Tiny balls of ice falling from the sky; like sweeping sand off the steps. Sleet was followed by freezing rain – with the air just warm enough to keep it liquid until it hit the ground (or any surface). Maybe if I’d held off on clearing the sleet, removing the layer of ice would have been possible.
The temperature then dropped below zero just to be sure that salt wouldn’t melt it. Luckily I had sandbags left over from the summer flood and could spread that on the sidewalk. When I saw that the temperature was to drop below zero again, I ordered some ski goggles, as local stores were out for the season. They arrived just in time for these before-and-after pictures.
Ireregular blobs in front of eyes are ice, stuck to my eyelashes.
Look Ma! No ice!
After a one day trial, preliminary results indicate that I am pro-goggle. The blobs of ice stuck to my eyelashes don’t help visibility, but they do make intriguing sounds when I blink. The smaller dots off to the side of the lens are salt spots, from evaporated tears.
I found some bikes that remained parked through the storm:
Best of all was ice skating down the street. It wasn’t easy taking an ice skating selfie, and I can’t upload the video. I hope you get the idea between the stills and the sound file. Near the end of the sound file you can hear a 180 degree turn, as the ice was getting bad in one direction.
Next up is more snow – 6 to 9 inches expected overnight.
Now that it has warmed up by 70 degrees F (-26 to +44) [think of it – that’s like 20 to 90 degrees in 3 days], we can look back at the cold weather. What does the well-dressed cyclist wear at 30 below?
I can’t tell you, but I can tell you what I wore and what worked. We’ll go from head to toe (head, shoulders, knees and toes, for the younger set).
For the head: balaclava, helmet hat, and helmet. My favorite balaclava is no
longer available. I now have three of them. For cold weather I use a silk one with the face open – keeps the chin and cheeks warm. For colder weather I use a merino wool one with eye and mouth openings. I can inhale through the nose (and through wool to warm the air before it reaches my nose and lungs) and exhale through the mouth opening to avoid fogging/freezing lenses. For coldest weather I use a fleece one. There is no mouth opening. Some exhaled air stays inside it and is directed down toward my neck and chest. Some fogs my glasses. Exhaling forcefully helps direct more air away from the face to minimize fogging. I may join those who wear ski goggles and let you know how that works.
Upper body (from the inside out): silk turtleneck, wool jersey, wool arm warmers, down vest, windfront “softshell” jacket (thin fleece).
Feet: over-the-calf silk liner socks, neoprene socks, Bontrager Old Man Winter boots (two layers). [Brand name mentioned because this is kind of a small niche and I don’t know how the few other brands out there function.]
Hands: Silk liner gloves, Empire Wool and Canvas bike mitts [brand name mentioned because most “winter” bike mitts are not really made for the cold, and to give a plug to Kevin Kinney, maker of these mitts up in Duluth MN.] Some folks swear by bar mitts/pogies. Since I haven’t used them, I can’t comment.
All photos shot in available light except the last one, to show the reflective stripe on the mitten.
Just to be clear, in “normal” winter weather I just wear rain pants over my work pants and the jacket (plus vest if 20-25 degrees and arm warmers below that) over my work shirt. The complete change of clothes is only for extremes.
Okay, now it’s cold. Those of you who recall my Winter Biking post know I delivered newspapers as a kid, and that my parents had a rule that if it were colder than -20 degrees F, I could get a ride on my paper route. I decided to keep that rule as an adult, and ride my bike to work as long as the temperature remained above -20.
I broke that rule this week. Bus service isn’t great on Saturdays, so I rode to work. This is what -21 degrees F (-30 C) looks like. The fog on the lenses is from bending over to lock my bike. I was able to see better than that while riding. I am happy to say that my new Bontrager Old Man Winter boots kept my feet warm(ish) with just dress socks. Now that I’ve tested them, I’ll wear warmer socks next time.
This was the first time it has been cold enough to wear that fleece balaclava. Silk glove liners inside my mittens also helped.The title, by the way, is from Rose Sayer (Katherine Hepburn) in “The African Queen”.
Temperatures that cold are fun for other things besides riding. If you throw boiling water into the air it will evaporate before coming to earth. (The actual demonstration starts at about the one minute mark of the video.) If you blow soap bubbles, they freeze. When the break, they shatter like light bulbs. The sensor on my phone had trouble dealing with all that white, but a frozen bubble sits in the middle of the photo.
(If spacing or formatting look weird, WordPress has changed its editing software again and it is pretty buggy.)
Six inches of new snow followed the cold, and -30 comes next. (Update: it never got that cold, but close, and by Friday afternoon should be above zero.) Now I know people are getting soft. No newspaper or mail delivery today (Monday). Also, when it gets cold enough, the snow squeaks when you walk on it.
