I’ve got nothing to say, but it’s OK

My friends at The Dihedral put up another thought-provoking post this week. The jumping-off point was the TV show “House”. They used it to talk about making excuses and not having enough time to do what you want. “If you want to do something, you do it”, they quote House as saying.

I put in my two cents as a comment, then realized I had more like two bits to say, so took it over here. Since we’re using pop culture as a jumping off point, I’m going with Frank Capra’s 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

In that film (I hope I’m not giving away any 73 year old spoilers), the protagonist, George Bailey, has big dreams. He repeatedly puts those dreams aside to fulfill his obligations. When he calls the antagonist, Mr Potter, “a warped, frustrated old man”, Potter asks what he is other than a “warped, frustrated young one.” On the verge of suicide, George gets to see what the world would have been if he’d never been born and has an epiphany.

I am going to assert that we are already getting what we want. Exactly what we want. But we lie to ourselves about it.

Let’s take a small example. I want to watch TV. I have to take out the garbage. I skip my TV show, take out the garbage, and feel resentful. Let’s reframe that. I want to take out the garbage. Why? Maybe I have a partner/roommate/parent who told/asked me to, or it’s my agreed-upon job. Maybe I have thought ahead and realize I don’t want to live in a pig sty. Maybe I realize that garbage attracts vermin, I don’t want vermin, and vermin are harder to get ride of than garbage. Maybe I like feeling resentful.

Whoa! What was that? Maybe assigning blame is more satisfying than taking responsibility. Maybe, if I can blame someone else for missing my TV show, and blame someone else for a lot of other small things, I can escape responsibility for my generalized unhappiness. Maybe it’s all someone else’s fault!

What if all the things I’m doing because I have to are actually things I’m doing because I want to? What if I’ve done a bunch of mental calculations (mostly unconscious) and they have led me to the choices I’ve made? Maybe none of this is true about you but it is about someone you know…;) What if I want to take out the garbage and want to feel resentful about it and want to blame someone else for my feelings?

Does that look like George Bailey? Did he skip his trip to Europe and put his father’s estate in order because he really wanted to? Did he skip college and run the Building and Loan because he wanted to? Did he skip his honeymoon and bail out that family business because he wanted to? Did he consider the alternatives and decide that was the best one under the circumstances?

What would it look like to want what I have instead of what I don’t have? Have you ever noticed that, when there is something you really want, you feel some sort of real aliveness during the pursuit? Maybe you just absently want it, maybe you actively seek it, or save up for it. Maybe you get it and it makes you happy for a while and then you go back to your humdrum existence. What was that about? How long do you hang out with that feeling before you find something else to pursue?

I touched on this once before. I’m even going to bring back the same cartoon for another round. In the first panel, Mr Natural starts to do the dishes. He’s resentful. He doesn’t “want” to do them, he “has to“. By the third panel he is just doing the dishes. In the fifth panel he is invested in doing the dishes. In the sixth panel he wants to do the dishes.  In the final panel, he is pleased with having done the dishes. Question: Does he go on to want whatever he’s doing next, or does he continue to want the feeling he had while doing the dishes, try to recapture that feeling, and fail to do so? Just because you’ve learned something once doesn’t mean you have learned it for all time. My teacher Peter Ralston calls that “the lava syndrome”. The very breakthrough you have made hardens over and becomes something you have to break through in order to learn anything new again.

I haven’t talked about bikes for this whole post – not even about the weather. How many times can I talk about riding in freezing rain, sleet, snow, subzero (F) temperatures…? But I’ll leave you with one last image. I’ve talked before of hoarfrost – the stuff that forms when it is foggy and cold. Instead of mere water droplets, ice crystals form in the air; or fog forms and the water droplets freeze as soon as they land. From a distance, hoarfrost is white. The ice crystals reflect all light. Just like snowflakes, up close the crystals are clear. As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” We had another morning of hoarfrost this week. Visibility suddenly dropped and I wondered if my glasses had fogged up. I looked to my right and saw fog in the lights of a parking lot. I realized the world was foggy, not just me. I rode out of the fog bank and my glasses continued to ice over. Imagine sticking a glass in the freezer and getting it nice and cold. Take it out and spritz it with water and stick it back in the freezer. When you take it out, there are tiny droplets of ice, giving the glass a pebbled texture. That’s what my glasses were like. I stopped, removed a mitten, and scraped the ice off the lenses, then continued on my way. The picture is hoarfrost, up close and personal.

 

 

 

 

sleet, freezing rain, goggles?

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.

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:

IMG_1477

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.

High fashion at low temperature

…or, how do you stay warm at -30 degrees?

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).

Lower body: bib tights, winter windfront tights, rain pants.

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.

Now this, from NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/02/03/684438571/women-who-dare-to-bicycle-in-pakistan

“I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating!”

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 img_1458earth. (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.