Sunny Winter Days

sunny winter dayAfter months of playfully fooling around, winter finally got down to business this week.

On Monday the temperature hovered either just above or just below zero all day. Tuesday morning I discovered that the weather station was reporting around -10, although it warmed up significantly throughout the day.

Now it is Wednesday and it appears our cold snap is over, at least for now.

Not only has it been cold the past few days, it has also been recklessly sunny. I treasure days like these-seeing the bright, winter sun make all the fields of snow glitter like diamonds, breathing in the sharp refreshing air, hearing the crunch of ice under my studded tires, smelling woodstoves merrily burning logs, sensing the stillness of a calm winter afternoon-it makes me feel so alive. These are the days that I long for in the sweltering heat of summer. frozen stream

Now, I am not saying that cold weather comes without complications. It likes to play cruel tricks on unsuspecting, unprepared victims and last year I had a few difficulties in the bitter cold. But this year, I thought I had a better grasp of how to deal with subzero temperatures. And I did, but my bike didn’t.

After staying in a cold shed all day on Monday, my bicycle did not want to cooperate on the journey back home. When I paused, three miles from home to take a few pictures of the captivating snow, it completely rebelled against my wishes. The freehub would not engage; it spun wildly in both directions.

So I got to walk home.

I tried to be mad at myself for not getting the hub serviced pre-winter, but I find it really hard to stay upset when I am out in beautiful winter weather. Winter only comes once a year, while it is here I have to enjoy it. Yes, getting home took a lot longer than I expected but that just means I had an excuse for staying outside longer! Of course, once the bike came inside for a bit the freehub started working perfectly.

Tomorrow, my dad and I are going to take it all apart and see if we can get it to be less cankerous about working in subzero weather. If not, I have another hub on the way.

 

 

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.

Monday Commute

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I didn’t sleep well last night and had lots of weird nightmares. When my alarm went off I had a headache and I felt like I had a fever. It wasn’t a bad headache, but I don’t usually get them so when my head does ache I am a bit of a baby. Convinced that I had a temperature, I stuck a thermometer under my tongue. Two minutes later I discovered my temperature was normal. Okay then, time to get dressed and head out the door.

Even though I felt a little off at first, after a few miles of biking I was fine. I was somewhat lethargic at work, but hey, I made it!

On the way home a car passed me and pulled over ahead of me. As I approached the car, the sweetest little lady popped out and came to the back of the car.

“Are you a young lady under all of that?”

After I answered in the affirmative, she went on tell me that she often sees me biking and wondered if she could give me rides “in a warm car”. I reassured her that if I did need a ride I had lots of family and friends that I could call. So she asked me if I needed a car.  I explained that lived car-free intentionally. Then she shared that she also loves biking and has her bike on a trainer in the winter.

She honestly put such a huge smile on my face with her genuine thoughtfulness. If I am remembering correctly, she is the first woman to offer me a ride this winter. I should have asked if we could meet up sometime to bike together in the summer, but those are the kind of things I don’t remember until after conversations are over.

To work (10 miles)
3:15 am to 4:35 am

Weather
-18F, 6 mph West wind

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava, head band
Torso: thermal shirt, soft shell jacket, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves with liners
Legs: two pairs of yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: My legs started getting cold toward the end which is normal. The thing is I could buy actual winter pants to keep me warm, but the problem is I really don’t mind my legs feeling cold. Am I weird?

From work (10 miles)
3:05 pm to 4:20 pm

Weather
3F, 6 mph Northwest wind

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava
Torso: thermal shirt, soft shell jacket, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: two pairs of yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Nice.

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Friday Commute

001Happy International Winter Bike to Work Day to everyone! To celebrate this unique holiday, I decided to bike to work! Incidentally, I also logged the lowest average temperature combined from my trips to and from work today at -7.5F.

My new headlight didn’t die on the way to work, which is really thoughtful of it. My chain was not so gentle with me however. Yesterday I gave my bike a decent cleaning and re-lubed my chain (I have been lubing my chain twice a week during the winter) and I guess I did not do something right because it kept starting to slip while I was biking which was downright annoying. I had to stop a few times to reposition it, but thankfully I still made it to work on time.

On the way home it worked fine.

Because it is International Winter Bike to Work Day I thought I would share my top winter biking tip with all of you.

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This is the sidewalk in front of my house. Those snow banks are actually taller than me.

Don’t lick your lips.
The saltiness you taste is not from the aftermath of your last meal or even from your own sweat. It is from the salt and chemicals of the road flying onto your face. Lick at your own risk!

To work (10 miles)
3:30 am to 4:55 am

Weather
-14F, 16 Northeast wind

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava, head band
Torso: thermal shirt, soft shell jacket, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves with liners
Legs: two pairs of yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: My legs got a little cold by the end, but with it being International Bike to Work Day and all, I didn’t mind.

From work (10 miles)
3:25 pm to 4:45 pm

Weather
-1F, 7 mph West wind

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava
Torso: thermal shirt, soft shell jacket, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: two pairs of yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Cool beans (but I stayed warm).

