Pedalin’: May 2013

As usual, the past two months have flown by so fast, I feel like I have whiplash. There’s just something a little crazy that happens at the end of spring break when you work in a school. Suddenly, there are a million things to do to close out the year and people start getting really excited and before you know it…June has come.

May was a little tough for me. It started out cold. Then it got hot – really, really hot, like pushing 90 degrees (which is extremely unusual for this area). Maybe it was the extreme temperature fluctuations or the excitement of school ending that caused me to get really, really sick at the beginning of the month. I haven’t been really sick like that since January, so it was a bit of a shock to come down with such a terrible illness just when the weather was starting to show the promise of summer. In any case, despite my almost obsessive desire to finish out the school year with no more car rides…I had to succumb due to my exhaustion and take my car three days in a row.

May ‘12

May ‘13

Bicycle

16

16

Car

5

3

It seemed like my body started to show the toll my long hours had taken as the month went on. I took a whole week off my after-school job while I was sick and then finished up the final week in mid-May. Then I had one more week of my before-school job and finished that on May 23rd. And now, even though I’m down to just one blissful job, I haven’t been able to do much of anything. I anticipated catching up on the business and doing massive housework and instead…I’ve been resting, knitting, reading and watching TV. I just feel so tired. But it has been a long school year and as I said, I think my body is just in recovery mode!

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My favorite bike rack in town. Yes, that’s me and Flat Stanley. I was showing Stanley around town for my friend’s daughter’s school project.

This year, I’ll be teaching summer school, so I will have three more weeks in June to record my mileage. After that…a much-needed, 6-week break! Thank heavens!

Happy summer, folks!

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Total mileage for 2013

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Last year’s bike to car ratio

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This year: Didn’t quite keep the driving to zero, but not bad!

Pedalin’: April 2013

Last year, I said T.S. Eliot had gotten it all wrong – that March was the cruelest month, not April. Well, this time, Eliot got it right. While not as rainy as last year, April was cold, snowy and as windy as Winnie-the-Pooh’s Blustery Day. Did you catch that middle one: snow? Snow in spring is pretty common here – but mostly little, adorable flurries trying to make something of themselves. Not super-duper, full-on snow storms. But I’ll get to that later. First, my stats. I’m thrilled to say that I made it another month with ZERO car rides* – yep, even in the snow.

Apr ‘12

Apr ‘13

Bicycle

16

20

Car

5

0

Pretty good, huh?

So about that snow… On April 16th, I woke up to serious snow coming down. That was  Tuesday, my early morning, when I have to leave the house at 6:15 AM. Being April, I figured it would stop in a few minutes and melt off. It wasn’t sticking to the road, either, so I grabbed my bicycle without a second thought. This is pretty big for me, as even last year, I avoided riding when it was just raining. I don’t know what’s going on with me this year that has me fearlessly riding in conditions I haven’t before tackled.

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What my street looked like at 6:15 AM on April 16, 2013. Unseasonable snow, but not too scary…

Anyway, the first part of the ride was pure magic. Well, most of it. Whenever I was heading north, the snow – fat, wet, chunky snow – hit me hard in the face, which wasn’t very pleasant. But when I’d turn east, it was like being in a fairy tale. Or maybe a Lord of the Rings movie. The sky was pink just ahead, and darker and darker as I looked up. The snow fell in swirls all around me. It was glorious.

But when I hit the one-mile mark, I noticed that the snow was coming down faster and heavier and the road was suddenly covered in it. I was a little nervous at that point – like I said, I’ve never taken my bike out in snow and I do not have studded tires. So I took it very slowly. Very. I made it across the bridge – the most dangerous part of my journey on any day, snow or not – and had to ride the last mile north-bound, straight into the snow. I have to admit, I got pretty grumpy at that point. The snow was so heavy and wet and it was sticking to every crevice of my jacket. I was soaking wet when I arrived at work. I literally had to hang my outerwear on chairs all over my classroom, so it could dry.

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The parking lot at work at 6:45 AM on April 16, 2013 – the snow had really started coming down at this point!

