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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

When the Snow Smiles Back

ice walls with bikeSnow makes me smile all the time. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day it would smile back.

On my commuting route there is a stretch of flat road that follows the river. For some reason or another, the majority of the exciting experiences I have while commuting happen on this section of road. (Personally, I think it is because the river is magical.)

Monday afternoon I was biking calmly toward home, wrapped up in my own little world when I came to this stretch of road.

Suddenly, I realized that today I was not the only one hanging out of the shoulder of the road.

There were hundreds of smiley faces inhabiting the asphalt. Salt from the plow trucks combined with the weather conditions had created an entire community of smiling snow patches.DSC02465

DSC02464DSC02466Not every face was a perfect representative of the classic smiley face, but the vast majority had an uncanny likeness.

I couldn’t contain my own smile for the next mile of my commute. How could I? There were little faces peering up and grinning right at me!

The next time someone asks me why I bike through the winter, I will just tell them,

“If I didn’t bike, I would miss out on the smiley faces!”

A Tiny Treasure in the Snow

new snowLast night when I checked the weather before going to bed 1-3 inches of snow was predicted.

When I started biking to work there was a touch of snow covering the side streets in town. But then winter went wild and suddenly I was in the middle of an all-out snowstorm. The temperature was close to freezing so the snowflakes were gigantic and heavy. Just beautiful.

Visibility was very low, but at this time in the morning no one is on the roads, so it really isn’t a problem as long as I am careful. I wasn’t all alone out the storm, however, I startled a group of three deer and they scrambled across the road in front of me.

Their hooves slid on the slippery pavement, leaving behind odd slashes in the snow. I guess bikes and cars are not the only ones to need studs on the road in winter.

Throughout my ride, I kept my ears tuned to listen for a snowplow. I figured one would come by and clear the rapidly increasing layer of heavy snow. But a snowplow never came and the closer I got to the restaurant, the deeper the snow became and the slower I trudged along. But I made it to work in the nick of time, albeit rather sweaty.

The storm was long gone by the time I rode home, but it had left behind over a foot of snow. The sun was shining on a landscape that had been entirely reinvented. Everywhere I looked, I could see sparkling, perfect snow. This route, that I have ridden hundreds of times in the past few years, felt like a new road that I had just started exploring.

The only problem with the road is that the snowplows had done their work and it was completely and utterly clear of snow. And the short trails that I can normally take on the way home were completely impassable on my bike because of the deep snow. It is no good to just look at pretty, new snow-snow is meant to be played in!birdbox in snow

So I stopped at a trail and pranced around in the snow for a bit, exploring the woods. In the middle of my wanderings, I found a tiny treasure in the snow. Amidst dead, prickly vines and brown fruit I discovered a single red fruit (I don’t have the slightest idea what kind of fruit or berry it is) peeking out in the sunlight. It was just a small blob of color in a sea of snow, but it made me smile.red blob

Thumbs Up

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.

car in snow 2

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.

The Snow and The Missing Dog

We are only two days into 2016 and already it has managed to be an adventure!

winter stormA good amount of snow fell yesterday so I had the chance to do one of my favorite things-bike through a silent, snow covered woods. The new year couldn’t have started out much better than that.

I am typically a very cautious bike handler-I avoid anything that puts me in danger of falling like the plague.

But when I am alone in the woods, sheltered by the trees, I feel bold enough to go beyond my normal comfort zone. It must be the thick layer of snow, making the ground seem closer and softer in case of a crash. Every time I get a chance to ride in a snowy forest, I leave with a better understanding of how to handle my bike.

That is not why I bike in the woods though. I bike in the woods because it is a blast!winter berries

We got even more snow overnight, I saw lots of snowplows on my commute this morning. When my shift was over, the coworker who was taking over for me mentioned that her red lab, Brady, had gone missing that morning. She asked me to keep an eye out for him on my way home.

As a fellow dog lover, my heart sank. There is nothing worse than not knowing where your dog might have run off to.

But I had a hunch.

If I were a dog, exploring the world by myself for the day, I would head over to visit the free-spirited, bold animals that reside on Fence Fail Farm. Who knows? They might even share a few valuable tips from their years of experience as escape artists to a fellow escapee.biking by the stream

I didn’t have a lot of faith in my theory, because my coworker lives a mile or two away from Fence Fail Farm, but as I pedaled slowly past the farm, I carefully scrutinized each dog on the property. The two border collies, a beagle, a non-descript hound…

…and a red Labrador.

I chuckled and called my coworker. Then I tried to coax Brady over, but he was clearly enjoying his newfound freedom and was not interested in leaving his new friends. Even bribing him with my emergency stash of energy bars didn’t work. He gobbled one chunk of Clif bar that I tossed his way but he didn’t seem too enthused about the taste. Maybe peanut butter flavored bars would have been more alluring!

My coworker’s husband soon came in his truck to pick up the wayward canine and once the pair were reunited, I went on my way.

Biking commuting has so many benefits, but I never expected finding a lost dog to be one of them.

