Welcome to almost winter. A few months ago I wrote about how I use various health and fitness tracking apps. One of them is Nature Dose. At the time, I was easily hitting 800-900 minutes per week; the goal was 90.
Now, I’m averaging 100-200 minutes, and one week I only managed 50 (I had a huge cooking project and didn’t make it out of the house for three days in a row).
Some of that might because I’m leaving work after dark. Or maybe my phone doesn’t pick up the light while tucked in a pocket under multiple layers of clothing. It’s definitely because I’m not spending hours in the garden or camping or swimming outdoors.
My Nature Dose eexceeds the minimum, but it doesn’t feel like enough to me. The fresh air and natural light (even on a grey rainy day) make me feel more energetic yet calm. My brain slows down to enjoy the scenery and I arrive at my destination refreshed.
I’m almost looking forward to colder weather and snow so I can do a bit of cross country skiing or skating, instead of just biking everywhere – even though that is still tons of fun.
I wrote about my idea of cycling through the winter here and here. Sam wrote about it here, and that one includes lots of links to other posts about winter cycling.
Unlike Sam, my goal was to be a bike commuter and I am proud to say I DID IT! I go to the office four days a week, and since November I have avoided going in only about three times. Once was definitely due to a heavy snowfall. Once was due to a predicted snowfall where we were advised to stay home, and once was due to bitter cold (-43C with the wind chill). Admittedly, I did get lucky because a few more were regularly scheduled work-from-home or planned vacation days, but there weren’t many of those.
It turns out I love cycling in winter. I am warmer on my bike than when I try to walk. The roads are usually less slippery than the sidewalks. Admittedly, cycling in traffic isn’t for everyone, but there are enough winter cyclists around that I found most cars and trucks are paying attention and are pretty respectful about giving me enough space for safety.
Most of my rides are relatively short, and I have invested in a little bit of gear to ensure I stay visible, warm and dry. I have studded winter tires which I needed more for confidence than for road conditions. The only time they were really handy was the night I went for a group bike ride immediately after a snow storm when the roads hadn’t yet been cleared.
Now it is officially spring, and I am starting to shed the layers and think about getting my summer bike out. So here is one last celebratory selfie of me and my bike as winter draws to a close. Note the patches of bare ground in my yard.
I live in an area where cycling makes a lot of sense for everyday tasks. I can get to work, the grocery store, and most essential shops easily and safely by bicycle or on foot.
As gas prices rose this fall, I started a little personal challenge of not using my car more than once a week. I was already riding my bike to work on my days in the office, so this shouldn’t be a big additional burden, right?
I don’t know. My sample size is very small, and I didn’t set up a good research question in advance. My evidence is purely anecdotal.
I can tell you that I’m tired. Far more tired than I expected. But I’m still doing it, mostly. Even if it meant I needed a long nap after cycling to swim practice and to buy groceries on Saturday. I did get up on Sunday to bike to church.
A little bit of my tiredness is undoubtedly because being nervous about sharing the road with cars is exhausting. Even though I am getting more confident, I miss the separated lanes and bike paths that are available to me in summer. T
And sidewalks often aren’t clear for pedestrians, so walking isn’t fun either. In fact, the closest I have come to an accident was when a pedestrian using the road jumped into my path to avoid being hit by a car.
If we really want people to adopt active living, which has huge benefits for overall health, accessibility and the environment, we need to push our civic leaders to invest in infrastructure that supports people to use non-car transportation year-round. And leaves them less tired and stressed from the effort.
Diane Harper is a public servant in Ottawa, and a recent convert to year-round cycling.
After all, the shortest day of the year, in terms of daylight, is December 21, the winter solstice. But the days will actually begin to feel a bit longer two weeks before the solstice. That’s because the earliest sunset of the year happens before the solstice, and in 2022, it occurs on Wednesday, December 7.”
Some time ago I realized that the real effect on my mood in the fall was from lack of light. Especially as someone with vision issues, the lack of light is pretty limiting.
Once I figured out that I was able to be active outdoors–walking the dog, fat biking, snow shoeing etc–especially in the snowy winter sunshine of January–winter itself wasn’t the problem. It’s the much shorter days that feel worse.
Also, since I’m am early riser it’s pretty much always dark when I wake up, it’s the lack of light at the end of the day that feels worse.
So I am here to celebrate that from an ‘end of the day light’ perspective–the thing I care most about-EVERYTHING IS BETTER FROM HERE ON IN.
Way back in September I wrote about winter cycling and now that wintery weather is here, it’s time for an update. TLDR: I like it!
It took me a few tries to get my gear to my satisfaction. The seat was lower than I remembered. I needed to move some lights and my basket. I accidentally installed my bell upside down (still need to fix that). My pannier actually works better with the new bike than it does on my summer one, so that’s a bonus.
And then there were clothing questions: which hat fits under my helmet? Surely I have a balaclava or two in the closet? I did find my rain pants so I can block the wind on chilly days. My woolen mitts work for now, but I have a pair of pogies in my Amazon cart that I will need to order before it gets much colder.
It’s harder to pedal than my summer bike because of those studded tires that keep me safe on the ice. But I sure appreciate them on the section of pathway that doesn’t get ploughed in winter, despite heavy use by walkers and cyclists. Eventually I will need to choose a different route to work; it will be on quiet streets, but I’ll miss the paths that keep me completely separated from vehicle traffic.
