Friday, October 26, 2012

The Time I Nearly Froze to Death

It was 80° F this past Tuesday. Wednesday brought high winds, thunderstorms and a 40° drop in temperature.

Inevitably, when the temps fall below 50° F, many cycling folks begin salivating about embrocation.  Embrocation is a liniment rubbed on bare skin to mask the effect of cold.  It doesn't make you any warmer. It just feels like it. I'm not sure if that's good thing. You know that pain that you feel when you're getting frost bite? Well that's nature's way of indicating that you should probably put something warmer on than scented butter. And the stuff ain't cheap, either, costing upward of $5 an ounce.  That may not sound like much, but that's $640 a gallon.  Not that you'll need a gallon. You'll be long dead of hypothermia before a pint of that goop is gone.

Anyway, if you're a newbie and are considering riding outside this winter, you aught to consider investing in some decent riding gear. It's worth it.  And if you're local to Omaha, Mark Savery is putting on a free winter riding clinic at the Papillion Trek store (73rd and Giles) on November 5th.  Mark knows his stuff. I've learned lots from his listening to his advice.

The cold weather also means that we all have a choice on whether to ride the trainer or to embrace/tolerate the cold outside.

Since I hate spending time on the trainer, I'm in the latter camp. I tolerate the cold.

Notice how I didn't say that I embrace the cold.  I may have tried fooling myself  into "embracing" the cold weather at one time in my life. Back then,  I was delusional. Aside from the occasional nice winter scenery, cold weather riding basically sucks. It sucks because, in addition to being cold, it's often wet and/or windy. Nice. And throw in four months of bleak, gray cloud cover. Meh, embrace that, cold-winter riding fans.

YPG, it still beats the trainer.

I could have used some of Mark's winter clothing advice one winter. It was a frigid day with wind chills that made it feel like -10° F. Visibility was poor due to blowing snow.  But I wasn't afraid. No, I was a macho.

I was also seven years old and was preparing to go sledding.

Back in the 1970s, we didn't have any of that fancy-schmancy $640/gallon embrocation gunk. Times were bad. We had to make do without.  I got ready for cold weather the old fashioned way by layering it on. Knitted hat, fake fur lined jacket, mittens, scarf, snow pants over wide-wale corduroys, a sweater, turtleneck, thermal unders and a pair of itchy wool socks. Over my leather shoes I wore black rubber boots with rusty, adjustable clasps, only two of which were functional on each boot. I put plastic bread sacks around my shoes to help slide them into the boots. Mom said that the plastic sack served as an  additional layer of insulation to keep my toes nice and warm.

Of course all that bundling and exertion resulted in a sweaty mess before stepping one foot out the door.

The walk to the sledding hill was just over a quarter mile. The blowing snow found its ways inside of gaps in my layering and onto clammy skin. By the time I arrived, my sweaty feet had already gone numb, but not numb enough that I couldn't feel the burning cold or my itchy socks.

I took only one run down the hill before deciding that I wasn't nearly as tough as I had previously thought. I  started home.

I walked only 50 yards before believing that I was going to freeze to death.  I decided that survival was my top priority and headed towards the first sign of civilization, which was Mr & Mrs Aldinger's house some 50 yards from where I stood.

I trudged through snow drifts. I turned my back to the driving wind. I curled my fingers in my mittens. Finally, I arrived at the Aldinger's front door and rang the door bell.

Mr Aldinger answered the door. He looked surprised to see me.

"I'm freezing to death, can I come in?"

"Y-Yes, by all means, please come on in."  Mr Aldinger adjusted his bottle of oxygen from his right to left arm and then swung the storm door wide enough to allow me to enter. He took a deep draw through his plastic nose tube, then said, "It sure is nasty out there, young feller. You could catch pneumonia --"

"Who's at the door, dear?" called Mrs Aldinger from around the corner.

"It's young Brady Murphy from up the street, Gladys. He's been out in the weather and needs to warm up or he says he'll freeze to death. Now we wouldn't want that, right? How about fixing him a nice cup of hot chocolate while I call his parents to let him know that he's safe with us."

For the next hour, we drank hot chocolate and ate sugar cookies while playing checkers together.

After I had sufficiently recovered, I layered back up to embrace the brutal cold hike back home.

We lived all but five houses away.


  1. Your survival instinct is strong. I have never thought the embrocation thing seemed like a good idea. But then, I also think shaving your legs is stupid, so what do I know. I will say, however that last winter, I started using Vaseline or something like it to protect exposed areas of my face. It works well without any sort of artificial heating properties.

  2. Young Master Brady doesn't have the wookie-stix or layer of subcutaneous warmth insulation like his older brother Chew-phini....

    Ah--the Aldingers. Great people, even thought their house got hit be many an errant golf ball.

    Lastly, Ole #5, after an ice storm was THE perfect sledding hill. Basically a steep north facing ravine with an open ditch on the left and a humongous oak tree on the right. You could catch air on your sled by going over the off the old tee box/ramp, accelerate to terminal velocity within 10 seconds, and have to funnel into a safety chute of about 20 yards wide at the bottom. Like the circle of life, one experienced exhilaration, terror, dread, jealousy and remorse on each ride. Fun, scary, even more fun....then the dreaded long walk up the icy slope at the end while being so jealous of those riding down whilst you were walking up.

    Good stuff