So Saturday of our winter weekend getaway I thought I’d try a beginner’s ski lesson. But that wasn’t to be. It was cold, really cold, -25 and windy cold. It was also icy. Instead of light puffy snow there was hard, cold ice.
See this sign? Marginal conditions, skiing not recommended. Great. Even the ski instructors weren’t that enthusiastic. Try another time, they suggested.
Instead, I went for a long walk up the hill and wandered around the shops at the base of the mountain. I stopped for lunch solo while braver, much more experienced, souls were off skiing. I’m better about eating alone at restaurants these days. I positively enjoyed it. And don’t panic. There was rice underneath. I haven’t abandoned carbs.
I’m just joking (sort of). In my mind spas aren’t meant for me. Like pedicures, I think of spas as a THING RICH PEOPLE DO.
It’s not that I don’t spend money on luxurious things, like expensive bicycles, I do. And it’s not like I don’t spend $60 (the price of spa admission) on meals or concerts pretty regularly. I do.
But for reasons of family background in the first part of my life and resisting normative feminity, in the second, spas have never been on my radar. I’m the kind of person who didn’t have nail polish or make up for my own wedding. I did my own hair and it was touch and go whether I’d shave my legs.
I resisted getting a hot tub at our old house for years but then loved it and used it lots. I love sitting outside, in the heat, surrounded by snow and ice. I loved soaking after long rides and tough Aikido classes. My highlight of my holiday in Iceland a few years ago was soaking in a hot river after a long hike.
We went to the Scandinavian Spa on the Sunday of our weekend at Mount Tremblant when it was too cold and icy to ski or fat bike. I loved how much of it was outdoors. I really liked the steam rooms and the sauna and the hot tub but probably my favorite thing was relaxing in front of a fire outside wearing a bathrobe while covered in a giant warm fuzzy blanket. I loved basking in the sun, surrounded by trees and snow.
Some quick observations:
I loved wandering around outside in a bathrobe and bathing suit in the middle of winter. I love the outdoors and I’m almost always happier in the sun.
I’m so glad it was a silent place. I realize that I’m quiet anyway but I was so glad I didn’t have to listen to other people’s conversations. I found that really relaxing. I didn’t mind the other people there with everything quiet.
There are a lot of beautiful bodies out there. But it’s mostly the women who are on display. That’s no surprise but I forget that sometimes. I saw a lot of women in thong bathing suits with men in baggy board shorts. What’s with that?
I loved the idea of swimming in the river in the freezing cold water between hot things but I couldn’t make myself do it. Instead I settled for the cold bucket of water over the head a couple of times. That actually felt pretty refreshing.
My Finnish friends all shared it approvingly in light of Ontario school and university closures last week.
So in the end, I rode my bike to work. I figured the worse that would happen is that I’d walk my bike and walking was my back up choice anyway. The side streets were too slippy, snow over ice. The bike path on the main road hadn’t been plowed. So I took the lane and rose with traffic. It was fine. No one was going anywhere fast anyway.
This year was a new thing though. No group. Just Sarah and me, meeting up with Jeff in Florida who is there with his boat. (Follow his boating adventures here.)
Originally we’d thought about the Florida Keys but that didn’t fit with Jeff’s schedule. Instead, we decided to meet up in the middle of Florida in an area Chris Helwig, my former London cycling coach, visits for riding every January.
Where’s Clermont? Smack dab in the middle of the state. It’s a great area for cycling. Lots of rolling hills and even a serious climb or two, some great rail trails, and quiet country roads flanked by beautiful trees covered in Spanish moss and miles and miles of orange orchards.
Some people are calling it International Winter Bike to Work Day but I’ve spent enough time in Australia and New Zealand to know that it’s not winter everywhere in February. Cyclists there are battling record breaking heat waves. I think I’d rather ride in the snow.
I’ve written about how to bike in the snow and the cold and now if you’re so inclined, join me! Oh, and send me your pictures with a brief caption and I’ll share them on the blog after!
But it also can feel absolutely magical when there are very few cars out and everyone is driving slowly and I feel super visible. I love to watch snow fall. I love crunching through the snowy back streets. Partly, I think, it’s because I love winter but I have to be moving fast to stay warm. Sometimes walking just doesn’t cut it, but biking? Biking in the snow can feel great.
But I get asked a lot, how do you do it? Don’t you get cold?
It’s partly a matter of having the gear but it’s also a matter of moving. I complained once to a year round commuting colleague about getting cold and he said I wasn’t riding fast enough/working hard enough. There’s truth in that.
I’m not a fan of the cold but up to -10 I’m very happy winter riding. I actually get colder walking. And when I drive? I never park nearby and so I have to walk in quite a ways. On driving days I tend to skimp on the outer wear (my fault, I know) and I do get cold. I get more cold sitting in the cold car waiting it for it to warm up and de-ice than I do just hopping on my bike and riding to work.
