Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Okay, I admit I'm always on the lookout for Araya rims. I love the squared off edges. 
Wheels. What would we do without wheels? They propel us onward, sailing with the wind or struggling against it. They are often a metaphor for life: what goes around, comes around. Wheels are so integral to the bi-cycle yet we take them for granted. At least I do.

I'd rather dream about bar tape, a new seat, panniers, what upcycled bike bag should I work on next, different handlebars, changing the Ross's shifters - anything but replacing a wheel until it's either broken or worn. Because, well, wheels aren't exactly glamorous* or cheap, are they?

Yet, if a spoke breaks, I panic. Egads, can I make it home? Should I head immediately to a bike shop? Do I have my phone with me to call for help? We roll through mud, salted roads, potholes, a spring shower, washboard dirt roads, rock and root choked trails, over sticks, wet leaves, snow, curbs, and of course, during as many sunny days as possible too.

And much like car tires, I don't exactly inspect them for wear. Rather, it goes like this: noisy rims or a wobble is a clue that I should check on something down below.

So, I'm toasting these spoked wonders. They're quiet (or should be), understated, functional, full of simple beauty. Because let's face it, with bearings, grease, hubs, rims, 36 spokes, and someone's wheel building expertise, those circular things really are ingenious.

*And then there's always the front derailleur...

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hauling Flower Boxes

I usually I set out on ride with a purpose. I might do an errand or several. Or I may change my mind en route. On this day as I pedaled, with no particular place to go, my mind wandered, thinking about the warming earth, how I'd already planted early greens in my vegetable garden, but forgot to buy flower seeds. Then with that segway I pondered the state of our front porch window box brackets, except, I had yet to purchase window boxes. Now was as good a time as any.

That's when I spin my wheels towards Kmart, a store where I often do business because of its proximity to bike path and home. Fortunately, Kmart had a selection of lightweight window boxes in assorted sizes and styles. I chose two, then secured them to the rack, rearranging my basket to accommodate new purchases.

Wide loads on bikes have their advantages. Cars give extra space - something every cyclist wants! However, it works both ways. As a bike path rider, I reminded myself to pay particular attention to pedestrians and other bicyclists.

Exercise and getting errands done on a sunny day is a weekend pleasure.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Puddle Time

High water is spilling over the waterfront path. Get a running start, lift my feet, and barrel through. Or better yet, take the side path and push hard through the mud. Either way it's a fun challenge.

Once past the big puddle, I'm treated to more public art. The mysterious stone stackers have been busy again this year. Right where previous floods gouged the banks, exposing tree roots and stumps, is a gallery of brick and stone sculptures, a treasure worth stopping for.

It makes me smile.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Ride on the Causeway

It's incredible weather for an Easter afternoon ride. I started off with my husband, then he deviated for a shorter loop back home.

Last time I visited the causeway I was on skis.
Lake views lure me out to Colchester's causeway trail. Water is like a magnet. Always has been, always will be.

Lake level, once again is at flood stage. However, it remains stable and is not dangerously high. All that late snowfall and melting mountain snow had to go somewhere. A few trees lining the causeway path are currently standing in water, but they always manage to survive, bent and gnarly looking. There are only a few hardy trees on this 3-mile section. I hope, someday, they'll be little ones to take their place.

Since the path reconstruction a couple years ago, someone placed this set of railroad wheels atop the marble blocks. I presume it was dredged up from the lake nearby. It's a fitting tribute to the former railroad, unusual in itself because they laid 3 miles of marble ballast, foundation for the water crossing. What was once used for structural integrity is now a marvelously unique feature.

The first mile of the causeway path traverses a wetland.
At my turnaround point I hoof it homeward, struggling into the wind for 11 miles. I was beat.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Blue Skies

Blue, blue skies. Despite the cold winter, late snowfall, and icy roads, I've come to appreciate Vermont skies. Before the buds and tiny leaves fill the treetops, we have wide open expanses. Meadows are still flattened from the weighted snow blanket. Lake views are crisp, clear before the onset of summer's humidity; I can often count individual houses on the New York side, 8 miles away.

It was the first thing I noticed when we moved here from Portland, Oregon nearly 20 years ago. Winters may be colder, but oh, the sunshine! I no longer pine for the big city life, the crowds, though I do miss skiing volcanic open slopes. Openness. Which is what I love about Lake Champlain. 110 miles long and 8 miles at it's widest.

Spaciousness. Crisp skies. Great shadows. And Canadian geese moving north, filling my commutes with song.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

We Interrupt this Commuting Program...

View out my car window as I drive up the dirt road to my workplace. Icy roads had
 melted by the afternoon. The snowy landscape was surreal.
It had rained the day before, but I totally did not expect to wake up to the rumble of a city snowplow. What the heck? I rise and peer outside to discover a few inches of snow turning the landscape winter white.

75F one day and 25F the next. Fortunately, it's a momentary hiccup. Tomorrow's forecast is for a frosty morning with clear skies, then warming to typical April temperatures. Now that I can handle!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Happy Feet

A pre-storm warm front blustered through our area on Sunday, bringing summer-like weather. And big wind gusts. The kind that howl. Once I collected the detritus of 30 mph wind gusts: our trash can, plastic sled (kids left outside full of blue surgical gloves filled with water -- don't ask -- which then toppled over and sailed into a neighbor's yard, spreading blue hands from here to kingdom come), Nerf darts, and lawn chair (my fault) I finally got around to getting ready for a bike ride. I celebrated the glorious warmth by wearing my beloved bike sandals, a definite sign that Spring's here to stay. The lake ice has sailed towards Canada, finally and my little piggies are dancing a happy tune.

