Winter biking and new pannier backpack

I started writing this post on a Monday (my first commute of the spring semester), when the temps started out in the teens, with single digit wind chills.  Four days later, it’s sunny and 60°F in St. Louis — ah, fickle January weather!

On the Monday in question, I helped get Gabriel well-bundled, and then waved goodbye to my biker boys.


Gabriel reported that everything was still nice and warm when they arrived at his school, which I rather expected, given how many layers he had on.  His mittens were perhaps the weakest link, but Matthew said his fingers were nice and toasty when they un-bundled (G has much better circulation than I do, apparently!).

Later in the day, I put together my cold-weather gear, along with my new pannier-backpack.



For whatever reason, I don’t have great circulation in my hands and feet when it is cold (or even moderately chilly).  Boots and mittens are a bit clunky on the bike, but if I’m going to ride in cold temps, they’re a must! Shifting with the mittens is a bit awkward, but doable.  I was glad it had warmed up a bit by the time I departed, or I’m not sure my fingers would have made it 8 miles, even with good mittens!

I replaced the balaclava I lost at the end of last semester (I’m still planning to check the campus lost and found, but I didn’t want to be without one; on the off chance I find the original, having a back-up won’t hurt).  I was happy that REI still carried the exact same product I bought however-many years ago — if something works, no need to change it.

After cramming our laptop backpack (with no laptop in it) into my grocery-bag panniers all last semester, I started investigating a better solution.  The idea of something that functioned as both a pannier and a backpack was appealing.  I read some old reviews that praised a product made by Timbuktu . . . that is no longer being produced.  I knew I wanted the rack attachment points to be on the OPPOSITE side of the backpack shoulder straps, since the side facing the bike inevitably gets cruddy.  With the Timbuktu pack not an option, Matthew found this pannier/backpack by Banjo Brothers (my Christmas gift from my parents).

It’s a backpack . . .
. . . and a pannier!









While it doesn’t have as many organization options as many backpacks, it does have a few pockets, and it’s plenty workable.  I’ll have to report back on its comfort as a backpack after more testing.

At this point, the only thing I would change is the length of the straps that fasten the top flap over the opening.  With the current design, I can’t fasten the buckles on the flap when the pannier is fully open, instead I have to roll down the top first.  I’m going to look into getting some kind of strap extender to remedy this.

On school days, I’m using this on one side and one of the old grocery-bag panniers on the other side.  The backpack carries my school stuff plus bike lights and tool kit.  The open pannier carries my purse, insulated lunch bag, U-lock, and cable.

Despite not having ridden my commute route (or all that much otherwise) for a few weeks, Monday’s commute went well.  These next couple of months have the potential to bring some of the trickiest weather for biking, but I’m hoping my biking:motoring ratio for this semester will be as good as it was last semester!


This commute

As I mentioned in my #30daysofbiking post (can’t believe it’s been TWO months since I wrote that — talk about time flying!), I’ve really enjoyed having a regular bike commute again.  The weather has been quite accommodating this fall — until this week, I’ve only driven the car to campus once (a rainy day where I had to be across town right after class).

My previous regular bike commute ended in December 2009 when I took a job in Jefferson County (promoting biking, somewhat ironically) and ditched the bike for the car.  While my current commute is a similar route to that last commute, there are some major differences that I’m dealing with this time around, including some things that I knew were nice, but didn’t fully appreciate about my last set-up.

Until now, I’ve always had a “home base” at my final destination.  For a couple of years, that was just a cubicle, which wasn’t as nice as having my own office (a rare luxury these days, I know), but even with just the cubicle, it was something — a place where I could leave my stuff and not have to lug it around with me all day (think change of clothes, rain gear, cold weather clothing, etc.).  As a non-employee student, that place to off-load is a luxury I don’t have.

During the 2.5 years that I had a private office, I had a built-in place to change clothes (rather than attempting to do so within the confines of a bathroom stall).  I was also spoiled by being able to bring my bike right into my office with me — no need for my trusty steed to have to weather the elements.  With my current commute, I’m lucky if I can cram Midnight into the partially covered bike rack on days when wet weather looms.

