waiting for spring

I don’t even live in a cold winter climate but it seems this winter has been dragging.  Some of the trees here in northern California have new leaves on them; some only buds.  Many of the flowering trees are dropping their petals to be replaced by tiny leaves.  I am so eager for GREEN that I’m inspecting every tree branch I pass by and looking for progress.  I can’t imagine how you who live in cold climates are coping at this point.

We’ve been fortunate to have a little more rain here, reminding me that paint surfaces on the roads are slippery and some of trail’s underpasses are flooded.  It’s a nice problem to have, since we’re looking at a massive precedent-setting drought this winter.  The first ride after a downpour brings smiles from the trail regulars.  We share how happy we are to see the rain.  We hope it will bring green things and flowers. Sometimes those little exchanges of hope make a really nice ride.

My bike is filthy with splashed-up leaves and debris.  I’ve cleaned and cleaned my bottom bracket and drivetrain, scraped mud from under my fenders, washed the slippery mud off my pedals.  I like to ride in the rain because I’ve got the trails to myself.   It’s sort of zen to ride in the rain with no one around, a lone cyclist lost in her own thoughts.

How are you surviving the winter?


La Course – a giant step for women

By now you’ve probably heard that women’s pro cycling took one giant leap towards equity by earning a stage at the Tour de France.  What makes it even better is that the women’s stage – La Course – will be held on the final day of the Tour, July 27,  on the same course as the final men’s stage.  This is huge for so many reasons, but one intangible that can’t be ignored is the exposure that racing on the Champs-Elysées on the final day of the Tour will give women’s cycling.  Pro women’s cycling will be broadcast on the biggest day of the year with wide international TV, radio, and press coverage.  The lights couldn’t be brighter.  The crowds will be huge.  What a glorious day! Thanks should go to the advocates who fought for this: Emma Pooley, Marianne Vos, Kathrine Bertine, Chrissie Wellington, and everyone who signed petitions and spoke out in support.

To be sure this isn’t a full Tour de France for women yet, but it couldn’t be a more significant start.  I am confident that women will be eventually racing in a complete Tour de France of their own.  What a fantastic step towards that!

All women who ride will benefit from this exposure, whether  they are amateur racers or casual riders or bike commuters.  This will have a carryover effect on women’s cycling at all levels.  Seeing women ride La Course will inspire countless women and girls to ride more.  More demand will mean that bike shops will better support female riders and better service for all women who ride will be an end result.

Many women are intimidated by bike shops that cater to competitive male riders.  They feel they aren’t adequately represented there (I mean really, one rack of women’s jerseys and shorts?  Is that all you’ve got?), male techs often don’t understand the goals of female riders, and we often “make do” with men’s bikes and clothing and equipment.  Respect means representation.  Representation means respect.  I am sure there will be a day when women will not feel intimidated when they go to a bike shop, when we will have a plethora of bikes to choose from, when women’s gear takes up as much retail space as men’s gear.  There will be more bike clubs for women to join and more pro races. More races will be broadcast on TV because we will demand it. More demand will increase better support.  It’s a beautiful circle.

Just this morning while I was out on my daily ride I noticed more women riders than men.  I believe that’s the first time it’s happened.  Could women already be feeling inspired?  I hope so.  The sky is the limit, ladies!


an open letter to trail twits with off-leash dogs

Yes, that was me who called Animal Control.  No, letting your pack of six dogs run free all over the trail system as if it is your personal off-leash dog park is decidedly not cool.  And illegal, but I know you know that.  The animal control officer said she’s already spoken with you about your pack of loose dogs.   Do you care if one of your mutts runs under the tires of my bicycle?

Don’t give me that look – you know you are breaking the law and endangering everyone who uses the trail system.  There are several off-leash dog parks in this city.  Use them.  The trail system isn’t one of them.

If a dog in your pack causes me to crash you will be financially responsible for my injuries and any repairs needed to my bike.  You might want to think seriously if it’s worth it; my last serious bike crash cost $50,000 in medical bills.  I do not own a car and I depend on my ability to get around by bike.  I take it personally when you endanger my safety.