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All locked up and definitely ready to get inside and dry off!

Oddly, I remember that day with great fondness. It may have been cold, wet and a little treacherous, but I can’t get that picture out of my mind when I was riding eastward, the pink sky ahead and all that snow swirling around. It was incredible. I’m finding that even the worst weather conditions can create the best memories. Plus, it really makes me feel good about my commitment to riding, when I power through, no matter what’s going on out there.

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My total bicycle mileage for 2013, so far!

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Last year, you can see that I was biking a lot more once April hit, but still using the car a lot.

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This year, I couldn’t be more proud to see the car trending down to ZERO!

*I like to take a moment every few months to be very specific about my bicycle commuting so these reports don’t seem misleading. These numbers reflect only ONE aspect of my bicycle commuting: the commuting I do to and from Jobs #1 and #3, at a school a little over 2.5 miles from my house. My other job is in the afternoons at a school 6 miles from my home. I do not bike to that job, as the road to this school is almost all a rural highway, with a very small shoulder. I go to great lengths to avoid riding on the highways here as I do not believe it is safe. Plus, adding 12 miles to my daily commute would take a lot of me (I’m exhausted as it is!) and would add far more time than I can allow to my commuting. As for running errands, visiting friends and family, etc., I take the bike or car depending on weather conditions, my schedule, distance and my traveling needs. But I’m happy to say that at this point, I’m using my bicycle far more often than I use my car.

Bicycle Pranayama

If you think bicycle commuting (or exercising on a bicycle) just isn’t for you, I’d highly encourage you to challenge yourself and give it a try. There is, in my opinion, nothing more helpful in reducing stress than a ride to and from work every day.

While most people focus on the obvious benefits of riding bicycles (lower gas bills, increased cardiovascular health, etc.), I find that many people miss the best part of it – the simple, calming effect of bicycling.

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One of the most calming moments on my bike: Riding through an ocean of fallen leaves on a sunny, November day

::The rhythmic movement of the pedals around and around and around.

::The wind on your face.

::The feeling of flying through the air.

::The memory of bicycling as a child (something that comes back to me every time I ride).

::The sounds of birds chirping or leaves blowing in the wind.

::The ability to notice bugs wandering by on the street or the flowers in people’s yards – things you might miss in a car.

At times over the years, I noticed I was taking my stress with me on the bicycle – I’d be huffing and puffing through my mouth, pedaling as fast as I could. This past year, I’ve made an effort to be mindful of my breathing while bicycling. My goal is to get to and from work in the most pleasant manner possible. It’s not a race.

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We only have a few weeks to enjoy the blossoms of spring. Bicycling lets me squeeze in extra time to admire it, rather than just driving by in my car.

I started forcing myself to breathe through my nose, not my mouth. This caused me to have to adjust my speed and effort in order to maintain a calm, slow breath. Breathe, pedal, pedal, pedal, breathe, pedal, pedal, pedal.

As the weeks went on, I added another rule: Look. Listen. Observe everything as deeply as possible. While I can’t say I’m always particularly vigilant about this one, I do try.

None of this may seem particularly mind-blowing – yet I can say without a doubt that it has profoundly affected my bicycle commuting. I don’t even notice I’m doing it, anymore, yet I have definitely noticed that, no matter the weather, I look forward to – no, can’t wait for – my daily rides. Last year, I often struggled with the decision to take my bike or car. This year, I can’t even remember the last time I wanted to take my car to work. I wouldn’t give up my ride even in a hail storm. I literally need it to keep me sane.

When was the last time you rode your bicycle?

Pedalin’: March 2013

Usually, March is a wicked month for bicycle commuting. Snow and rain, both of which I can handle, but the worst is the wind. I hate bicycling in severe wind. Yet this year, there was a small miracle: Hardly any wind. I endured the rain storms, the hail, the snow. None of it bothered me. Not even when the challenge was heightened right after Daylight Savings Time and I had to ride to work at 6:30 AM in pitch darkness, with my LED vest on. Somehow, I did it. And guess what? I finally met my goal of bicycling every single work day!!!

