Weather

Practicality with a Side Order of Good Luck by Erin Wade

As I’ve mentioned here a few times before, I really enjoy it when I get an opportunity to use my trike for actual transportation - for a practical purpose. There’s nothing wrong with riding for pleasure and/or exercise, of course, and that’s what I do most of the time, but there’s a special, bonus level of satisfaction when one can achieve that exercise and enjoyment while doing something that actually needs to be done. One of my more frequent ways to do this is when the opportunity presents to ride to my PO Box. This is especially true because the box is often empty, or just full of junk mail (does anyone want the penny saver paper any more?), and when that occurs, I can at least feel like I got some exercise out of it.

I was gearing up to take advantage of this very opportunity when a thought occurred, a realization that maybe, just maybe I could stack up that practical ride accomplishment by killing two birds with one stone!

Ok - it’s the little things, right? That, or maybe I’m just a little dull...

But bear with me. A weekend or two ago I ran out of gas for the grill. This is one of the firstest of first world problems, I realize, but it was my problem to solve nonetheless. As you’d imagine, this typically involves throwing the cannister into the car and going into town to one of the half-dozen locations that allows you to do an exchange. And it’s been a couple of weekends since it happened because I keep forgetting to grab the empty and put it in the car. But maybe, I thought, just maybe, I could take it with me on the trike...


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There were a couple of potential problems with this idea. First, I’d have to figure out exactly how to attach the canister to the trike. If I had a trailer for the trike that would be a simple thing. But while I do plan to have a trailer for my trike, my progress on that project has been somewhat less than rapid. So I’d have to find a different way.

The other problem was that I wasn’t actually 100% sure there would _be_ a place by the post office to exchange the canister. When I mentioned taking it into town above, I was referring to Mendota - a small town, to be sure, but a big enough place to have a grocery store, a few gas stations, a CVS... you get the idea. But that’s not where my PO Box is. It’s in a little slip of a village that’s considerably smaller (but where the post office offers 24-hour access to the PO Boxes so, you know, a dork on his trike doesn’t have to worry about arriving before it closes).

I decided this second problem was a minor one - if I came up short on LP opportunities, and least I’d have had a ride; and, in fact, I’d have a ride with a bit of extra weight to enhance the workout.

So I set to strapping the tank on.

A 5-gallon LP tank doesn’t seem like a very big thing, really, when you are just setting it in the back of your car (even when that car is a Honda Fit). But like a moose, they are bigger than you think. I used the three strand elastic strap that comes with the Utah Trikes rear rack, supplemented it with a couple of additional bungee straps, tied it all to the rear rack on the Expedition, and headed out.

Shortly into my ride I realized that I had not brought along my wallet. However, I do always try to bring along a small amount of cash so that I have options if, say, I ride past an interesting looking location that offers adult beverages. It’s usually about $20, so I mentally crossed my fingers and kept pedaling.

Thomas Jefferson apparently did not say "I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it", but I’ve always identified with that saying because it’s typically rung true for me - as a general rule if I just strike out doing nothing but hoping for the best, I generally just strike out.

Which is to say that I was expecting to find either: A) No LP tanks available at my destination; or 2) that the price for 5 gallons of LP was somewhat north of my $20 budget. Not to mention: iii) the very real possibility that my tank attachment arrangement might fail and leave me pedaling furiously trying to catch up to a runaway canister...

But I kept pedaling.

There’s a general store (yup - rural Illinois) a couple of blocks down from the post office, and sure enough, they had the telltale cage of cans out in front of the store. I double-checked the existence of my $20 bill and there was Andrew Jackson staring back at me (probably contemplating acts of oppression). So I went in and asked the young man at the counter how much I’d have to give for an LP exchange.

The price: $16.99

So I had enough, even with tax, and got a little change back too. The young man and I chatted briefly about the trike - he’d never seen one of them before - and the fact that another man in town has a Tesla, which also wasn’t anything he’d expected to see. And then I strapped the new, full canister to the back of the trike.

cooking with gas

Strapped down

According to this site, an empty 5-gallon LP tank weighs between 17 and 18 lbs empty, and between 34 and 35 lbs when full. I could absolutely feel it over the rear wheel - there was a mild wobble to the back end that isn’t typically present. As you might expect, the additional weight slowed me down a bit as well - Cyclemeter tells me I brought in my slowest time for this route ever on the Expedition.

But I wasn’t trying to set any speed records - practicality was the name of the game for this ride. And there, I feel like we have a winner. The rack on the Expedition absolutely worked as designed, and the trike dutifully lived up to its name. I couldn't have been more pleased with that or with my luck for the day.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There was one more thing:

As I rode up into the driveway it started to spit just a bit of rain. And after I pulled the trike into the garage it started to pour.

So: bonus luck!

Thing is, I’m a little afraid to leave the house now, because I’m worried I may have used up my entire allotment for the year...

Rainy day cycling by Erin Wade

Today is the Farmondo in Sterling, and I’ve woken up to steel-gray skies and wet ground. The radar shows rain across the region, including Sterling, where the ride begins and ends.

But the ride must go on.

This was forecast - not a surprise - so I purchased rain gear yesterday in preparation. It’s packed into the panniers on the Expedition and I suspect the fenders are going to earn their keep today.

It does look like the weather will clear in an hour or two, so fingers crossed on that. Either way, I’ll report back.

Hennepin Feeder Canal Trail: Martins Landing to Rte 172 by Erin Wade

Hennepin Canal Park Sign

The Hennepin Canal in Northern Illinois has garnered some attention in the cycling media of late, given its designated status as the "gateway" trail for the Illinois portion of the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy’s Great American Rail Trail Project. The Hennepin Canal Trail makes a great deal of sense in that role, given that it runs predominantly east to west, connects with the Mississippi River at the westernmost end, and covers over 100 miles of distance.

This is not that Hennepin Canal.

To be clear, it’s a part of the same canal system, but what I’m writing about in this post is actually the feeder canal - the man-made ditch that was dug to supply water to the Hennepin Canal itself. Back when the project was undertaken, it was designed to take water from the Rock River nearly 30 miles to the north, and divert a portion of it southward to fill the shipping lanes of the canal itself.

What does this mean, in practical terms, for the person going cycling on this trail? Mostly it means a slightly different view from the main canal (a portion of which I wrote about here, a little while back). Because it was not really designed to be a shipping lane the feeder canal has no locks along its distance - with the notable exception of the lock set at the entryway into the canal from Lake Sinnissippi on the Rock River. This is different largely because the locks make an interesting, historical set of distance markers as you progress down the main canal. But this small difference does not keep this portion of the canal parkway from being a beautiful place to ride. It’s also notable that Rock Falls and Sterling make for a fairly sizeable municipality for northern Illinois, which means restaurants, hotel accommodations, and a handy local bike shop - Meads Bike Shop, which recumbent trike riders may find handy, as they sell and services Catrikes - none of which you will find along the main canal.


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The Canal Parkway technically begins in Rock Falls, Illinois, just south of the Rock River, and there is municipal parking there for folks to begin their journey along the trail. However, I wanted to start in Sterling, Illinois - just across the River - because it also offered the opportunity to cross the bridge that runs across the dam. I suppose technically I could have parked in Rock Falls and gone back over the bridge, but that just seemed... silly.

