Sunday, December 28, 2008

Snow Removal

Shoveling snow is a fact of life this time of year in northern Idaho.  If it's a good winter, we are having a storm come through every two to three days.  This is great for the snowpack, and makes for a lot of incredible powder days on the boards, but it also means that many mornings start with having to clear the driveway.

I look at shoveling the drive in two ways.  The first is that it is a matter of pride.  I am no great white hunter, so my idea of providing meat for my family is going grocery shopping.  I do take great pride, however, in the fact that I keep my driveway clear of snow.  The second thing is that it is a great workout.  I have about a pretty good size drive, and it is a 30 to 45 minute job to clear it.  I start with a 7 minute stretching routine, followed by 2 minutes of jumping rope, and then it is off to shovel.  I shovel steady and hard, clearing sections at a time, constantly changing from pushing snow to lifting snow, so that I am varying the stress on my back.  I work quickly, so that I can keep my heart rate up, and I only stop to stretch my back when needed.  

One other point is, I don't own a snow thrower.  My neighbor across the street has one, and my neighbor next door has one.  They are great machines, and my back would probably be much better off if I had one, but I feel like I need the exercise of manually shoveling snow.  It is not easy getting a whole lot of physical activity this time of year. The roads are generally too bad to ride or run, and I am not the indoor trainer type.  So, 2 days a week skiing, and 3 to 5 days a week shoveling is about it for 2 months of the year. 

However, there is always that temptation to break down and buy one.  Two weeks ago, when we had that 30+ inch snowfall, was one of those times when the temptation was great.  When I opened my garage, and saw that wall of snow, I had no idea how I was going to move it, and, in fact, I only cleared half of the drive with my shovel.  Shannon, my neighbor from across the street, used his snow thrower to clear the road enough so that I could get to work, and then Reid from next door came over that afternoon with his thrower to clear the berm left by the snow plow, and then cleared the other half of my drive. 

Then came the worst of it.  I awoke at 1:30 am the day after Christmas, knowing that I had the stomach virus that was going through the care facility where I work.  I spent the next 24 hours in bed, or in the bathroom.  I was miserable, and very sick.  I lost five pounds in 24 hours.  And the whole time I was sick, it was snowing.  On Saturday morning, my wife went to the store for coffee (or to get away from me for a few minutes).  While she was gone, I got on line and started looking at snow throwers.  I had to get my driveway cleared, and I knew I was too weak to shovel 8 inches of new snow.  I knew we didn't have the money, but there was a little room left on the credit card, and this was an emergency.  I called every place in town.  No one had a single snow thrower left in stock.  The lady at home depot told me it would be 2 weeks before they had any.  I thought, MY GOD LADY, we will have starved to death by then!

It was at about that time in my panic, that my wife came in and told me that she had buried the car in the snow berm left by the plow.  I dragged myself out of my death bed, put on some clothes, and went out to start shoveling.  The couple from across the street were already using their snow thrower and shovels to clear the car, and I grabbed my grain shovel and we got it out in just a few minutes.  I then finished shoveling the Subaru's half of the drive and got the car back into the garage.  I went across the street and helped Betty clear the snow plow berm from the end of her driveway, and then I went back inside and went to bed.

Today I woke up feeling pretty good.  I had breakfast, drank my first cup of coffee in three days, got dressed, went down stairs and did my stretches, jumped some rope, and then went out and finished shoveling the drive.  The weather has warmed quite a bit, and the snow was wet and heavy.  It was a hell of a lot of work.  I had a great workout!  

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Blue Christmas

Don't get me wrong, I had a great Christmas.  It started last night with the Christmas Eve service at the church, a beautiful, spiritual service.  I love taking communion with that many people.  There is something incredible having all those different people coming together around the Lord's table.  We then came home and had our traditional dinner of frozen pizza rolls (I know, a bit strange, but it seems to work for us), watched "the Snowman," and then opened presents.  Today, we slept in, and then just hung out together, most of the day spent in or around the bed, with both dogs and the cat.  A family.