I’m working closely with a particular animal control officer in our city.  She has asked me to phone her whenever I see you with your loose dogs.  I will continue to do so until you finally understand that your selfishness endangers everyone who uses the city’s multi-use trail system – toddlers at play as well as serious cyclists.  Keep your dogs leashed.


learning to live car-free

Many people make the choice to live car-free.  I admit I had the choice made for me more than five years ago.  You see, my husband and I separated and since he was working at the time and I was not, our only car went with him.  I was angry at first – I felt abandoned and stuck.  But I lived in a medium sized walkable city with access to good public transportation so I really wasn’t stuck.

I didn’t embrace using my bike for everything at first.  I walked.  I carried a little canister of pepper spray and I walked.  I bought what I call a “little old lady grocery cart” to do my shopping and I walked everywhere.

Then it occurred to me that I could get places a lot quicker on my bike. At the time I had a big-box store Schwinn.  Nothing fancy, but it was a bike and I could go farther and faster than on foot. After nearly crashing with my handlebars heavy from grocery bags I bought a rack and a detachable basket for it.  I felt almost like a serious bike person with that set-up, I tell you.

Eventually I found a job and needed to move to a completely different city.  Well, the suburbs, actually.   Work was a 3-mile bike commute, mostly on paved bike trails.  The grocery store was down the street but this wasn’t city anymore; this was suburbia and things were more spread out. I make it work but I have to be honest – living car-free is much more convenient in a decently sized city that has good public transportation.

But I found that bike commuting was freaking awesome.  I had my morning time with the quiet of a world just waking up.  Birds sang to me as I rode by.  I communed with squirrels.  A river otter silently slipped into a creek as I rode by and I glimpsed a bobcat one morning.  Dozens of tiny baby quail ran across the bike path, their mamas herding them. I loved the wildlife on my commute and by the time I rode home I was serene no matter how crappy my day may have been.  The stresses of my workday melted with each mile.

One great thing about this small city is its bike infrastructure.  While many cities have bike infrastructure that I positively drool over and this city’s infrastructure is modest, I enjoy a pretty decent network of trails and painted bike lanes on most streets.  And the city is incredible about keeping the trails in great shape. However, there are always those jerks who can’t stand sharing the road with cyclists.  It never ceases to amaze me that in a city where a lot of people ride supported by decent infrastructure, there are those completely intolerant idiots who think roads are for cars.  Morons.

Over the years I’ve embraced a car-free cycling lifestyle.  Shopping trips need to be planned a bit because I need to consider how to carry whatever I buy.  Distances need to be considered.  Riding at night is something I mostly avoid if I can even though I have a gazillion lights. Over the years I’ve equipped myself and my bike with various essentials to make us visible and noticeable.  And safe.  Also to make carrying things and doing everything by bike easier.  But no one has to spend a fortune on equipment right away.  The important thing is to ride and see how you feel doing more things on your bike.  Then get what you need, whether it’s a handlebar basket or a pannier and rack set-up.  Everybody has different needs and styles.

Being car-free and living on my bike has also made me the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life.  I haven’t even had a cold in more than five years.  Coincidence?  Naw.  I don’t think so.

I suppose rural areas are even more challenging if one doesn’t have a car.  The suburbs aren’t a piece of cake, that’s for sure.  My city ostensibly has a bus system but it is very rudimentary and hey, even if it’s raining it’s just more convenient to don the rain gear and get on my bike.  Someday I hope to move back into a decently sized city so I can walk as well as bike everywhere.  But for now I embrace my car-free cycling lifestyle,  even in the inconvenient suburbs, where everyone but me drives everywhere.