Because of snow, I am on the right track.

Ever since I found out what a track stand is (early on this year) I have wanted to learn how to do them. Besides being “cool”, I could imagine how handy this skill would be at intersections.

I watched some videos online and tried it myself. The cyclists I saw made it look so easy, but I couldn’t even get myself to stop fully, I was too chicken. Whenever I slowed almost to a stop and felt unsteady, I would unclip and put my foot down to avoid falling.

For a few days I tried to overcome that instinct but to no avail. So I quit trying because the only thing I seemed to be learning was how to clip out of my pedals at lighting fast speeds.

That was months ago.

This Sunday, I spent the afternoon biking in the snow. In some places it was very deep, making it really tricky to get enough momentum to start pedaling. There were moments when for a split second there was no forward motion whatsoever and I was just balancing from side to side. It slowly dawned on me,

“If you can do this, you can do a track stand.”

Yesterday, I re-watched the track stand videos.

 

 

Then I went to a secluded grassy field and confidently started practicing. My confidence melted away as quickly as our snow has-I found myself doing the very same thing that I had been doing months before-putting my foot down when the bike felt unstable.

I realized I was trying to do too much, too fast: I needed to take baby steps. I went around the field again, this time never actually stopping, just getting my body and bike into the right position.

Then I began using my brakes and stopping fully, but only for a microsecond, pedaling away before I felt the urge to put my foot on solid ground. Around and around the field I went, slowly gaining confidence and lasting longer at each stop. Inevitably, at some point I would prolong my attempt at balancing too long and be forced to take my foot off the pedal to save myself. Then I would go back to microseconds and build up again.

After a good half hour, I had a track stand last for what seemed like a long time (maybe a full second or two, haha) and pedaled out of it successfully. I decided to end my practice on a positive note, so I went home.

Today I worked in the morning and on the way home I practiced again. It felt more natural this time.

Body out of the saddle, arms and legs slightly bent, eyes at the horizon, fingers gently touching the brakes, wheel at an angle…

I worked up to balancing a bit longer than I was able to yesterday. Once again, after a track stand that felt really good, I stopped practicing and finished my ride home.

I need quite a bit more practice before I can take this skill on the road, but I am finally making real progress.

Thank you, snow!

Biking in a Winter Wonderland

snowy river

Rain has been falling in spits and spurts all day, wreaking havoc on our glorious snow. Temperatures are predicted to continue their relentless rise throughout the week, by Christmas snow will only be a happy memory.

But what a happy memory!

Yesterday my church held a special Christmas service which started early and ended around eleven. I went home, grabbed a bite to eat and quickly set out. I biked to a state park in the area, hoping for a quiet place to ride in the snow.

I arrived at the park to find perfection. The snow was deep enough to be challenging, but not so deep to be impossible to ride through. And as I entered the woods, I found the snow to be completely pristine-not a single human had set foot in this place since the snowfall.

There is something so special and magical about an untouched layer of snow, it almost felt wrong to spoil it with my studded tires and hiking boots. But it was so much fun!

before

Pristine snow

snow after

Not quite so pristine snow.

snow bike rut

Sole responsibility lies with this machine.

me and the bike

I guess it wasn’t JUST the bike’s fault…

 

I raced up and down the trail, sliding and slipping the entire time.

Note: My “racing” speed in snow like this is probably 3-6 mph, so you might want to take that into consideration.

At one point, a strong gust of wind shook the trees tops furiously, all the snow held captive in their branches fell gently down creating an instant snowstorm. It took my breath away.

After plowing through the snow for awhile, I decided to check out another section of the park. Here I met a gentleman as he was packing up his skis and heading home.

We struck up a conversation: my bike tends to make people ask questions. We went on to talk about skiing and he told me that his son used to be his skiing buddy, but three years ago he drowned while out fishing.

“I learned soon enough that I had to keep on living.” He said to me.

How bittersweet it must be for this man every time he goes out skiing. Remembering all the adventures, good and bad, that he shared with his son over the years…

We wished each other a, “Merry Christmas” and I continued down the path. The snow was deeper here and I had trouble finding enough momentum to get started. A snowshoer saw me and took and double-take. He proceeded to stare at me like I was a triple headed unicorn for the longest time. (I can neither confirm or deny any allegations that I am, in fact, a triple headed unicorn.)unicorn

Not eager to have a curious witness watch my waffling attempts at biking, I walked down to the stream and took pictures until he was out of view. When I tried again, I got started on my first attempt. Ha! leaves and rivericicles by the river

The woods were so peaceful and beautiful and I felt so utterly blessed to be able to spend my afternoon in a snowy wonderland.

But the day was coming to an end and I had to say goodbye to the wonderful trails and head home. But riding home itself turned out to be quite fun. I had the wind at my back and a gradually downhill route. Add to this that I was riding on pavement, not deep snow, and I felt like I flew home.

Then I washed my bike, which was the filthiest I have ever seen it. I ended the day by caroling around town with my church family.

It was a good, good day.winter berries