So my ride started at Martin’s Landing in Sterling.

Martin’s Landing

This is essentially a trail head sited just to the side of the historic Dillon Home Museum. Be aware, if you go, that there’s no public parking here - the lovely brick lot is specifically for the Dillon House - but street parking is readily available just East of Martin’s Landing on 2nd street.

Dillon Home Museum Lot

Martin’s Landing sends you straight down to the Rock River, with a stone tunnel that takes you under the train tracks at the north end...

Tunnel

...and puts you in view of the lower side of the dam and the bridge that spans it.

Dam and Bridge

It also puts you in view, in the springtime, of pelicans and other waterfowl plying their business along the waterway. The pelicans themselves are a fairly recent phenomenon for the region, but a welcome one. They keep their distance, making a clear shot challenging with an unaided camera phone, but with some zooming you can see them.

Pelicans

At the entryway to the bridge there is an information sign off to the side.

Bridge info

And the bridge itself appears to be constructed in two sections, with the longer, wood-based portion covering the spillway, while a cement and steel component takes you over the gates.

Bridge

The change in the current makes itself known both visually and audibly.

Once you get to the other side you are at the entryway into the Canal Parkway. as you enter, you see the lock that controlled flow into the canal itself.

Lock

This particular lock is interesting, in part, because of the machinery that is still present at the sides.

Machinery

At least for the section of the main canal I rode, I do not recall any clear machinery on the locks.

From there you can see the trail ahead.

Trail view

The first portion of the trail is asphalt, and that continues along the Canal Parkway for about 3 1/2 miles. For those familiar with asphalt trails in Illinois, this is a predictably mixed bag. The harder surface lets you pick up some speed, of course, but our weather extremes have a tendency to buckle and bend asphalt in unforgiving ways. This trail is no exception. However, that aside, the trail moves out of the view of small town life into the appearance of remote nature in a hurry.

It’s mid-spring here in the northern hemisphere, and the plant life is abundant along this trail. Much of it, as can be seen in the trail pictures, comes in various shades of green, but there are patches of other colors along the way:

Yellow

White

And along with the flowers there are long stretches of wild grass ranging from green to reddish brown.

Grass

Maybe my favorite part of the nature on this ride was the ongoing game of tag I seemed to be playing with a Great Blue Heron. I tried to get a picture of it, but every time I rode close it would take off again. But she did show up on video...

After Buell Road the trail switches from asphalt to gravel.

Buell Road underpass

Later on it shifts from gravel to... less gravel, I guess (it’s dirt. Good dirt, but dirt). It’s a softer surface that gives the impression of perhaps having been last been graveled some time ago. But honestly, the gravel is more forgiving than the asphalt, and the latter surface more forgiving still than the gravel. The trike handled it well, and anything from a hybrid on down to mountain bikes will be fine. In the rainy season, at least, road bikes are probably going to struggle.

The other thing that goes with spring is rain, and this year has been exceptionally wet. Riding along a canal means water is a part of the mix, and the DNR has actuallyclosed portions of the main trail:

TRAIL CLOSED from Lock 26 (900 E Rd) all the way through and past Colona to Lock 29 at the Rock River due to the Green River flooding into the canal. TRAIL CLOSED from Bridge 3 (2160 E Rd) to Bridge 4 (2050 E Rd) just east of Tiskilwa, due to a levee break at Lock 7

There were no closure notices for the feeder canal, but this didn’t mean there were no impediments along the way. Multiple roadways cross the canal, and those crossings are punctuated by underpasses. These vary from culverts...

Culvert underpass

...to more intricate affairs:

Highway 40 underpass

But while they aren’t closed, that doesn’t mean that the rainy season doesn’t bring the water level up. On a couple of occasions, this meant fording my way through overflow:

Standing water

In most cases there is an alternative option - you can ride up to the road and cross there. Most cases, but not all. On occasion you can see the route, but there simply isn’t a trail up to the road. But the deepest area that I forded was the underpass for interstate 88 - so obviously, crossing at the road grade was not an option. I rode thru, slowly...

I88 underpass

I88 underpass underwater

On the trike you sit low, so there’s a risk that you are going to drag your tuches through the water. But if you lift at the handles and push your back against the upper part of the seat you can remain above it. But while I was able to keep my backside dry while fording my way through the I88 underpass, my heels were definitely dipping in the water while I was pedaling.

Speaking of rain, it’s been doing that routinely this spring, and for most of Memorial Day Weekend as well. I really wanted to get out to try this trail, so I got up early, eyeballed the weather reports, and timed my travel time and ride so that I’d finish up ahead of the incoming rain.

...I failed. Almost completely. I was able to catch most of my pictures and video in the first part of my ride. That was important, because it rained on me for about two-thirds of the ride. Now - to be clear - that’s no fault of the trail; that’s all on me.

I will ride in almost any weather, but rain is my least favorite riding situation. But I was dressed entirely in synthetics, and I was on a trail, so visibility was not an issue. And importantly, it wasn’t cold. So, you know, ride on.

Well, I rode on until I came up to this:

Rte 172 underpass

This was the underpass at Route 172. Unlike the other flooded passageways, I couldn't easily tell how deep it was. To be fair, I could have ridden up and over the road - the trail offers this option, and there’s a parking area at this point. But I’d planned on a 20-mile round trip, and this point was 9 1/2 miles (ish, ok - 9.45) in, so it seemed like the right point to turn around.

The route back up was damper (err - more damp?) than the way down, but I ended up playing Heron Tag on that direction as well. I have no idea if it was the same bird, but I like to think so...

It’s a good ride, but you’ll want to be aware that it’s pretty remote once you exit Rock Falls. There are a handful of minor facilities - trailside benches, an occasional picnic table. In the 10 (ok, yes, 9.45) mile stretch I rode there was one site with a porta-potty, and another (at 172) with an outhouse. However, aside from these options, outside of town there were no formal shelter options - if I’d wanted to take shelter from the rain I’d either have had to sit in one of the underpasses, or taken refuge in an outhouse. I don’t think this is uncommon for rural trails, but it is something you want to be prepared for when you go.

And if you like rides on remote trails, this one has a lot more to give. As I noted at the beginning, the feeder canal itself offers up more distance than I traveled by a factor of three; the entire canal system could readily offer up a half-century or more for the interested rider.

Seasonal Goals by Erin Wade

Last Wednesday took us over the calendrical hump into official Spring, and thus far the weather seems to be agreeing. Here in Northern Illinois we’ve seen temps in the 40’s and low 50’s over the past wee, with suggestions of numbers sneaking into the bottom end of the 60 degree range next week. Skies are also appropriately gray and threatening much of the time - depressing, but on track.

I am, of course, a year-round cyclist, so the riding never really stops. However, it would be fair to say that the variety of riding changes during the winter. When the snow falls and the air bites I tend to stay closer to home, and the routes available naturally become limited to what is cleared and open. Given this, the arrival of the fairer season gets me thinking about what type of riding I’d like to do in the warmer months. Given that, I thought I’d share some of the goals that are running through my head for the next couple of seasons.

