Making friends with winter’s most dangerous creature.

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Gary, from PedalWORKS was kind enough to nominate me for the 5 day story challenge. He wants to hear more about my experience cycling in cold and snow and because he has cool bikes, he gets what he wants. So here we go.

Last year, around this time I was preparing for my first ever attempt to bike through winter. Not only was I gathering the gear that would keep me safe and warm through the winter, I was gathering information in how to use that gear to keep me safe and warm through the winter. But try as I might, my safety plan had a few gaps in it. The biggest, scariest blank area was how to deal with snow plows.

Snow plows are no joke. They are massive machines weighing somewhere around thirty tons with the power to clear whatever stands in their way. It is common for snow plows take down mailboxes and damage fences, street signs and whatever happens to be in their path. And I was about to willingly place myself in their path.

Online, I couldn’t find any helpful information. The general consensus seemed to be that snow plows were the most dangerous thing about winter biking and your best bet was to make sure you stayed out of their way. But how, exactly? I pictured myself trying to drag my bike up onto a towering snow bank as huge snow plows barreled toward me at lightning speed. Scary stuff.

It got even more scary. My family and friends, in a desperate attempt to get me off of my bike and into a car for the winter, were constantly warning me how I was going to die if I carried out my foolish plan. And the number one way they predicted I would die, was, you guessed it, by snow plow. They made convincing arguments, and though I tried my best not to show it, I was scared stiff.

Then winter arrived. On the very night we got our first serious snowfall I finally found a helpful nugget of information. When you hear a snow plow coming, you cross to the other side of the road. Wow, I should have thought of that. But what if a snow plow sneaks up on me?

Haha. Snow plows don’t sneak. Ever. Scraping the road clean, they create a roar of frightening intensity. Hearing them was never a problem. Since I live in a rural area, traffic is light and I always was able to cross the road and wait on the opposite shoulder long before the snow plow’s rumbling arrival.

It didn’t take me long to recognize the awesomeness of snow plows. I would be biking to work, constantly evaluating where I should position myself on the road. The far right of the shoulder was safest from cars, but also had the deepest snow and was littered with chunks of ice and other debris. The left half of the shoulder had slightly less snow, but also closer proximity to cars. Then, of course, I could follow the rut created by cars, the easiest and fastest path, but did I really trust them to see me? It all came down to how good the visibility was.

So there I would be, out biking, in the dark of night, trying to maintain the optimum position when I would pull over to the side of the road to let a snow plow pass. I would return to find the road and shoulder completely clear. Awesome. No more evaluation necessary.

There was one glitch, however. My ears became a little too honed for the distant noise of a plow at work. Especially in the dark and especially when I hadn’t slept well, I would hear phantom snow plows that never materialized. I must admit, it kept me on edge. I would keep glancing behind me to see only open, lonely road.

As winter progressed so did my skills and winter biking savvy. I enjoyed biking in snow from the start, but as I gained confidence, I started to relax and notice more of what was going on around me, instead of focusing solely on the essentials. One of the things I noticed was that after I pulled off on the opposite shoulder, the guys in the passing snow plow would sometimes wave. So I started waving back.

Within a few weeks, they were all waving and grinning at me. One day I was walking home in the cold, dressed in the same coat and pants I use for biking. Two guys, high up in an orange snow plow, recognized me and gave me a friendly wave. I waved back, a huge smile on my face.

I had the privilege of making friends with my greatest winter fear, the snow plow.

In lieu of nominating someone everyday of this challenge, I am inviting anyone to post about a weird or funny bike ride that for some reason hasn’t made it on your blog yet. I would love to read them. Let me know about it and I will link you in my successive story challenge posts.

This time, Fall is fun.

DSC01429On my ride home today, I reflected how different Fall was last year.

I was…
Spending every spare second reading articles about winter biking.
Scouring forums to learn from as many winter bikers as I could.
Analyzing winter gear like every decision could make or break me.
Thinking, “Can I really do this?” on every commute.
Hearing, “You are gonna die!”, from concerned family and friends.
Wondering, “Are snowplows going to see me?”
Hoping I hadn’t lost my mind.
Feeling scared.

I was so concerned about winter, the wonder of Autumn was completely lost on me. I missed out on enjoying the crops being harvested, the pumpkins, the squirrels storing acorns. The colorful leaves held no delight, every falling leaf was a signal that winter would come soon. Was I ready? I didn’t think so.DSC01450

But this year, Fall is fun. I enjoy seeing the animals scurrying around gathering food for the winter. The drop in temperature makes me smile instead of filling me with dread. The colorful leaves are splendid and delightful. And every falling leaf tells me, “Winter is coming!” This time, I know enough to be excited.

Not Without a Fight

DSC00025Yesterday, I stated that “spring is getting serious” and I stand by what I said.

However, winter is a fierce old warrior and dumped two inches of snow on us today in the early morning hours. At work people were complaining that, “It is April 4th, winter should be over by now”.

