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.

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Bicycle Time Travel

trail ridingThis weekend was bright and sunny, a weird contrast to the severe storm the East coast experienced. It was also cold; Saturday and Sunday morning both began with subzero temperatures.

I was a bit unnerved by the fact that the last time we had subzero weather my freehub decided to give out on me. Doug from Four Season Cycling had assured me that nothing was wrong with the freehub, it just needed new, more suitable grease. With guidance from my dad and this video, I had flushed the old grease out and regreased the hub, hoping that my problem was solved.

Everything ran smoothly on my commute Saturday morning  with the temperature at -4. When I woke up Sunday morning it was -9 outside. Usually I just ride straight to church, which is just a mile up the road, but I wanted to test my bike out to make sure everything was working properly. So I left my house before sunrise to ride in the coldest temperatures possible. I didn’t do this to have fun, I was on a serious ride to test out my bicycle, I don’t think I even cracked a smile…

…Well, until I found a trail to ride through the woods.

The bike worked perfectly in the cold which made the trail even more fun to ride. Once I was back on the road, I saw an Amish buggy turning onto the same country lane that led to my church. Without hesitation, I turned onto the road behind it, but as I was doing so, I saw another Amish buggy turning behind me.

The next few seconds were comical as Amish folks seemed to pop up in every direction.

There were buggies coming from the right.
And the left.
There were groups of Amish ladies walking on the road dressed in black capes.
And also groups of boys and girls.

I found myself smack dab in the middle of the Amish community as they made their way to a family’s home for church!

For a few minutes, I felt like I had been transported back in time to early colonial America. Then we (meaning the procession of Amish folks and a lone cyclist) came to the farmhouse where the service was quite obviously being held.

The barnyard was full of Amish men who bustling about, talking and getting their horses situated. Well, they had been bustling about, but when they saw me, everything slowed to a halt.

With a bright colored jacket and blinking red lights, I supposed I stood out from the somber, dark tones of their community.

Suddenly, I felt like I was intruding on something very private. I did the only thing I could do, I waved awkwardly and gave a faint, “Hello”. Several of the men gave a jolly wave in return, which smoothed things over a bit, although I did see an elderly man with gray whiskers and twinkling eyes looking at me and laughing quite heartily.

My Pastor laughed quite loudly as well when I recounted my tale. I guess some test rides aren’t destined to be serious.

church

This church is the prettiest one in town, which explains why I took pictures of it during sunrise and not my own church….

Stopped by the Ice

ice 2My ride home from work today was aided by a rare beast: the tailwind. It is about time, he seems to avoid me as much as he can when I am pedaling home after work.

The roads were clear and I was setting a good pace. I was excited about the possibility of arriving at my apartment earlier than normal.

As I crossed the river, with four miles left to go, I noticed something cool (as in actually cool) in the trees.

It was ice. Big slabs of ice.

The receding water had left ice shelves in the swamp area near the river. I had to check it out.

Leaving my bike leaning against the guard rail, I scrambled down the bank, approaching the frozen swamp with caution. Was it really as frozen as it appeared or would it crack under my weight?

Then I realized the water had already receded, the only thing underneath the ice was shallow pockets of air. Emboldened, I stepped onto the ice and found it to be as firm as a concrete floor. I walked around on the icy, snow covered surface; looking at the tiny footprints left by woodland creatures and snapping photos of the stunning ice shelves. Some looked like tiny caves and others looked like tables. It is in these moments that I wish I knew how to take better pictures and/or had invested in a better camera. I want to remember how wonderful these unique ice sculptures really were!ice 1ice 5ice 3ice 4

As I headed back up to the road, I saw a man striding from my bike back to his car. I suppose he stopped to see if the abandoned bicycle was a sign of a human in distress, but once he saw me returning from my swamp wandering, he figured I was okay.

By the time I reached town, the sun was beginning to set. I arrived at my apartment much later than I had originally anticipated with a huge smile on my face. That is the magic of biking in winter, it slows me down but in the process it gives me memories I hope I will never forget.

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.

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.

 

 

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

Pre-winter Doldrums

DSC01952

 Have you ever wanted a weather vane that is actually a spiky-haired minion, flying a fighter jet?

Yesterday, I started innocently chatting with my coworker about her weekend. It was a nice conversation until she dropped this bomb,

“Apparently, they are saying that we won’t get any snow before mid-January.”

A wave of complete and absolute dread swept over me.

I was unsettled, not only by what she had said, but at my strong emotional reaction to the rumored delay in snowfall. Retreating back into the kitchen, I mulled over my response. Why had a simple weather prediction/rumor hit me so hard?

This is what I realized.

Biking year-round has been fun for me so far because I have, for the most part, embraced each season as it comes. But in the past few weeks, I have let that attitude slide. I began to desire winter to return so fiercely that I lost sight of enjoying the current weather.

The truth is, that I have allowed my biking to get stale and I have been blaming my lack of motivation on the lack of snow. I guess I planned to sit by and twiddle my thumbs until snow swept in like a knight in shining amour and transformed my world into a glistening, magical adventure-land ready to be explored.

I love winter. Ever since the beginning of spring, in the back of my mind, I have been dreaming and planning what I would do when snow made its triumphant return. Honestly, I have been hoping for a winter identical to last winter.

But winter marches to the beat of its own drum. It will come when it comes. And I need to remember that each winter is unique-chances are we won’t get the same amount of snowfall that we experienced last year.

So I am gonna stop obsessing over signs of snow in the 10-day forecast, comparing this year’s weather to last year’s and moping over the non-existent snow.

To put my new resolve into action, I left the house this morning a few hours before sunrise.

I biked up into a state forest and rode on uninhabited dirt roads. Flanked on either side by silent trees, with my headlight to guide me, I followed the road as it wound its way through the sleeping forest.

I stopped a few times just to enjoy the complete and utter stillness.

Quietly, I sang to myself. I tried singing some Christmas carols, but they didn’t seem to fit as my bike and I plunged through the mud, so I ended up singing How Great Thou Art instead.

Slowly, light began to filter through the leafless branches of the trees and the sky turned from black to blue. It was time to loop around and head home, I needed to be back so that I could babysit at nine.

On the way back, I found some potholes, filled with water and frozen over. They were too tempting to resist and I rode through them, crunching through the ice happily.

DSC01949

If we’ll need a good washing anyway, might as well get as muddy as possible.

 

DSC01954My bike and I returned home, completely and utterly filthy. It may premature to say this, but I think this ride has cured me of my pre-winter doldrums.

Am I still eagerly anticipating snowflakes?
You bet!
But I am not going to sit around any longer waiting anxiously for their arrival. The time for adventures is now.