Sunday, February 15, 2009

The armor

Date: Feb. 14
Mileage: 30.1
February mileage: 396.4
Temperature: 17

I'm officially into the taper period of my training now, taking a few wind-down days to ride an easy two-or-so hours each day and sort my gear. I spent this morning collecting and trying on the clothing I plan to use in the race. I rarely wear it all together, "warm" as it is where I live, so I wanted to walk around in it for a while and make sure everything was comfortable and moved easily together. And I thought as long as I was trying it on, I might as well shoot pictures for a reference point when it's finally time to pack for this trip. So my photo essay today is "The armor:"

This is the base layer, an Under Armour syntetic-blend shirt, basic Canari bike tights with chamois, and RBH designs insulated high-rise vapor barrier socks. It looks like a silly super suit, so I struck a silly super hero pose.

The mid-layer is 2 mm neoprene shorts (to help combat that typically female problem of "cold butt syndrome"), a pair of Outdoor Research polyester long johns, J.B. Fields Icelandic wool socks, a Mountain Hardware fleece hat and a Go-lite vapor barrier vest. The vapor barrier vest is intended mainly to keep sweat from pooling near my back, where I will be carrying a backpack and several liters of water. It also works to funnel moisture up through my neck line, where it's easier to vent, so it helps prevent too much ice buildup on the inside of my shell. As you can see, this is the part of the photo shoot where fashion is thrown out the window.

Getting closer to the outer layer here: A pair of Arc'teryx soft shell pants, Mountain Hardware windstopper gloves and a polyester pullover. I haven't decided yet whether to go with this lightweight pullover or a Mountain Hardware Monkey Man jacket, which is furry and warm with a nice pocket but fits a little tight inside my coat, and feels a little over-warm above single-digit temperatures. Decisions, decisions.

This is likely what I'll look like for the bulk of the race. I have an Outdoor Research soft shell coat, a polar fleece balaclava and my Raichle mountaineering boots. I wrestled a lot with whether to wear these boots again or get a lighter pair of winter hiking boots and some N.E.O.S. overboots. All my experience with N.E.O.S., however, has been annoyance with walking in them and ripping up the nylon sides by pedaling in them, due to chain rub. There is enough walking and pedaling in this race that I started looking for ways to forgo the N.E.O.S. and still deal with overflow (these boots are waterproof to my lower shins, and I plan to wear gators, but I was looking for a waterproof layer that was knee-high or higher.) When I found one, these boots won out. I'm happy with their warmth and I'm comfortable walking in them for long hours, even though they're at least three sizes too big. And no, the boots don't have clipless cleats in them. I don't even like riding clipless in the summer with my road bike ... I can't fathom why anyone would try to deal with it in the winter when walking, ice buildup and heat loss is such a factor. :-)

I also wanted to note that the balaclava is probably the oldest piece of winter gear I own. I bought it at REI when I was a teenager because my neck was always freezing when I went snowboarding. No, I didn't care about fashion back then, either.

This is the rest of it, the 70-below-zero-windchill-I-hope-this-keeps-me-warm outer layer: A Mountain Hardware Subzero down parka with hood, a neoprene face mask, Oakley goggles and Outdoor Research shell mittens. The baggy layer on my legs are Wiggy's lightweight hip waders, a thin, waterproof nylon shell that will protect my boots and pants should I need to cross any open streams or overflow this year (Thanks to Martin for the suggestion). The hip waders are solely an on-off item for open water, to minimize the risk of ripping a hole in them. I also will be carrying a lightweight pair of nylon rain pants as an extra wind layer. I love the breathability of the soft shell pants, but I'm not totally sold on their wind-blocking abilities. The gear looks more like a moon suit than a super suit at this point. The bulk of it may seem like overkill, but I'd rather move slower with more confidence than faster with more uncertainties.

Still seems like a lot, huh? Now you see why I go on such long rides in the winter. It takes so long to get dressed that you might as well make it worth your while.


  1. I'm going to ask a typical biker question: how much does all this gear weigh?

  2. I don't know what you're talking about Jill, I think you're stylin

  3. Orange walls must help with the grey days. Good call!

    And no- not exactly prepping for the VS catalogue are you?

    Good luck dawg!

  4. IMHO, if you decide you need a second job, go for modeling for sports catalogs :)

  5. Teal and red, whats wrong with that?

    I got an equally aged Polarfleece balaclava. The thing was always too hot to use for anythiing else I've done, but it was perfect for Arrowhead.


    Good luck and kick some ass this year. This is your year to show your fitness and mental strength.

  7. Good luck Hope you don't start to sweat while you riding with all that gear on. Best of luck to ya

  8. Impressive. It makes me feel like a wimp for avoiding 30 degree days in Chicago. Good luck!

  9. That coat looks so toasty!! I hope it doesn't take up too much room on your bike!

    It seems you are even better prepared this year. Just don't forget your SPOT tracker!!!

  10. Jill, in case you didnt' already see this, apparently you made it on metafilter -

    with a bunch of historical blog things elsewhere.

  11. OK, I'm done complaining about the cold weather in New York this year. Here I am worrying about snow and ice on the roads and keeping my fingers from freezing. You're amazing! Good luck keeping warm and fueled out there. Hope you have a fabulous season!

  12. How do you keep the under layers from getting stinky?

    Or do you just ignore it?

  13. she's a girl. they dont get stinky

  14. Jill - I like the lightweight hip-waders. Much more functional than using big stuff sacks to keep your lower body try. i just spent the weekend wallowing in knee deep overflow in my ski boots. Another memorable encounter while skiing in interior Alaska. Good luck on the race! Ed.

  15. author, adventurer, fashion model....

    good stuff, jill!

    Best of luck to ya!