I came from a close family.  My parents were married 56 years, and I am still close to both of my brothers and my sister, in fact, I talked to all three today.  The thing is, I am 3000 miles from my family.  Or what's left of it.  My parents have both passed, and it is just us kids left (kids? I am the youngest at 50, and my sister is probably in her 70's (I'm just kidding)).  I have lots of nephews and nieces, and now even a few great nephews and nieces, but they are all on the other side of the country.  It has been 13 years since I have been home for Christmas.  Last night, I talked to my nephew's new wife on the phone.  I have never met her, and I don't know when I ever will.  Now, if you are not from a close family, that won't mean anything to you, but if you are, you will know what  I mean.  It's just not right.

Understand, this is all by my own choice.  I wanted to leave home, I needed to leave home.  I have always had this inner drive to be on my own, and as the son of a man who was the son of a man that needed to be out west, I had to move.  Granted, it took awhile to get the balls to actually do it, but I truly don't think that I would have ever found happiness if I had not made the move, and I thank God on a daily basis that I am here.

However, I never had any idea of the cost, and I am thankful for that.  I was 3000 miles away when my Dad passed, and I was just as far when Mom passed.  There is not a day that goes by that I don't feel guilt for not being there when she died.  And, I will never forget how my dad looked the day we left to move out here.  He seemed so old and small.  His youngest was leaving, and for a man who spent his whole life taking care of his family, Idaho was a world away.

It was five years before I got back to Georgia.  Over the years, I have been back a handful of time, mostly for funerals.  Again, by my choice.  When we get to take a vacation, we want to go to places in the west;  mountain biking in Moab, or Gooseberry Mesa, or Orcas Island, ect.  I spent my time in the South, I have no desire to go back. Except, for family.

Well, there you have it, my Blue Christmas piece.  If you came to this blog expecting to read about bicycle commuting, or backcountry skiing, I sincerely apologize.  This is all Lark's fault.  She sent me a video of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here for Christmas, and it got me to thinking about family, and all that we left behind.  On nights like this, I do Wish I Was There.  I would love to sit in my brothers house, amongst the mayhem, and soak in the joy of family.  But my life is here now, and looking around at my sleeping wife, and a bed full of animals, I can honestly say, It's a Wonderful Life (again, I apologize). 

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What a Wimp

As you know, my imaginary reader, I have quit commuting to work due to snow. The roads are bad, the trail is covered in deep snow, and I have no inclination to have a 2 hour commute. You will also notice in my links column, that I read the blog, Up in Alaska, regularly. If you follow the link to that blog, you will discover that Jill already has over 500 miles for the month, and as you look at her incredible photographs, you will realize that she is riding in some pretty horrid conditions.

Now I ask you, is it because she is tougher than me, more dedicated than me, or a stronger person than me? I will answer you with an emphatic NO! It is because she has the one thing that I don't have (no, not those): a Pugsley. Yes, if I only had one more bicycle, then my life would be complete. I would be able to sell my gas guzzling, insurance dependent, constantly needing costly repairs, old, worn-out truck. I would ride my bike to work everyday of the year, no matter what. Yes, I would finally be auto free.

Except, now I need to go to the store to get groceries. Ahh, what to do, what to do. I've got it! Another bike. Yeah, that's it! I need either a Kona Ute, or a Surly Big Dummy.

That would solve all my problems. With the right set-up, I would be able to go to the grocery store, the farmers market, even take my mountain bike with me to work, so that I can ride Canfield after work. Yep, all I need is a Pugsley, and a long bike.

X+1=Y. That is the formula for bike ownership (not my creation). X is the number of bikes owned, Y is the number of bikes needed. Always one more, a never ending quest for bicycle fulfillment. Or maybe I should just learn to be contented with what I have. Yeah, that's it. I just need to go to Amazon to buy some books on how not to be so caught up in consumerism...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's Here!

30 inches in 24 hours and still falling.  The biggest 24 hour snowfall since we arrived in Idaho 13 years ago.  Also, the first time in 13 years that I have missed work (at least for this morning).  I used the grain shovel to clear the driveway from the garage to the street, but there is no way the Subaru is going to make it through the 30 inch wall of snow that is our street.  I know, I tried.  