More Trail Exploration

In my region we have two long-distance trail systems - the I&M Canal Trail and the Hennepin Canal Trail. I’ve ridden on each of them, but only one time each, and for shorter distances. I’d like to get back to each of them and spend more time and distance on both.

For the I&M Canal trail I’d at least like to extend out my rides to get from LaSalle all of the way into Ottawa and back, and I’d like to do that more than once, incorporating some sight-seeing into it. The trail passes through Utica on it’s way, which offers some interesting options, as well as Buffalo Rock State Park.

The Hennepin Canal trail is much longer than the section that I rode along last summer, and it is also listed as a primary component of the Rails-to-Trails cross country course. I’d love to go further along it as well. In addition, Hennepin has both the primary east-west course, as well as a feeder canal system that runs from Rock Falls southwards to the main canal. Lots of territory to explore and enjoy there.

There are other trail systems in the broad region that I’d like to get myself out to see, if at all possible. I’m primarily a road-rider, in part because getting out on trails requires car travel, which I often have plenty of during the work week. Still, the trails offer an opportunity for variety that I’m sometimes missing at home. Likely there will be reviews of these if and when they occur.

New Road Routes

A while back I put up a post about Ogle County’s cycling website. I think this is an excellent resource, and it’s a credit to the county that they provide it. Unfortunately, similar resources don’t exist closer to home. I’m hoping to establish some routes closer to home that provide a similar experience to what is detailed in their site. This will take some work, so it may not happen quickly (or I suppose, at all), but I’m hopeful.

Longer Rides

As is perhaps hinted at in the sections above, I’d like to see if I can’t incorporate longer rides into my routine. I had my highest mileage year on record last year, but my average ride was just under thirteen miles (12.94 for you sticklers out there). I am always impressed with the people who do century rides, and that’s something that I aspire to, but my available riding time makes something like that pretty challenging to fit in without significant planning.

Most of my regular rides are in the 8-14 mile range. I do have a couple of regular routes laid out at longer distance, but I think I’ll need some variety to make them more interesting to do with any sort of regularity.

Looking Forward

I’m sure there will be more to come as well, but this is where my head is at the moment. Spring brings hopes and possibilities!

A Final Gift for the Season by Erin Wade

I am not an early morning exerciser. Virtually every Sunday I try to get myself out for a ride, and this is so ingrained in my head at this point that I think of it by name - my Sunday ride. But it’s not an early morning activity, because I reserve Sunday morning for coffee, contemplation, and writing.

But this morning was different - I was out before virtually everything (well - except the coffee. Nothing happens until I’ve had at least one cup of coffee...)

This winter has been an odd one, even for the extremely variable Midwest. The first third or so of the season was unusually warm - perhaps to lull us into a false sense of security - and then became a powerhouse of snow and wind off and on for a couple of weeks. That polar vortex was followed by a shift into the wrong kind of winter, giving us an ugly patchwork of tired, retreating drifts and frozen mud.

But we’re now moving on to the end of the season, spring is right around the corner on the calendar, and most of the snow has melted away.

Well - I guess I should say had melted away.

When I got up this morning and looked out the window it became clear that the weather gods had offered up a winter cycling gift for the last part of the season. The ground was covered in a blanket of snow - and not just an odd, out of character late-season dusting. No - this was a solid inch to inch-and-a-half or so of actual powder.

Porch handrail

In short - real snow for real winter cycling.

But it’s mid-March. Snow at all this late in the season in northern Illinois is - or at least was (thanks, climate change) - virtually unheard of and, when it occurs, it’s flurries or at most just a light dusting. The abundance I was seeing out my window just doesn’t happen. And it certainly wasn’t going to last.

Warming up

I checked the handy-dandy weather app to find that it was 30°, working its way up to a high of 41°, and the above-freezing temps were set to start showing up in the very near future. This meant if I wanted to play in the snow it was going to need to be soon. So I took the drastic action of deciding to set aside my Sunday routine, completed only my most necessary of necessaries, and geared up to ride.

You would think that, by this point in the season, the novelty of a ride in the snow would have passed - that this is something that one would feel only as the calendar rolls us into those early days of winter. Some years that just might be true, but this really did feel like a gift, it’s ephemeral nature making it all the more precious.

Undoubtedly because of the warming trend for the day, the road was untouched by plows, offering only tire tracks from the occasional passing vehicle.

Road pic here

Because of the lateness of the season, this ride offered an auditory extravaganza that one does not typically experience when riding in the white stuff. Yes, you do have the crunch of the snow under the wheels (a thing I comment on often and always love), but today all of that was accompanied by the bird calls, most notably those of the returning Red Wing Blackbirds.

RWB

These well-dressed gentlemen of the prairie are the true harbingers of spring out here. You can have your silly robins with their garish outfits - they don’t hold a candle to the toughness and determination of the RWB. And besides, you can hear the blackbird’s trilling call for miles. You know they are here by sound long before you see them.

I took a little longer on the route for this ride than usual, taking some final pictures and so on. This was likely my last opportunity to lay my tracks in fresh powder for most of the remainder of the year. It seemed reasonable to savor it a bit.

Trike Tracks

Rare Opportunity by Erin Wade

This past Friday offered up a rare home office day, and an even rarer opportunity to ride my trike for actual transportation.

The overwhelming majority of my riding is recreational. Though I’m on country roads most of the time, it’s on loops designed to get me back around to my start, and to enjoy the trip along the way. This is a reality of my work situation - I travel a lot, and none of it is within a reasonable ride distance from home. When I’m not off-site I work out of a home office, which is wonderful, but my spouse objects when I bring the trike inside to ride the 10 feet from the bedroom to the office...

Friday presented with the perfect confluence of location and opportunity - working from home, and enough open time to ride, rather than drive, to the post office.

It’s an eight-mile ride one-way, almost entirely on rural backroads. It’s about a half-hour round trip by car, all things considered, and takes somewhere between an hour and 10 minutes to an hour and a half cycling (depending upon the day and depending upon me).

I always enjoy riding, but there’s something extra-special to me when I get the opportunity to ride to an actual destination. This might sound odd to the folks who commute via pedals on a regular basis, but it makes for an additional feeling of purpose to the ride that I really enjoy.

Now, to be clear, I’m not trying to claim any particular level of virtue here. While I try to do what I can for the environment - driving fuel efficient cars, using LED lighting, etc - I don’t for a moment delude myself into thinking that this very occasional 16-mile trip even rates as a drop in the bucket in comparison to my routine motor vehicle usage. This is, in fact, one of the things that people often don’t think about with respect to country living - a natural consequence to being away from everything is that you have long distances to get to everything. You spend a lot of time in the car.

But that sense of purpose is there, and I enjoy it.

And so I gear up for the ride and get the trike ready, checking the bags to make sure I have enough room in there for any mail that I might be bringing back. I also check and double-check to make sure I have the mailbox key (which I have forgotten at least once on on of these forays). Then I hit the road with my sense of purpose in hand (or maybe in the bag - my hands are occupied with steering after all - have to re-think that metaphor) and head out.

