Pushing the Season

fullsizeoutput_8788

I wore gloves because the steering wheel was so cold. My daughter, in the passenger’s seat, covered herself in a blanket as we drove out the driveway. A couple of miles from home I glanced at the car thermometer. It had warmed up to -5ºF. Then I glanced in the rear view mirror. Following us was a guy on a motorcycle.

We were driving about 45 miles per hour at that point. It was hard to tell exactly what the guy was wearing but he was wearing white shoes–running shoes, tennis shoes, something like that. At a stop sign he pulled over to adjust his helmet, right behind us, so I could tell it was a he. At least he was wearing big fat mittens. One hardy guy, ready for spring.

A few more miles up the road I had to swing wide to pass a bicyclist. This person wore a  reflective vest similar to the one on the motorcyclist, so at least he was going for high visibility. In warm weather along that stretch I feel a sense of bafflement at why so many people on bicycles do not ride on the bike path, which is right next to the road. Why skirt auto traffic when there is a smooth and safer path right there? But today that bike path was covered in snow and ice. It was not smooth or safer. So I passed widely and offered a Godspeed. That dude was just as hardy.

I am looking forward to spring as well (although I have enjoyed skiing the field lately) but below-zero biking? Imagine standing out in below zero temperatures facing a sustained 45 mile per hour wind. That was the motorcycle dude. And a bicycle isn’t much warmer, despite the self-propulsion factor, when the temperature is so low.

Hats off to those two hardy fellows, but I have news for you. Wanting spring does not make it arrive. Acting like it is warm does not make it so. Still, I have to admire them. Even if I had extra time to bike, or was crazy enough about fuel efficiency to choose a motorcycle, I don’t think I would push the season quite so. For activities such as that, I will wait for spring to actually arrive.

Nice Bike Path

img_5352

One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to have breakfast at Penny Cluse Cafe and then to ride the bike path north from Burlington. My son and I took advantage of our summer days to do this earlier this week. He slept in later than would be ideal for this particular adventure, but we did it anyway.

See, the place gets busy. We had to go during the week because the weekend? Forget it. The wait can be a couple of hours on a Saturday. Even on a weekday we had a wait close to an hour. We could have gone elsewhere to eat but we were both game for Penny Cluse–even though I was pretty hungry–so we waited. We walked up Church Street and played Pokemon Go to pass the time. My son just started playing so there were lots of fictitious creatures to add to his Pokedex. It was close to 10:30 by the time we took a seat.

By 11:00 breakfast was under our belts, so to speak. If you go there, get home fries. They are top notch, really the most important item of the most important meal. Anything there is tasty as can be so you can’t really go wrong. I tend to get beans with eggs, just because I never have that at home. My son got pancakes and, while he enjoyed them, he ate only one. Filling.

After sating ourselves we rolled down the hill to the waterfront. We rode bikes along the lake. The bike path was improved since I was last there. It is repaved and some of the overgrown asphalt patches are now tidy, with calisthenic devices and decks and railings over which one can enjoy the view. There are some newly cut paths to the water for swimming. It was nice. A nice bike path.

It made me think about livability. A bike path and open spaces and water make a town or a city a place people want to live. Sure, economic growth matters, but if you only think about creating jobs, then people will want, at best, to live in that next town over that is a little nicer. A town with nature and recreation and jobs is ideal. Earning a living is important. Living is important too.

A breeze blew across the water to cool us off. Bikers and walkers and lollygaggers shared the route with us. We rode a ways out and then turned back. The day was getting on. By the time we loaded our bikes back in the van and drove home and unloaded them, it was lunch time. We skipped it–not hungry. Summer is getting on. I’m thinking we won’t have a second chance at breakfast in town before school starts. So I am glad we made it happen.

img_5354

Biking and Sunshine

IMG_5140

We took a trip up to Stowe yesterday. The last time I was there it was cold and snowy and we lugged our skis to the ski lift to enjoy some turns on the slopes. Yesterday we had bikes instead of skis. Our kids have new bikes. Children keep growing, apparently. The last time they had new bikes was years ago. Those bikes look silly now.

Stowe has a fantastic recreation path–five miles end to end. We rode from one end to the other. That ten miles seemed easy, even though we all were a bit rusty with the bike riding. The air smelled of grass and thawing dirt and manure and cold air slipping away. We wore shorts.