 

Mar ‘12

Mar ‘13

Bicycle

3

14

Car

9

0

I don’t know what’s going on, lately – honestly, I tend to be lazy about my bicycling goals. But these past two months, I have been obsessed with keeping up my bicycling routine. I think it’s partly because I need that stress relief of pedaling along and breathing steadily. And maybe there’s just enough fire in me to see if I can really do it in conditions I would never have considered last year (like those 6:30 AM pre-dawn rides).

I even did something I never expected: I pulled out the trailer and went to the grocery store, by myself, early one weekend morning. Despite having an awesome trailer, I don’t like to use it for shopping as much as I thought I would. The biggest issue for me is finding a safe place to park and lock it. (My grocery store has bus stop benches right next to the bike racks, and there’s little room for that big trailer.) I also worry that an overly-excited child or irreverent tween might think it’s funny to try to sit on the trailer – which would destroy it, as the metal bar attaching it to the bike is not strong enough to hold that much weight.

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Thanks to these fears, last year, I only used the trailer once to go grocery shopping. And I even had to get my friend to haul it for me – I was that reluctant. Then a few weeks ago, I woke up to a lovely, sunny day, but with super strong winds. I just had an inkling to try out my trailer for the early morning grocery run. Why not?, I thought. I got out there and it was cold and the wind was bad. But I still thought: Why not? On my way home, riding against the wind with over 30 pounds of groceries in the trailer (why do I always use the bike when I’m stocking up on items from the bulk bins?), I coasted down the canyon hill – and came to a complete stop at the bottom. That’s how strong the winds were. Yet somehow, I made it back up the hill and another mile home.

I’m pretty proud of myself for my March bicycling adventures!

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My total mileage for 2013 – so far!

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Last year: Car trips going up, bicycle trips going down!

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This year: Bicycle trips going up, car trips zeroing out!!

 

Pedalin’: February 2013

Though January was a cold, bike-challenging month, February was just the opposite. I was thrilled to have day after day of sunshine and weather in the 50′s. It couldn’t have been more glorious. And inspired by the weather, I was reinvigorated in my commitment to ride, even when it was very cold. As such, I was able to bike most days this month:

Feb ‘12

Feb ‘13

Bicycle

12

18

Car

8

1

This is actually really big for me. I’ve never made it less than 3 days driving. This month, I almost made my goal of bicycling every day. What kills me is that I would have if it hadn’t been for a schedule problem. I was rolling (literally) out of my house on February 13th, when my cell phone rang. I stopped to answer it and was asked to come in and sub for another teacher for the entire day. Because of that, I had to turn around and take my car, as I wouldn’t have had time after my shift to ride home, get the car and drive to Job #2. Darn!! So close. But I’m stoked, regardless!

My February bicycle commuting was full of new adventures, challenges and amazing encounters:

::When I started my third job, which requires me to be at work at 7:30 AM, I decided to challenge myself and take my bike. I had to leave at 7 AM, just when the sun is rising here, and wow! I haven’t bicycled at sunrise for years, and that was back when I was riding for fitness, not for commuting. The sky was stunning, and even though it was freezing, I was able to stay warm with my giant wool sweater and wool scarf. Meeting this challenge really boosted my confidence.

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This picture doesn’t do the sunrise justice!

::Thanks to the nice weather, it seemed like everyone was out on their bikes and scooters and I had a blast “bicycle watching.” My favorite was the elderly woman who passed me on a tricycle on a gray, windy day! (Man, I want a trike! Makes me think of my friend, Stepheny!)

::I pulled Madeleine out of the garage on several occasions when I had more to carry than I could fit in the mountain bike’s basket. It was hard-going, being as the front wheel is bent, but I’m only a few weeks from being able to afford a new rim! I do miss Madeleine – especially the ability to wear skirts while bicycling – but I have to admit, I’ve been loving the speed, suspension system and maneuverability of the mountain bike.

