Each Day

This post is actually about winter biking, so bare with me as I get to that.

Eight years ago tomorrow was a day that changed my life. It was a day when I thought that I was going to die. I don’t think I’ve thought that I was going to die as much as I did that day. The events of that day are etched in my mind and I curse that it falls on the same day that my brother was born. It creates conflict within myself as I am happy that my brother was born and upset about the whole “I almost died” thing.

Since then I have been thankful for every day that I’ve lived. I’m not thankful EVERY day because I don’t think about it everyday, but most days I think about how grateful I am to be alive for one more day (yeah, I have issues with death… I know, I know). I have had almost 3000 extra days so far and I expect to have many more extra days. In the extra days thus far, I am grateful as much as possible for the many amazing friends I have that remind me all the time that I am loved, for my family, and for all of the simple things that I take for granted: a roof over my head, food on my table, clothes to keep me warm, and clean water to drink.

On Thursdays I coach a winter cycling class (it is 16 weeks until spring). Last week it became “winter” here in Saskatoon, even though it officially doesn’t become winter for another month. We have a lot of snow and the temperature has dropped to -30 a few times already. It has been a quick transition for us from fall to winter, but that’s not unusual in these parts.

Over the past few days I have slowly been getting my winter gear out of its hiding places from their various locations in my house:

I found my neck warmer that has a place for my nose and a mesh part where I breathe out of my mouth. My several pairs of long underwear are out of my “Winter clothes” box and in my drawers. I wear at least one pair everyday (they are key to winter survival in Saskatchewan). When I bike, I like to have an extra layer on my thighs so when I’m biking (and if I’m not going anywhere for a long period of time), I wear my tri shorts or bike shorts. The shammy is nice for my butt and the extra layer is nice for my thighs.

I have brought out my winter biking mitts that I absolutely love. They keep my hands toasty warm. For my jacket, I usually wear a t-shirt and a sweater or bunnyhug* under my cycling jacket that I use all year long.

I have yet to figure out a way to keep my toes from getting cold, but I blame that partially on the winter that I delivered newspapers at 5am and froze my feet many many times – it was truly brutal. Hot shots have been recommended to me, but I haven’t tried them yet. Big bulky boots are another option, but I don’t like that one as much because it is not handy for traveling to places. Usually I bike to commute so I prefer to find methods that are convenient for this. I have also heard about a trick where you wear a plastic bag on your feet and use an elastic band around the ankle. Maybe I’ll try that one.

Anyway, I was biking to the coaching session tonight and the snow was coming down around me and I was just reveling in the beauty of life. Winter and falling snow often does that to me – it brings my thoughts to ones of life. The cold reminds me that I am not invincible and that Mother Nature affects us all, whether we like it or not.

The ice that forms on my eye lashes makes me aware of blinking and each breath is punctuated by the cold air. I become aware of each part of my body as it warms up or becomes cold, of which both happens. If my ears are sticking out of my toque even a little bit, they become very cold. I don’t make that mistake much anymore. Even though it is -25 outside, I sweat inside my jacket and even my hands become sweaty inside my super thick mitts (gloves suck, mitts are the way to go). As my toes become colder and colder, I scrunch up and relax my toes over and over again to try to keep the blood flowing to prevent them from freezing.

Winter reminds me that I’m alive. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for each day.

* Bunnyhug: This is a Saskatchewan-specific term for what people in other places call “hoodies.” I love this about us Saskatchewanites.

Winter Biking in Saskatchewan is Hard… Core!

For the last few winters, I have suffered as a winter cyclist. However, after purchasing my car 2 winters ago, I have drove more than biked during the winter and relieved my suffering. This winter I want to reverse that and bike more than I drive for my commute. This will be my 8th winter cycling in this city and I have decided that I’m going to do it “for real” this year… with proper gear!

What I have noticed as I get older is that my tolernace for freezing toes and fingers has gone down siginificantly than when I was an early 20-something gal. Last winter I bought myself a heavy-duty pair of mitts that helped with my fingers and I’ve always managed to keep my core temperature up while biking in -40 degree Celsius weather. However, there are two exremeties that I have not figured how to fully insulate: my thighs and my toes.

Usually by the time I get to work, my thighs are bright red and tingle when I touch them. The way I have been dealing with that is to stand in the bathroom for about five minutes without any pants holding my warm hands against them to warm them up. Long underwear, jogging pants, and wind pants do help, but there are days when the biting prairie wind goes through the layers like a hot knife through vegan maragarine.

Now my poor toes are a completely different topic. I have never fully figured out how to prevent cold toes. When I was a newspaper carrier only a few years ago, I would come home at 6:30am, after being in the freezing cold since 4:30, with tears streaming down my face from my toes being so frozen. I would start making oatmeal and sit on the ground in semi-lotus position, holding onto my toes in my hands and rock back and forth. I would breathe on them hoping that the feeling would come back into them. Sure enough, after a few minutes, they would start to tingle. The pain was brutal. It has been ever since then that I have been completely afraid of freezing my toes off and doesn’t make my commute seem manageable during the winter. This is the part of winter biking that I must figure out because my commute is even longer now than it was last winter, with it being about 8.5 kilometres. It is also why I am completely understanding of those who think that winter biking is crazy and don’t want to try being a winter bike commuter.

My solution to all of this was met in one click to the Mountain Equipment Co-op website. I visited a store a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t have my act together enough to make a list of equipment that I needed. So I resorted to online shopping, which I really enjoyed.

I purchased some super duper long underwear, a neck warmer with a place to breathe out of my mouth, and a toque that goes under a helmet (I hope it fits my tiny head!). For my feet, I bought some shoe covers that they say are the warmest ones they have. I’m going to give them a shot. If they don’t work, I’m going to try another pair. I’m also going to try Smart Wool socks. I am determined to not lose my toes and still commute to work by bicycle! I’m just really thankful that my co-workers don’t mind that I come into the office with frosted eyebrows and look like the Michilan man with all of my bulky layers. At least I’m warm!

The last part of my preparation for winter is getting my bike ready. I need to re-pack my hugs and probably change my drive-train, which my bike guy will recommend against, but it needs to be done. I’m also going to try out studded tires for the first time. My first winter of bicycle commuting, I used road slicks… oh, how I have mellowed! Actually, I’ve just fallen too many times. My chiropractor recommends that I try not to do that as much, so studded tires it is.

Let the snow fall and the temperature drop – I’ll be ready!