Friday Commute

commute 008I brought along my cheap Wal-Mart headlight with me this morning in case my headlight died which it did but I was so close to work that I didn’t bother to stop and mount the Wal-Mart light.

Good news though, I contacted Light & Motion on Monday night and they shipped a new light out for me on Tuesday and it should be here any day now. They are letting me keep my old light as well, which is awesome.

The commute started out with clear roads, light snow, good visibility and high psi in my tires. But my journey did not stay so tranquil for long. The snow was soon falling so thickly that right after cars passed me they would seem to disappear in a cloud of snow. I will never understand why a small but significant percentage of drivers refuse to turn on their lights except when they turn on automatically at night. Just because you are in a car doesn’t mean people can see you.commute 011

I hold no such misconceptions, I always assume that cars do not see me and I try to remember to behave accordingly. I lowered my tire pressure so that I could ride at the very edge of the shoulder. Gotta love my tires, when the pressure is low they stick to the road even when the nastiest, brown-est snow comes their way. However, the increased traction means I have to work extra hard in the saddle, so I am currently a tired little bunny.

commute 012To work (10 miles)
3:25 am to 4:35 am

Weather
-12F, 15 Southeast wind, light snow

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava, head band
Torso: thermal shirt, soft shell, jacket, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves with liners
Legs: two pairs of yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Really good.

From work (10 miles)
3:05 pm to 4:35 pm

Weather
22F, 13 mph West wind, heavy snow

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava
Torso: thermal shirt, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Got pretty warm, but it wasn’t too bad.

Monday Commute

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Leaving my driveway.

I had the best ride home ever!

I woke up at 2:30 to several inches of fresh snow with more gently falling.
I rode to work and the snow continued to fall.
I worked through the morning and the snow continued to fall.
I worked through lunchtime and the snow continued to fall.
I got back on the road and guess what? The snow continued to fall.

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Leaving work.


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This is the river I cross every day I work. (Hint: the river is the area of snow between the two rows of trees, not the metal railing.)


It wasn’t a heavy snow, just a steady downward float of the fluffiest, lightest snowflakes imaginable. In all we got 15 inches. Visibility on the road wasn’t stellar at first so I plodded along in the several inch deep snow of the shoulder. Sure, it was slow but I felt safer there and going through snow is more interesting than using the plowed road.  About halfway home the snow stopped and the sun came out. There was a hint of a rainbow in the sky. I was having a nice ride and enjoying the landscape until my world was forever changed. By snow dunes.

Snow dunes are little magical piles of snow crafted by wind blowing over open fields. The conditions we had today created beautiful deep snow dunes.

I found out what my natural reaction is to seeing snow dunes on the shoulder on the road. I want to destroy them. I went charging through those wind-shaped piles of snow as fast as I could (which was not really that fast). Oh my! Why use artificial snow on ski slopes when the snow would be of greater use making snow dunes for bike riders? I kept finding myself giggling while flying through the mounds of snow.

I was chugging right along when I suddenly realized that I should try to take some pictures. I took off my gloves and got out the camera. While I was fishing around in my panniers to find something to use as a reference point for the picture, I saw a snow plow in the distance. Oh great. So I snapped a picture quickly, grabbed all my stuff and dragged my bike to the other side on the road.

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The picture I took just before the snowplow destroyed all traces of snow dune existence.

If I thought I was good at destroying snow dunes I quickly found out that snow plows are weapons of mass destruction, destroying entire communities of snow dunes in their wake. I re-crossed the road and all my fun had been plowed away.

But it was awesome fun until then and a great workout as well!

(Light update: my light made it the entire ride to work, yay! But it was almost dead. I contacted the manufacturer and they will get back to me tomorrow, crossing my fingers for a good outcome.)

To work (10 miles)
3:35 am to 5:00 am

Weather
0F, 17 mph Northeast wind, snow

I wore
Head: 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: My legs have been staying warm lately which is really nice of them.

From work (10 miles)
3:20 pm to 5:00 pm

Weather
-3F, 10 mph Northeast wind, snow for half of the ride

I wore
Head: 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: I should have worn my headband as well, my ears got a little cold and currently feel sore.

Saturday Commute

On the way to work I saw guys cutting ice from a pond using an antique tractor. I kind of wanted to stop but I knew if I did my chain would slip and I also risked my goggles fogging up so I passed by, albeit very slowly.

I kept my bike on one gear for awhile but I realized at the end of my commute that it was shifting fine. I guess the non-shifting threshold is somewhere between -6 and -11.

I think my headlight battery has been corrupted by its subzero adventures, it quit on me a quarter-mile from home. Time for a new battery, new light or both.

To work (10 miles)
9:25 am to 10:40 pm

Weather
-6F, 5 mph Northwest 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: A bit sweaty but alright.

From work (10 miles)
8:20 pm to 9:35 pm

Weather
8F, 8 mph Southeast wind, light snow

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

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.

Saturday Commute

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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.

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.