So many people have been shocked and maybe impressed that Dallas and I are riding our bikes through the winter. At least once a day someone tells me, “I can’t believe you’re still riding in this!” Well, to be honest, I would much rather ride my bike in this snow than drive a car. Don’t get me wrong. Cycling in the winter has its own drawbacks and discomforts, but I feel I have no right to complain about the choice I made not to have a car, even in the worst of winter conditions. I have no regrets and am happier than ever to ride my bike instead of drive. Here’s a few reasons why.
I am still getting outside and incorporating activity into my daily commute (and sometimes for fun as well, although we have both been heavier on the yoga and other indoor forms of exercise these past few months) – as long as I’m dressed appropriately, I feel much better than I would if I were sitting in a car (and in the crawling traffic jams that seem to be everywhere during snowy rush hours). From the moment I step outside I am moving, keeping my body warm. The snow adds a bit of a balance challenge, and the cars sliding around add a danger factor (how exciting). I have to ride my bike differently in the winter, watching out for snow and ice and taking my turns cautiously. I may have to change my course to avoid hills or roads that present hazards I would rather not deal with. I have a little more trouble looking over my shoulder for cars because I have to turn half my body around to see beyond my hood, which I have pulled up over my helmet. I adapt to these challenges, and I even enjoy them for a time. I feel more confidence on my bike as I learn how to improve my balance on these challenging surfaces.
Driving a car in this weather actually seems like hell. There is no room on the roads for cars to pass each other on many of the side streets, because the snow is stacked so high along the sides of the roads. The sidewalks are so inconsistently cleared that pedestrians are forced to walk in the street, creating yet more obstacles for drivers. Cyclists are forced to ride in the middle of the road, if there ever was a bike lane, because all the snow is in the parking lane and cars are parking in the bike lanes. Where there are parked cars, they stick out, adding to the difficulty of navigation. Why drive when you end up sitting in a line of traffic, catching the same red light for 3 or 4 (or more) cycles before you finally arrive at the intersection? Why drive when there’s nowhere for you to park your car? What are you supposed to do when you finally do arrive are your destination and there’s a parking ban because of the snow? It’s more work to have a car in the winter than it is to bike, in my opinion. If you’re not spending hours shoveling your car out of your driveway, you’re spending money for someone else to do it for you. Unless you keep your car in a heated garage, you spend the first 10 minutes of your trip just sitting there freezing, waiting for the heat to kick in.
The one thing I could live without are cars. And salt on the road. I know the salt makes the roads less slippery, but it really destroys my bike. If you are riding in the winter, make sure you clean off the salt to prevent corrosion on your bike. It’s not an easy task. If it weren’t for cars, the roads probably wouldn’t get salted. I wouldn’t have to worry about them slipping on ice and sliding into me, or driving way too close because the roads are half as wide as they normally are. I wouldn’t have to turn around so far to look behind me before making a left turn because there would be no cars to plow me down from behind.
As I mentioned, cycling does have its own drawbacks and discomforts during the winter season. But I believe they are far outweighed by the positives. The worst part about winter cycling (besides having to watch out for scary cars) is that my body can never seem to distribute heat evenly. My hands and feet and face are most vulnerable, while the rest of my body will be overheating. Maybe I just haven’t figured out the right gear – and this changes daily depending on the outside conditions.
My dad gave me a set of Bar Mitts for Christmas, which have been a lifesaver (or hand saver). They keep the wind off my hands and I’m able to wear lighter gloves, but depending on the temperature, but hands will still freeze with heavy winter cycling gloves inside the Bar Mitts, or they will be sweating profusely along with the rest of my body, while my feet are still solid ice cubes. This is a personal problem, and everyone needs to experiment with different layers in different conditions to determine what works for their own body. I’m afraid I’m just doomed to have perpetually cold feet (even in the summer). A face mask can help keep the cold wind off my face, but then my glasses usually fog up if I breathe. These are problems I can deal with temporarily, but they do require that I bring a dry change of clothes with me wherever I’m going. I still think it’s better than driving. All that said, I am ready for winter to be over!
Since our last update, Dallas and I have ridden in the MS bike tour (Ride the Rhode) and raised nearly $2000 for the cause, thanks to our wonderful friends and family who supported us. We’re not sure where we’re going to be for next year’s tour, but registration is already open if anyone wants to sign up and get an early start on fundraising! This year, we opted to ride a full century (which ended up being 105 miles) the first day and 75 miles the second day. We lucked out with perfect weather and no incidents on the road. The terrain was not too challenging, but not too flat and certainly not boring.
Immediately after the bike tour, I set off for the west coast to meet the band on tour, where we continued down from Portland, Oregon all the way to Tijuana and back up to finish at a beautiful wedding in the redwoods outside of the bay area. After playing every day for two weeks, I couldn’t help but improve my mediocre trumpet-playing skills. I’m afraid that after not playing for two weeks (on our most recent vacation to Costa Rica), I am probably worse off that I was before tour.
