Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cold cold cold

Yesterday was balmy and humid, in the mid 70's for most of the day. Then in the Texas tradition of unpredictability, the weather turned. In a matter of hours, the temperature dropped 40°, and it began to snow big fat wet snowflakes. That, in Austin, is a newsworthy event.
The snow, of course, did not stick to anything other than a few car tops and house roofs, and it was all gone not long after the sun came up, but we take what we can get.
It's amazing, though, how quickly I forget what it's like to be cold on the bike. I rode in today, like every day, and became reacquainted with that unique and uncomfortable feeling of being cold and hot at the same time. My clothing consists of an undershirt, a long sleeved cotton henly-style shirt, a felted wool pullover (by Swandri), and a wind-breaker shell that I can zip up and down to control wind exposure. In addition, I wear thick wool socks in my biking shoes, full fingered gloves, and a custom-knit wool cap with ear flaps that goes under my bike helmet. This getup is the result of many winters' worth of refinement; in particular, it was the Boston winters that truly forged my winter biking style. While I don't stop to admire myself in the mirror, but I've been told I'm quite a sight to see...
It takes a little while to get used to it again, though, and this morning was no exception. With a stiff headwind blowing 35° air at my nose, I quickly became reacquainted with the cold-nose, cold-finger, warm core phenomenon. It usually takes about 5-7 minutes of painful effort to get my body heat up until I'm comfortable, and during the warmup there's the terrible tradeoff between riding fast to warm up and getting chilled by the wind at higher speeds. The best way to warm up, really is a hill, where effort is high and speeds are low...
...which brings me to a funny thing. I've long noticed that biking vigorously moves the blood to concentration becomes more challenging. My wife can attest to this since I can't remember anything she tells me when I get home until I've had a moment or two to wind down. So, I've noticed on cool days that it seems like there is a specific place (Rosedale Elementary, if you happen to live in Austin and know where that is) where the air gets warmer on my ride in to campus. I have always attributed this to the heat island effect and to the quirks of local geography. Today, as I was pondering body heat and the best way to warm up, I finally realized that this is not the case at all, and that the air probably does not get warmer at all. The truth is that Rosedale Elementary is at the top of a killer hill, and that I'm warmer at the top, not the air around me... With all the blood in my legs, this has been hard to realize, but I'm sure that's it. It was certainly the case today, when the ride became tolerable at the top of that hill, and I even started to sweat a little in spite of my frozen nose and pinkies.
I'm happy for the cold weather, and I will soak it in and store it up for the summer months that are coming all too soon.

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