  16. nice. now i'll worry a lot less during your ride knowing how much stuff you have on. does the vest work pretty well? i get the camelbak sweat thing going while i'm out riding in the cold as well. but i think maybe it's because it's carrying the battery to my headlight and not cold water.

  17. You remind me or Ralphie's brother Randy from A Christmas Story.


  18. Remember to bring some kind of deodorant, so you don;t wake up again thinking that there is something dead inside your tent. ;-)

  19. Nice photo display. You explain it very well. Nice mention of the RBH designs insulated high-rise vapor barrier socks. I thought that that might be the secret.I'm curious as to what model of the Raichle boots you have on. Down here in Ohio we deal with mostly single digits for the short time we have them. This year I've been struggling with the cold toe problem. Thru my own testing I discovered that the Primaloft works better for me than Thinsulate. I had my eye on some Raichle Mountaineering boots, but I think I'm going with the The North Face Men's Baltoro 400 II. It has more Leather and with 400 grams of Primaloft. I feel it should do a better job of blocking off the cold with the wimpy temps we have. But I get my inspiration from you folks "Up in Alaska". Reading your blog and others like AK Spokes gives me more ammo to fight the cold temps. Good luck to you and the other riders in the Iditarod Trail Invitational. You guys are the Kings (and Queen) of Winter Cyclists

  20. Having ridden in many very cold days in Minnesota all I think about and question when I see winter ridding gear is how well it gets rid of sweat. Staying warm is way less hard than staying dry and even with my best efforts on an hour ride it can be a challenge to stay dry. Staying dry is one of the major factors (other than the obvious mental and physical ability I lack) keeping me from trying events like this. I hate being wet and clammy for extended amounts of time. I really like reading about what you have learned about gear. Thanks. Jared

  21. Di, that's a great question and I have no idea what the answer is. Well over 10 pounds, I do know that.

    Non DePlume ... stink is not really high on my priority list of concerns, but yes, the base layer will be toxic by Day 2.

    Ed, thanks! Good luck to you, too!

    Scott, sounds like you've come up with a good system for your feet. For me, the actual secret to warm feet is to use them frequently. While resting on top of pedals, they generate almost no heat. Eventually, they're going to get cold no matter what you're wearing (in my opinion). Walking or running, even if only for 10 minutes every few hours, really stokes the foot furnace and my insulating layers can hold that heat in for several hours. Eventually, they get cold again. Instead of fighting it, I've just embraced walking. It's usually a frequent necessity in snow biking. That would actually be a nice problem to have - having such a firm trail surface that you actually had to make a decision to get off and walk once every three hours.

    Jared, where I live, I'm always wet and clammy. It doesn't bother me. But in regards to sweat, I will say that I'm going to sweat. A lot. I'm planning on it. I'm going to be riding and walking a bike for six days straight. It's quite a bit different than just going out for a two or even eight-hour day ride. Trying to keep my body core temperature below sweat level while working fairly hard for that legnth of time is, in my opinion, not only an energy suck but downright dangerous. I need to be warm. A sweaty base layer only becomes a real problem when I have to stop for an extended period of time outside, such as dealing with a flat tire or making water. That's what the down coat and mittens are for. If it's so cold that I'm wearing those while I'm riding, I may have to run a bit to stay warm while coping with my mechanical, or get in my sleeping bag to change out my base layer. That's just reality out in the wilderness. Sweat in my opinion is unavoidable, so my layer strategy is how I think I can best deal with it.

  22. Hello Blogger,

    Ever thought how nice it would have been if you could show some random posts from your blog,somewhere inside your blog ?
    Something which crawls more posts/stories than normal RSS limit ?

    check some examples at

    website: (See the Vertical Banner Here on the right panel…)
    and blog: (... and also Horizontal Banner Here on the top)

    Just have a look and then visit to grab your free copy today. (Limited Offer)


  23. to help combat that typically female problem of "cold butt syndrome"

    So its not just my wife who suffers from this? She puts it down to her butt being classed as an extremity ;) Might be a bit over kill for the UK but we did ride in real snow AND -3deg c temps the other week for almost 3hrs!

    Good luck on your race!


  24. One term comes to mind: sta-puft. Way more than I could wear without getting claustrophobic. Good to know you can wear it all, and maintain some confidence.

    Good luck!

  25. I'm just totally amazed with the whole thing...

  26. I know you're busy and all. But I'm curious as to what model of the Raichle mountaineering boots you have. When you have time, before or after, let me know.

  27. Scott, I'm not really sure about the model. I looked inside the boot to figure it out before I made this post, but the tag has long since been worn blank. I don't even know what size they are. The only reference point I have is the Raichle label on the outside, and a picture of the boots, which I can send you if you'd like.

    To be perfectly honest, most of my gear I own was acquired in fits of midnight eBaying rather than through the careful research process that most people use. Strange though it is, I'm usually happy with most of it, although these boots had the hardest time winning me over. I got frostnip on my pinky toe during an 10-hour ride at 25(above zero!) degrees because I was wearing too-constrictive socks (neoprene socks). I've also worn them riding for nearly three hours without stopping in 50-below windchills and been perfectly comfortable. Feet are fickle creatures. My overall strategy is to just pay attention to them.

  28. Fantastic! I learned a LOT. Thanks for taking the time to snap the photos.

    I have to say, being a mom who has had to assist little ones with the putting on and taking off of layers of winter clothing, I had the old going-to-the-bathroom question on my mind. I figured your answer would be, "As fast as I can."


  29. Jill,
    I made a stop at Wiggy's in Anch specifically to buy an XL pair of the lightweight waders for future adventures.
    I would recommend turning them inside out and seem sealing all seems around the foot and then coating the seems where the nylon meets the cordura. Just a precaution. So much better than a trash bag!


Feedback is always appreciated!