But winter is over, spring has already won. It has conquered the rivers. It has awakened the animals: birds, insects and mammals. It has helped the grass to begin growing again.

Now it would be perfectly acceptable for winter to save its pride and concede with dignity at this point. After all, winter had a good run this year. It draped the land in a thick layer of snow and held it there, unflinching for months. Now the power it once had wanes steadily every day, while spring continues to grow in might.

Winter, though, never surrenders. Today it summoned all the strength it could to cover the countryside in snow, knowing that the effort is in vain.DSC00029

Everywhere spring is taunting.
The river roars with victory.
The birds twitter in laughter at its feeble attempts.
The grass grows steadily greener.

People are grumbling as they trudge quickly through the melting snow.

Every instinct, every bit of common sense screams at winter to stop the fight, to move on, to rest and regain its power to use in full force at the end of autumn.

But winter battles on despite the taunts, the grumbling and the date on the calendar. While it has any strength left, it will fight.

And that is why I admire winter more than any other season.
It never gives up.

The Best of Both Worlds

30 Days of Biking has officially begun!

I woke up a little before 6am and after checking the weather I had a decision to make. Should I go on a bike ride to watch the sunrise while the temperature was at 15 degrees or should I wait until late morning when above freezing temperatures were predicted?

I decided to be a wimp and wait for the sun to warm things up a bit. A bit is right because the temperature choose to only get up to 24 degrees. Oh well, better cool than scorching hot.

I was eager to rid myself of my jacket, however, so I chose a road that climbed a plateau. Once my body warmed up I shed the jacket, excited to feel the cool air sweep over my bare arms. Yeah, it stung a little and my arms soon reddened from the chill but it was so worth it.

The road I was on was new to me and all of a sudden I found myself in a large barnyard, wondering if I had come to the end of the road.

Then I saw it. A snow covered path that went beyond the end of the pavement. I yelped with joy. Winter hadn’t surrendered completely yet.

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Begging to be explored.

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I love winter. I really love winter.

The snow was perfect. Hard enough so that I didn’t sink like a rock and soft enough to give me the “plowing through snow” feeling that I love. My grin was so wide that I am surprised my teeth didn’t fall out. Then I felt a quiet whisper, “Are you having fun yet?”. In times like these I feel God’s presence in such an overwhelming way that I don’t know if I should shout the glory of it or weep from joy.

I ended up doing a mixture of both.

I saw all sorts of animal tracks. Do turkeys eat cockleburs? Because the evidence I saw today sure made it seem that way. Tough stomached birds.

After a while the snow became too soft and I turned back. When I did the entirety of the river valley was spread out before me framed by the Adirondacks.

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Once I regained the pavement I flew down that road (after replacing my jacket of course) laughing. I met up with the main road and I had to ask myself the all-important question, to continue or go home. Too pumped to turn back I choose a different road to climb the same plateau again.

There were signs of spring everywhere; robins, trees tapped for sap and bare patches of earth. But more than that spring was in me. In my legs. In my heart. Deep down in my soul.

For the entirety of the ride home I could not wipe the dopey grin off of my face. How could I? I had just experienced the delight of winter and spring in one glorious ride.

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.

“Love + Love = Fear” ?

DSCN0027[1]Some equations make sense. Others, like the title of this post simply do not add up. But the above equation was true in my life until the middle of November 2014.

I love winter.
I love biking.

But to combine those two factors seemed crazy, dangerous and scary. Biking in the winter? In snow? Over ice? What about snowplows? Visibility? Falling? Unplowed shoulders? Out of control drivers? I faced all the possible scenarios in my mind and they were frightening.

My friends and family were not helpful in calming my fears. I don’t blame them, they just wanted me to buy a car which they seemed to believe was some sort of magical safety device.

Death by snowplow was a common prediction.
“We will be reading the obituaries”, was a common joke.
“I trust you, but I don’t trust the drivers on the road”, was a common argument.
“I won’t be able to sleep thinking about you on the road at night”, was a common plea.

I never let any of them know that their words were petrifying me. It was game face on. On the outside I was cool, collected and ready to conquer whatever winter threw at me. The reality was quite different. I actually got better health coverage in preparation for whatever winter would bring. I worried about my gear, my tires, my ability. I was scared stiff.

Until I started biking in snow. To my utter surprise and delight, I found it fun, a ton of fun actually. Every  scenario I had conjured in my mind started being replaced by reality.  Winter biking was much easier, simpler and more achievable  than I ever dreamed it would be.  Then I rode through the first heavy snowfall of the winter and I felt safe. Protected. That ride I learned that God with me in my winter biking adventures and after that any remaining fear was gone. The past few weeks I have continued to have a blast in the snow. I keep finding out more ways to enjoy the winter.

I have always loved winter, but this is my favorite winter ever. I used to claim that I loved biking, but that pales to the attachment I feel to this humble mode of transportation now.

My equation was flawed.

Wednesday Commute

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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.