Monday, February 2, 2015

Finding a Winter Wander-land (and Other Coping Strategies)

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Rummaging through some years worth of photos over the weekend in an attempt to tidy up my hard drive, I noticed something interesting. February, despite being the shortest month of the year - as well as one of the coldest - seems to be my most productive month photographically. Judging by the sheer quantity and frequency of the photos, it would appear that I can't step out the door without my camera this time of year, and that everything I encounter - from rusty chainlink fences, to bits of snow-covered grass, to the tracks my bicycle's tires make in the slush - receives its lavish attention.

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On the surface it would seem the season's stark and ethereal beauty inspires me more than any other time of the year. And I do enjoy winter. Up to a point. And that point is usually passed by the time February rolls around! So in actuality, I realise, the hyper-active photography is more of a coping strategy. Just as I would use it at social gatherings that I no longer want to be at, but for some reason have to, I use the camera to deal with a tedious season that has outstayed its welcome yet shows no signs of leaving. I use it to squeeze the most out of the few hours of daylight I have at my disposal. I use it to compensate for the lack of freedom I feel due to my decreased travel radius. I use it to shift my focus from the cold, the wind, and the frozen roads, to the ever-changing beauty of my surroundings.

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Along with this use of the lens (and the donning of ever-more colorful woolen attire), I've developed another coping strategy. And it's one I can best describe as "micro-wandering." That is, exploring places that - while both too close to home and too ordinary to be of interest in the warmer months - in the winter are transformed into novel, fascinating microcosms, just begging to be "conquered" by bicycle.

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In the course of these micro-wanderings, the scanty patches of woods behind my house become elaborate obstacle courses, taking ages (okay, minutes) to navigate and requiring formidable skill (or so I like to pretend) to complete.

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The surrounding fields, blinding-white and offering views of the snow-capped hills, harbour untold secrets (hint: most likely sheep droppings) in their mysterious Tundra-like vastness.

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And the 1 mile ride to the shop down the snow-encrusted lane, becomes the quest for the holy grail - made all the more exciting by not knowing whether and when the front tire on the old bike I chose for this crazy adventure might pop off the cracked rim again (whoopsie, there she goes!).

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It's a cold, dark world out there - at least for another month or two! - Might as well make light of it, as best as we can. What are your coping strategies when winter outstays its welcome?

44 comments:

  1. Ahem, you have a few measly millimeters of snow there. You're likely to get some hate mail from your old home town, where we have about a meter of the white stuff on the ground now. The forecast is calling for low temperatures below 0F later this week. Maybe I shouldn't wait until June for my tour in Ireland. Maybe I should just fly over now. It looks positively tropical there compared to here.

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    1. Ahem. First of all, there wasn't supposed to be snow here at all! They reeled me in with promises of mild winters only to deliver 80mph winds, weekly snowfall, and temps hovering perpetually on both sides of zero to ensure plenty of black ice.

      Consider yourself lucky missy. 4' of snow is better than 4", at least you can play in it!

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  2. Winter coping? Bike projects (just finished building my third wheelset), fiction and bourbon.

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    1. Can we expect a novel about your bourbon-infused wheel building?

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    2. The wheels may fail to roll in a straight line...

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  3. I like to go outside in winter to draw trees. In summer they don't seem as striking and the leaves just cover up all the interesting bits. I have hundreds of sketches of trees, the majority representing nekkid oaks, sycamores and other big old individuals standing out in a snow covered field or clearing. They each also represent an hour or so of freezing my asbadaster off. I'd never stand out in the cold for that long to watch a ski race or wait for a bus but I always look forward to drawing my tree friends.

    Spindizzy

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    1. Naked trees in the winter!! Indeed. Happy drawing.

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  4. Winter is thankfully short here, so I just hang in one day at a time, hoping it will end soon and making the most of any warmer days by getting outside. Though seeing your photos of bikes and snow almost makes me wish I lived in a cooler climate (almost ...).

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  5. First thing I thought was "It's the old Tourist again!!!!!!!!" but alas, it is not. How's she doing these days? Also, I'm having some sort of difficulty identifying the bike here ... to me it looks like an old Raleigh Sports/Dawn tourist or something related, but the stem is unfamiliar and so is the thing the headlight clamps onto. That's a nice Dynohub setup you've got there, too. I'll always love Dynohubs.