Similar to my previous commutes, I do have access to a locker room and shower on the other end.  I’m able to leave a padlock on a locker, so I stashed a pair of shower sandals and a bar of soap.  Unfortunately, all of the lockers are half-size, so it limits the usefulness as far as stashing gear on a daily basis (might need to get a second padlock and just claim another locker, as I’m about the only person to use the space anyway!).

I’ve used the locker room to change and freshen up a number of times, and in October I finally got around to trying the showers.  All went well the first time, but on the second occasion, there were no towels available (there had been previously, so I hadn’t brought my own), and I was forced to ditch the shower plan in favor of a less comprehensive clean-up regimen — guess I need to stash a towel there, too!

The other big difference is that on my previous commute, I had a fairly easy public transit back-up plan: a short walk to a bus that ran every 20 minutes -> bus ride to MetroLink (light rail) -> MetroLink to within a block of my office.  That meant that if the weather looked iffy later in the day (storms, heavy rain, winter weather), I could confidently bike to work, knowing I could leave my bike locked IN my office and rely on transit to get home.  And on totally rotten days, I could leave both the bike and car at home and enjoy transit (to be fair, not always a perfect experience, neither as fun nor convenient as biking, but it usually worked out well).

I haven’t even looked at my transit options for my current commute, but I know it’s nowhere near that nice, and while technically doable, it starts bordering on ridiculous when I do have access to a car.


Anyhow, that’s a snapshot of the forecast for the beginning of this week (taken on Monday).  I drove to class on Monday night and I’m car-bound today as well.  Fortunately, Thursday looks better.

I have biked in rain a few times this semester, once or twice in fairly light stuff (but you still get pretty wet after 40 minutes) and once in an all-out downpour.  Doable, but it requires hauling my wet stuff around all day (or cramming it into a half-size locker where it doesn’t really have a chance to dry), and no nice transit back-up if things get really nasty, so it’s definitely a harder sell.

We’ll have to see how the weather plays out in the new year.  January and February usually bring our worst winter weather.  Between getting myself and Gabriel where we need to go, I may need to accept being in the car more than I’d really like for the first several weeks of the spring semester.

Regardless of what the new year brings, I’m quite happy to have established this new bike commute.  I’m definitely stronger and faster than I was just a few months ago, and I’m reaping the mental health benefits of the regular physical activity as well.  At the end of the day, there’s something so rewarding about getting somewhere under my own power!


Halloween weekend

The weather was lovely on Friday night, so we kicked off the weekend with a family bike ride to check out the neighborhood Halloween decorations.  The forecast for Saturday night looked less than ideal for trick-or-treating, so I wanted to make the most of it, and we did.  All was well, despite the fact that I didn’t realized my rear bike lights weren’t on until four blocks into the ride — oops!

Saturday dawned drizzly and gray, as promised.  We made the most of it by baking bread (Matthew) and making chickpea dumpling soup (me).  My food lab instructor mentioned chickpea flour dumplings last week in class (I was probably the only one in the room who had every actually consumed them), and I realized I’d completely forgotten about that recipe, which is quite tasty.  Fun to bring it back!

After some post-lunch quiet time, Matthew and Gabriel got into full tiger costume.


I’ve got the two cutest tigers in town, and that’s no lion!

After a quick visit to Nana and Papa’s, we returned home for dinner (something nice and healthy before all that candy!).  Despite my fears, the weather mostly cooperated for trick-or-treating.  It was damp when we headed out, but no active precipitation.  We walked a few blocks to a street that is very active in trick-or-treating.  There were some great decorations, including this kid dressed up as a creepy jester who looked like a statue until he jumped at you.  The house with what had been G’s favorite decorations added an animated werewolf for Halloween night, and it was too creepy for my little tiger.  About halfway through, it started spitting, and there was a very light drizzle just as we finished.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend shared Ellyn Satter’s recommendation for handling Halloween candy, basically putting the child in charge (at least to some degree) to help him/her learn self-regulation.  I really like a lot of Satter’s work (mentioned in my “Avoiding Pitfalls in Raising a Healthy Eater” post), so, despite some qualms about these particular recommendations, I decided to give it a try that first night.

