Having chickened out all week – on Monday I suited up, opened the garage door, wrinkled my nose at the sparkly street and the instant cloud of breath, closed the garage door, took off the boots and ran back inside, jumped up for the SurlyLady to catch me while asking her “don’t say anything, just hold me” – I finally rode the bike into work today. It wasn’t as bad as I expected in terms of the icy slickness fear factor, but it was bitterly, bitterly cold.
Immediately the tactility of how the word windchill must have been invented caused my right fingers to get strangely frostbitey, to the point where I almost couldn’t stand it. I had not one but two sets of those hand warmer thingies (wow, they work great!) but no joy for the fingers. Then at the end of a long downhill stretch where we invariably catch a red light I pulled up, stopped, exhaled and promptly covered the inside of my glasses with a fog mist which then promptly froze! I couldn’t wipe it away, it was quite truly frozen. I threw the glasses in one of the panniers and gritted my crow’s feet the rest of the downhill stretches, oy that was cold.
Later when I hit the U-District a reader board there claimed 18 degrees, and so I have to believe it was even worse than that up here in Snohomish-King border country. One new piece of clothing (not counting the hand warmer packets) I tried out today, to great effect, was a SmartWool wool neck gaiter. It was amazingly warming around my neck. It’s essentially a tube-like scarf, or, if you will, the bottom half of a balaclava. It worked great stretched over my cheeks, nose and ears, which were in turn covered by the new hat SurlyLady got me from Etsy.com. They made a great combination. The only problem with having a covering over my mouth was the sort of tantric exercises I had to employ, i.e. breath in/out/in/out via nose, hold breath while suck up mucus via nose, repeat. The outside of the neck gaiter became covered in frost, formed in a halo circle around my mouth, it was crazy. And, my darn water bottle almost froze solid! Interestingly, while toward the end of the ride my toes were starting to hurt, those new Endura booties again proved their worth.
The plus side? I didn’t see a single solitary biker till almost to the U.W. campus, and so aside from a few hardy walkers I got to experience a most touching sunrise, spiraling frost/fog whorls rising from Lake Washington against a robin’s egg blue and peachie orange sky, absolutely gorgeous, the kind of morning where you just have to go Woot! out loud – and the kind of morning where you know you’ll be the only one around to hear it.
The down side? It was darn cold. And lonely. The frostbite feeling in my right hand was pretty severe in the morning; I almost turned around to head home. Maybe if I got some Lobster Claw gloves I’d be set? Overall, it’s kind of shocking what you can get away with on a bike, in terms of your core/torso/head warmth. As long as exposed skin is kept to a minimum, and if you can keep your fingers and toes from falling off, it’s amazing what you can pull off. I rode in 16 degree (that’s a guess) darkness wearing essentially the same outfit I’d wear if it was 50-degrees out, save the wool gaiter. That’s kind of crazy when you think about it.
Here’s to the winter bike commuters ’round the country and world who’re probably laughing at my 16-degree 3rd degree, my balaclava’s off to ya.