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::One day, while dropping off an order at the post office, I leaned a heavily-laden Madeleine against a tree to lock her up and the weight of my cargo pulled her right over. She took a bad fall (luckily nothing was damaged but the paint), and hearing the ruckus, an elderly woman rushed to my aid, thinking I was hurt. I assured her I was fine and she helped me get Madeleine upright and get the lock on. She said she was a “sister biker” and gave me a big hug. It was the most amazing moment. How often would that happen when traveling by car?

And here comes March! I am always tempted to think that by this time of year, it’ll be smooth sailing for bicycle commuting. Winter is ending, spring is in the air. But March can be a pretty unpredictable month and tends to be the month I hate the most, when it comes to bicycle commuting. Heck, last year, it was snowing as I wrote the Pedalin’ post on March 31st.

But right now, I feel ready for it. I’ve had a great month on the bicycle and I feel confident that I can kick some butt this March!

Pedalin’: January 2013

Late again!

Is it just me, or does it feel like January was more like two months in one? Longest month ever?

My stats this month, compared to last year:

Jan ‘12

Jan ‘13

Bicycle

10

7

Car

9

10

January was a stressful month and a very cold one, as well. Stress tends to be a bit of a Catch-22 for me. In an effort to keep from pushing myself too hard, I won’t ride the bike if it’s particularly cold. But when I don’t ride, I definitely feel the difference in my stress level. There’s nothing I can do about it – I know I will be more stressed if I force myself to ride in 20 degree weather with strong winds – but it makes me long for June!

A car day!

A car day!

I’m still on the mountain bike, as I haven’t been able to afford to fix Madeleine’s front wheel. At first, I really didn’t enjoy it, but I have come to love it. Admittedly, the positioning makes me a little uncomfortable (my shoulders tend to get tired on the mountain bike), and I hate that it is so hard to wear skirts on that bike, but it has been so much fun, reliving my former distance rides and how fast I could go. As you may remember, I found out that the mountain bike is not that much faster than Madeleine – but it feels like the difference between a stroll and a sprint.

The handlebars of the mountain bike in action.

The handlebars of the mountain bike in action.

I’ve started to learn a lot more tricks for cold weather riding, as well, which I will soon share in a separate post.

Have you been bicycle commuting much this winter?

Pedalin’: December 2012

Happy New Year, everyone!

If you remember my last Pedalin’ post, you’ll know that I only had 13 work days in December and that my goal was to bicycle for all of them. Unfortunately, Father Winter had other plans.

3 days on the bike

8 days driving the car

Ouch. And if you noticed there are some days missing there, those were the days I was out with a wicked cold. Another setback!

Why so little bicycling? We had viciously cold days, extreme wind, high chances for snow, icy streets…and then the snow actually hit. And never melted. And kept coming. It has looked like this for almost three weeks now:

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I’m trying to enjoy it – there is something magical about the dead of winter. But I have to admit, I’m dying to get back on my bicycle again. I know many people bicycle in snow, but I’m not one of them. I can’t afford to get my rim fixed, let alone buy snow tires for the bike. And even if I had snow tires, I think I’d be a little nervous riding around on slippery roads surrounded by big cars.

My bicycling journey has taken some rough turns this year, including the second job I recently took that requires me to drive 12 miles a day. My financial situation is in a place that is requiring me to look for a third job and making bicycle commuting look less and less possible. It is very discouraging, because bicycle commuting is a passion of mine and I believe it can be accessible to everyone. However, when you are rushing from one job to another to another…is it practical anymore?

I need it to be practical. I need to be able to fit it into my schedule – both for my mental state and my wallet. (The money I spend on gas each month has quadrupled since I took the second job.) But lately, it feels like a luxury. Like something that’s “too much fun,” something that takes up too much time (even though it’s worth the money I save when doing it and I’d spend as much time working out if I wasn’t biking). I hate to admit that, because I don’t want to discourage anyone from bicycle commuting. However, I’m hoping that being honest about the ups and downs of bicycle commuting will ultimately serve a better purpose than pretending that it is perfect all the time. (And further, my situation is a little weird – most people have a normal, full-time job and aren’t in a situation in which they have to string several part-time jobs together to make ends meet.)