I ride the same route that I drive for the trip, but it’s all different at cycling speeds. You get a chance to see the things along the way and enjoy them at a more human level. This can be, of course, both for the better and the worse.

The better is this hill, which appears early in to the third mile of the ride.

Hill pic

It’s a relative high point that drops rapidly into the valley carved by Bureau Creek. It is, unsurprisingly, the source of my top-speed measure for this ride (coming in at 34.55 gravity-assisted mph). It’s warmer, at 39°, but still winter, and the snow still sits along the sides of the road and banks of the creek.

The bad is the dogs which chase the trike - virtually every single time on this route - a mile or so afterward. They chase the car as well, when I drive this way, though the feeling is very different, as any cyclist knows. I’ve been riding in the country a significant portion of my life, and I’ve been chased by dogs many a time; You learn to contend with it. But I always worry about the dogs where this is allowed to occur. Whether car or bike, when they are chasing they are in the middle of the road, and there is no variation of this scenario that is safe for the animal. Growing up out here I lost two dogs to the road, so perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to this, but still...

A few miles later and I’m rolling up to the post office to check the mailbox. Lock the wheels on the trike, get the key from the bag (which I have ensured has room for any mail I might pick up), go inside and open the box to find... nothing.

This is not a terribly uncommon occurrence, opening the box and finding it empty. On most days, when I take some time out of the work schedule to drive to the mailbox I’m frustrated to find it bare, my efforts fruitless, my time wasted.

But this day is different. This day I got to ride, and ride with a sense of purpose. The fact that it is empty doesn’t take away from that. If anything, it means that at least I didn’t have to spend still more time sitting in my car just to find out there was nothing there.

This day I got to ride.

Tailwinds by Erin Wade

So. Last week I wondered how windy was too windy to ride.

Gee, I wonder which direction the wind is coming from...

In a lot of ways that post was part of my process of trying to decide whether to brave the elements, or whether I finally had found an excuse (besides lightening) for not going out on my Sunday ride.

The thing is, you can only read so much about a person riding across Antarctica in higher winds and lower temperatures for days before all the mental whingeing about whether or not to head out for an hour or so seems, well, a little pathetic.

So - you know - I rode.

I decided to head out on the route that I’ve now come to call Rocks 8. This is the gravel route I put together to take advantage of snow cover and freezing mitigating the unpleasant effects of the gravel. I reasoned that it was a relatively brief route and remained close to home, so if safety became an issue I would be an easy rescue. And besides, once the warmer weather comes I will likely avoid the gravel portions of this route, so I might as well enjoy them while I can.

It’s a route that runs in a square, and that square, given the Midwest road grid patterns, runs on the cardinal compass points. This means that the eight mile route is about two miles in each direction - two miles south, two miles east, two miles north, etc. Suffice it to say that my ride maps are often, well, pretty dull.

The wind last Sunday was coming directly out of the west. Westerly winds are the predominant pattern in this area, and this day was point on. The wind speed during the ride, according to Cyclemeter, was 38 mph:

38 mph winds

Cyclemeter offers up graphs of your ride speed across the miles of distance traveled, and then compares it to your "official" or reference ride (by default, it’s your first recorded ride on a given route). On the graph, the purplish dotted line is the reference ride, and the blue line is the current ride:

Graphical differences

Can you guess which part of the ride it was during which I had the west-to-east tailwind?

I did a more in-depth analysis of the effect of the wind on my rides a while back, but it still amazes me somewhat how much of a difference it can make. The elevated section on the graph runs between mile two and three, smack in the 20-30mph range. It’s notable too that this section is entirely across gravel and, while not involving immense climbs, isn’t entirely flat either (which accounts for some of the up and down in speed). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t push a bit during this section - how could one not? Fast is fun! But for reference, my average speed for the year prior was 11.86mph, and the overwhelming majority of that was set on my Catrike Pocket, which is what I was riding for this outing as well.

You can see the headwind section as well across miles six and seven. My average speed for mile seven was 5.38mph. That’s better than walking, but not a lot, and really gives some credence to why Maria Leijerstam chose a trike for her Antarctic ride - you’re starting to get down to speeds where it would be difficult to stay upright on two wheels. For fun, the headwind also makes it hard to catch your breath at times, and throws bits of debris into your face.

It also brings the overall averages down to earth. Despite that section running between 20-30 mph, and a top speed of 30.60mph on mile three, the average speed for the route was only 8.95mph. This is still better than two minutes over my median speed for this route, but it illustrates how much the headwind cuts into the time.

At the end, though, you definitely know you had a workout. Maddeningly, Cyclemeter does not appear to take the wind into account with respect to calorie burn. How exactly it counts calories does not appear to be explained on its otherwise very detailed help section, but you have to enter your weight for it to work, so it seems to be based upon that vs. your ride speed and distance. For this brief, slow ride, then, it credits me with using 399 calories. I suspect that, in reality, I burned that or better during the headwind section alone.

Overall, tho, west to east, I’m not even sure the trike needed me...

How Windy is Too Windy...? by Erin Wade

I begin my Sunday mornings in a similar fashion most weeks. I get up earlier than I intend (by force of habit), make some coffee and perform my ablutions, and think about where I will go for My Sunday Ride.

I try to get out to ride at least two days a week. I’d love to do more, and I do if the opportunity presents, but my goal for bare minimum is the two days. My Sunday Ride is an important component of that goal because Sundays are, all told, the day that I’m most free to get that ride in.

As I ponder a ride here this morning, however, that contemplation is accompanied by a soundtrack of howling and gusting wind. My iPhone’s weather app tells me that we are sitting at a wind speed of more than 30 miles an hour, and my ears are in general agreement with that assessment. All of which suggests the question: how windy is too windy to ride?

Wind speed

Any cyclist knows that the wind can have a huge effect on the degree of forward progress one experiences when riding. (I spent a little time going over my personal numbers on the effect of the wind here a little while back). Still, I’m not riding for transportation, I’m riding for my physical and mental health and the general enjoyment of the activity. And as far as that physical health part goes, the resistance a strong headwind offers is really just a bit of frosting on the cycling cake.

...right?

Having my Catrike does make a difference in this calculation, at least a bit. The lower profile nature of the trike does absolutely make the wind less of an issue, of course. This is part of the reason that Maria Leijerstam chose one for her record setting ride to the South Pole.

Of course, spending a little time reading about Maria Leijerstam’s ride across Antarctica makes one feel rather wimpy about the question one is asking for this very post. She was contending with 50mph winds and temperatures so low that the sweat was freezing in her boots. So, you know, it offers a bit of perspective there...


I realize, as I look back over the past couple of weeks that I’ve spent a lot of cognitive effort and writing time on complaining about the weather. I’d like to say that this is not my fault, and rather to lay the blame at the feet of, well...

...of February. That is, assuming February has feet.

Looking back over the past few years in Cyclemeter, tho, it’s clear that February has issues. While my amount of riding varies across time, the second month of the calendar year is routinely one of the lowest both in terms of riding outings and distance traveled. It is the shortest month, of course, so that may be a variable as well, but I suspect that a calculation of average distance per day across the months would also put February routinely at or near the bottom.