How about you? Are you car-free?  Do you want to be?  If you are, how do you make it work?


autumn happens

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Usually I dread this time of year.  The days are getting shorter, the sun is weaker and  at a more extreme angle, and it’s getting pretty chilly.  I would see each falling leaf as fresh sorrow that long sunny days are over.  And I’d dread the cold months ahead.  I wouldn’t stop riding – I’m lucky to live in a climate favorable to year-round riding.  But I would sigh with resignation as I pulled my long cycling tights out of storage and made sure my jacket is clean and ready to go.  Where did I put my full length gloves?

But something interesting happened this fall.  I’ve been wanting to write about the change of seasons but I didn’t know what to say that didn’t sound like complaining.  So I decided to take my camera out with me and  really look at the change of seasons.

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Seeing my environment through a camera lens has given me new appreciation for the beauty around me.

The days are crisp and the sky is a bright vivid blue.

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There’s music in the sound of the leaves fluttering in the breeze and skittering across the path.

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However, some trees appear confused – some of their branches are vibrantly changing color and some are tenaciously still hanging onto summer.

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The birds are much quieter than they are in mid-summer.  Maybe they’re listening to the breeze rustling through the leaves that remain.

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And now I realize there are some things I really enjoy about cycling through the winter.  The trails are deserted, giving me the temporary feeling of owning my little corner of the world.  There is peace and serenity in the crisp blue sky and an empty trail in front of me.  Bare branches make for better sightlines around the twists and curves along my route.  The few people I see now are the trail regulars and we know each other, fostering a feeling of community.  We nod to each other in recognition.

I learned to accept this seasonal change and to appreciate it.  I hope your rides allow you the same. Because we all know that cycling doesn’t require warm summer days in order to be good for the soul.


sharing the trails with friends

I’m usually riding the trails by myself, sometimes enjoying some fine tunes as I pedal along.  But I’m never truly alone.  It isn’t just the human trail regulars I encounter every day – there is a whole network of wildlife regulars as well. Riding the same daily route gives me the opportunity to  encounter my network of critter friends regularly.

Along my ride I see bunnies, squirrels, quail, field mice, wild turkeys, snakes, lizards, coyotes, and deer.  There are the neighborhood cats, some of whom are so used to me they don’t run away as I pass.  I lectured one today, telling him that he knows he can trust me, but maybe not others so he needs to be careful.   There’s the big dog sitting in his back yard watching me go by.  I can always tell when someone in the neighborhood just moved in or got a new dog because it barks.  My buddies are used to me and they just watch me go by.  I wave as I glide past.

I watch the seasons reflected in the wildlife I’m fortunate enough to see.  The Spring is full of bunnies.  Mid-summer is when the mama quail have their little baby quail with them.  It seems like there are dozens of tiny quail.  I have narrowly missed them as they run across the trail, their little legs a blur.  Now that it’s Fall the baby animals are grown.  The snakes and lizards no longer sun themselves on the hot, sun-drenched pavement.  However, the deathwish squirrels are active, running in front of my tires with mouths full of acorns.  I call them deathwish squirrels because inevitably when I see one at the side of the trail, it will run across my path just as I near it.  Crazy knucklehead squirrels.

I have been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a river otter sliding back into the creek as I approached early one morning and there were a few times I saw bobcats watching me from small bluffs at the side of the trail.  Above me soar hawks, looking for prey.  And I see lots of red-winged blackbirds clinging to the reeds in the marshy areas.

Seeing a critter makes the ride so much more enjoyable.  Imagine people in cars, never getting the opportunity to see a river otter silently slide back into the water or never noticing the coyote standing in the middle of an open field, intently watching for field mice.  They miss out on so much.  They miss hearing the birdsong along their travels.

One of the truest joys of cycling is feeling in harmony with all the critters I know are just over in that clump of trees or down that riverbank.  Sometimes  they make themselves known and sometimes they don’t.  But they’re always there.  And I feel honored to share this little corner of the world with them.


the scourge of fall riding in northern California

Yes, it’s goathead thorn season:

Nasty!

These little nasties are all over the trails and they treat your bike tires as if someone threw a handful of thumb tacks onto the trail.  Grr.  I hate ’em!