How is one to survive this winter, one of the coldest, greyest and snowiest in history?
As you can see, I chose to lighten my hair, buy a new red overcoat and bicycle on – except honestly I have not been bicycling a lot, certainly not everyday, as with previous winters. All I ask for is a morning with temps at least 10 F and no falling snow, but such mornings are rare. (As I type this, it’s 9 F and snowing.) When I manage to ride my bike, I feel so much better, physically and mentally.
My plan for combatting winter also includes appreciating the (indoor) culture that Chicago offers: going to ballets, plays, symphonies and art exhibits. If it were not for the Joffrey Ballet, the Goodman and Steppenwolf and Shakespeare Theatres, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Art Institute (and, of course, my wonderful friends!), I would question daily why I choose to live in this crowded, frozen tundra.
Five! That’s how many Chicago winters I have biked through. I counted over and over because five seems too high, but my math is correct.
Biking through my first winter, 2008-09, seemed so dramatic – I was amazed at my achievement. That was a particularly snowy winter, and I biked through all kinds of extreme weather to prove to myself that I could.
Welcome, 2013! As I followed my ritual this morning of pouring a cup of coffee and popping open my macbook to check the weather, I was greeted by this sight:
12 degrees fahrenheit – yeesh. (That’s -11 celsius.) Normal for Chicago winter, but by far the coldest day of this season so far. At least most of last week’s snow has disappeared.
With very little traffic lately due to people being off work for the holidays, I’ve been enjoying my bike commutes along otherwise highly trafficked streets. I certainly did not want to miss out on cycling today. Here I am preparing to set off:
I wore a wool dress with tights. To this I added the following for non-bulky but highly effective layering: wool leggings and wool leg warmers, wool socks and winter boots with warmers, a light windbreaker and trench coat, cashmere scarf, glove liners and ski mittens with warmers, earmuffs and winter helmet, and sunglasses (safety glasses after dark to protect my eyes from cold wind). This is very similar to what I wore in my how-to video for winter cycling.
This worked perfectly. I was like a little moving furnace. My only problem was forgetting to fill my pockets with tissue to blow my nose, which runs like crazy in the extreme cold.
When I left work in the evening, the weather had warmed up to a relatively toasty 22 degrees and I was sweating under my layers by the time I got home.
I love warm woolen mittens. They are cozy and perfect for crisp fall weather.
(and whiskers on kittens! because why not.)
But woolen mittens are not cutting it any longer, as December approaches. My fingers and toes are extremely sensitive. While other cyclists seem to get by fine with a regular pair of gloves, my fingers and toes start to freeze/burn after ten minutes in 30 degree temps, even wearing wool glove liners with down-filled ski mittens (fingers) and wool socks with leather snow boots (toes).
The only solution for me – I’ve tried everything over the years – is warmers. I buy Grabber brand (made in the USA and non-toxic) by the caseload from Amazon, making them 50 cents a pair. A fair price to avoid daily misery and still much less expensive than the L train.
A pair lasts long enough to use for the morning and evening commutes, if stored in a ziplock bag during the day. Grabber also makes toe warmers, but they are pricier and not as warm, so I save them for my regular shoes and stuff hand warmers in my roomy snow boots.
Now if only I could get Amazon to deliver them in brown paper packages tied up with string…
How do you keep your fingers and toes warm during winter?
The whole country seems to be pretty hot this week. Chicago has been at a high of 90 degrees, including during my ride home yesterday. As I sat at a stoplight in the sweltering heat of the direct sun, car exhaust swirling around my head, I fondly recalled the winter. But is one really better than the other?
In the sweltering summer:
I wear a tank top and skorts, carry my work clothes with me and change in the bathroom at work after freshening up with an Action Wipe or washcloth.
My hair gets sweaty, especially my bangs.
I ride more slowly to stay cooler.
I slather on sun block to keep my sensitive skin from burning.
Lots of other cyclists are on the road with me.
In the freezing winter:
I can wear my work clothes on my bike.
I have to wear extra clothing layers – tights, leggings, scarf, gloves, wool socks, snow boots, ear muffs.
Oma is the bike of choice, equipped with studded tires.
I ride slowly to watch out for slush and patches of ice.
Lights are essential, as my commute is usually in the dark.
Only a few other cyclists are out there with me.
Both extremes have their challenges and benefits. Of course, the best weather for cycling is between the extremes, which is most of the time.
How do you deal with the different seasons? Would you choose sweltering or freezing, if you had to pick one? And why oh why do most people choose to ride their bikes on the hottest days and abandon them after Labor Day?