Rebecca called to see if I was going skiing.  She was going to try to make it.  I told her good luck, and then said a little prayer for her.  She'll need it.  This is tough on powder heads.  24 inches of fresh, light, cold powder, and no way to get to it (although I'm sure a lot will try, and some will be successful).  A true champagne powder day!  If this was in February, with 24 inches of champagne powder on top of a deep base, it would be a truly epic day.  As it is, as nice as this snow is, it's just a good addition to the beginning of what we hope will be another incredible ski season.  As they say, Hope Winters Eternal.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

...and so it begins.

Rode home in a snow storm yesterday.  It was great!  The streets were a mess, I was getting sprayed every time a SUV passed, and people were generally driving like idiots.  I had a smile on my face the whole way home.  The only downside is that I know it might be my last time commuting this year.  Once they start plowing the roads, the bike lanes go away, and it's just too dangerous for me.  If the snow comes as predicted this winter, I probably won't be back on the roads until mid February.  
Oh well, with the end of cycling comes the beginning of skiing.  Lookout Pass opened today, and I will be up there tomorrow.  

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Still no snow.  All the ski junkies in the area are doing snow dances, hanging out prayer flags, and basically doing a lot of whining, but to no avail.  It's like this every year that winter is late in coming.  We all start to panic.  

Last year was an epic year.  122 inches of snow in the valley, and well over 450 inches in the mountains.  It seemed that every ski day was a powder day.  In fact, for me it was the first time that I had ever experienced trying to ski in too much snow.  It is hard to move when the snow is mid-thigh deep.  We learned to follow the snowboard tracks until the terrain got steep enough to gain some momentum.  We knew that there had to be some use for snowboarders.  There was a certain amount of enjoyment in skiing past them as they floundered in the deep snow.

The snow will come, it always does.  It may not be as epic as last year, but we will still get in plenty of ski days.  In the meantime, I will keep riding.  I still have slim hopes of making 3000 miles for the year.  Not bad, considering I had to spend so much time off my bike because of my "little problem."  It all depends on the weather.  There is snow forecasted for the weekend,  and the low next Monday morning is predicted to be 4 degrees.  I rode once when it was 9 degrees, and it was the most overdressed I have ever been for a ride,  I literally wore everything that I owned, including my Patagonia puff jacket.  I was miserable.  You might want to check out my post monday night to see if I actually rode, and if I did a better job of dressing. 

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dark Times

December in northern Idaho is a dark month.  By the middle of the month, sunrise is about 7:30, and sunset is before 4:00.  This makes for some cold, dark commutes.  I really don't mind riding in the dark, in fact, I kind of like it.  I especially like night rides in mid-summer.  Mountain biking Canfield Mountain in August is a blast, especially if there is a moon.  I do worry a bit about mountain lions and such, but that just goes with the territory. 

It has not snowed yet in the valley, and not much in the mountains.  On the one hand, I am psyched that I am still commuting into December, my rule of thumb being that I will continue to ride until they start plowing the roads.  On the other hand, I am ready for ski season, as are all of my ski buddies.  This morning, I listened to a message on my voice mail from Rebecca, bemoaning the fact that we aren't skiing yet.  The irony is, I was listening to the message as I sat in the Denver airport waiting on my flight that was delayed due to a snow storm raging outside.

I was in Denver, because my company had sent me to Tampa for a one day software training.  It was sunny and relatively warm there.  I spent all my breaks out standing in the sun, which, unlike north Idaho, is still warm in Florida this time of year.  I even went for a short run at the end of the day.  It was seventy degrees, but I had trouble enjoying it, knowing that tomorrow morning I will be crawling on my bike and it will be in the upper teens.  I don't mind the cold, but I don't need to be reminded of what warmth feels like, when I know it is going to be another 5 months before we feel it again around here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Anatomical Reference of the Day