My kids, as one of them said to me, “kicked my butt” by zooming ahead. At the beginning of our ride I was advised by my son to slow down. I guess I slowed down too much. But we all ended up at the same place, and we all enjoyed a ride on a doozy of a fine day. Snow still graced the mountains but trout lilies and wild leeks graced the forest floor. I kept feeling my usual awe at the changing of the seasons. I wasn’t all that worried about getting my butt kicked.

Later, after we had gotten home and had dinner, we went out for another short ride. We rode up the hill and down and over the other way. It continued to be a stellar day. We watched the sun get low and the trees glow golden with their young leaves. We did not rush but we broke a sweat nonetheless. We all felt great when we got home. And we all slept well, ready to embrace another winner of day today. So far, we have not been disappointed.

IMG_5135

Breakfast and Biking and Building

IMG_4055

A stop on the Burlington bike path

We slept out on the porch last night. A section of it is screened, so we set up cozy beds on the couch and had our Z’s outside. We woke up later than I thought we would, given that the birds are singing at 4:00, about 7:00. I gathered some things while my son rubbed the bleariness from his eyes and then we headed to town.

First stop was Penny Cluse Cafe. They have the best breakfast around. My son had buttermilk pancakes, which he said were almost as good as mine. Right thing to say. And he wasn’t even after ice cream. I had beans and eggs and corn muffins–not something I typically have at home, which was the idea. Coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice–we were good to go on the meal front.

Next stop was the Ski Rack to pick up my son’s bike that had gotten some service. We rolled that outside, pulled my bike from the roof rack and, with full water bottles and some snacks, we headed to the lake. We passed the waterfront area and headed north on the bike path.

It could not have been a more perfect morning. Sunny, just warm enough, the lake and sky a summer blue. We pedaled our way several miles until we came to the bridge across the Winooski River. We stopped to look out at the river and the lake and the wetlands. Then we went a little further into Colchester.

Looking back toward Burlington

Looking back toward Burlington

We parked our bikes and checked out the lake, just off the bike path. Now that the water is finally low enough we could walk out to the marsh. We saw a couple of great egrets, a great blue heron and I finally heard marsh wrens. Those marsh wrens bring me up to 172 different bird species I have found in Chittenden County this year. I am aiming for 175, at least. I think I’ll make it.

We also saw basking map turtles

We also saw basking map turtles

Then we headed back south and parked our bikes outside ECHO, Burlington’s science center, to do some building. The rotating exhibit currently features KEVA planks, flattish rectangular blocks. There are some amazing structures there on display. We got there just in time for one of their daily challenges. We had five minutes to build a bridge. We teamworked it and did pretty well:

IMG_4061

I had started my own bridge before the challenge started and decided to enhance that one:

IMG_4064

We will be back to build some more this summer while the exhibit lasts. It is way fun.

Back home, my son got picked up to hang with a friend. I got some more painting done once the shade shifted around to right spot. We won’t have quite the blast tomorrow, but I am hoping it will be a decent one. We will sleep on the porch again and wake to the morning sun. No Penny Cluse tomorrow, but I can make pancakes at home. Apparently, they are pretty good.

Unconscious Singing and a Wrench

My son loves to sing.  He sings all the time–while building a boat out of legos, while sitting down to breakfast, even while falling asleep. He sings songs with words and songs without. He hums. He is just a happy guy. I was thinking yesterday about how I love this about him. He shares his happiness with the world.

Yesterday he and I went for a bike ride–not too far, just a slow peddle down the road to enjoy the amazing day. He was, as he so often is, singing as we went. We talked about this and that, of course, and were having a fine time. Now, this road we live on is not paved, and any unpaved road in Chittenden County, Vermont’s most populous, becomes a destination for walkers, runners and bikers. We live on this one and we use it for all three of these activities. Lots of other people do as well.

Yesterday, as on any given weekend day, comers from parts unknown came to take advantage of the unpavedness of our road. They walked and ran. When my son and I headed out on our bicycles, two women were walking in the same direction we planned to go. They were well ahead of us. With the speed of our two-wheeled vehicles, however, we caught up with them, despite our slow rate. Although we saw them, these two women did not see us. They ambled along, chatting loudly, gesticulating as they conversed. As we got close behind them, on the other side of the road mind you, my son sang a semi-wordless tune.

Once we got close enough, this scared the pants off them. They turned and jumped. Well, one of them jumped, and this made the other jump. On the one hand I felt bad for them–a nice peaceful walk interrupted by a dangerous and insidious force, a beast who’s only goal is slay the innocent walkers…Wait, it’s only a kid and his dad. On the other hand, I thought this was funny as hell and had to suppress my laughter. They laughed, however–perhaps nervously–but they laughed.

