Special Days

Today is a special day. I got up this morning and did not want to get on the bike. It was dark, cold, raining. I’ve done this hundreds of times before and I have hundreds of dollars worth of technical gear to do it with and I still didn’t want to because I knew, at some point on the ride, I would be cold and uncomfortable – suffering – and it would suck. I knew I would get out there and I would start to doubt. All those things everyone else asks and says about riding a bike to work in this kind of weather would come up in my head and I’d have no good answer. All the usual responses – mental health, fitness, sustainability, adventure – they’d all seem stupid in light of the moment. I’d just be an idiot riding my bike in the rain.

When the moment struck, I thought, “I’m going to take a picture to show how much this sucks. It’ll show people. And when I get to my cush, warm office and I’m drinking my fresh, hot coffee, I’m going to post it to Instagram so everyone knows what a badass I am and then I’ll bask in the glow of validation, community and virtual high fives.” Of course it took a few tries with my high-tech phone to get the photo right. Then as I rode on I felt a little better. Then I thought, “I’m not even half as hard as guys like @elexplore and @rayzahab. Those guys push themselves for DAYS at a time. I’m riding 45 minutes to work.”

Then I thought, well but, they have high tech gear, and sponsors and even after days or weeks, they go home to their friends and family and laugh and share stories. I mean, they share stuff to Instagram too, so how bad could it actually be? Then I was reminded that there’s so many people out there experiencing PROFOUND levels of suffering and discomfort – both internal and external – and they’re not going to be able to post to Instagram about it, and their not gonna get the virtual high-fives and they might not have anyone who wants to hear their stories even when they’re dying to tell them. They’re just going to try and make it through one. More. Day. I’m glad I was able to ride my bike to work today. It was just an ordinary day like any other. Special.

Poets of Instagram

I’ve really grown to love Instagram as a social media platform, it’s become one of my favourite places to visit online. It’s currently the only social media app I have on my phone.

I enjoy the nature of it – the fact that it’s primarily visual. I’m pretty selective with who I follow and for me, it’s a visual hit of inspiration whenever I check in. In some cases, folks have gone one further and are using their Instagram accounts as more of a blog, including lengthy, well-composed posts as the captions to their photos. Indeed some of them have an Instagram account as their sole online presence, nothing else, not even a personal website.

That said, I thought I’d share a few of my favourites – people I feel are really doing something different, unique and inspiring with the app.

Captain Winter

Eric Larsen (@elexplore) is a polar explorer. That’s a pretty cool job title. I don’t know the all the details of exactly what that entails, but I think the general gist pretty obvious. He’s a guy that digs the cold and winter. He’s on a one-man-mission to try and get you to as well. His Instagram feed is full of fun and inspirational photos and commentary about trips to the coldest, whitest areas of the planet.  He throws around some great stay-warm tips as well. As a fellow fan of winter, I know how much fun it can be. I also have discovered lately, that the more I get out in winter, the more I enjoy and embrace it. Conversely, when I’m not able to get out due to the to-do list or schedule, it’s a lot harder to tolerate winter and morale suffers. When the calendar is crunched and I can’t fit in a snowshoe, sometimes a choice post from Eric will suffice and keep the winter mojo going to the next outing.

The Bicycle Craftsman

To anyone who’s been around in bikes for a long time, Richard Sachs (@therichardsachs)will probably need no introduction. The guy has been hand-building bike frames since before it was the new artisanal thing to do. In the world of bicycle as art, he’s an Old Master. Although he’s been building some of the best bikes in the world for almost 40 years, he recently ‘reinvented’ himself, for lack of a better word. He built a new, solitary shop and returned to building bikes the way he’d started, one at a time, by hand, with hand tools. In the process he has been sharing his reflections on the industry, life, his craft and topics like passion and drive, all via his Instagram feed, often accompanied by some great photos of both bikes and process. You don’t have to be a fan of bikes to appreciate his posts on inspiration, drive, and why we do what we do.