While not bike touring this year, we have been able to do a few races together, including the 10 mile Blessing of the Fleet race in Narragansett, a half marathon in Worcester, MA and two marathons in Erie, PA and in Newmarket, NH. I also participated in several cycling events, including a few Women Bike RI group rides, the Woony River Ride, and the Gran Fondo New England.
The summer in Rhode Island was one of the better ones that I can remember, with almost no rain and not too much heat. As always, it ended too soon. We have been incredibly fortunate to have barely any excuses not to be outside every day, but I still feel like I didn’t get my fill of outdoor activities before it turned cold.
Still in Providence, Dallas and I are buckling down here for the winter, but in an attempt to combat the depression that comes with this season I bought myself a cyclocross bike. I’m not very good at it yet, and so far every time I start riding on a cross course I find myself thinking that maybe I’m not cut out for this sport. That feeling usually subsides after 2 minutes or so, as my mind is consumed with staying on my bike and not crashing into anyone else. By signing up for races this winter, I hope to motivate myself to get outside during the dark months to practice (and hopefully get better).
Speaking of trying things outside of our comfort zone, Dallas and I went to Costa Rica for the first two weeks of November. While traveling comes naturally to us both, we did get to try some new things while we were there. Dallas let me practice my Spanish (which is worse than my trumpet playing) on some of the locals whenever we went out. Dallas also went surfing – I could not, because of a knee injury from my cyclocross bike, but I watched. It was apparent that he was having enough fun to abandon his usual apprehensive feelings about being in the ocean. This trip was our first time traveling together internationally, so while we were concerned at first about how we would do, we came out of it only wanting to go back out and experience more new places together.
I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving! I’m taking this day off from work at the cave in order to write and bake lots of desserts for tomorrow’s gathering with family. On Friday, while all the crazy people are out battling each other to buy stuff, Dallas and I will be celebrating Buy Nothing Day by bringing our coats to a coat swap (just when we need them most)!
Where to begin? In waiting for the perfect inspiration to post, I have allowed too much time to go by and too many things to happen that writing a thorough update has become overwhelming. I will do my best now.
Time has a way of passing faster when you’re not paying attention. I am lucky to have enjoyed my time so much in the past few months that I was barely aware of its passing until another notch on my personal timeline hit and I am celebrating, or experiencing, my 30th birthday. While I wouldn’t call it a celebration, it is an experience – and a little reminder that time does keep going, and nobody has yet figured out how to control that.
Dallas and I were dog sitting and house sitting in Durango, Colorado for about 6 weeks. Dallas went back to California on Christmas Eve to sell our bikes and collect some belongings while spending the holidays with his family. I stayed until New Year’s Eve, and attempted to rent a car to drive to Denver to catch a flight to Detroit for my cousin’s wedding. After walking around Durango for 3 hours between a few different car rental companies, I conceded to defeat. Despite having plenty of savings in the bank to buy a car, let alone rent one for a day, I was turned down by every rental company because I didn’t have a credit card. This is one of the most ridiculous things about the US. These companies would be perfectly fine renting a car to someone who is hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt as long as they have a credit card, while the people who are careful never to spend more than what they have are punished for not having any credit. I had to get to the Denver airport the next day, and there was literally no way to do it. For $400 and an expensive cab ride to the Durango airport, I could have bought a plane ticket to Denver that would have gotten me there a few minutes after my flight to Detroit took off. I felt utterly defeated and helpless.
Naturally, I began scouring craigslist for…anything. Durango doesn’t have enough of a presence to require its own craigslist page, so I was searching the entire western slope of Colorado, with no luck. I began expanding my range to areas south of Durango. Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Farmington, Phoenix…I was desperate. Eventually, I found someone who was driving from Phoenix to Cleveland. While I was originally hoping for a ride to the airport, I ended up securing a ride for myself all the way to Michigan. AND I got to stay in Durango for an extra day and hang out with Liza and Coda, the two dogs I was sitting. As luck would have it, my flight out of Denver was canceled and I was able to get full credit for the price of the flight I would have missed anyway. The drive took two days, but Ray had done the drive many times before and dropped me off safely at the hotel where my family was staying in time for the wedding rehearsal dinner.
While I love my cousin Rachel, I wonder about her sanity when it came to picking a time and location for her wedding. I’m pretty sure everyone who was flying in had trouble related to snowy weather conditions, and there were just as many delays or cancellations on the way out. I amazingly managed to fly out of Detroit somewhat on time, but the plane I was destined to take from DC to Providence was stuck somewhere else so I ended up spending an extra 7 hours in the airport after that flight was canceled. Had I been allowed to rent a car, I probably could have driven to Providence in less time.
