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Bike at work

Arriving at work

It rained Saturday and Sunday, making all of our snow disappear. When I went to bed last night the wind was howling and rain was pounding on my window.

The morning brought a whole new world. The temperature had dropped, transforming the rain into soft, fluffy flakes of snow. My ride to work was beautiful-for the first time this winter I got to bike through a snowstorm in the dark.

Riding through the falling snow under a black sky was incredible. I just wanted to stare into the millions of snowflakes as they whirled and danced gently to the ground, but I managed to keep most of my attention on the road since sliding into a ditch is not ideal.

My world was small, out on that road. It consisted of only two things: the snow on the ground and the snow in the air. What a wonderful world to be in!

I know that I can pray to God anytime and anywhere, but out in a snowstorm like this I can feel His presence so close to me. It is one of my favorite times to talk to God, out in the peaceful splendor of whirling snow.

A fox tiptoed daintily across the road, leaving tiny footprints. I wondered if he was commuting as well, or just out enjoying the weather.

It was favorite commute so far in 2016 and I arrived at the restaurant pumped and ready to work hard.

But I didn’t end up working very hard. All the local schools had a snow day and many business were closed as well, so my boss decided to shut down at 9:30. Then came the exciting part; getting my boss’s car that had become engulfed by a giant pile of snow, onto the road. It took a lot of shoveling to dig the poor thing out. Then I stood on the road and made sure it was all-clear before giving my boss the go ahead. She zoomed up the small incline though the deep snow and onto the road.

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This is my boss’s car, after four hours of being in the parking lot

Then I went to the shed, took out my bike and simply carried it to the road. Using a bike for transportation in the winter comes with perks!

Going home took a long time. The road hadn’t been plowed for a while and the visibility was terrible. Not wanting to take any chances, I clung to the right side of the road, out of the reach of the cars.the road home

Over the course of my ten mile journey, I spotted three vehicles that had slid off the road. I asked one guy if he wanted help (he had help on the way) but the other two cars were so stuck that they had been abandoned.

brown river

The rain created a lot of run off, turning this stream into a nasty brown river

One guy, in a beat-up pickup, told me to get off the road, even though I was already on the shoulder and completely out of his way. Maybe he actually said, “Your lights are cool.”

While I was biking through town a guy shoveling snow saw me and nudged his buddy.

“How’s the ride?” He asked.

I grinned and gave him a thumbs up.

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Car Language

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This is a picture taken on a bike adventure a few weeks back.

Just after I pulled out of the parking lot at work today and into the road, a friend honked her car horn and passed me with a friendly wave.

That got me to thinking about the intricacies of the spoken language of vehicles. In a typical week of biking, I get honked at by cars (or rather by their drivers) five to ten times. All of the honks directed toward me fall into two categories.

The Friendly Honk
The overwhelming majority of times a car sounds its horn, it is simply someone I know, saying, “Hi!” to me. My current record is four friendly honks in ten miles. It always makes me smile to get this kind of interaction.

The Angry/Irritated Blare
Sometimes I am blasted with a loud resounding honk by a driver who is clearly not happy with me for some reason or another. Thankfully, these instances are very rare.

There is another type of sound a vehicle has used to get my attention, The Honk of Impending Doom . Which is also know as, “Please get off the road, or I may accidently smash you”. Warning other road users of danger is why car horns were invented, if my hunch is correct. But the meaning behind this honk is the same as the angry blare. Both drivers want me off the road, only difference is why they want me to yield to them.

You would think that since cars are telling me, either, “Hi!” or “GET OFF THE ROAD!!!!!”, it would be easy for me to differentiate between the two. Nope. Car language confuses me, in many ways, all the time. This is how.

Surprise!
The most common position for people to greet me with a friendly honk is when they coming up directly behind me. No matter how gentle of a sound it is, it always startles me and I probably jump embarrassingly high into the air.

The Loud Friendly Honk
Some cars seem to only have a single decibel setting when they honk, and that setting is very loud! I assume the driver is angry at me until they pass and I see a friendly smile and wave.

The Soft Angry Honk
Once I heard a car honk and turned to wave but my hand froze in mid air when I was stared down by a red-faced gentleman. If you are mad at me, can you at least sound mad?

Intersection Confusion
When I enter an intersection, I feel very vulnerable. I am also on full alert-I don’t expect cars to see or yield to me-it is up to me to make sure I get through safely. So anytime a car honks while I am crossing an intersection I always think there is danger or someone is objecting to my handling of the situation. It’s neither. Every single time I have heard a car honk at me while in an intersection I have later discovered that it was someone trying to say hello.

The Zero Response Time Honk
When someone honks at me, I like to smile and wave at them. Unfortunately, due to my less-than-perfect reflexes and the speed at which cars pass me, I often miss my opportunity. Then, later in the week, a friend will say, “I honked at you the other day but you didn’t even notice.” Oops.

The Not-For-You Honk
Because people in their cars often honk at me, I can easily fall into the trap of thinking that all car honking revolves around me and my bike. But I have discovered, to my amazement, that sometimes cars honk at other cars or pedestrians or even animals. When it comes to car language, I need to remember that is it not all about me.

