Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Staying cold

Date: Dec. 11
Mileage: 28.2
Hours: 2:30
December mileage: 255.6
Temperature upon departure: 35
Rainfall: .58"

For me, the problem in dressing for Juneau winter cycling isn’t starting warm; it’s staying warm. I can have the ideal combination for long periods of comfort - sometimes hours. But if anything breaches the heat barrier - a lingering stop, or an extended descent - it often takes many teeth-chattering, skin-burning minutes of hard pedaling to find my way back to normal. Some days, I don’t find my way back at all.

The obvious solution is to just wear more than I think I need, but I hate that sticky feeling of being overheated in cold air. Taking additional layers to put on later is complicated by the soaking nature of the one condition that consistently breaks me - sleet.

Today I headed out in the gray slush for a quick ride to North Douglas, and decided to head up the Eaglecrest road at the last minute. I wanted to check out the snow depth and see if any pre-season trails had been laid yet. There’s definitely a fair amount of snow up there, but no trails. Using the area for training is a bit of a Catch-22, though. I don’t think I could get my bald-tire Pugsley up the icy access road, but once I’m there, my studded-tire Sugar becomes basically useless. Back to the drawing board.

I spent some time at the top tromping around the Nordic ski area, listening intently for snowmobiles and exchanging incredulous glances with backcountry skiers as they passed. Before heading back down, I took off my gloves because they had become completely soaked (as had basically everything else on my body.) I pulled up my face mask, adjusted my goggles, stuck my bare hands in my pogies and locked into the screaming descent.

The downhill run was so full of goggle-coating sleet and jaw-clenching ice patches that I didn’t even notice that the skin on my legs had started to tingle, and my fingers were going numb, and my torso was beginning to feel clammy and cold.

By the bottom of the hill, shivering had taken over. I still had plenty of energy, so I amped up the speed as much as my legs and the slush-coated road would allow. But all that seemed to do is intensify the wet wind chill, and I just couldn’t shake the shivering. My condition had started to improve, somewhat, by the time I made it home. I peeled off my dripping layers and turned on the shower, but then remembered how nauseated I usually feel if I reheat my prickling skin too quickly, and thought better of it. So I scavenged the refrigerator until I found a half-eaten cup of lentil soup, and stood in the kitchen in my underwear as the microwave reheated it. The thick, tomato-flavored soup oozed down my throat like melted gold, and tasted every bit as warm and rich. It was heaven sent, that soup, and you don't earn that kind of deliciousness by staying indoors.

But, I concur. Brushes with hypothermia are pretty funny until they're not. I need to rework my wet-weather layer system for days when even fenders can't ward off the endless shower of slush. Or maybe, next time I ride up to Eaglecrest in a sleet storm, I'll see if one of the backcountry skiers can shuttle me down the mountain in their Subaru.


  1. hi Jill,
    i've been following your blog from over here In Australia for a couple of weeks. You are a fine writer and great adventurer, much respect to you.

    Apart from wanting to say the above, have you investigated homemade ice tyres? As in adorning one or two Ectomorph tyres with some serious jewelery. Here's a link to start,


    check out the bottom.

    You might look at tube sealant as well as the protective layer in front of the studs.

    All the best to you.

  2. forgot to mention. Have you heard about Erin and Hig?


    Sheri Tingey of Alpackraft in Anchorage fame made waterproof one-piece suits for them for their trip described above. I think one of these would certainly keep you dryer and warmer. Maybe you could be cheeky and ask her, you never know....



  3. Oh, I just love all that beautiful snow. Hope you do too.

  4. Just in case you haven't heard this enough.


    Wool, wool, wool, wool, wool, wool.

    Not everywhere, but in some key areas. I tend to favor a layer of wool on my torso and for my base gloves and socks.

    Really, those sheep are on to something.

  5. I've sometimes gotten off and run for a little ways with my bike. It's especially effective at warming up the feet but it warms everything up because I'm less efficient running and don't have so much windchill.

  6. Hi Jill,

    I was born and raised in Juneau, and an endurance / triathlete. I currently live in Colorado, and get homesick every time I read your BLOG.

    You have my deepest gratitude…..and respect : )


  7. I agree with kent peterson. A thin layer of merino wool as your base layer makes a difference, because wool retains it's insulating properties even when it's wet. I use this method for ice climbing especially on my hands. A thin merino wool glove liner and my hands rarely get cold, even when soaking wet.

    I am all too familiar with the nausea. Some call the nausea you get when thawing out the "screaming barfies"... the overwhelming feeling of wanting to scream and throw up at the same time.. good times.

  8. dual suspension in all that slush & snow ? jeez o pete. I would not want to work on your bike ! Do you even try to maintain the thing aside from the drivetrain ? What IS your bike maintenence regime after these outings ?

  9. Thanks for the tips, everyone. It's all stuff I know deep down, but somehow I keep making the same mistakes. Go figure.

    Anonymous ... ha! That's exactly what Geoff says every time I coax him to help me change out my cables, or install new brakes, or clean out my hubs and bottom bracket shell. My bike maintenence is nothing short of atrocious. But I've put that Sugar through three years of the worst conditions imaginable, and somehow it keeps plugging along. I also agree that riding a full suspension to do anything in Juneau is nothing short of silly, but I'm loathe to buy a new bike and subject it to the horrendous trifecta of Juneau weather, the amount of riding I do, and my admittedly lax maintenence habits. So, the Sugar will probably stick around until it falls apart. Which probably won't be too long from now. :-)

  10. Jill,
    After 20 years of commuting from 8400 to 5300 in Colorado - I am humbled by your exploits. My wife and I (and our 15 month old) would like to pay your Iditarod expenses. Let us know how to do that. This is great writing - and an inspiration to an aging, tired, getting cold easier guy like me.

  11. Dude, I got expenses too, and I am totally inspirational.

    All right, I'm sorry, good for y'all. That's the spirit!

  12. I've been reading your blog for quite some time now and wonder how you stay up riding in the snow?

    I ride (in the spring/summer/fall at least), but can't imagine trying to manage snow like that.

    But, I'm envious. I'd love snow like that!

  13. Hey Jill; thanks for sharing your experience; reading your account was almost like being there. I would like to see what the Sealions were up too; they love to play.

    You have a unique ability to describe hard work without getting excited;I caught myself thinking, "maybe I could do something like that:>; NOT!

    I wish you the best of luck with your adventure.



Feedback is always appreciated!