But now we’re getting into the money topic…which is something I’ve decided to delve into here on the blog in 2013. We’ve been through feminism in 2011 and radical self-acceptance in 2012 (more on that coming) and now it’s time to tackle something a bit more tangible. So stay tuned!

P.S. Congratulations to Melanie for winning Everyday Bicycling!

Good Seed: Everyday Bicycling

I am so excited to review this book. It is hard to share every single thing I know about bicycle commuting. I always think I’m covering all the details and yet, I know I miss the things I take for granted or assume that everyone knows.

Enter Everyday Bicycling by Elly Blue. For such a small book, it packs a LOT of information into it and it covers details I never would have thought of! Clothing, saddle styles, locks, weather conditions, family cycling, maintenance, choosing a bike, hauling cargo… You name it – it’s covered! Blue even talks about bicycling while using a silicone cup – I mean it when I say she hasn’t left a stone unturned!

Please excuse this Amazon stock photo! My camera is broken! :(

Please excuse this Amazon stock photo! My camera is broken! :(

I would say that the best thing about this book (other than its depth and breadth of information) is the tone. It is extremely encouraging and easygoing. There’s no right or wrong perspective presented here. As with any good cycling guide, it encourages the reader to just get out there and try. It also has the true Portland attitude that anyone, anywhere, any time can successfully commute on their bicycle! (Yes, author Elly Blue is based in Portland – no surprise there!)

My favorite lines from the book:

-Bicycling changes the pace of your life.

-Bicycling can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.

-How fast or slow you want your bicycling life to be is a choice that will help determine what kind of bicycle you ride, what you wear and even where you work, what you buy and how you socialize.

-Some parts of this will be thrilling, others blissful, others deeply frustrating. (I love it when bicycle commuters are honest. It’s mostly fun, I can tell you that, but sometimes it just sucks!)

My favorite section of the book is where Blue discusses how to move on a bicycle. Like move to a new house. With your furniture. I know some people here in Deschutes County who have done it. I know it’s possible. But it seemed like a crazy dream to me. After reading this book, it seems like a genuine possibility. (And Blue makes allowances for using a truck for the items like mattresses and refridgerators. Though again, most things can be moved by bicycle!)

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning the ins and outs of bicycle commuting. As far as I’m concerned, it is the ultimate guide for new bicycle commuters or even bicycle commuters who want to step up their game. If you’re looking for a last minute Christmas present, this is perfect! And it’s a great way to support our fellow Oregonian bicycle commuters and small publishers (for those of you in Oregon, like me).

Now for the fun part. I noticed that Beth Terry at My Plastic-Free Life often reviews items and then passes them along to a lucky reader. Yep, giveaway time!

I’ll make this easy. Just leave a comment here about your bicycling plans for 2013. Do you plan on commuting to work via bicycle once a week? Do you plan on dusting off your old bicycle and just taking it for a spin around the block? Riding to school with your kids? Starting a bicycle train for the local schoolkids or a bicycle gang for yourself and your peeps?

One comment per person and only residents of the US and Canada are eligible. Giveaway ends on December 16, 2012. Spread the word!

Pedalin’: November 2012

Another flat. Another bent rim. Oh boy! On November 5th, I was riding home and noticed it was a huge struggle to pedal. About a mile from home, I got off the bike and noticed that the front tire was going flat. Fast. I had to get home in time to get to my second job, so I decided to take a chance and keep riding. About 100 feet later, I was riding on the rim. So much for that! I walked the rest of the way.

That was my third flat tire in four months. The culprit was a HUGE thorn. I got sick of the flats and invested in a $10 self-healing tire tube, instead of the cheap $5 tubes I’d been buying. The next day, I noticed that it was still really hard to pedal. My usual thought is that the brakes needed to be adjusted. I ignored the nagging voice in my head that knew what the problem really was. After four days of really difficult rides, I finally lifted up the bike and gave the front wheel a spin – and sure enough, the rim is bent. (My third bent rim in four or five months.)