We were close enough that I could see that the woman closest to us was carrying something.  My first thought, given the reaction she had just had, was that it was mace. She walked with someone else and with a weapon to ward off would-be assailants. But it was only a wrench, maybe 1/2 inch. This struck me, as it may have struck others in this situation, as somewhat, well, what’s up with the wrench? I didn’t say, this of course. What I said, as we passed them, was, after one of them noted what a fine day it was, that it could be finer if only I had a wrench with which to fix my bike.  The woman carrying it offered it to me, with grand generosity, asking if it was mine. It turns out she found it on the road.

I wasn’t missing a wrench, but I liked both that she offered it to me, despite my sarcasm, and that she picked it up to begin with. Someone dropped it and maybe she could find a place to leave it. She noted that she might just find a use for it, that she must have found it for a reason, and my son and I kept on going. So in the end, all was well, and it couldn’t have been a better day.  I mean, the foliage was shining, my ears were full of song, I was riding my bike with my son, and I was offered a wrench, maybe 1/2 inch. What more could one want?

Feeling Alive

At the moment, my son is driving his toy cars off an old board onto the frozen lawn.  The sun is shining.  His down jacket is unzipped.  His pant cuffs are soaked through.  He is, although not consciously, supremely happy.  Watching him makes me so as well.

Today I had a meeting in town.  I rode my bike to get there.  I should ride my bike more often, or so I have told myself many times.  Doing so today made me realize that I have been right.  I rode only about three miles each way–not far–but I felt great.  On the way in, the temperature was in the twenties.  Leavensworth Road, my route to avoid traffic, was frozen.  It was so frozen in a couple of spots that I had to walk.  I felt the cold, the wind, my muscles moving.  I felt alive.

It seems so simple:  I take a little more time to ride rather than drive and I feel so much better.  The only disadvantage to biking is that it takes more time.  Most of the time that isn’t even a disadvantage.  As long as I have the time to take, it is worth it.  The ride home was muddy.  Leavensworth Road had thawed out.  I got a little splattered but I had fun, I got a bit tired and I smelled the world rather than just zipped by it.  I need to do that more often.

On Saturday I stood in front of 400 people and presented a bunch of information about paying for college.  I had planned for it and I had been looking forward to it.  Five minutes before start time I realized that I felt a little nervous;  not much, but enough that I forgot to introduce myself.  Other than that it went well.  I think I provided enough information in a way that worked for most people.  Driving home (too far to bike that day), I felt great.

I realized that the positive feeling came from my pushing myself.  That was the largest crowd to which I had presented, and the topic is one that those present feel is important, even have anxiety over, so I took some risks.  I took a risk even volunteering to do it.  Because I took risks, however, because I stepped outside my comfort zone, the reward was high enough to make me feel pretty good.

I need to take on these challenges more frequently.  I need to take risks, to push myself, to try new things.  A lesson for me, one I have learned more than a few times, is that I need to simply step forward and try.  When opportunites come my way that seem intimidating, I need to say yes.  It is easy to stay within my comfort zone.  It is easy to do more of what I already know.  But if I want to feel alive, I need to make things a little harder for myself.

On my ride this morning, my biggest fear was not that I would be late or that I would forget how to ride, but that I would get stuck in my peddle clips.  I have a tough time getting out of them sometimes.  I practiced on the driveway on my way out, in fact.  Nonetheless, when I had to stop to cross a big patch of ice, I could not get my left foot out, leaned that way, and hit the dirt, literally.  It made me grumpy for a moment, but then I remembered how fortunate I was to be where I was, doing something so amazing.  I took a fall, but I got up and kept going.

That’s the thing.  I can’t be afraid to take a fall.  So I get a little dirty and my ego gets bruised.  So what?  No one but me even had to know it happened.  So often we are afraid to let others know we have made a mistake, and that makes us afraid to take a risk where we might make a mistake.  But I don’t want to sit with friends and tell them how I almost tried something but didn’t.  I want to give them a good story, and often the best stories are ones where we fall down but then get up and keep going and, ultimately, are rewarded.  That is the kind of story I want to tell.

If we take risks enough, we feel comfortable, given some time.  We can get in the groove.  Before long, we can be happy without even knowing why.  If we are lucky, we are happy without even being aware of it.  And if we take the time to pick up our pile of toy cars from the grass, we might even get the chance to try it again.