So long to the sun
The cold snap that settled over the Lower 48 also grazed the Bay Area this week. On Wednesday San Jose reported a record low of 31 degrees. Brrr! The week of Solstice also marks the darkest time of year, with only nine hours and 35 minutes of daylight to work with here in Los Altos. While our winter sun might be lazy, in Fairbanks it is well hungover — heatless and dim, the sun emerges at 11 a.m. and slumps over the horizon for three and a half hours before crashing back into darkness at 2:45. With a wet and windy storm on the forecast for Los Altos, I decided to set out for one last ride in the sun, to say my goodbyes.
The pain. I'd forgotten it. I used to go through this at least once a year as fall transitioned into winter in Alaska, and I was still learning to adjust my layering and effort levels. And, I typically go through it at least once a winter in California when I stupidly don't even bring extra layers on a cold afternoon. A temperature of 30 degrees with a riding speed of 20 mph has a windchill of about 17F, but it drives like a knife directly through the ventilation of bike clothing; might as well be naked.
It's nearly impossible to work up any kind of effort on a winding paved descent, so there's little I can do but sit back and take the cold beating. First my feet, hands, and face go completely numb, then my legs and torso start to sting. I go through a mile or two of shivering and then stop, then I feel a kind of numbness that I can only describe as wearing a hundred pounds of cold meat like a suit around my body. Damn, I was really cold.
Back at my apartment building, I couldn't use my hands to turn the key in the front door, so I had to wait for someone to open it for me. My own apartment door key necessitated a two-minute struggle, and once inside, I struggled to peel off all of my sweaty clothing, and immediately wrapped myself in all of the blankets I could find. Back in Alaska, I learned better than to jump in a hot shower right away. Yes, it does still hurt to transition from numbness to violent shivering, and finally to cold calm while wrapped in a blanket cocoon. But it hurts a lot more to go from half frozen to a hundred degrees in five seconds. You may have heard of the term "screaming barfies?" It's that pins-and-needles circulation pain that hurts to the point of dizziness and nausea. Either way, rewarming is seriously unfun. If only I did not have to learn this lesson every single year, even here in sunny California.