How To Incorrectly Layer

Today Paul and I went on a bike ride. The ride is known in Boulder as “Super Flagstaff”. If you’re really curious, you can read a breakdown of the sections here. Suffice it to say, it’s a hard 4.5 mi, ~2,000ft climb. The average grade is somewhere around 8% (though it goes up to 20% in parts) with the hardest bit in the last mile. The whole thing unceremoniously tops out at 7,625ft at a row of mailboxes on the side of the road, where you feel like you’d like to collapse.

The Strava record on the course is somewhere in the 22min range (28min for women, set by a former pro-cyclist), with 30-35min considered pretty speedy. Today we did the climb in 49min (which included a pause). The first time we did it in 45min, but we felt terrible at the top. This time we weren’t aiming for speed, so we went at a more moderate pace.

The whole thing would have been generally uneventful, except for the cold.

When we left the house a little after 3PM it was 46 degrees with 12 mph winds. The sun was blazing, which is why I picked a pair of leggings, and threw on a lightweight long sleeve under my short sleeve jersey. I did have the common sense to add shoe covers, because our ride on Wednesday left my toes quite cold.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention to the time of day or (apparently) the weather forecast. Within the first minute we lost the sun, and it never came back out. The sun always helps, but in Colorado (at 5,500ft) it really can make a difference. Without, the temperature dropped significantly.

By the time we’d climbed 2,000+ ft it had dropped to about 38 degrees, still with those 12mph winds, giving us a ‘feels like’ temp of somewhere around 29 degrees. My leggings were not cutting it. The only long fingered non ski gloves I own are basic cotton liner gloves, which is what I had on. My hands weren’t exactly cold, but they weren’t warm. As we turned around to head downhill, I knew I was in trouble.

About 30sec into the descent I felt my hands getting painfully cold. About two miles down several of my finger tips had gone numb, and within another 1/2 mile my back was spasming with shivers. I couldn’t feel my hands on the brakes. Surpassing from the pain zone into the ‘oh, this might be dangerous’ zone, I took advantage of a U-turn to holler to Paul to hold up. He was kind enough to let me warm my hands up in his, and then to exchange his windproof gloves for my cotton ones for the last ~2mi down the steepest part of the climb.

At the bottom of the hill his hands were white and cold, and we switched back. The air was warmer at the bottom, but I was still incredibly cold. It was a long, very cold 4mi back to our house. And a very painful few minutes of rewarming for both of us. I haven’t mis-layered that badly in about a year (which was a cycling incident that caused me to promptly buy my much loved shoe covers… but we won’t get into that).

The worst part of the whole thing is that I own all the gear I needed to have prevented 50% of that pain. A backpack with a rain jacket would have provided significant additional warmth at the top. The pair of new mittens I bought might actually work for a descent like that where I don’t need to do much besides break, and a longer, warmer pair of socks might have helped keep my lower legs and ankles warmer, which in turn might have helped my feet.

Lesson learned (I hope).

But this week I’m going to go buy a pair of wind-resistant gloves.

Author: cartwheelsandcake

Cyclist, climber, hiker, trail runner, back country skier, dabbling mountaineer Lover of cake, chocolate, brownies, and sweets. Excellent napper.

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