If it would just be more cooperative we’d get along so much better, February and I. But to be clear, this is all February‘s fault.

Be Careful What You Wish For by Erin Wade

It’s clear that sometimes The Fates just like to give you a bite in the ass.

Of course, last week I wrote complaining that we were having the wrong kind of winter, just then in Northern Illinois. You can go back and look at that for details, but the gist is that everything was all:

... a patchwork of worn snow drifts, ice, and frozen mud underneath a steel-gray sky.

As I often do, a little while after writing and posting I geared up for my Sunday ride. I mean, I’m gonna complain about the weather, but that’s not going to keep me from getting out and riding. As my child has heard me opine on multiple occasions, if you wait for the perfect day, it will never get done.

By the time I had geared up, however, the snow gods had apparently read my post (I’m sure they have nothing better to do, right?) and decided to show me a thing or two. The snow had already begun to fall when I walked out to the garage to get my trike ready. Once I hit the road it was falling in earnest.

Ask and ye shall receive...?

It quickly became the sort of weather I don’t typically do a road ride in, primarily because of reduced visibility - not mine, but that of drivers. But at that point I was already committed, so I pressed on.

I’d made the choice to go with my glasses and not goggles, which had... interesting results. I spent a lot of time clearing gathered moisture off of the glasses, which would have been the case with the goggles as well. The goggles would have prevented the ice buildup on my eyebrows, however...

That problem aside, however, it was everything you hope for from a winter ride - the peace and solitude of the snowfall, the crunch under the wheels (you really can’t overemphasize the delight of that sound), and a visual display that absolutely fits the description of winter wonderland.

It’s still, clearly, not something that the general public is ready for. The demonstration of that on this trip was provided by the car pulling up with the young man who lives down the road from me, rolling down the window and checking on me to make sure I was okay. I was halfway through the ride - well away from both our houses - so it was a chance encounter; I was clearly a sight he was not expecting to see.

Ultimately it was just under 14 miles on a familiar route with Old Man Winter thoughtfully providing just what I’d asked for. All at once.

But hey - the ice has since melted out of my eyebrows.

The Right Kind of Winter by Erin Wade

I enjoy winter, as a general rule. I enjoy cycling in the cold, I like the crunch of snow under the wheels, seeing the flakes fall about me as I move down the road or trail. The changing of the landscape as the snow shifts and changes with the wind and temperature adds variety to what would otherwise seem monochromatic.

But it has to be the right kind of winter.

Over the past few days in Northern Illinois we’ve moved beyond the polar vortex, and had warming temperatures - so warm, in fact, that the abundance of snow that fell just before the severe cold has significantly receded - followed by a drop back below freezing. Now, what remains is a patchwork of worn snow drifts, ice, and frozen mud underneath a steel-gray sky. This is a part of winter that it’s harder to be enthusiastic about.

The road. Does it beckon?

The warming and freezing leaves your typical uncleared cycling trails covered in a layer of uneven ice that can potentially be traversed, but is so unpleasant to ride over it resembles a roadway of randomly scattered rub strips. There is probably someone out there that wants to tackle that as a technical challenge, but I am not that someone. And this leaves me out exploring, on one of my regular ride days, city streets that are fine, as far as it goes but offer only, shall we say, uninspiring views of houses and yards.

It’s the general mood for the week, and for this morning. And it is, frankly, something that absolutely falls in the category of first world problems. I will get out and ride today. I will do so through the countryside that I enjoy. I will do it in the winter weather, which I also enjoy.

But I’d prefer that it be in the right kind of winter.

I can’t be the only one, can I?

Gravel Subdued by Erin Wade

I don’t like gravel.

I live in a rural area - grew up here, in fact, though I moved away for quite a while and then returned. Gravel has always been a part of life out here. The road that live on now was gravel for most of my childhood, and parts of it still were up until a couple of years ago. Although it has since been paved, many of the secondary roads around us remain covered in loose rock.

I’m sure gravel has its benefits, but from a road user perspective it’s hard on things. It’s hard on your vehicle, chipping paint and throwing dust on things. And it’s particularly hard when cycling. On an upright, or diamond-frame (DF) bike riding a gravel road is a matter of carefully finding the narrow paths through the surface where the gravel has been worn away and hoping against hope that an errant rock doesn’t find your front wheel and take you down.

And wiping out in gravel? I suppose, technically, a gravel road is a softer surface to fall on than is asphalt. I mean, after all, the rocks are simply sitting on top of dirt, right? But this does not account for the hours (and sometimes days) of picking rock after rock out of your skin. Ugh.

When I got my Catrike Pocket one of the things I was looking forward to was being more comfortable on gravel. But while my recumbent trike is my preferred ride for virtually every option, it isn’t able to tame all of the issues gravel has to offer. That risk of falling is gone, of course, but the ride over rock is still very rough and uncomfortable, and the layout of the trike is such that soft material - for example, loose gravel on an uphill track - causes the rear (traction) wheel to loose hold, and you find yourself sitting and spinning with no forward motion.

And I’m aware that they make gravel bikes, and that fat tire and suspension bikes and trikes are a thing. But I’m the (apparently somewhat rare) cyclist who really doesn’t collect bikes and trikes. I like to have a well rounded machine that does most things well, and I find my Catrike fits that bill.

But it means that I map out my rides so that I can avoid riding on the rocks.

It occurred to me last weekend, however, that the snow-covered nature of our roads this season might offer up an opportunity.

Out here in rural Illinois the plows go to great effort to clear primary highways down to the asphalt. Liberal application of spark showering blades combined with road salt means that, for the most part, a heavily traveled roadway with a state or national numerical designation is going to be showing pavement. But on the secondary roads the plows content themselves with removing the drifts and ensuring the road is passable to traffic only. They remain coated in white.

This is pleasant to ride on - last week I mentioned the delightful sound of snow crunching under the wheels. But it occurred to me when I was trying to decide where to ride last week that it also had the potential to be an equalizer of sorts. That is, a snow-covered road is just a snow-covered road, regardless of what is under it.

That thought in mind, I decided to give it a go. I don’t have to ride far to get to gravel, and I ended up laying out an eight mile circle (well - it’s a square circle - we’re in farm-grid country, after all) that included four solid miles on the gravel.

So the first, simple part is that it worked. If you didn’t know these roads were gravel ahead of time there’d have been no way to tell simply by looking.

Intersection at Gravel and Asphalt

This is taken at a gravel and asphalt intersection. Which is which? I know, because I was there...

More importantly, there was no way to tell by riding on it either. Turning off of the asphalt and on to the gravel was an indistinguishable change as far as my backside was concerned.

What’s more, this opened up an opportunity to travel down roadways that, although nearby, I hadn’t seen in years. I hadn’t realized, for example, that the house down one of the roadways is, apparently unoccupied - no sign of activity, of attempt to clear the driveway or get a vehicle through. There was an old barn that I remember playing at as a kid that I see is now gone, and I passed at least one house that, if I’d ever seen it before I don’t remember doing so.