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    1. Oh, it's a Triumph, my bad. also forgot to mention that last year, back when my '58 lady's Sports (also with a dynohub) was my only bike, it was my reliable commuter and my getaway bike. It took me on countless adventures like the one you described in this post and it still does, although I'm a little more adventurous now so I take the beater 10-speed more often to spare the Sports from any accidents. As a matter of fact, the metro Detroit area got more than a foot of snow last night and there I was, out on my bike and trying to ride just for the heck of it. I must have carried my bike almost half the time I was out. Fresh snow is alright until it gets too deep ... of course, riding over snow that's been stepped on or driven over is the hardest.

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    2. The DL1 Tourist has a new happy home now. This 1950s Triumph is not what you might call "road worthy," but days like these offer the perfect opportunity to ride it.

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    3. I'm a little surprised you let that one go after being such a big part of your life, but I also understand that you can't keep 'em all. I've let cars and bikes(motor and otherwise) go to new homes that I thought I'd miss like a tooth and then realized they needed to go and was I happy to not be their "parent" any longer. Sometimes I forget they're just bikes.

      And sometimes I miss them like a tooth.

      Spindizzy

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    4. Considering who her new owner is, I am pretty happy with the arrangement. Shipping costs would have been impossible. Of all the bikes I've let go of, my one regret is the Moser. I can probably get him back if I really wanted to, and consider it once in a while... before remembering that I don't need more bikes.

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    5. Italian bikes and frames from the 70s-80s are plentiful and cheap. The Moser had a lot of flaws. You can have a similar but better bike whenever you feel you need more bikes. Those Campag wheels you had are great and a little scarce but plenty of other wheels would do the trick.

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    6. Oh I don't need a vintage Italian bike. That frame just had sentimental value as a reminder of my life and friends in Vienna.

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    7. Oh, I see. It's sad to hear that but I'm glad it worked out. Also, I couldn't agree more with anonymous #1's comment. I also get too attached to my things, especially the vehicles, and I dread the day I'll have to let any of them go. It's a part of life, though. Even that beat-up 10-speed I thought I didn't care about has already grown on me a whole bunch. This is weird because I don't love it enough give it a name or to restore it like I did the Sports but I already dread the day the frame rusts through or when it becomes otherwise unrideable. Ah, the feels

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    8. Through your writing I felt Francesco was a sort of friend to me as well. I am sure others felt the same. Your adventures on that bike made a lot of readers smile and look at our own voyages of discovery with a fresh eye.

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  6. Coping in winter is much easier than coping in summer. My son lives is Boston and is embracing this new bit of snow for yet another reason to get outdoors. He's a biologist and everything is interesting to him. Where I live the summers are dreadful and depressing and the winters have become a time to be productive and engaged. I work as a fine artists and winter is a blissful time in the studio. February is bittersweet b/c I know spring is soon coming and gardening time will dominate. So, riding my bike in the cold and gray and is exhilarating and getting into the studio even better. Seasons provide rewards.

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  7. BTW, winter is magical in so many ways unrelated to bicycles. It's just a time to breath in aside from the hassles of everyday life. So many friends share of this notion that winter gives permission to shut down and open up. Your news is not news so much as affirmation. Enjoy.

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    1. I agree - winter means longer evenings and this can provide a temporary retreat from the world - every season provides its own benefits.

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  8. "cold, dark world"? it was 81, bright and sunny on Saturday. Although, it's supposed to rain later this week, so you might be right.

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  9. I go visit my friend Al... https://www.flickr.com/photos/rando_rider/16245601849/

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    1. He looks not unlike he's just eaten your bicycle!

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  10. Eek! Wet snow on a bare saddle! I'd say the propensity for taking photos every chance you get is because Fuji's are fun cameras.

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    1. Be assured that nothing can hurt that saddle anymore. The snow didn't even leave a mark on the petrified substance that may once have had the texture and feel of leather.

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  11. Who needs to "cope" ... have you people not heard of Auastralia?