Fixing the flat (Copyright: Five Seed)

Fixing the flat (Copyright: Five Seed)

This bent rim is the remaining yellow rim on Madeleine. The first bent rim I got this year was on my mountain bike – a rim that I’ve had for 10 years and traveled over 2,500 miles on. A spoke popped out and the rim bent. Not a big deal – that rim lasted for a decade, so I can’t complain. But I’ve had Madeleine for only one year and she’s already lost both her wheels. What does that say about today’s manufacturing?

Anyway, I cannot afford to fix the wheel at this time – another $55 – so I dusted off old no-name mountain bike and have been riding old school. The mountain bike is how I started bicycle commuting, and it’s what I rode to work in September 2011, before I purchased Madeleine. Even after all the years I’ve spent on that bike, it’s weird getting used to it again.

On the plus side, it rides like the wind (even though it’s only actually a tiny bit faster than Madeleine). It is also teaching me lessons in simplicity. I just don’t have the storage capacity on the mountain bike that I do on Madeleine, and I’ve learned how to pare down what I take to work. (I honestly can’t believe how much stuff I’ve been hauling around this past year just because I had the space to do so.)

The only cons are that the bike has no fenders so I have to be super careful in rainy weather (which we’ve been having a lot of), the brakes are old and screech and creak like crazy (though they otherwise work perfectly) and getting on and off is much harder than with Madeleine. I really have to swing my leg and honestly, I have almost fallen over on the dismount several times.

So this month, the tallies are…

10 days on the bike

3 days driving the car

Not a lot of work days in November! But that’s one of my best tallies ever – mostly bike days. I was so close to having a full month of bicycling to work, except that after Thanksgiving Break, I woke up to this:

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I don’t like to ride in fog and ice (I’d honestly rather ride in snow), hence the three days in the car. And I’m still driving 12 miles a day, four days a week to my second job, which makes it way too easy to justify using the car for all (not just some) of my errands. That’s a serious downfall for me. I’ve used my car so much more than normal these past two months and it is a little discouraging. But it’s just the way things are right now.

I’m hoping for a full month of biking for December, but I kinda doubt it will happen. I’m already sick with my fourth cold since summer and am not sure how long I will choose to power through a bike ride in the cold wind. But this is another short month – only 13 work days again – so maybe…? Cross your fingers for me!

And while we’re on the subject of bicycle commuting, stay tuned for a review on the book Everyday Bicycling by fellow Oregonian Elly Blue. I’m super excited to share this. I was sent a copy a couple weeks ago and am almost done reading it. I can already say I highly recommend it – it would make a great Christmas present for the bicycle commuters in your life! More coming soon!

Pedalin’: October 2012

Lots has changed around here that has seriously affected my efforts at bicycle commuting. I’m continuing to struggle with health issues and illness, for one thing. For another, I took on a second job at a different school that is about 6 miles away on a rural highway – not one I want to bicycle on after dark. As such, I’m driving 12 miles a day, Monday through Thursday – not an option, I’m sorry to say!

A sad attempt at a timer photo.

So for these posts, I’ll continue to keep a tally of how much I bicycle to my primary job, just as I have in the past. I’m considering keeping a tally of my driving mileage, as well, but for now, I’ll stick to the basics:

15 days on the bike

6 days driving the car

You can now follow me on Dailymile.com, to see my totals. It’s a super fun way to keep track of your own bicycle commuting, as well! (Or running or walking or whatever.)

As for Madeleine, I removed her second basket, after having yet another flat tire two weeks ago. I kept looking at the back tire as I rode and it was bulging from the weight of the two baskets…and me. Taking off one basket wasn’t that much weight to lose, but I can already feel a difference. Now I’ll have to take a lightweight, canvas bag to work with me for my extra stuff and just tie it to the back with a bungee – much lighter. She rides a lot easier, now, which I appreciate, especially on these windy fall days.

All in all, it was a great month for any kind of commuting. This is my favorite time of year. The leaves are so dazzling and everything outside is stunningly beautiful. This is what I got to look at: