Cold [published 1/7/10]

We athletes are usually hypochondriacs to some degree.  I modestly include myself in the august group of “athletes” in the broadest possible sense as a person who regularly performs a physical exercise.  We’re acutely sensitive to the conditions of our own bodies, partly because the success and enjoyment of physical exercise depends on such a sensitivity.  We’ve always been told to “listen to what our bodies are telling us.”  So is it our fault if we sometimes think our body is shouting when it is only whispering?

Today my body seemed to be shouting “are you freaking nuts?  It’s freezing out here!”  Having waited for days for the high temperature to rise above freezing without an accompanying deeply negative wind chill, I ventured out into the bright sun of early afternoon to take my first outside ride of the year.  But not without following the universal advice of moms and weather forecasters: “bundle up.”  One thing that discourages cold-weather riding is the sheer enormity of the dressing ritual.  Today called for a nearly max effort, beginning with padded cycling shorts and a heavy t-shirt, followed by a long-sleeved cotton base layer and winter-weight bib tights, and then my lightweight but astoundingly warm Gore-tex jacket.  There were also warm sox, a turtle-neck neck warmer, and a skull cap.  In the garage I added bike shoes, a safety helmet, and my warmest gloves.  Bundled up indeed.

Out on the road, I was astonishingly comfortable.  The icy air froze my face a bit, and my eyes watered in my speed-generated wind chill, but otherwise I was good.  I rode a route that left me always within a couple of miles of home, just in case things did get painfully uncomfortable.  But that wasn’t the case, even with the coldest part of my body—my fingers!  When you stop to think of it, they’re really out there in the wind all the time.  Bundling them up doesn’t work very well, because a rider needs a modicum of manual dexterity to control the brakes and shifters.  So my fingers just get cold on days like this.  First they feel icy, then they lose feeling totally.  I can still move them at will, but I can barely tell if they’re touching anything.  After 90 minutes or so of that, all of my body is ready to pack it in.  Today I couldn’t undo my helmet strap for about five minutes, until a bit of feeling returned.

Oddly enough, my basic body feeling on the bike is always incredibly positive.  If I have a hypochondriac fear, it’s that I might get so euphoric that I will miss some danger signal.  So I consciously run a “body check” every ten minutes or so when it’s cold like this.  All systems were “go.”  And as with every other ride I’ve ever taken, all I could think afterwards was “wow! That was great!”

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