Who else has favorite sandals for bike riding?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Once in a Blue Moon

Rare mid April ice flows.
Another stellar ride in spring sunshine. Another view of Lake Champlain ice, this time from the public fishing pier.

Ice is still over 12" thick, jostling, slowly moving southward. Beautiful.

And tonight, a full moon. From lake shore to heavens...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wide Load

My view over the handlebars. There is plenty of clearance for fenders and front lowrider rack.

For a couple years now I've been using front panniers on the Trek. My husband has always rocked this set up. Curious, I then tried it, and it's been my preference ever since. It frees up the rear rack for life's little pleasantries, like bringing a pie home. With low rider front racks, the weight hugs the front wheel, keeping steering stable. It's perhaps a bit sluggish at times too. But that's never bothered me. As a matter of fact, I prefer weight up front; it reminds me of touring. And if I can get that feeling pedaling to work, well, all is right in my world.

I also equate an unencumbered bike with unprepared, non-commuter types. I know it sounds silly. Really, anyone who rides with a backpack certainly falls into the commuter category. But still, they are not serious commuters, equipped with first aid kit, pump, extra clothes, tool kit, and the ability to haul a sack of groceries home.

Today, my wide load, full with clothing, lunch, and personal stuff, was like a sail in a morning tailwind. While snow spit in my face I was carried along until the last mile when I turn back into the wind. But that's what low gears are for. Shift. Keep going. Spy a garter snake on a pile of snow. 

Say what? A cold blooded snake that I normally see in summer. Weird. I stop and walk my bike over. Notice a forked tongue, slowly slide out and back in. Poor guy. Groggy. I still can't figure out why his two foot length is resting on snow and not on nearby brown grass.

Later, wide load heads into stiff headwind for 11 miles. Builds character. Or so they say. I call it tough. Brutal, in some parts of my ride without tree cover.

Until I hear my first geese in 2014, Overhead, honking. That sound never ceases to make me smile.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ice is Nice Ride

Spring fever was evident. Kids were running around, screaming. I saw a guy ripping dead stalks from his garden. Dog walkers, bike riders, an inline skater smashed through remaining slushy covered bike path, almost dangerously. If truth be told, I wondered whether skating with a leashed dog was the smartest idea.

It's easy to cut everyone slack today. Let's face it, 55F sunshine feels pretty good. So good that my husband and I got out for our first ride together. We admired the Winooski River as we pedaled along the Intervale. The river was open water in places, however as we neared the mouth where it meets Lake Champlain, winter weather still held an icy grip. The lake looks frozen over all the way to New York.

Looking westward, ice still covers Lake Champlain. At right, Winooski River bridge.
We took a chance and pedaled the waterfront trail towards downtown. On Tuesday the trail had been impassable, yet 6 days later it's 99% clear. We dodged elderly walkers, youngsters learning to ride a bike, lots of adult riders, and runners. I noticed 15-20 people picnicking at North Beach on the sand near the icy lake. It's been such an unusually cold winter nationwide. Since my husband and I returned from the Northwest 18 years ago, we've seen the lake freeze over twice and it's never remained frozen in April. It sure makes for an usual spectacle, especially because it's now comfortably warm enough to enjoy a bike ride.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Big Melt, Ice Jams

In two days the snow has receded quite a bit. Some fields are bare; some fields have a few inches of snow. Our neighborhood has 3 foot snow banks yet one clump of daffodils in my south facing garden has fat buds ready to open. 

If the ice jam isn't cleared soon the water above will render the driveway I ride
 on impassable, and in worse case, wash the road out.
Standing water floods many fields. Some drain into rivers, swelling creeks; others gush through culverts or back up against ice jams. The jam in the photo above will take a while to clear, or owners will call a service to force flush the blockage. Fortunately, the water currently has an another outlet, flowing into an alternate culvert on the right, out of view in the photo.

For now I pedal on, lifting my feet as I splash though puddles. What glorious sunshine!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Commuting and Feeling Alive

I overdressed for my first commute, but man it felt good to go for a long ride! The morning started at 35F and must have reached 40F after my hour's ride. What I noticed mostly, were the little things about my bike that I should have tended to last fall before winter storage, but now needed attention: a bar end that slipped, which I stopped to tighten, a dry chain, easily remedied, and lack of mirror, something I screwed back on the handlebar when I arrived home later that day.

I didn't know what to expect when I got to the dirt road at the end of my ride. It was wet, but firm, and a half mile later I negotiated two narrow tracks. The last forty feet was slushy snow covered road. Too difficult to ride, I hopped off the bike, walked and pushed the Trek into my employer's garage.

Like last year, I can't help but take a photo of my bike next to the shovels before opening
 the garage. It might be Spring, but shovels should always remain handy.
I was very surprised that 53F - high for the day - didn't turn the road into a quagmire. It remained firm. However, the culvert was getting a workout; snowmelt formed a gushing river, strained and forming waves at the confluence of driveway and main dirt road. 

I peeked into sap buckets (my employer taps 20 of their maple trees) but was met with disappointment. In spite of warm weather the ground is still frozen, too cold to thaw maple tree roots. I pass two sugar shacks on my ride, neither of which were boiling sap. I look for steam rising from ubiquitous steam vents, and if the wind is just right, I'm treated to the heady smell of maple as I pedal by. It's a few days too early.

Ah, it feels so good to ride to work.