was a fluke last time, that I had simply forgotten to dim the beam from my headlight, but apparently my headlight is allergic to cold weather. Even though I fully charged the battery last night, two miles from work the low battery indicator came on and I had to bike the remaining distance in the dark. I guess the cold depletes the battery much faster than normal.

I called my dad and he thinks a bit of foam insulation could help, or maybe I will order another light, keep it in a inner jacket pocket and then switch lights mid-ride. My taillights remained unfazed.

To work (10 miles)
3:35 am to 4:50 am

Weather
-11F, 7 mph East wind

I wore
Head: head band, ski goggles, balaclava
Torso: two thermal undershirts, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves with liners
Legs: two pairs of yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Everything was great except for my legs, need to order something warmer for them asap.

From work (10 miles)
3:35 pm to 4:45 pm

Weather
9F, 14 mph Northeast 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: Nice.

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.

Monday Commute

file2151245044275I try to bike very defensively. My mantra on the road is, “Don’t give cars a chance to hit you”. I don’t care whether I have the right of way or not, my main concern is making sure that I stay safe. That caution paid off this morning.

Most of my commute is on a state road and there are several side roads that intersect it along the way. Vehicles on the state road have the right of way, all side roads have stop signs at the intersections. Regardless of the fact that drivers by law must stop before turning or crossing the road, I always pause when a vehicle and I are coming up to an intersection simultaneously until I know that the driver sees me. Sometimes I feel silly being so cautious, cars stop at stop signs, right? Not always.

This morning about a mile away from work I noticed the headlights of a pickup truck approaching from a side road. I was about to cross the intersection but paused waiting to see what the truck would do. He never slowed down for the stop sign and turned left-right in front of me. My heart started to pound, if I had not slowed down we probably would have collided.

On the way home I paused at several intersections, but this time I did not feel silly in the slightest.

To work (10 miles)
3:45 am to 4:50 am

Weather
32F, 9 mph West wind, snow/sleet/rain stuff

I wore
Head: head band, rain jacket hood
Torso: thermal shirt, rain jacket
Hands: knit gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: It was so warm out!

From work (10 miles)
3:50 pm to 4:55 pm

Weather
25F, 10 mph West wind, snow

I wore
Head: headband, ski goggles, rain jacket hood
Torso: thermal shirt, rain jacket
Hands: knit glove
Legs: yoga pant, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Nice and warm without overheating.

Saturday Commute

file9851344474078

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

It was snowing quite hard on my morning ride but I stayed on the shoulder and arrived safely to work.

By afternoon the roads were clear so I decided to head to a nearby convenience store and put a little air in my tires to make the biking home easier. But even though I put four quarters in and even though the machine made lots of noise, it refused to pump any air into my tires. It was too cold I guess. So I turned around and headed home.

When I was just past the restaurant, the giant white dog appeared. But this time I knew there was no outrunning him, he was too close when I spotted him. I was quite sure that he wouldn’t hurt me when he caught up to me, but to increase my chance of staying safe, I decided to stop and show him that I was a normal person.

I got off the bike, ripped my goggles and face mask off and took off my gloves. Instead of continuing his fast pace toward me, he stopped while continuing to bark at me. I held out a hand and talked softly and firmly while making no direct eye contact. “Hey now, I know you are a big softie, it’s okay, no need to bark.” He walked up warily, sniffed my hand, barked a few more times for good measure and then backed away. I slowly started to walk with my bike down the road and though his posture stiffened he stayed still. Once I was out of gaze I hopped back on my bike and sped off.

Saw a few joggers out with their dog, you rock!

To work (10 miles)
3:45 am to 4:55 am

Weather
28F, 12 mph Southwest wind, heavy snow

I wore
Head: head band, ski goggles, rain jacket hood
Torso: thermal undershirt, rain jacket
Hands: knit gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Between the snow being so beautiful and biking carefully, I kinda forget how I felt temperature-wise, so I am going to guess everything was okay!

From work (10 miles)
3:10 pm to 4:40 pm

Weather
12F, 7 mph Northwest wind

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

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.

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.

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.

Monday Commute

We got a little snowfall overnight and the temperature has started dropping again so it almost feels like we are back to winter.

There are many health benefits to winter biking but I have discovered a health hazard as well. The main road I bike on gets salted to death and on dry days like this afternoon every time a car passed me a chalky, salty dust came into my nose and mouth. I am guessing that is not super healthy. Oh well, I suppose toxins are just a part of life….or I could buy a gas mask.

To work (10 miles)
3:50 am to 4:45 am

Weather 29F, 8 mph West wind

I wore
Head: balaclava, rain jacket hood
Torso: thermal undershirt, rain jacket
Hands: two pairs knit gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: two pair of socks, sneakers

Comments:  I couldn’t find my boots this morning (I think I left them at my parent’s house) so I just put on a thick pair of pink socks over my knee highs.

From work (10 miles)
4:00pm to 4:55pm

Weather 23F, 7 mph Northwest wind

I wore
Head: balaclava,  rain jacket hood
Torso: thermal undershirt, rain jacket
Hands: two pairs of knit gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: two pair of socks, sneakers

Comments: My torso overheated a bit so I unzipped my jacket partway.