Winter is done

DSC00346Even though it is still fall, I have decided to retire my summer bike, Winter, until spring. Though there is no snow on the ground, the roads are getting nastier each day. The amount of glass shards, grit and debris is increasing and I want to keep my road bike in good shape-I need her ready and raring to go for next year!

So she and I went for our last ride of the season today.  I rode knowing that it will probably be five months, maybe more before we ride together again.

I will miss the crisp click of clipping into the pedals. And sprinting down the road in the highest gear. And riding in the drops to fly down hills.

But we did have a great last day of riding together. The first nine miles there was a vicious headwind to fight, one of the strongest winds I have ever rode against. At times, when a particularly fierce gust would strike I was forced to drop into my second-lowest gear to maintain my cadence. To my right, a flock of geese was struggling to maintain their formation in the air.

Finally, I reached my destination, my brother and sister-in-law’s house. For a few wonderful hours I was able to hang out with my sister-in-law and play with my four adorable nieces and nephews. We sang lots of songs and played lots of games. Before I knew it, it was time to leave.

I knew exactly what I was in for on the way back to my parents’ house. Tailwind time! My bike and I went crazy. With the help of the wind, I was able to do something I have never done before on the flat-I was able to sustain 32-34 mph for minutes at a time. It felt insane. Someday I want to be able to do that without the need to exploit powerful gusts of wind.

I arrived at my parents’ house feeling like I was on top on the world. I made supper for my family, to celebrate my mom’s birthday. Afterward I left to head home to my apartment. Four miles, with a strong tailwind and two large downhill sections. They were the last four miles of the season for my road bike and I. And also the fastest. Winter wanted to go out on a high note, I guess.

That means it is up to me and the big guy to get through the next five months together.

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Are you ready, big guy?

There is really only one thing left to say. But I am not brave enough to say it out loud because for some reason, whenever I do, I get really dirty looks thrown in my direction. So all I will say is that it rhymes with…Stickerline-elsa-let-it-go

 

 

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Winter biking is a very serious matter.

Have I mentioned that Fall is fun this year? It has been a blast and one of the best things is that my friends, family and coworkers have switched from trying to discourage me from winter biking to teasing me about it. This is a welcome change!

Here are a few conversations that took place in the past week:

After biking to work in below freezing weather.
Boss’s Husband: Did you have your heater going on the way over?
Me: Sure did.
Boss’s Husband: Good thing, otherwise you would have died in this cold.

A customer has told me to call her if it is too cold or snowy to bike.
Coworker: Oh, you can offer her a ride alright, but she’ll never call you, she likes biking too much. You should see her in winter! For the first four hours of her shift she is all excited from biking in the snow, the next two hours she is tired and looks like she needs a nap and then the last four hours she is all pumped up because she knows she is going to be biking again soon.

I nearly burst out in laughter, is that actually what I am like in winter? Man, I must be annoying to work with!

My boss is talking about the weather forecast.
Me: Is it supposed to snow again soon?
Boss: Shhh! We don’t talk like that around here!
Me: OOPS! Sorry, I like snow.
Boss: I know, you’re disgusting.

On arriving home from work, I notice that my landlord is repairing a window on the downstairs apartment so I call out a cheerful “Hello!”
Landlord: What are you up to young lady?
Me: Just getting home from work.
Landlord: Are you biking to work tomorrow? It’s gonna get down to 20 degrees.
Me: Nice!
Landlord: You are a diehard aren’t you?
Me: Yeah, I guess I am-but so are you.
*He gives me a blank stare*
Me: You drive that car, in any weather, many more miles then I ever go! We may use different kinds of transportation, but we are both still diehards.
Landlord: Hey, whatever you say. Has anyone ever told you that you’re weird?

As I am leaving work, dressed in full rain gear, I say goodbye to a coworker.
Coworker: Whoa, Bri! I haven’t see you wear that much clothing in a long time! It must be cold out.
Me: Yup. (So eloquent.)
Coworker: I hope you wear your facemask soon, that always makes me laugh.
Me: (Very sarcastically) I am glad I can brighten your day.
Coworker: At least your weird clothing keeps you warm.
Me: Very true!

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I have no idea why this outfit makes my coworkers laugh…

This post is the fourth post of the 5 day story challenge. Gary, from PedalWORKS was kind enough to nominate me for this challenge and he wanted to read more about cycling in snow and cold.

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.

How I learned to bike in snow

DSCN0019[1]My bike handling style, can be summed up in a single word, “tentative”. Going into the last winter, I  had never been a risk taker, never pushed the boundaries, never attempted to ride off-road, no-handed or anything of that nature.  My bike handling skills were at a basic, beginning level.

But then snow started taking over the road and suddenly, I had to learn how to ride on something other than pavement or a hard-packed dirt road. Biking in deep fresh snow was a blast but it was also terrifying.

White-knuckled, I rode, trying to force my bike to keep a straight line in the light and fluffy snow. My rear wheel was a traitor though, constantly twisting around like it was an independent entity. Then I learned the trick of lowering my tire pressure to the lowest recommended psi. Take that little traitor! Fishtailing was still a common occurrence, but it felt slower and gentler, so much easier to handle.

Lowering the psi did give me increased traction but the extra rolling resistance slowed my average speed way down. So I would pump my tires up when the road were clear and then release that pressure when I was biking during or after a snowstorm.

Coming into the month of January, I was starting to gain confidence in the snow. After all, even though my bike twisted around like mad when it couldn’t contact the pavement or ice (which my studs would bite into) the only time I had fallen off my bike was when I misjudged the shoulder’s edge and tumbled into a ditch.

Then, one day when I was biking home from work someone stopped to ask if I needed a ride. I uttered my standard, “I’m good, thank you!” and they drove off. I smiled to myself, so thankful that I discovered the world of winter biking. I didn’t want to be in a car when I could be pedaling through snow! I felt happy and free and as I was biking through the brilliantly sparking white snow, somehow the skill that had evaded me all winter, began to click into place. Which was weird because I didn’t even know that this was the skill I had been looking for all along.

It wasn’t really a skill, it was more a mindset shift. I had started to trust my bike. My iron grip on the handlebars was loosened and I let the front wheel guide the bike and I through the snow. When the bike shifted under me, instead of fighting it,  I let it move underneath me. I was no longer a dictator trying to force my bike in a rigidly straight line-we started working together.

That was the missing puzzle piece. Once I started working with my little pink mountain bike, riding in the snow became increasingly easier and more fun. I could pump my tires to their max psi and not suffer for it. The last few months of winter sped by fast and before I knew it the days of snowy commutes were over.

I miss the sheer joy of plunging into deep snow on my bike. But winter will soon be here and I can’t wait to learn more about how to bike in snow.

Over the summer, I found a video that would have really helped me at the start of my snowy travels. But it wasn’t in existence yet and it has a rather misleading title.

Every main tip can be applied to biking through snow although there are a few differences. First, the video makes biking through sand (or snow) out to be tougher than it really is, probably because they are coming from the standpoint of using this skill in a race. The skinny tires probably make it trickier as well. When I am out biking there is no pressure to get through the snow as fast as possible. Second, when there is ice on the road and there are rocks and chunks of ice littering that road but hidden under a layer of snow, big studded tires are always the way to go.

This post is the second post of the 5 day story challenge. Gary, from PedalWORKS was kind enough to nominate me for this challenge and he wanted to read more about cycling in snow and cold.

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.

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.