This morning (Wednesday) we added wind to the cold. -26 plus a 20 mph wind (with a brief shot of 30 mph headwind) yielded a wind chill of ~ -50. (F and C are pretty close together at that point.) About a half mile from work, I thought my rear tire was going flat. There was no way I was going to stop. I was willing to sacrifice the tire and tube. A bit later (when I entered the infamous Pharmacy Building wind tunnel – the cause of that brief but monstrous headwind) I realized I was going flat, not the tire. At that point, my lenses fogged and froze and did look like the picture above. The final climb up the hospital driveway was done by memory as much as vision.
I learned that the wind proof membrane in my jacket gets stiff at that temperature. When I moved, it sounded like I was wrapped in cellophane. I feared the membrane had become brittle enough to shatter, like the bubbles I blew. It still seemed to work the next day. The sound of the tire studs biting into the ice was deafening. I wanted to record all those sounds, but didn’t want to uncover my fingers to work the phone. (Besides, the battery went from 100% to 20% charge just sitting in my pocket during the trip.)
The last time I remember a cold snap like was back in my radio days. I read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” and an except from Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness” (which takes place on a planet referred to, in English, as “Winter”) on the air that day. I recommend both if you want to curl up with a warm beverage and read on a cold day.
You’ve probably read that this cold is due to the “Polar Vortex”, and you may have read claims that this somehow disproves global warming. Au contraire! A high altitude warm air mass made its way to the pole, causing the vortex, which normally circles the pole, to split and send a lobe southward over central North America. It is currently colder in Madison, WI than in Fairbanks and Point Barrow, Alaska, as well as Lapland (Saariselkä). Parts of Siberia are still colder.
For the climate change deniers, or those who don’t fathom the difference between weather and climate, the National Weather Service reports that, between 1869 and 1999, the temperature in Madison, WI dropped to -20 degrees Fahrenheit an average of 12 times per decade. Since 2000, it has happened twice – in 2000 and this week. The average number of days per decade when the daytime high remains below zero has fallen from 15 in the 1900s to 2 this century. The Winter Biking link above also contains a link to lake freeze data from the University of WI Limnology Lab, which also supports the conclusion that winters are shorter and milder than they were in the 1900s.
We’ll see what the groundhogs think tomorrow.
So when some old codger says that, when he was a kid delivering papers, he often rode his bike in below zero weather and seldom does now, he is telling the truth. If he tells you he walked five miles to school (uphill both ways) and he and his brother took turns carrying each other because they had one pair of boots between them, he may be pulling your leg.
I met Bob Ruck some time in the 1970s. He had moved from Sturgeon Bay to Middleton WI to be closer to civilization. He made guitars, which he could do anywhere but he said he stayed in the middle of the country for shipping purposes. He later figured out that UPS would ship from anywhere so he moved to Kauai, then Bainbridge Island, WA, and finally to Eugene, OR.
Bob and I studied and taught Tai Chi together (along with another founder of the half-fast cycling club). One day he came to the rest of the teachers in our school and told us he’d met this great new teacher at a workshop in Arkansas, and could we bring him to our school for a workshop? That began my study with Peter Ralston, whose blog appears in my blogroll.
I moved to San Francisco in 1984 and studied with Peter in Oakland. Bob would occasionally fly in for a workshop. We’d go to dinner together and he would joke that, as long as one of us said the word “guitar” during the meal, he could buy my dinner and put it on his expense account.
I visited Bob at his home on Bainbridge Island and he showed me his workshop and the tonewoods he was ageing. He showed me the new design he was now building, with sound ports in the upper bout for better volume.
It was only many years later that I realized that Ruck guitars are among the most sought-after in the world. His waiting list was closed for years, as he had more orders than he could fill. The wait was ten years. His guitars sold in shops routinely for more than he charged for them.
I haven’t seen him since I found out how famous he was. He was just Bob, the guy who hosted the massive dinner our Tai Chi school had when our teacher came up from Chicago, the guy I taught classes with. It was at Bob’s house that I ate a duck embryo. Our teacher, the late Domingo Tiu, was born in China and raised in the Phillippines. Duck embryo (balut) is a common street food in the Phillippines. Domingo told us it was meant to be consumed with beer. He talked of hot nights sitting out on the front porch, sipping a beer, and buying balut from a street vendor. We didn’t sit on the porch, but we had our embryos with beer.
Manuel Barrueco, a Cuban guitarist and teacher at the Peabody Institute, plays a Ruck guitar, number 58. It is the subject of a coffee table book, featuring interviews with Barrueco and Ruck, and detailed photos of the guitar, which Robert made in 1972. It was an experiment, but Barrueco fell in love with it and wanted to buy it. While he is said to be using a newer guitar in concert, he continues to record on the Ruck.
Bob died on August 13 of 2018; the day we rode from Lake Placid to Plattsburg, NY. It was a beautiful morning as we soared down the sweeping turns descending from the Adirondacks.
There was no soaring today; but I did get to find out that my new winter boots work in the cold. It was -14 degrees this morning as I rode home after dropping the car for repairs. By the afternoon it had warmed to +14, but the wind had kicked up to 14 mph. It was a symmetrical sort of day. I was only slightly overdressed. My feet stayed warm.