Dan V. asked a really good question today: What's my game plan for training for a minus 40 or minus 50-degree cold snap that could hit during the Iditarod Invitational? The truth is, I haven't really worked it out yet. I can buy all the gear in the world “rated” to these temperatures. But until I actually experience the danger cold, it’s impossible to know how my body will react.
Like at least 98 percent of Americans, I will never see those temperatures in the place where I live. Juneau is in the Alaska tropics. Only on rare occasions does it even drop below 0 here. The coldest temperature I have ever ridden a bicycle in was minus 18 degrees, pushing minus 30 degrees with the stiff gale windchill. It was brutal. I had to stop three times in a 150-minute ride to run up and down the highway just to warm up my feet. But I wasn’t wonderfully prepared back then. I think I was still in my cotton sock phase. And, when all was said and done, it wasn’t really all that bad.
At least once this winter, I hope to hop a ferry to seek cold-weather experience in the Yukon Territory. Maybe repeat pieces of my toasty August bicycle tour of the Golden Circle, only in January. There’s a couple of problems with this plan. First, taking a couple of days off work and buying ferry tickets means I’ll have to plan the trip weeks in advance. I may not get the cold snap I’m hoping for. I may get another toasty warm front that gives me Juneau-esque temperatures. And I will not likely be able to coordinate such a trip on a whim. I can just imagine approaching my boss with the request ... “But the weather is supposed to be terrible this weekend.”
Another concern is the border gate. I’m worried that I’ll plan the trip, pack all my gear, ride the ferry to Skagway, approach the gate that's a mere five miles outside of town, and be deemed so crazy or incompetent by the guards that they won’t let me into Canada. I can just imagine approaching the frost-coated building on a bicycle, requesting access to a remote road that leads to a 3,000-foot mountain pass, in the winter no less, with all of the earnestness I can muster ... "But the weather is supposed to be terrible this weekend."
Other suggestions I've heard is to simulate danger cold by going out biking in 25-degree weather wearing nothing more than a short-sleeved bicycle jersey and shorts. But this seems idiotic to me. I already know what hypothermia feels like. The idea is to avoid it.
There are a few things I know: It's better to keep moving through the danger cold. Stopping to bivy in the cold isn't the best idea, unless you find yourself in trouble. If that trouble is the cold, though, bivying might not be enough. You need to start a fire, eat food, drink water, eat food, and run in circles with whatever energy you can muster to generate warmth.
I've heard matches won't strike in the danger cold. But I haven't heard negative reports about cigarette lighters.
I need to practice changing a flat with gloves on. Mittens I imagine are nearly impossible, but touching a metal rim with bare hands is out of the question.
Gas stoves are likely not to work at all when the temps drop really low. Liquid stoves will withstand colder temperatures, but tend to be worse in the wind, and all the effort to set them up and light them may discourage use. Snow will melt inside the bladder of a camelbak next to the body, but very slowly. So drinking water can become an issue. I continue to consider solutions.
There's an obvious advantage to experience in this department. Racers from Fairbanks continue to shine in the Iditarod Invitational. Anchorage people also tear up the trail. I can't say I've ever heard of anyone from Juneau in the race. But if someone from California can survive it, well, so can I.