Happy New Year to you and yours. Here in central Iowa, the year is off to a cold start. We’re currently sitting at 6° F in Jefferson. The temperature has fallen three degrees since I woke up at 4:00 AM. The wind is relatively strong out of the northwest, and so the wind chill factor is -11° F. I supposed I could just stay in and skip today, but nahhhhh. That simply is not going to happen.
The National Weather Service has published a wind chill warning for the region just north of Jefferson. They don’t do this for people like me. It’s for people who debate whether or not they need a hat and gloves on mornings like this. After all, they’re just going from their home to their warmed up car and from there to the store or office. What could possibly go wrong?
I, on the other hand, know good and well what could go wrong. Discomfort is the least of it, and so I dress for conditions and don’t much worry about the serious looking weather forecaster who is imparting dire warnings. That doesn’t mean that I am naive about conditions. Trust me…I know what’s out there. I’ve been out there before.
So I prepare for it. Before going out, I not only know the temperature, but the wind speed and direction. By direction, I mean compass heading. This is much more meaningful than a wind chill factor number that is designed to scare more than inform. A 330° (NNW) wind in excess of 10 miles per hour on a single digit morning is dangerous if you’re not ready for it. I wouldn’t dream of going out without knowing all of this.
What this morning’s numbers are telling me is that I have to adjust my distance and my route so that I can cover some miles while staying relatively close to home. If it was 20°F or warmer with a light wind, the plan would have been to cover 50 miles this morning. I’d go out into whatever wind there was for 25 miles and then turn around for a leisurely wind assisted ride home. That won’t work today. If I got a flat tire 25 miles from home, I’d be hosed.
So instead I’ve altered my route so that it’s one big old loop around Jefferson. I’ll cover 30 miles and I won’t be going into the wind for more than 5 miles (20-25 minutes) at a time. More importantly, I’m only seven miles from my front door at the farthest point out. If I have to abandon the bike and walk home, I can.
I understand that when faced with weather like this, most folks prefer to stay in and ride their stationary bike. I’m not wired that way. I don’t mean to imply that I love this. It’s something to be endured, but to me it’s better than a stationary bike.
I try to see the good in it and make it fun. Bitter cold weather turns cycling into a mental puzzle, I tell myself. It turns it from football into baseball. Yeah, that’s it. I really have to think this through before heading out. It’s all about statistics and percentages and odds and, yeah…
Once I’m out on the bike, I make it a point to be aware of what’s going on around me and how I’m feeling in a way I simply don’t when the weather is more temperate. I talk to myself a lot. I have a mental checklist in my mind and I tick through it over and over again. I know that my brakes might freeze, so I test them from time to time. My derailleur might also freeze,so I keep the chain centered on the rear cluster. Most importantly, I listen to my body. If I’m going to have a physical problem, the canaries in the coal mine are my hands and feet. If they go from painful to numb, it’s time to cut the ride short and head for the barn.
Why do I do this? For the same reason I do really long rides in the summer. It’s an opportunity to learn about myself and what I’m made of. There’s a real sense of contentment that comes with knowing that if I ever get stuck out in the kind of weather that most people avoid that I probably will find a way to survive. That’s no small thing when you live at this lattitude.
In a broader sense, getting in my miles on a day like this is the essence of the very things that make cycling so attractive to me.Miss a day because it’s cold? LOL. Not a chance. If you’re heading out, please be safe. Happy Trails.