I often arrive at work warm and sweaty, not cold and shivery.
What do I wear?
First, there’s my high visibility jacket. It’s red, see above, but looks pink because it’s got loads of white reflective dots. See the video below. It’s windproof and I wear a warm sweater underneath when it’s cold.
I don’t wear fancy shoe covers but I do own them. My commute is too short. Instead, I go for thick smart wool socks in my cycling shoes.
Third, I wear a merino wool buff under my helmet that can either go under my helmet like a hat or around my neck as a scarf.
Fourth, I wear winter cycling tights.
But what about work clothes? Underneath the cycling tights I wear either tights or leggings and often a black t-shirt of some kind and throw a dress or jacket on top when I get there. I tend to keep all my work jackets in my office. That’s my go-to work uniform. It means I don’t have to run off to change to get back on my bike and I can ready for meetings fast if I need to.
Here’s an example of long jacket over cycling friendly clothes.
But what about the snow and slipping?
This year for Christmas I got snow tires for my commuting bike. (Thanks Jeff!) The winter bike tires aren’t studded. They’re Continental top contact and they’re more like car tires. Here’s the Mountain Equipment Co-op description: “Studless tires for northern winter, these ones grip when other cyclists are left spinning their wheels. Hundreds of lamellae (tiny biting edges, like those found on gecko’s feet) interlock with slick road surfaces.” So far: they work.
So, I know it’s not for everyone. And I get that. I really do. But I also love riding to work. I’m happy when I get here and I’m happy when I get home. A few minutes on my bike will do that. And the people who ask me how to do it and what gear you need seem serious. I don’t think they’re all humoring me. So here’s my ‘how-to commute in the snow and the cold.’
Oh, also, I have good lights!
UPDATE: Please come ride with me. International Winter Bike to Work Day is February 8, 2019. Commit to ride at: WinterBikeToWorkDay.org
In 2017, I started dabbling in running one or the other race, and discovered a wonderful one: the Bilbao – Rekalde San Silvestre 8k, which takes place on New Year’s Eve. My husband is from the Basque Country, so we spend New Year’s there every year. I had so much fun in 2017 that I decided to run it again on the last day of 2018. This time, I roped in two friends to run it with me. Overall, just under 2,500 other runners had the same idea. And it was even better than the year before!
I’ll get into this in a moment, but first, there are a couple of other things I’d like to talk about. The first is the reason I love this race: while there are of course some people who are there for the competition, the vast majority are there for the fun. People run alone, in groups, with their families, or dressed up in all kinds of costumes. My favourite this year were the two guys who came dressed as a trainera(a Basque type of rowing boat). In the head picture of this official blog post you can see them! There’s also a summary video of the race that gives you a good idea of the vibe (you really only need to watch the first half, the second half is more boring, unless you want to see how the winners did):
The second thing I wanted to talk about is slightly less fun: it’s the gender split of the race. There are only two categories, male and female, which is a problem unto itself, but the race this year was no less than three-quarters male. That doesn’t seem like a particularly healthy split to me. In fact, even in comparison to marathons in the US (a statistic I could find quite quickly), it’s quite poor. I’m not totally sure what is going on here. It’s a fairly short race (below 10k), not a very serious one, and cheap (10 euros) so it sends all the right accessibility signals, or so one would think… and yet. I was intrigued, so I looked into the data for Spain (from a few years ago) a bit. Generally, women are quite a bit more sedentary than men. For example, in the 25-44 age bracket, 55% of women never (!) exercise, compared to 41% of men. On the European scale*, Spain sits in a middling position overall regarding physical activity, but the difference by sex (again, the data is binary) is comparatively large. Possible explanations would be entirely speculative at this point – but our work, fit feminist friends, is not done.
For now, let’s focus on why I loved the San Silvestre even more this time than the year before. In 2017, it poured with rain throughout the entire race. This time around, we got spectacular blue skies (see picture below) and a perfect running temperature of just over 10°C. It felt amazing!
Also in 2017, I was still getting into running and quite slow, and I suffered due to the hills along the route. But over the past year, I’ve been working on my hills quite a lot, and my overall running speed has increased. We’d decided to run the race in our pack of three, so the (supposedly) slowest in the group was our pacer – and he wasn’t slow at all! We ran pretty much at the speed I currently train at, so we did very well. It gets even better: the reason we did the time we did was that our first kilometre was really slow due to the masses of people at the start. Meaning that overall, I was actually faster than ever, aside from that first bit! And the really amazing thing is that I could have run even faster – but the way we did it was perfect because we stuck together as a team and had a fabulous time. Mission accomplished!
*There is so much interesting data in that Eurostat graph, I’m going to make it its own separate post, promise!