In Praise of Snot

The other day I heard Bill Bryson on NPR talking about his latest book. To paraphrase, he said that our bodies deal with cancer on a nearly daily basis. Usually we recognize mutated cells as invaders and destroy them before they cause damage. This is, of course, a completely unconscious process. Our bodies are way smarter than our conscious minds. (Imagine having to take responsibility for beating your heart every second, and still having enough consciousness left over to decide whether The Bachelorette was making a smart choice.) It is only on the rare occasions that those cells divide uncontrollably that we are faced with what we know as cancer.

That got me thinking about mucus. Over the years I have seen a lot of fad diets come and go. In the ’70s, the “mucusless diet” was a big thing. The theory, as I understood it, is that when we have a cold we have an excess of mucus and therefore mucus is bad. We have a stuffy and/or runny nose and we don’t want that. The next step was that certain foods cause us to produce mucus and we should avoid them. Among those “mucus-producing” foods were all dairy products. Being a Cheesehead, that was pretty hard to swallow. No 11 year old Cheddar? No Brie? And don’t get me started on the Velveeta on which I was raised.

What if that is bass-ackwards? What does mucus do? It forms a protective barrier. When we leave a dusty environment, we notice that we want to blow our nose. When we do so, we blow out some pretty disgusting-looking stuff – dusty mucus. The technical term for that is boogers. Our body makes mucus (snot) to line our mucous membranes. That snot ensnares toxins in the air we breathe – dust particles and god knows what else. It traps that gunk so we can get rid of it before it gets into our lungs and causes some real damage.

When we have a cold, that system gets overwhelmed. Something has gotten past the defense. Our body makes more mucus to try to repel the invaders. Too much, too late. That we have failed doesn’t mean the system is bad. Our body also has an inflammatory response. Sometimes it, too, is overwhelmed. At that point we suppress it with ice, elevation, and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or steroids. Does that mean the system is bad? No, it just means that it sometimes overcompensates after its failures. (Sound familiar?)

Likewise, mucus is not bad. Mucus is a good thing. We need it every day. It is only when it is overwhelmed and tries to overcompensate for its failures that it becomes excessive.

Long live snot! (And eat cheese if you want to.)

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