Hidden creek

big sky country?

These are small things, but they are part of the joy of cycling through the countryside, and offered some novelty, some fresheness from my typical routes. In fact, I took the route again yesterday, moving my usual Sunday ride up a day because a) it looked like the weather today was going to be inhospitable and would turn the roads to a slushy mess (and so far that is true); and 2) it was simply gorgeous yesterday - too gorgeous to pass on the opportunity.

It might seem surprising that this possibility hasn’t occurred to me in the past - I do a fair amount of winter cycling. Still, the reality is that most of our winters here really don’t offer extended periods of snow cover. It’s typically cold, but real snow on the ground and the roads for an extended period of time is a rarity. This may be the first season since I started winter cycling that the opportunity presented itself.

It’s an ephemeral opportunity at best. It was 40° here yesterday, and the snow cover on the asphalt was already transitioning away. There were even sections of the gravel starting to show thru.

Gravel showing thru snow

It’s already 40° again here this morning, and the surrounding world is blanketed in the thick fog that rises as the snow releases its hold on the earth. It’s 40°, on its way to 41°, with a low also well above freezing, and a projected high for tomorrow of nearly 50°. The snow - even with the prodigious volume we’d received - will be gone soon. There might be more - the forecast speculates some for next week, but we all know how reliable that is. Odds are that, even if it happens, it will be fleeting. That’s just the way it goes here.

But for a short period of time, a few days, and two rides, it opened up another part of my little world.

Trike in snow

Snow! by Erin Wade

While he held off for a while here in Northern Illinois, Old Man Winter now appears to be working to make up for lost time. We’ve had actual winter weather - not just snowfall, though there has been that, but freezing rain and real cold temperatures. My Sunday ride last week, taken at the height of the warmth of the day, saw temps right around 9°F.

Of course, the warmer weather is a bit of a treat when it happens in January, but this sort of thing is what winter cycling is all about. It feels like winter cycling when the road is coated in snow and you can hear it crunching under the wheels.

Winter Roads

For my other site I wrote a bit, last week, about how the ravages of climate change have made the sighting of snowmobiles somewhat of a rarity here in the Land of Lincoln. These were a commonality when I was a kid, but nowadays its somewhat unusual to see tracks, much less an actual machine, out and about. Of course, the fates having seen me write that in the morning made arrangements to have me come across not just tracks, but an enthusiastic snowmobilist (“snowmobiler”?), providing a friendly wave as he was coming the other way out on my Sunday ride - riding his sled along the same section of road upon which I was pedaling. Removes any doubt about the condition of the roadway...

But OMW also has a sense of humor, and it seems that he perhaps thought I was enjoying the snow a bit too much on its own, and chose to throw some freezing rain on to my ride on Tuesday. To be fair, it was more of a drizzle than an rain, per se, so it seemed like it shouldn't prevent a ride. And mostly what I learned is what I learn every time I decide to go ahead and ride in the rain: It would be good to have some rain gear.

It was a short ride, and the multiple layers of synthetics and wool were pretty good proof against the cold, if not the damp. Probably the most challenging part of the ride was keeping my goggles and glasses clear. The fuzzy part of my gloves works nicely for removal of moisture, but scraping frozen material off is a bit more challenging.

And - of course - I did have to hang pretty much everything up by the register to allow it to dry out immediately afterward.

Peradventure I had the opportunity a couple of days later to have a discussion with that very snowmothusiast that I passed on the road. I had made arrangements to purchase a farm bell, and the seller just happened to be that very same person - when he saw the trike in my car (which is where it usually is) he asked if it was me that he’d passed and waved to. As it does, this led to a bit of discussion about winter outdoor activity.

That conversation made me realize something, in retrospect. When someone learns that you are riding in the winter the most common response that you get is one of disbelief - I had a coworker recently describe me as “insane”, for example. Par for the course.

But you don’t get that sort of reaction from other people who enjoy outdoor winter activity, regardless of what it is. My snowmobiling bell man wasn’t riding a bike, but he was clearly delighting in the opportunity of the white stuff, and my description of riding in the winter was something he took in stride. This brings into clarity the realization that it’s not the activity itself that people think is insane - its the weather one is doing it in.

For myself, however, the coldest bike ride of the winter is still better than a day inside at the gym...

Riding Anticipation by Erin Wade

When you are a kid this time of year is one of anticipation of cookies and treats and presents under the tree. As an adult, I find myself mostly looking forward to having a few days off with family, and towards the riding opportunities the time off will also provide.

Ready and Waiting She’s ready and waiting...

As is true for many of us, I suspect, my riding frequency is limited not by desire, but by schedule. Work must be performed, I suppose, in order to afford luxuries like food and shelter, as well as necessities like as tires and inner tubes. But having a little time off opens the door for more wheel time than usual.

To that end, I’ve been going over the five day forecast for our region to get an idea of what the realistic opportunity is. Setting aside for the moment the utter ludicrousness of expecting an eight-day forecast to be accurate in the Midwest (home of the saying "Don’t like the weather? Wait a minute..."), things look promising:

Eight days of opportunity

Of course, it’s also a suitably cruel trick of midwestern weather that the day with the highest projected temperature - 52° in the last full week of December?!? - is also the day with a 90% chance of rain.

This type of outlook also illustrates why I transitioned from cross country skiing to winter cycling several years ago. We still have snow in the ditches and shady spots from a late autumn snowfall, but the odds that we will have anything worth sliding on are on the low side, to be certain.

Looking back in my Cyclemeter records, last year I managed four rides over the same time period - though two of them were somewhat aborted attempts that I ended up using as a comparison between my upright and my trike in the snow. In 2016 I had only one ride, both during that week and for the entire month of December, and I had similar numbers for 2015.

It’s possible that my intentions and my actions don’t always entirely line up together.

Some people, like Bob Sharpe over at PedalFree (and now at Old Man Gravel ), manage to ride every day, regardless of the conditions. I both respect and envy that grit and determination. I know, realistically, that I won’t even manage every day during my time off over the next few. But hopefully I can do better than the past few years - gotta compare yourself to yourself, after all.

Early Winter Along Bureau Creek by Erin Wade

We haven’t technically reached winter yet, according to the calendar. That date is still a couple of weeks off. Still, we’ve had snow on the ground here in Northern Illinois since before Thanksgiving.

This means that the winter cycling starts earlier this year, I suppose.

This past week’s Sunday ride was a 13-ish mile ride across familiar territory here in Northern Illinois. According to Cyclemeter’s weather feature the temperature was sitting at 29°, with a gentle wind at about 6 mph. And of course, even though it’s not technically winter, our early season snowfall has the benefit of offering a change in scenery just as the bright colors of autumn start to degrade into a uniform tan...

the road ahead

Bureau Creek (say "crick") Westbound

Bureau Creek (say "crick") Eastbound

This is one of my favorite spots to stop along the way of this route. Bureau Creek (say "crick") is smaller here, but it eventually winds its way all the way under the Hennepin Canal down to the Illinois river near Bureau Junction. And while it’s wintry enough, with snow on the ground, it isn’t yet cold enough to freeze the moving water:

I don’t think I noticed the little guy coming forward at the center to the left of the rapids while I was taking the video. A little proof that life continues out here even when the white stuff covers the ground. 

