Monday, December 03, 2007

To the wind chill

Date: Dec. 3
Mileage: 25.1
Hours: 2:15
December mileage: 45.6
Temperature upon departure: 4

Geoff and I set out to sleep in the back yard last night as a way to test out gear neither of us had used before, and bridge the wide gap between normal camping and winter survival. It was 6 degrees outside with 30 mph winds gusting to 50 when we rolled out our bivy sacks on the sharp, frozen grass. I lingered outside in my long johns and sock feet just to soak up some of the wind chill and carefully prep my gear. It seemed like cheating to go straight from the warm house to camping, but it was definitely the smart way to start out.

As I slipped inside my sleeping bag, the effect was instantaneous. Warm air swirled around me as I slithered deeper into the down oven, wrestling with zippers and finally coaxing the bivy shut. The wind ranged and howled and violently jolted my bag, but I couldn’t feel the gusts. It was so comfortable that it wasn’t long before I slipped out of my meager clothing so I could use it as a pillow. After about an hour, Geoff announced that he was sweaty and clausterphobic and didn’t feel like accepting a crappy night of no sleep just so he could confirm that his bag could probably handle temperatures 30 degrees colder. I stayed outside and eventually fell asleep, but not for long. The howls and bangs of the gusting wind woke me up with regularity, shaking my bivy and blasting my face with the sharp, frozen flakes of my own respiration. At one point, I woke up because I was actually sliding sideways across the grass, pushed by a hurricane-force blast like a helpless burrito. At about 4 a.m., I decided that I agreed with Geoff. I didn’t really need to spend any more time awake out there to gain confidence in the toastiness of my sleeping bag, which, at least in temperatures above 0, is absolute. And now I know that if I ever need to hunker down in the wind, the bivy will protect me well, but I might as well not count on getting any sleep.

The wind didn’t let up at all this morning, which I decided was all the better for an extreme biking experience. After yesterday’s hike, completely exposed to the full brunt of windchill at higher elevation, I took a lot of liberties with my layering. I headed out with the strong gusts at my back. I knew there was tailwind back there, but I didn’t feel like it was helping me. I just wasn’t going very fast. I probably just needed to work a little harder to warm up, but I was already working hard enough just to keep gulping down that frigid air and pry my eyelashes open as they continued to freeze shut. After a while, I just tried to minimize blinking.

But with the wind at my back, the ride out North Douglas was eerily calm. The temperature felt much colder at the end of the road. It was 4 degrees when I left the house; it was easily 5 or 10 degrees colder out there. When I turned to face the full force of the wind, which was still blowing at 30 mph and gusting to 50, wind chill temperatures easily reached 25 to 30 degrees below 0. At least, that’s what the NWS wind chill chart would put the "feels like" temperature at. As I gasped my way to a blistering 8 mph into the howling wind tunnel, I believed it. I was happy for the opportunity to work hard.

I was amazed how quickly the normally swift-flowing creeks and waterfalls of Douglas Island had frozen to quiet solidity. White steam poured off the open water of the Lynn Canal. It was fascinating to see my rainforest home transformed into a barren Arctic landscape. It helped put my struggle in perspective. I was moving slower because the world was moving slower. There was congruity in it all, and peace.

I hear a lot of comments about my sanity in regard to the conditions I chose to bike in. But it’s moments like these that make all of the pedaling worth it to me. When I can plunge into the 30-below windchill with a smile on my face, I feel like I can do anything.

Sorry for all of the head shot pictures. You probably can't tell, but in this one, I'm smiling.


  1. Frozen eyelashes are sexy ;)

    Gotta love the cold weather gear testing and the looks you get from friends and family...

  2. "like a helpless burrito" LMFAO It just doesn't the fit, alaska and buritos together.

  3. Freak! Happy? Below zero!? :P

  4. I also received a good chuckle from your helpless burrito comment Jill. : ) You nutt you.

  5. girl, you are amazin. i love your sense of adventure and readin all about em on your posts.

  6. I'd keep the boots/shoes inside the bivy, when really camping.

  7. Have you thought about getting a pair of flexible goggles that Interior snowmachiners/skiers/riders use? I used em riding whenever it got colder than -30 sans wind and they really made a difference. Don't know what they're made of, but they are very lightweight and still flexible down to at least -58.

    To keep them from fogging up (your exhale from your face mask tends to go straight up --as you know, hence the eyelashes freezing together) use some stuff called Cat Crap (it goes on the goggles!). Comes in a little red container about the size of a Carmex container. It works a lot better in really cold conditions than the anti-fog stuff you get at camera shops.

    I know Beaver Sports in Fairbanks sells it, but I truly have no idea where it's made or where to get it in Southeast --but it WORKS (at least down to windchill of -92).

    Don't forget to throw your food and such in your bivvy sack when you climb in :) Frozen bars suck to eat.

    To keep your camelback tube from freezing keep it tucked inside next to your chest when riding. Yeah, when you suck on it it'll be a little salty at first, but hey, it's your own sweat, eh? And whenever possible fill the bladder with very hot water when it's really cold.

    BTW I LOVE your winter bike!

    What kind of grease are you (I mean Geoff) going to pack into your BB and hubs? Lubriplate Mag20 was a good low-temp grease that we used. It didn't get nearly as stiff as other stuff at -50 and you could run it year round. They've probably come up with better stuff in the last 8 years; check with some of the Interior riders and find out what they are using.

    Lastly: if you want to breathe easier with the facemask on, sew a few inches of extra velcro tabs on the back so that the front of the mask sits a half inch or so in front of your face: it's just as warm and you can breath easier.

    Next lastly: You may want to get a cheapo oversized helmut (so it'll fit over your hat and earmuffs) and then duct tape over the vents. A warm head is very important.

    I'm SOOOOOO looking forward to reading about the race! Great writing and great riding you have.

  8. Wow Dave, excellent tips there in your posting. I might use one or two of them myself. What a riot to name your product Cat Crap. Can you imagine applying for the patent on that one?

    To the rest of you, keep posting ANY and ALL survival tips you can think of for our friends Jill and Geoff. Because the more THEY know, the less WE have to worry!

  9. anon: Actually, Cat Crap (tm) IS the name of the product! It's an anti-fogger goopy paste for glasses, lenses, and goggles in cold weather. I, uh, wish I'd've thought of the name (and how to make it!!!)... The stuff works awesomely great in cold weather; I have no idea where it's made though. Kudos to the blokes and blokettes who make it though.

    Jill: drop me an email and I'll go through how to make a mini snowtrench and snow wall so the wind don't blow ya 'round. Only takes 2-3 mins with practice. Remember: it only has to hold for 2-3 hours while you nap during the race. Oh, and pack a small tarp just large enough to cover your bike --it'll save you 20 mins of ice chipping when you are ready to ride.

  10. yes, I could tell you were smiling!

  11. don't come crying to me when your toes fall off.

  12. Come on y'all.......haven't you figured it out yet, Jill doesn't get the ice lashes because she is not wearing the right goggles or not putting some wonder goop on them. She wears them because she earns them, she wears them because she can..........and you gotta admit, they REALLY do look cool.

  13. Get yourself some bike helmet compatible ski goggles to protect you eyes. I just picked some up this weekend and they work great except my prescription glasses got fogged up and I had to take them off.


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