So what was my conclusion to this fascinating study of how I frequently misunderstand car language? There is none. Halfway through my commute home I was distracted by falling snowflakes and any thoughts of cars were banished from my mind.

Just a little perk of biking…

DSC00791The local police set up a roadside speedometer a few houses down from where I live. It shows the speed of passing cars and flashes if that speed is over 30 mph. Since I bike past the sign every day and walk my dogs down the street, I have been able to observe the reactions of motorists to the speedometer.

As the cars come around the corner and see their current speed displayed, the most common reaction is gentle pressure on the brakes until the car is moving at or under the speed limit. Of course, there are some drivers who either don’t see the sign or are feeling brazen; they continue to speed down the road unflinchingly. My personal favorite are the drivers who see their speed and instantly stomp on the brakes until they are going way below the legal speed. It is my firm belief that these individuals think that a police officer is hiding in the shrubbery, waiting to pop out and hand them a ticket.

But all these motorists, regardless of their behavior when they notice the speedometer, have one thing in common. They are all speeding to various degrees before they come to the sign. Clearly, many of them aren’t speeding on purpose, their reaction to the speedometer is proof of that. It is just that speeding in a car is so easy. I have (occasionally) driven a car in the past and it shocked me every time how simple it was to go over the speed limit without even realizing it. Cars want to go fast, they are made to go fast, but in many situations they should not go fast.

I was thinking about it on the way home from work today. Just for fun, I decided to add three sprints to my route. For a few minutes each time, I pounded on those pedals as hard and as fast as ever I could. Going at my top speed down the road-it feels great. And that is the freedom of traveling everywhere by bike. My speed is not determined by road signs, laws or police officers. In most cases my fastest speed is legal and safe. I set my own pace, whether it be slower than a jogger running up a hill or faster than an Amish racehorse.

Some people think I am a little odd for choosing a mode of transportation that is slower and less convenient for getting around. It is true, they can zip around the countryside at speeds I could never dream of reaching.

But biking does have lots of great perks and one, little, maybe rather trivial perk, is that I have the freedom to choose my own speed. I can race down the road as fast as I can just for fun and it is exhilarating. It doesn’t get me killed or fined.  Although…in the event that I ever was caught speeding down a hill, well, I would probably brag about the resulting ticket until the day I died.

Oh, I should probably tell you my own reaction while biking past the speedometer. Well, I think it might not be calibrated correctly for bicycles because yesterday it said I was going ninety. I didn’t slow down.

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!

Friday Commute

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Main road on the commute to work.

I worked the later shift today so I got to sleep in!

But the downside is I had to work later than I am used to working so I was tired by the end of my shift. The last hour at work was a rush, I tried to get everything done as fast as possible so that I could head home.

As soon as hopped on my bike and started out under the clear, glittering sky I could relax and breathe again. I love biking at night, especially when stars and moon light the way.

I was climbing a hill when I noticed a car stuck in a snow bank, hopelessly spinning its wheels. The rear of the vehicle was jutting out into the road and as a car whizzed by it honked angrily at the obstacle. A few other cars also passed by, heedless to their fellow vehicle’s predicament. Shouldn’t vehicles be ready to assist their own kind?

Side road on the way to work.

Side road on the way to work.

I was slightly cautious while approaching the car. I instinctively fear sports cars that are revving their engines. But a breathed a sigh of relief when I could see that the driver was an anxious young lady. She rolled down the passenger window and accepted my offer of help. After a childhood filled with pushing a 15 passenger van out of snow banks, helping a little sports car was a piece of cake.  The driver thanked me and drove off. Nothing else exciting happened on the way home so I got to thinking and decided there are at least four reasons why winter cyclists are a better option than the typical motorist for rescuing stuck cars.

1. We are dressed for success. People in cars often are only dressed to sit in a heated car, not push cars out of snow. But winter bikers? We have our boots, hats, balaclavas and layers on, we are prepared to be in the snow and cold (because we are in the snow and cold).

2. We are more observant of the helpless cars around us. Vehicles may miss out on a car in distress due to their great speed, but us slow and steady bikers won’t miss a thing.

3. Bikes are non-obstructive. When a motorist rescues another motorist they must first find a safe place to park their vehicle so it will not obstruct traffic, something that can be tricky in winter time. But when you are on a bike you can just pick it up and stash in the nearest snow bank if need be.

4. Our strong legs come in handy when pushing out a trapped car.

And think of the benefits to the cycling community, I doubt that girl will tell the next biker she sees, “GET OFF THE ROAD!!!” So let’s rescue all the cars we can, they need our help.

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This highly sophisticated design, which utilized a knit glove secured with electrical tape proved unsuccessful.

On a sad note, my first prototype of the highly anticipated insulated bike headlight failed. My light did last until I arrived at home but the temperature wasn’t severely subzero either. Back to the drawing board.

To work (10 miles)
9:30 am to 10:35 am

Weather
15F, 14mph North wind, 22 mile gusts, snow

I wore
Head: head band, ski goggles
Torso: thermal shirt, rain jacket
Hands: knit gloves
Legs: yoga pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Very nice

From work (10 miles)
8:40 pm to 9:55 pm

Weather
-3F, 8 mph North wind

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