I told G he could pick out what he wanted, and also that if he was hungry for something else (we don’t usually do a snack before bed, because bedtime is so close to dinner, but we were up late and he had done a lot of walking), he could have a piece of the [fresh-baked] bread.  In the end, G picked 4-5 pieces of candy and then asked for a piece of bread.

I’ll admit that after each piece of candy, I was wondering, “Will this piece be the last one?” and I wouldn’t have minded if he’d chosen even less candy (yes, I might have some control issues), but as a “sometimes” thing, this was not at all unreasonable.

We’re now doing a bit more direction with the candy, and I’m not going for the “as much as he wants at snack time” thing.  Mostly I feel like there’s SO MUCH candy for a 4-year-old, and I’m wishing we’d visited fewer houses, as neither Matthew nor I are particularly interested in helping consume the candy stash (we’d prefer our sugar and fat calories from our homemade treats!).  Looking ahead to next year, I think it might be more fun (and lead to less candy) if we host a Halloween party, which would include some trick-or-treating for the kids, but would also include games and Halloween-themed food items.

Saturday’s rain delayed gardening until Sunday (yes, the garden is still alive and kicking!), and my tigers worked in the garden while I stayed home and did homework.  They returned as I was finishing dinner preparations, and G happily munched on some extra kohlrabi before showing me the big ol’ kohlrabi that Matthew had just harvested.

G with kohl rabi
“Make it quick, Mom. This is heavy!”

And that’s a wrap on our weekend!  I have a number of other posts in the works, including one on my no-longer-so-new bike commute, but I also have lots of school-related writing due in the next few weeks, so no promises!


Midterm report

It seems like just yesterday that I wrote about going back to school, but here we are, already at midterm week!

School is cool
My classes are going well, and the subject matter is most definitely something that holds my interest, which is a good sign.

So far, my decision to not buy a parking pass seems sound, as I have yet to use the car to get to school (while I’m highly motivated to bike for its own sake, my decision is also reinforced by hearing my classmates complain about how hard it is to find a spot in the parking lot).

On the bike
Speaking of biking, I broke my streak after thirty-two days.  It’s rather a shame, because other than the weekend of September 19-20, I have been on my bike almost every day.

A couple of weeks ago, after a few shorter outings on Apple Jack, we (with G’s input) decided that he/his leg was ready to make the switch from passenger on Big Blue to pedaler on Apple Jack for the school commute.  On Tuesday, I biked with Gabriel to school for the first time (Matthew has been super-bicycle dad for the past month).


G’s leg
This week also brought another check-in with the orthopedic surgeon.  (It’s always a good sign when you’re well enough to bike to a doctor appointment!)

Since starting back to school the second week of September, G has made huge progress, from more confident walking to running (but not jogging — he is very clear that he doesn’t like to jog) and jumping.  He still walks with a slight limp, but that is expected.  The doctor was pleased with the progress, and everything looked good on the x-ray.  We are tentatively scheduled to have the nails removed in early December.

Speaking of school, time to run!  Last day of classes before a little fall break 🙂



Today was my 31st consecutive day on the bike.  The “official” #30daysofbiking takes place every April.  I’m not sure what year it started, but by the time I heard about it, I no longer had a “regular” bike commute, and I’ve never participated in the April challenge.  Then, a few weeks ago, I happened across a tweet about #30daysofbiking in September.  By that point, I already had 14 or 15 consecutive days on the bike (in August), which put me halfway to the 30-day point.  I decided to make thirty happen.

Over the past thirty days, I’ve made my thrice weekly commutes to school, weekly trip to Bumbershoot Aerial Arts, numerous shorter errand runs (e.g., grocery store, library), and a few weekend family rides.

I would love to say that I also had 30 consecutive car-free days, but that was not the case.  I may have come close if not for coming down with a cold a few weeks ago.  While I did get on a bike on the days I wasn’t feeling so hot (motivated by not missing a day), I kept the distances quite short and made a couple of trips by car that I would have otherwise made by bike, due to low energy levels.

Of course, the actual challenge is to bike all thirty days in September, which means I’m 17 days in.  I’m not sure I’ll actually finish out September, though the competitor and perfectionist in me is certainly tempted.


As I was riding home from class on Monday night, I realized that I’ve been a bike commuter without a commute for almost SIX years now.  It feels really good to get my bike groove back!