November Cycling in Northern Illinois by Erin Wade

It’s a curious title, the one heading this post. Curious because, as of this particular post, there’s been precious little.

While I can usually find something to enjoy about all of the seasons, Autumn is often my favorite time of the year. The colors change, the temperatures cool down, and the air takes on a delightful, crisp flavor that is very pleasant. It’s a delight to walk outside and see the carpet of leaves across the lawn.

But to be fair, that’s true for the first, say, third or so of Autumn. Then November comes rolling in. And it’s not the temperatures that are a problem. No - we have been running with high temps in the 40’s and lower 50’s, and we’ll be there or a little lower for the next few weeks at least.

The problem is the rain.

I’ll ride in just about any conditions - beastly hot, bitingly cold, and just about anywhere in-between. I’ll ride in a spring or summer rain as long as visibility isn’t too compromised. But the cold November rain? That’s something else.

Fortunately, this past Tuesday finally offered a reprieve, and like that cool glass of water sitting, tantalizingly just out of reach at the end of a long desert trek, it was all the sweeter for it.

While the roadways are clear, the trails are covered in leafy patches in varying shades of amber and brown.

4AE163C8-2520-4E7C-985D-49F921410859.jpg

And while the rain is an impediment when it’s falling from the sky, asphalt dampened by the prior days rain combined with a leafy slickness is the perfect recipe for opposite-lock sideways adventures at speed...

You might simply say that it felt good to get back out on the trike.

Now, possibly if I invested in some good, solid, water tight riding clothing I’d feel differently about the November rain, but riding without such gear in pervasive wet conditions in 40° weather is something different entirely. And, if things go awry with your wet weather gear under these conditions, it gets unpleasant in a hurry. And it would take some pretty amazing wet weather gear to prevent all intrusion under those circumstances. But my strike out back on the trail makes me want to explore the possibilities.

Because then I wouldn’t have spent quite so much of November thus far looking out the window, looking at the radar, and swearing at the weather gods. So a searching I will go, for it seems unwise to be swearing at weather gods...

Comparisons... by Erin Wade

A couple of weeks ago I was pulling my Catrike Pocket out of the back of my car, and noticed something on one of the front tires - a bit of greenish coloring. I rolled it into the garage to get a closer look. At first I thought it was something that had gotten on to the tire from the road. As I looked closer, however, it became clear that it was the layer under the black rubber peeking through. A spin of the wheel found that it was showing in spots all the way around.

I got my Pocket in June of 2017 - about 19 months ago. It’s a 2012 model that I found on eBay. Technically it’s used, of course, but the person I’d bought it from had been given it by someone else who hadn’t ridden it, and he got it for his wife who also decided she didn’t want to ride it. The tires on the trike still had the little nubs around the outside. My little Pocket had seen very little action.

Since then, according to Cyclemeter, I’ve ridden 1861.02 miles on the Pocket. This may seem like a lot, or not that much, depending upon the circles you travel in - to avid, regular cyclists this type of distance in 19 months is no big deal. But it’s important to compare yourself to yourself, and for me last year was my biggest mileage year ever up to that point; and this year I’ve already ridden further. This owes in no small amount to my trike - I love riding this thing.

So: it makes some sense that it would be time for new tires. I took the trike in to the always helpful folks at Meads Bike Shop in Sterling to perform the feat (a bike mechanic I am not). Because the tires needed to be ordered it was going to take a couple of days. (I did actually take a couple of rides on the worn tire, but I figured I was really increasing my odds of having to call for a pickup each successive time).

This meant, when it came time for last week’s Sunday ride, I had no trike. I do, however, have my road bike - it’s a 1987 Cannondale SR400 that I’ve had for years, and was my primary ride until I got the trike. Here she is:

Cannondale SR400

I looked back in Cyclemeter later and realized that it had been over a year since I’d ridden the Cannondale. This week’s Sunday ride was on October 14th, and my prior ride on this bike was October 10th, 2017. The ride prior to that had been on June 27th and, in both cases it was, then as now, because I’d had the trike in the shop.

Now, to be clear, I didn’t get the Catrike because I was unhappy with my Cannondale. Quite the contrary, I’ve always been very fond of it. It’s lightweight, it has an elegant simplicity, and even with only the 12 gears it’s age allows it, it is a fast, capable machine. And I love the clean, simple lines of its design. Heaven help me, I even kind of like the 1980’s pink neon lettering.

I didn’t get the Catrike because I was unhappy with my bike. I got it because I think recumbent trikes are cool. I mean really cool. As I’ve said here before, I’ve wanted one pretty much since the day I realized they existed.

That said, I figured it would be good to get the old girl out and take her for a spin. Of course, there’s been nothing to stop me from doing that over the past year - she’s always waiting, patiently, there in the garage. But still...

I pumped up the tires (it had been a year, after all), put some oil on the chain, and rolled her out down the driveway. The Cannondale rode perfectly, as if no time had passed. But for me, there were several things I noticed on this ride that I likely wouldn't have a year and a half ago:

  • Wind noise. It was immediately clear to me that this was going to be a louder ride than usual due to the wind in my ears. We live in out on the Illinois prairie, in a wind farm, so this is always a factor, but it was so much more noticeable here.
  • Speed - I was still as fast, or perhaps a bit faster, as on the trike. This isn’t necessarily surprising - the Cannondale is lighter and has larger wheels than the Pocket, and my speeds on it are historically higher (though I’ve been getting closer).
  • Comfort - My tuchus was sore well before I reached the end of my 12-ish mile ride (perhaps a loss of callous over time?). And I do not miss the riding position - cranked over and tilting your neck up to see the road ahead is not a bonus.

I had noticed the wind issue from a different perspective last winter when I took my wife’s mountain bike out for a comparative ride. In that case, being up in the wind was noticeable because of how much colder it was. Out here on the prairie, lower is definitely better when it comes to dealing with that wind.

Speed, as I noted, was not an unexpected difference. Here, I suppose, what’s nice to see is that a year away on a different type of machine hasn’t really affected my ability to ride the Cannondale - I suppose it’s true that you never forget how. But I’ve gotten faster on the Pocket since I got it, and it makes me wonder how much closer I’d be with a more comparable machine. Would an Expedition or a 700, with their larger rear wheels, be more comparable machines? (This also leads me to wonder what the valid comparisons are between different bikes and trikes - a question we certainly won’t answer here today...).

The comfort issue is also unsurprising, I suppose. One is actively choosing to make a trade-off when one chooses to ride a road bike. And there will undoubtedly be people out there who suggest that I’d be more comfortable on my Cannondale if I got a fitting for it. For them, let me say here: this is possibly true. Did I mention that I love my Catrike, and that it wasn’t for reasons of comfort that I bought it? A fitting on my road bike isn’t going to get it back off the hooks any more frequently.

The Pocket is back now, fully shod with new shoes on all three wheels. The Cannondale is back in the garage. It is a fine machine, and it did a wonderful job of standing in when needed. But I’m afraid it’s going to remain on the backup bench.

