Sunday, January 17, 2016

More experiments with extreme cold

Oh boy, it's ten below zero this morning. And it's more than twenty below with the windchill factor. It's time for me to walk my 3.75 mile walk to the University. 

I get to conduct more experiments with extreme cold!

Happily, and unusually, I am not at all late. I have done my exercises. I have had my cappuccino. I showered and made sure my morning blog post is telling the truth mostly. I am ready and with a minute or two to spare. I just need to pull on my extra thick long underwear and my fleece oversocks. My corduroy pants go on.  My long sleeve shirt goes over my short sleeve shirt and a short sleeve shirt over that. It's pretty cold so I'll put on this thin long sleeve brown shirt over all of that too. Every little bit helps. Downstairs I put on my oversize thermal shirt, so that's five shirts if you're keeping score. I wrap my half cashmere scarf that I got in London around my neck. I put on my down jacket and my green balaclava that I am lately having a lot of fun pronouncing like the Greek pastry (baLAclava). My brown fleece hat goes over my baLAclava. I put on my insulated waterproof boots and then my red woolen glittens (cut off gloves with tops to make them convertible mittens), and I am all dressed.

I am very warm. And I am now ten minutes late, so out the door I go. 

Steam is immediately pouring off of me!

The air bites, but it's kind of a friendly bite. Everything acts funny in this kind of cold. The screen door's brake doesn't work and it closes hard behind me. Sound is different, both sharp and distant. The streets are mine alone. I am wreathed in a fog of my own making, my mouth a thick billow of steam. My eyes start pouring water down my cheeks. I wipe the tears off as fast as I can because they quickly act like acid, their trails burning bitter ice rivers over my stinging cheekbones.

Hey, I'm not warm anymore. But I'm not terribly cold either. It's all localized. My thighs are quite cold, and my cheeks. My tongue is cold, but pleasantly so. My hands in their glittens are cold, but easily warmed by putting them in my jacket pockets. I walk.

Constant minute adjustments are called for. I keep the balaclava away from my lips as it easily gets saturated by my breath, then grows full of ice. I take my hands out of my pockets and expose the bare fingers to let off a little heat. I press lightly on my cheekbones to warm them up. Weird joints and isolated parts of my body hurt for two steps and then don't hurt. My fourth left toe stings with cold. My right foot toes are merely chilly. Mostly I am warm to the touch. My back feels hot.

I cross the river and there is a boat down on the Mississippi. Strange, maybe it is breaking the ice for some reason. There is a kind of path of open water, steaming and freezing, but the wind is blowing hard on me on the bridge, hurting my exposed face too much, so I have to look away.

Last stretch. The wind keeps blowing my coat off my shoulders, but if I zippered it I would be too hot. My ankle hurts terribly for one second and then is perfectly fine. A bike passes me, good old Minnesota.

I get in my car. Just being out of the wind is enough for me to throw off my hats and jacket and be perfectly comfortable. I keep the window open so I don't steam and freeze the inside of the car. I am much more tired and hungry than I am after a more moderate temperature version of this walk. There is something demanding about such cold. One enters into a complex relationship with it and has to pay a lot of attention.

Tomorrow it is supposed to be about 10 degrees or even warmer by the time I walk. Alas, it's practically Summer already. I might want to start thinking about my garden...


  1. So did you drive there? I mean it says you got in your car. But you also said you walked. I'm worried that maybe the cold is doing something to memory. Did you stop to rest in your car and then continue on? I need to know because I am not willing to conceive of the notion of walking in anything less that 45 degrees for more than 10 minutes regardless of clothing. Also, I have a question: When you arrive for work, do you have a clothing change ritual so that you don't overheat with all those layers? Do you keep the long underwear on all day?

    1. Okay, sure, we can get personal.

      First, yes, I see the confusion because it's one of those wordy things to explain and perhaps I skimped too much here. I walk just under four miles to the University where my car is, in a parking lot, having been used for commuting by other family members earlier in the morning. I get in the car there and drive to work from that parking lot. I might enjoy resting for a few minutes, but a close reading of my past posts will reveal that I am always late when I get to the car.

      So, as for clothing, not so much with a change ritual. When I arrive at the car I'm usually warm enough to take off a few things (when it's minus ten maybe just my hat and balaclava). At work I take of my jacket, scarf, heavy extra shirt and glittens if I'm still wearing them. In short, I do keep my long underwear on all day and am almost never too warm for it.


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