I make sure I’m really visible, with a reflective construction vest and bright head and taillights. I’m still fussing a bit with the fairy lights, but they work well and look rather pretty in the dark.
The best part of being a winter cyclist is the camaraderie with other cyclists, and the feeling that you’re a bit of a badass. I love the community of people sharing pictures of “not taking their kids to daycare” or “not going to the grocery store” because “no-one bikes in winter”.
I hope not, because I am thinking about it a lot right now.
In some ways, I am very late to winter cycling. have been thinking about it since the miserable 51 day bus strike in the dead of winter (December 2008-January 2009). That was the first time I ever saw cyclists in the snow, and I envied them as I trudged to work, a 45 minute walk in good weather, on cleared sidewalks.
I dismissed the idea even as I reluctantly returned to public transit, instead riding my bike to work for up to 9 months of the year. Then I met a couple of colleagues at a new workplace who rode year-round for environmental reasons, and I was intrigued again. Two years ago, I actually stopped a random guy at a street light in late winter, and quizzed him about his experience and gear.
Last winter, my friend Florence introduced me to the concept of studded tires. She cycles year-round, even to swim practice (brrr). And last week she came to the Fancy Women Bike Ride in a Cleverhood rain cape like this:
I was starting to see ways I could feel safe and warm as a winter cyclist.
My next step was to acquire a bike I wouldn’t mind getting rusty. That came thanks to my local community mail list, where someone had an old Trek with seized gears that they wanted to give away.
Advice for how to fit it up came from the Ottawa cycling community on Twitter (which includes a lot of moms, every day commuters, and cycling infrastructure advocates, so I felt confident their advice would work for my cycling interests). One thing they said was to get the studded tires now, to avoid shortages later in the fall.
I picked up my bike from the shop on Friday. It has studded tires, fenders, new gears and brakes, a rack to hold my pannier, rechargeable lights and a bell. My new red hood is hanging by the back door, along with a pair of splash pants and my reflective vest. I have a bottle of chain oil that I will use daily, and a rag to wipe down my bike after each ride.
It is definitely too early for winter riding, but I am ready (and ridiculously excited).
Diane Harper is a public servant in Ottawa. She doesn’t love commuting, except by bicycle.
My friend and electronic work-out buddy Diana sent me a note this week saying how hard she find it to work out in the winter. She was complaining specifically about the poor job her town had done of cleaning the sidewalks, she was constantly bracing her back against a possible fall.
I empathize; I often feel like an arthritic penguin, and return home with muscles so tightly clenched that I need a heating pad and foam roller to loosen up again. It is even worse for people with mobility issues. I don’t like climbing over the ice berms left by street ploughs that block sidewalks, but at least I don’t need to navigate with a wheelchair, cane, walker, or simply fragile bones.
Other activities can be tough too. Snowstorms, icy roads and bitter cold can all make it hard to get motivated to get off the couch and go to the gym or studio. Then there is all the bundling up, and needing to go out while still sweaty, or damp from the pool or a shower. If you use a bike as your main means of transport, your ride can be downright treacherous, as well as cold.
Some people embrace the winter by skiing, skating or snowshoeing, which is great. Sadly, the weather has been so unpredictable this year that I haven’t gotten out to do any of those things. Too cold, too icy, too snowy, not enough snow… sigh.
Working from home most of the time, I didn’t even get to do my annual stunt of skiing or snowshoeing to the office during a storm. but today I did get an unexpected little walk thanks to the remaining impact of the occupation of Ottawa. My usual route to drive to the office was blocked by concrete barriers, so I parked the car and walked.
It wasn’t far, but I got a few minutes to enjoy the snow, and appreciate a couple of busy squirrels in a tree.
The late winter mood blahs will end soon. I know this because today was the first day of flood prevention on the Rideau River. Before I know it, I’ll be tempted to complain about the bugs or the heat, but I promise to take a moment find the beauty in my surroundings.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, today is the Winter Solstice so I thought I’d seek out some solstice-related yoga and meditation.
Well, that was an adventure. If you have lots of space in your day today, search YouTube for ‘Winter Solstice Yoga’ – you could spend all day being mindful, listening to music, doing asanas and yoga nidra, and still not run out of videos so I’m sure you can find something to match your time, space, and mood today.
Since I am working on the assumption that you probably have to work to squeeze in your movement and breathing space during December, I selected two short videos.
Please remember, though, that your space-making is for you and for your own purposes so please, please, please, choose what you have time for and what makes you happy.
Here’s your star for your hard work, no matter what that entails for you today: ⭐️
Side note: I just found these printable solstice colouring sheets for adults. If colouring is your kind of things, those could be a good meditative way to make space, too. The good thing about a winter scene is that you don’t even need colouring pencils or crayons, you could use a pencil and a black or blue pen and just fill everything in with patterns.
Here‘s a lovely short yin yoga practice that I found. I enjoyed how straightforward it was and I love doing ‘thread the needle.’
And here’s a short meditation/ritual/practice for Winter Solstice that I found very restful.
If you are in the Southern Hemisphere and today is your summer solstice, maybe you would like these practices instead: