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.

A commute filled with lights and tears.

Riding in the early morning can be unpredictable. I calmly set off to work this morning and once I had left the streetlights of my small town behind me I looked up toward the sky. It was pure black and studded with brilliant stars, not a cloud in sight. I breathed in the cool autumn air, content and at peace, moving my feet to pedal at a gentle cadence.  I craned my neck to take in as much of the night sky as I could without falling off my bike.

My gaze fell on the northern sky and an indescribable awe came over me. Ever since I was a little girl I have yearned to see the Northern Lights and now, for the first time in my life I saw them lighting up the dark night. It was such an unexpected, such a joyful thing that tears spontaneously rolled down my cheeks. They weren’t even the brilliant colors that I know they sometimes appear in, this morning I only saw silver grays dance across the sky. That didn’t detract anything from my surprise and wonder at spotting these lights during my routine commute. Cars quickly passed me and I wanted to scream at them,

“Slow down! Don’t you see the dancing lights!?!?”

But it wasn’t long before I was torn away from the display in the sky, by a nasty villain known as fog. Usually I enjoy being sucked into the vortex of the fog as it rises up out of the river, but not today. I pedaled furiously to insure a quick escape but the fog extended further along the road than it normally does. By the time I could once again see the sky, the Northern Lights were gone.

The sky was still stunningly beautiful and I was cheered up even more when I saw Venus come toward me, golden and bright from the eastern sky.

The rest of my commute was filled with quiet contemplation. The beauty of the Northern Lights and the sky made my heart leap with joy. It made me wonder, if the sky is this glorious, what will it be like to see the creator of it all someday? There is glory, so much overwhelming glory in the night sky but I believe it is just a faint whisper of the majesty of God.

And so I arrived at work, a tearful mess, but replenished spiritually, emotionally and physically. I wish I could see the Northern Lights every morning.

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.