Honourable Mentions

A few other cats also holding it down on the ‘gram and continually turning out inspiring content:

  • @slimwonder – Repping the Dads and bikes set, with bebop flava. #sockgame always on point.
  • @allhailtheblackmarket – Punk rock, discontent, skating, bikes and art. Through the disgruntled lens of middle-age.
  • @coldbike – Another winter nut. Bikes, Dad skills, kids, adventure.
  • @outsideisfred – Shenanigans.
  • @hotsaucecycling – Elite World Cup Cross Racing. Shoestring budget. Canadian, eh?
  • @targetsalad – Good espresso pulls. Mule Deer. Dad life. The World’s Most Interesting Bike Club.

Winter Fools

Many mornings like these over many years I would get up and start by checking the temperature. After that, experience had told me based on the amount of noise and creaking my house was making under the wind that the windchill would be at least -10 more degrees. I would suit up in a combination of technical gear and home-made wool, weighing options, relying on experience to tell me what would allow me to be comfortable vs. freeze my ass off, risk hypothermia or losing fingers to frostbite. And this was just to get to work.

People always asked, amazed why I did it. I’d ramble about saving money. Saving the planet. Setting an example. All of these were true answers, and admirable motivation, but really I did it for the adventure. I wasn’t climbing a mountain in Nepal but cycling to work at -25 along 15km of dark roads and snowmobile trails was arguably almost as dangerous. Many thought I was foolish. Hell, I thought I was foolish a lot of the time.

I enjoyed challenging myself. The sense of accomplishment. I’ll admit I also enjoyed the small-time notoriety of being ‘that crazy bike guy’ amongst my friends and acquaintances, so many of whom echoed the same sentiment – “I could never do that.” Well, at one point, neither could I. Many of these people still sought out adventure in other ways on vacations, skiing, climbing etc. Why was this so different? Adventure is where you find it. I couldn’t afford the trip or time investment to travel to Alaska for some crazy fat bike race, but why should I? I could risk frostbite and hypothermia in my own backyard – everyday! That’s some juice right there my friends!

Polar Explorer Eric Larsen said once “People say they hate the cold. I think what they mean is they hate being cold. I agree, being cold sucks. It’s painful. I like being warm in very cold environments; you can do it, too.” And you can. If you’re not stupid, pay attention, experiment and apply what you learn every time you go out, you can absolutely have a good time when you go out in the cold. Better yet, you can thrive on it. I, too, like being warm in very cold environments. Little known fact, the mojo is bountiful and has a great shelf-life in the cold.

I’ve been sick with something for almost two weeks which has pretty much left me landlocked indoors. No running, no riding. Pretty much short walks is it. The more frustrating reality is that I haven’t commuted to work by bike in over a year. Parental and scheduling demands are such that it just doesn’t work right now. I run into parents and acquaintances that I don’t see often and one of the first things they always ask – especially on days like today – their face lighting up with anticipation, “Did you ride in today?” Every time, a small part of me dies inside when I have to explain that, no, I haven’t been able to much of late. Many of them actually look crestfallen. I’d become THAT guy, the one who did that crazy shit they couldn’t do and they would look to me (like I look to guys like Eric Larsen and so many others) with amazement and a sense of ‘if-only’ and ‘maybe’.

When we go outside, I mean really EXPERIENCE outside, we are the highest version of ourselves. There’s no downside. There’s no drawbacks, no negative, no catch, no small print, no caveat. It’s ALL good. It’s ALL mojo. Even when you almost freeze your fingers off (see also, Type 2 Fun). I don’t want you to run out in sub-arctic temperatures in your windbreaker and try camping overnight with nothing but flint, steel and a fish hook your first time. THAT would be stupid. What I want you to do is stop thinking that you can’t do it. That you shouldn’t do it. That people will think you’re foolish if you do. Start at the start. Start at the beginning. To paraphrase esteemed psychotherapist Dr. Leo Marvin, “Baby Steps to the cold outside.”

William Blake once said that “if the fool would persist in his foolery he would become wise”. I have been a fool and been foolish, but I am wiser for it. I also know that there’s still plenty of wisdom out there and I’d be a fool not to go look for it.

Shout outs to all the peeps in my local #Fredericton hood and others worldwide riding their bikes in various levels of cold this morning. You are hardcore motherfucking fools.