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  12. A cruel reality in nature is relative low humidity and long nights mean January and February present some of the best star gazing opportunities in the Midwest.

    Clear nights bring my mind and body to loggerheads on whether it is worth the effort to trudge down with the telescope to the lake front and stand in the cold for several hours for the chance to see Andromeda (January) or Uranus (later this month). The older I get the more I've come to appreciate overcast winter nights.

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    1. Star gazing is unbelievable where I live. We also get the aurora once in a while.

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  13. In that first photo, because of the narrow depth of field I guess, the scale reads wrong. The bicycle looks like a toy.

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  14. I'm unclear. What exactly are you coping/struggling with? Are you depressed with some aspect of winter? Seems, everyday, you're out and cycling and photographing and creating stories. Seems life is good. When my kids were small and winters meant a lot more time indoors the idea of cabin fever was a real thing. Then we discovered just enjoying what was available. Winters were all of sudden cool. Let's just get outside and maneuver ourselves…Just like you.

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    1. Nothing as serious as the words "depressed" or "struggle" would warrant. Just a normal amount of frustration over "it sucks that I can't ride my bike as much as in the summer." Happens to us all.

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    2. Happend - in the past. That's why an upgrade to a dedicated winter machine with 4.8 tyres for those muddy, slushy, freeze-thaw conditions is a total game changer.

      I had a FS bike, as my only bike, for about ten years, got rid of it and got a fat bike which I ride almost daily through the masses of snow. Often it's only the track of the hunters' car making it possible at all to ride through the forest - which is easier as it sounds.

      You mentioned you have tried riding one - why don't you own a nice, used Pugsley yet? You've got stretches of beaches and plenty of deteriorated field tracks I would assume. Because you are more of a roadie than a mud lover?
      I came to like allegory-thinking of fat biking as the slow food of the cycle world.

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    3. On most days here the snow/ice conditions are not sufficient to warrant a fat bike, and the wind conditions (20-40mph not uncommon in winter) would make an upright fat tire bike grueling on the exposed roads. I do like the idea of fat bikes in principle though.

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    4. Yes, right you are. There's not much in the way of the ghastly western winds until they hit you.
      I stayed in an old caravan near a farm in Ballyferriter many years ago but that memory of the elements must have faded.
      There is still the summer beach cruising so.

      P.S. Do you know of any ferry line going from Northern Ireland to Norway? Plane is no option with a bike I guess..

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  15. For heaven's sake put a new rim on that Triumph. Losing the tire could be more exciting the next time. The bike is not useful for more than a photo prop as it sits.

    Rim swaps are several steps easier than wheelbuilding. Swath the spoke basket in tape so that everything remains in position when you unscrew the spoke nipples. Move the spokes and hub to the new rim and reconnect the spokes. Westwood rims are quite crude, you may get a straight wheel the first go. Difficult or impossible to do the job so badly a mechanic cannot finish the tensioning and truing in five minutes.

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    1. I don't ride this bike on public roads. I live on a private lane with fields all around me, so I can still mess around on it with fairly little risk. Both rims (26" rod brake rims) need to be replaced really. Not a priority at the moment, but maybe over the summer.

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  16. A somewhat unrelated question, but since you mentioned your hard drive: how do you back up your work and ensure the safety of your photos? I ask because I just had most of my hard drive attacked by a virus - luckily I'd already backed up most of it to an external drive, but I'm curious what strategies the pros use for backing up years worth of bicycle photos. Thanks! Dave

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    1. I use an SP 1TB external hard drive to back up my photos. It has always worked splendidly for me; very quick and reliable. However a friend of mine (a Windows 8 user, for what it's worth) managed to corrupt his pretty badly. I don't think any system is full proof.

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    2. Thanks for the reply!

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  17. Your bike looks to have no evidence of winter cycling. What's up ;)

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  18. Funny, less than one percent of my disposable income goes towards bikes, yet seventy percent of my interests seem to tend that way. I can't afford any of the things you use or blog about but still love the idea of getting around, winter spring or fall, via my bicycle. It's sustenance no matter how little we can afford.

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  19. Fortunes change, and the concept of affordability is relative, but thankfully bicycles can be enjoyed at any price level.

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