Spring Surprises by Erin Wade

Into the Mist

One of the downsides - if there truly is a downside - of having a regular Sunday ride is that Sunday is sometimes recalcitrant. Spring is doing her thing with the rain, and we’ve had enough over the past few days that the vernal ponds have emerged along with opportunistic streams. Still, the weather report for today claimed that the middle of the day would be dry, and the radar seemed to agree.

Opportunistic stream

Trusting in these sources, I geared up, pumped up the tires, and rolled out on my trike. The persistent cloud cover at least meant that the risk of sunburn was low (though I still sprayed on my exposed areas with SPF-as-close-as-I-can-get-to-1000 - have to maintain my alabaster complexion...). The cloud cover also allowed for temperatures in the 60’s, which is quite a gift for any point after Labor Day in Northern Illinois.

Strictly speaking, I did not encounter rain. No droplets fell from the sky in any noticeable form. It was clear, though, that I’d not considered the ability of midwestern air to hold water vapor in solution. As the ride went on everything just became progressively more... moist.

It’s rare that I wish for a set of glasses with built in wipers, but here I was, trying to decide between wearing them and not.

Wet Goggles

I ultimately went with the strategy of removing and violently shaking them off periodically as I went. By the time I arrived back home I was soaked through. Still, none of this is to say that it was a bad ride - any day with the opportunity to get out on the trike is better than a day without. My child is, no doubt, tired of hearing me say that if you wait for a perfect day to do something it will never happen.

And, true to form, it did offer a thing or two to see. As noted above, this time of year often results in opportunistic waterways emerging, the vernal ponds. And it offered up this as one of my final sights along the roadway:

what is that?

For those struggling to sort out what that might be, a closer look might help:

yes - that’s horseshit

Reminds you that you really are out in the country...

What to Wear? by Erin Wade

This past Wednesday saw temperatures here in Northern Illinois virtually double from the day before, hitting a high in the mid-60’s - a thing virtually unseen thus far this spring. Obviously it was necessary to take advantage of the weather with a ride. But I ran into a brief snag.

I’ve been riding all winter. As I’ve mentioned before, cycling in the winter isn’t really a cold activity. Once you get working you warm up nicely, all assuming that you’ve dressed properly in the first place. Dressing properly is the trick, and the trial and error part of learning that is sometimes a little uncomfortable, to be sure, but once you sort it out the riding is a lot of fun.

The thing is, the day was so much warmer I suddenly realized: I was not sure what to wear.

I’ve been dressing in two or three layers for so long that I was having trouble remembering what I usually would wear on a ~65-ish degree day. Wear too much, and the ride would quickly become unpleasantly hot. Still, under that circumstance one can still take off a layer or two and continue. But wear too little, and one gets irretrievably uncomfortable.

I ended up going with my noisy pants - Columbia heavy-duty nylon pants that are wind-resistant, and that usually serve as my outer layer thru the colder months - and a Nike high-visibility (read: yellow) long-sleeved top with a zipper turtleneck and thumb holes on the sleeves. I wasn’t confident, getting on to the trike, that I wouldn't be too warm, but I was pretty sure I wouldn't be too cold.

Also - this was the first outing for my Keen sandals (yay), but I brought along a pair of wool socks in the saddlebags just in case.

The verdict - it was maybe a mile before I had my sleeves rolled up all the way, the v-neck on the shirt completely unzipped, and began to wonder if it would be too uncomfortable to pull the bottoms of the pants up over my knees.

It’s odd how this happens - a season is just a few months, and yet we get so adapted to one that dealing with the next can be a challenge at first. It’s clear to me that I would have been fine in a t-shirt and shorts for the ride, but it was a struggle to even picture that, particularly given that there had been snow on the ground just a few days before.

And of course, as I write this from my comfy chair this weekend, we just came off of a windswept Saturday, which leads into a high today of 35° with very gray skies and possible snow in the offing. But I’m sure that, at some point in the near future, this season will right itself and sail smoothly forward.

Right?

Winding Down by Erin Wade

Cycling in Snow

The winter cycling season is winding down, but March has still had a few seasonal surprises left. The picture above offers up just such an example.

It’s a special day when the season offers up the type of snowfall that is heavy enough that you can really enjoy the visual effect, while not being so thick that it impedes vision. As a bonus, the temperature was just exactly right for downhill curves to offer up single-handbrake drifting, but not so slippery as to make uphill sections a slog.

It’s likely this was the last such day the season will offer. That’s a little sad.

...At least until one remembers that it heralds the beginning of the spring cycling season...

Cross Country Skiing or Winter Cycling? by Erin Wade

Back when I started out with winter cycling it was primarily as an alternative to cross country skiing. I started cross country skiing in my mid- to late-20’s, and really enjoyed it. However, the winter snowfall and retention in my area is too unpredictable to allow for any sort of reliable XC skiing season. Some seasons drop a sizeable amount of the white stuff, while others leave a paltry dusting. And even when there is a sufficient amount to support the skis, it’s typically short lived - if you get an abundant snowfall on Monday, but can’t get out on the skis till Wednesday, you might lose your chance entirely.

So: winter cycling.

This has worked well overall. Looking back into Cyclemeter (which, despite the name, also tracks skiing, hiking, etc) the last year that offered an XC skiing opportunity that I could take advantage of was 2015, and that was one event in early February - three years ago. So it’s good to have winter cycling as an alternative.

And that’s how I’ve always thought about it - as an alternative. My winter cycling has evolved over the years, as I’ve learned more about how to keep warm and comfortable while riding. This year, of course, I’ve incorporated my Catrike Pocket into the mix, and winter activity was part of my reason for wanting a trike - less (or no) falling over. These factors make it even better as an alternative for XC skiing.

It had been three years without skiing until last week. The weather gods had dropped a good three inches on the ground, which is enough - though barely - to support the skis. I brought both my skis and my trike along just in case the snowfall at home wasn’t representative of what I’d find at my destination. Still, it seemed to be, so when I went out I opted for the skis. I managed about three miles on a lovely trail through prairie and woods. It wasn’t groomed, but it wasn’t so deep as to make forging difficult. I was alone in the woods, I saw a hawk, and lots of animal tracks. The workout was good. It’s everything I remember enjoying about XC skiing.

And here’s the thing: I’d rather have been on my trike.

I can’t explain this, exactly; a lot of it was more visceral than anything else. The snow was not deep, so the skis occasionally caught on the surface beneath. The trails are primarily gravel under the snow, which isn’t an ideal medium into which to drive ski poles, so these factors may have played a role. But winter cycling isn’t all wine and roses either. Even with the trike, there are areas you cannot get through without walking the machine (sitting and spinning while the trike itself remains motionless on a hill is, shall we say, an interesting experience). And no outdoor exercise ever involves a perfect environment - that’s part of the fun. If I was interested in controlled conditions I’d be in a gym.

I’m seriously rethinking my perspective here - I’m no longer looking at winter cycling as an alternative to XC skiing. I’m really just thinking about it as the thing that I do in the winter.