Dallas met me in Providence a few days after I arrived. It was his idea to come back to Rhode Island and try it out for a while. We hadn’t had an income since September, and we really needed to take some time to rebuild our bank account balances. I vaguely questioned Dallas’s sanity as well for choosing to come to Providence in January, but he really didn’t know any better. I am happy to be back in an area where I’m surrounded by familiar faces and places, and I think my friends and family are happy that we’re here (for now). Now I just need to figure out how I’m going to save enough money to hit the road again in a few years. Dallas just started a job at Brown, so send him congratulatory messages! He will be working part time with full time benefits, and he may choose to stay long enough to earn a degree while he’s here. This means we could be here for a few years! But I have every intention of still completing my bicycle journey around the world. During this pause, I am thinking about starting a business to help support our goals and mission of promoting bicycling! I will update as things unfold…
On the eve of my departure from Portland I lay awake thinking about everything that has happened since our arrival. I was feeling incredibly sad that I would be leaving Dallas for two weeks, but at the same time I was excited to go back to New Orleans and hopefully recover a bit financially. My alarm clock rang to wake me up before I ever fell asleep. It was going to be a tiresome trip.
New Orleans was colder than I would have liked it to be, but the spirit in the city was just picking up for the Superbowl and Mardi Gras. I came just at the right time to start pedicabbing at the height of the tourist season. It did warm up considerably after a few weeks, and Dallas joined me for a month before going back to Portland. I had planned to fly back to Portland on the same day as Dallas, but I ended up passing up my flight to stay longer and enjoy a visit from my dad. My pedicab license actually expired on my birthday, so instead of pedicabbing in New Orleans, I carpooled with my friend Ryan over to Austin, where my pedicab license was still valid for another year.
Austin was warm and sunny during the days, but dropped to cooler temperatures once the sun disappeared for the night. I arrived a few days before SXSW, the festival that attracts thousands of people to the city each year. I didn’t want to work as hard as I had last year, but I needed to work enough to make up for the expense of being there. At this point, I had bought another plane ticket to go back to Portland and see Dallas, but it was three days before the festival ended, and I would have had to miss out on two of the best nights for pedicabbing. I also wasn’t looking forward to leaving the lovely weather to go to a place where I would be mostly alone, unemployed, and uncomfortably cold. I decided at the last minute not to take my flight, and instead stay in Austin until the end of March.
After SXSW was over, I got in touch with my friend Dainy (D), another nomadic free spirit who showed up both in New Orleans and Newport while bouncing around between other various locations. She had been in Austin for SXSW and was planning to drive to Mexico that day with her roommate, John, from New Orleans. After thinking over her invitation for a few minutes, I decided to join them. A few hours later, the three of us were driving south in her car, headed for Monterrey. We arrived around 4am, where Perla, a couchsurfer in Monterrey, so kindly let us stay on her couches. She even made us pancakes and drove us to the airport in the morning, where we caught a discount flight to Cancun. From there, we took a bus to Playa del Carmen and spent 4 days exploring beaches, cenotes (underwater caves), and Mayan ruins in Tulum. D’s friend from Mexico City, Stephen, joined us in Playa and introduced us to some of his friends as well. Once back on the bus to the airport, D decided to stay in Mexico and actually stopped the bus driver to get off at the next stop. Back in Monterrey, John and I were met by Karina, another couchsurfer that D had arranged to host us. Being the only two ‘gringos’, she easily recognized us and took us to an awesome barbecue at her friend’s house. This was the most memorable night of my time in Mexico, since it was more authentic than eating at a restaurant in a tourist town, and the people were amazingly welcoming and friendly. I still find it amusing that Mexican meals always seem to include the same foods, and this barbecue was no exception. Tacos made with fresh corn tortillas, meat, cheese, and spicy salsa. We stayed at Karina’s house that night, and her mom fed us breakfast (similar to the barbecue, but with eggs too) the next morning before we drove back to Austin in D’s car.
Driving back, the line at the border was so long, and the sun was so hot, that the car overheated and the radiator leaked. We noticed this after smelling something burning and seeing smoke rising from the hood. Mexicans are very resourceful, and there were plenty of guys walking around all the cars waiting in line, selling various goods. I kind of wanted to ask if any of them were handy with fixing overheated car engines. We eventually made it to the front of the line, but had to keep turning the engine off and back on again to move forward a space (people would cut us in line if we left more than half a car’s length of space between us and the car in front). I think border crossings should all be at the bottom of a slight decline, so cars can all turn off their engines and coast down the line. Either that, or do something to make the line move faster! The officer who inspected our car did not seem surprised that our engine had overheated, nor did he offer any help with our situation. We did manage to find a shaded area to park once we crossed into Laredo, and after letting the engine cool down I was able to refill the coolant without it leaking again. A mechanic at Sears told us that it’s very common for cars to overheat while waiting at the border. I think there has got to be a solution to prevent this from being a common occurrence.
I enjoyed the warm weather and company of friends in Austin for a few more days before flying to Providence to visit family for a week. I also reconnected with some good friends from home and started to get back into a regular running routine. I finally flew to Portland at the beginning of April to be back with Dallas. Apparently the weather wasn’t so bad while I was away, but the city greeted me with cold weather and persistent rain upon my arrival. That’s just when it started to warm up in Rhode Island too!
While we were in New Orleans, Dallas and I applied for and accepted jobs as bicycle tour guides in Skagway, Alaska. We will be leaving Portland at the end of April to spend the summer in Alaska. Our plan after that is to head south by bicycle towards Patagonia, with likely stops along the way to work and recover financially.