             Went for a road ride yesterday.  I know, that is what is expected from a blogger that calls himself idaho rider, but it's been a tough season, and I've not done much riding outside of my work commute since June.  My season started out good.  I usually start commuting to work about mid February.  Then, when the roads get good, usually late march, I get on the road bike and ride myself back into riding form.  By mid May, it is time to start mountain biking for real.  However, this year I decided it would be a good idea to train for the "Tour of Pain", a double century put on by a local brewery.  I started increasing my mileage in early April, and by May I was averaging 200+ miles per week, with a century thrown in every Saturday.  By the end of May, I was feeling stronger on the bike than ever before.  On the Saturday before Memorial Day (yankee memorial day, as they call it down south), I went for a 125 mile road ride.  On Memorial Day, I met up with Rick and Mars to do a mountain bike ride at Farragut State Park.  Like I said, I was strong.  So, for my first mountain bike ride of the year, we rode 3 hours of single track through the park.   It was great!

             At this point, if you are squeamish, or you somehow have no interest in my urinary tract health, then I suggest that you turn away.  That night I got very little sleep.  I was up 2 to 3 time an hour peeing.  The next day, I, of course, rode to work.  I was miserable all day, and the ride home was terrible.  I went to my doctor, and he diagnosed that I had a prostate infection.  He then put me on antibiotics,  did all the usual test to make sure nothing else was going on, and told me to come back in a few weeks.  I tried to keep riding, but it was just too uncomfortable, so I took 2 weeks off.  

             After the medicine and the time off the bike, I started to commute again, but things just didn't seem right.  I could not get comfortable on saddles that I had been riding for years.  So I started experimenting with different saddles, kept commuting, and had no symptoms, except for the fact that I just wasn't comfortable.  I went back to see the doc, and my prostate was still infected.  So this time, he put me on 30 days worth of antibiotics, and told me no riding.  I took a month off, then went on vacation for 2 weeks and didn't take a bike.  When we got back from vacation, I started commuting again.  After another 2 weeks, I went back to my doc, and I still had an infection!  This time, he sent me to see a urologist.

             I dreaded the trip to the urologist.  For one thing, I was getting sick of having my prostate fondled.  It is not a pleasant thing when it is healthy, and it is downright painful when infected.  But, more than anything, I was afraid that he was going to tell me that my days riding a "normal" bike were through.  I did not want to become a recumbent rider.  I have worked hard to lose weight, and the thought of having to put on fifty pounds, wear outlandish jerseys three time too small, and grow a full mountain man beard, did not appeal to me!

             The urologist examined me, told me that I had chronic prostatitis, and that as long as I was not having any symptoms, I could ride as much as I want (I'm not really sure that he actually said, as much as I want, but I'm sure that's what he meant).  On a side note, he was interrupted by his nurse during my exam, and had to go to another exam room.  Upon his return, he apologized and explained that he had had to go dilate another patient.  So, I guess it could have been worse.

             So anyway, I went for a rode ride yesterday.  About 25 miles, in the cold, with some climbing thrown in.  I rode pretty hard, my toes went numb, and I was pretty tired at the end.  AND IT FELT GREAT!  


Friday, November 21, 2008

Man, am I cold.

            Tuesday was not a typical Idaho November day.  It was actually fairly warm.  The ride to work was in the mid 30's, and the ride home was sunny and in the low 50's.  Still, when I left the house that morning, I was cold.  By the time I hit the trail' I had a 12 mph headwind, and I was slowly sinking into the whine mode.  I figured that I would see Gym Teacher that morning, and I was already thinking about my complaints against the cold.  As I started up the only real climb of my commute, I saw Gym Teacher coming down the hill towards me.  In shorts.  Friggin shorts!  "Man, can you believe this is November?" he asked.  "I can't believe it's this warm."  Yeah, I know.  I'm a wimp.

             I grew up in the deep south.  A nasty winter day in Georgia is a nice spring day in Idaho.  And even though I have been in northern Idaho for a decade and a half, I am still cold blooded.  I love winter.  I love to ski, I love to snowshoe with the dogs, I will commute until the snow plows have buried the bike lanes, but the fact remains, I will be cold doing all of these activities.  When Gym Teacher is wearing riding shorts, a cotton t-shirt, a wind shell, a light weight hat and fingered riding gloves, I will be decked-out in mid-weight tights, a long sleeved synthetic t, a windproof vest, insulated jacket, a balaclava (or baclava, I never can remember which one is a dessert) and insulated winter riding gloves.  It is friggin cold, and this guy (Gym Teacher) is friggin crazy.  Or... I'm just a wimp from Georgia.

