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.