Saturday, November 22, 2008

Southeast Alaska armor

Date: Nov. 22
Mileage: 30.1
November mileage: 636.7

My friend Brian took this photo today during a random drive-by on the North Douglas Highway (hope it's OK that I posted it on my blog, Brian.) I think it shows me in my element - draped in a baggy, dripping coat and riding through grimy slop in the rain. It also shows the clothing system I've settled on and am actually pretty happy with when it comes to dealing with common coastal Alaska riding conditions.

During the winter in Juneau, it's common for the city to receive a few inches of snow overnight before rain takes over during the day. The snow turns to slop and slush, and rain continues to fall from the sky, resulting in conditions that can only be described as "cold and wet." Underline the wet. I've done a lot of trial and error runs, and finally arrived on a clothing set-up that can keep me warm for at least five hours. I haven't yet had the mental stamina to test it any longer in what is admittedly not my most favorite weather to ride in, but my theory is I could go most the day and stay relatively warm (excepting the occasional frigid downhill runs):

1. Gortex shell: Gortex actually does a pretty good job of keeping rain out, although my coat is large enough that slush does find its way in from the bottom.
2. Fleece pullover and polypro long-sleeve shirt: It seems polar fleece and polypro retain about the same insulation value regardless of whether they're wet or dry.
3. Mittens: Ski mittens and gloves are almost never actually waterproof, so if I'm going out longer than three hours, I usually take my handlebar mitts (pogies).
4. Rain pants: I don't own a pair of waterproof rain pants either, but spinning pedals keeps my legs warm enough that I don't worry too much about the wet factor on my legs. Keeping the wind away from wet mid and base layers is important; that's the main reason for the rain pants and the Gortex coat.
5. Polypro tights: Good insulator, and they don't soak up too much water.
6. NEOS overboots: After a couple years of chain rub and duct tape patches, my pair are admittedly no longer waterproof, although the used to be. Keeping the feets dry is key.
7. 50-below Arctic wool socks: Crucial once the feets do get wet.
8. Random shoes: Usually a pair of running shoes.
9. Ear warmer: I find it's easiest to regulate heat through my hands and head. Keeping a light layer on my head prevents me from overheating and sweating too much. Alternately, I carry a heavy hat to put on when I get cold.

So that's my wet snain/sleet/snow armor. I used to think it was impossible to stay out longer than three hours when the weather was in the 30s and wet. I no longer believe this, although I still like to avoid it when I can. (Too bad my gym membership expired.)


Late Edit: I wanted to thank Dave C. for an insightful and illuminating review of my book. He took time out of his busy grad school schedule to write what could be a paper in and of itself (believe me, I wrote a lot of lit papers as an English major), and it's given me a few new angles to reflect on in this whole experience. Thanks. :-)