             There has to be a physiological explanation for this.  I'm sure that while he was growing up north of here, he was building massive capillary beds designed to keep him warm.  I, on the other hand, spent my youth developing more and more sweat glands.  (Just ask Marlene.  She could not figure out why all the thimble berry leaves were wet as she followed me up trail 257 on a mountain bike ride last summer).  Sweat glands are great for the humid heat of southern dog days, but they do no good when it is 20 degree and snowing.

           A few years ago, I read an article about how Conrad Aiken would take cold showers in preparation for climbing expeditions.   He stated that it helped prepare him for spending days and week in frigid environments.  So, to prepare for the upcoming ski season, I took ice cold showers every morning before work.  I lasted for about 3 days.

           Oh well, I guess I'll just put on more insulation.  Are you going to eat that last piece of baclava?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My bicycle saved my life

        Man, work sucked today.  If you work for a big corporation, you understand the power of the bean counter.  The guy, that regardless of anything else,  is going to ream you because you didn't satisfy his particular  number, no matter that the final tally was what you were shooting for.  All jobs have their own issues.  If you work retail, it's that customer that can't understand why you won't put all your other customers on hold while you take care of his every need; if you're a bartender, it's obnoxious patrons, becoming more obnoxious the more they drink.  Yesterday, on my ride home, I stopped to talk to Gym Teacher, who was running late because he had to intervene in a child custody dispute when one of his student's mother showed up at school with her sleazy, boyfriend, lawyer.  My point is, work sucks.

       Then, at the end of the day, I walk out of work, crawl onto my bike, and ride home.  This afternoon it was dark, 38 degrees and raining when I left.  The first mile of my ride, I'm getting used to the cold and warming up my legs.  Then I hit the traffic.  For the next mile and a half, I am sprinting from red light to red light, hyper alert, trying to be aware of everything going on around me.  I am totally focused on the ride.  Then I hit the trail and I am able to relax.  I cruise along in the rain, watching the headlights of the mass of cars on I-90, reflect on my day, and ride my bike.  By now I am warm and enjoying myself.  I love to ride at night, and the rain gives me that little extra bit of self-righteousness as I watch all those poor slobs in their cars.  When I get home, instead of kicking the dog and yelling at the wife, I am the perfect picture of calmness and utter peace.  Well, you know, almost...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Opening Statement

       This is the beginning of a blog.  My plan is to write about commuting by bicycle in northern Idaho, specifically my commute from Post Falls, Idaho to my job at a skilled nursing facility in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.  It will include other commuters that I have met over the years, including Gym Teacher and the Honda Chic.
        This is my 5th season commuting from this location.  I generally ride from when the roads are clear from snow (usually mid February) until they start plowing them again in December.  My commute is 7.6 miles each way, but is sometimes a little longer if I run errands.  I normally ride everyday, unless I absolutely need to have a car with me (and even then I sometimes bum one of my staff members cars.  He doesn't mind)

        Gym Teacher rides the opposite direction from me, from his house in Coeur d'Alene to his teaching gig in Post Falls.  We passed each other daily for a couple of years, offering each a other the obligatory  " how's it going?", until 2 years ago when we stopped and chatted.  Now we stop and talk 4 to 5 times a week.

        I usually only see Honda Chic when I'm running even later than normal.  She will catch me on the trail, and then I have to ride hard to stay with her.  She rides a true rode bike, and I am on a converted mountain bike, currently with studded snow tires, so keeping up with her is work, but pride goeth before a drop.

       During the summer months, there are other commuters, especially this summer when gas was over $4 a gallon.  By this time of year however, the ranks have thinned considerably.   Right now, It's not bad.  Morning commutes have been in the mid 30's with some sun, and afternoon commutes have been in the low 50's.  The sun is going down around 4, so my ride home is in the twilight.  Another  couple of weeks  and it will be dark for both commutes.  And tomorrow it just might snow.  We'll see.