Some Thoughts on Layering & Kit for Winter Running

You can do it too.

In an article at Gear Junkie that I posted earlier on Facebook and Google+ this week, Eric Larsen said something that really resonated with me. People are always commenting how I’m nuts to be out in such cold or that it’s weird that I like being out in it. What he said particularly was:

“People say they hate the cold. I think what they mean is they hate being cold. I agree, being cold sucks. It’s painful. I like being warm in very cold environments; you can do it, too.

Same here. This morning I got up to go for a run and it was -17ºC/1.4ºF. That’s pretty f’n cold. Not arctic polar cold, but cold enough for most of us non-explorers. Most of these mornings I lay in bed, contemplating if I want to face the cold or not, I also am mentally figuring out what I’m going to wear if I do. I’ll check the temperature and conditions outside and then in my head, compare that with other times I’ve been out in same conditions and what I wore and what worked and what didn’t – i.e. did I freeze my ass off or overheat. Another factor will be what kind of activity I’m doing and how long I anticipate doing it for.

So along those lines I thought I’d share what I wore today as maybe it will help some of you sort your own kit:

1. Thin cotton sock – most people, including me, will tell you that cotton next to skin is a no-no, and that’s true, but I don’t have any thin/liner weight wool socks. I hope to remedy that in the near future. I put these on today and rolled the dice. I won.
2. Grocery bags – yup, you read that right. Low tech, but never fails. Cheap vapor barrier.
3. Medium weight Smartwool sock.
4. Salomon Speed Cross shoes – while not a winter shoe specifically, these do have some tech and materials designed to keep water and cold out. More of a ‘fall/muck’ shoe.

5. Synthetic long underwear – cheapie stuff from Walmart.
6. Fleece/thermal cycling tights – these are Performance house brand ones I’ve had for at least 10 years. Still in great shape. Right leg has broken zipper pull replaced with a paper clip. I’m punk rock.

7. Under Armor ‘Cold’ base layer – wicking/thermal
8. Merino Wool Cycling jersey – wicking/thermal – added bonus doesn’t collect stink!
9. MEC Derecho Cycling Jacket – shell/wind – nice because it has full zippers up the sides/armpits that allow you to vent easily if you start to heat up.

10. Buff – This provides a nice ‘gasket’ at the neck to keep out drafts – something I hate. It’s also great ’cause if it’s too cold once you get out you can pull it up over your nose/mouth. I don’t even have the wool/winter version, just the basic one.
11. Trusty wool RandiJoFab cycling cap – this one’s got built in flip down earflaps if needed. I like it vs. a normal winter cap too, ’cause it has a brim.
12. Salomon running vest – this is the first time I’ve run with this even though I got it some time ago. I don’t normally take water with me on short runs, but lately when it’s cold I find I get thirsty sooner. Maybe it’s the cold air or my mouth dries out faster, I dunno. Perhaps, my body’s using up more water for heating so it’s telling me to drink. After reading again in the article the importance of eating/drinking, I decided at the last minute to throw some water in it and take it along. I’m glad I did. I didn’t actually end up drinking anything, but it was a great trial run. The pack is comfortable, streamlined and fit great underneath my shell layer. I actually sorta forgot I was even wearing it.

13. Some thin Head gloves from Costco – while not meant to be a liner glove, these are the closest thing I have. Also nice is they have the pads on the fingers that let you use them with a smartphone.
14. Pearl Izumi Amfib Cycling Gloves – as an outer glove.

Today I probably could have just gone with one pair of gloves, the Pearl Izumis, but it’s always nice to be able to take off the bulky outer glove to adjust snowshoe bindings or access zippers/pockets, without exposing your hands to the cold.

I wore all this too, bearing in mind that I wasn’t going to be stopping anywhere for any great length of time and would keep my body temp up with activity. If I had planned anything like that, I would have brought extra layers to add on for those times of inactivity, as Eric mentioned in his article.

Overall, I had a great time and wasn’t too cold or hot – BAM – nailed it! Nothing is better than getting outside any time of year and getting your kit selection just right.