The coldest day in my life was January 11, 2004. Sure, I’ve been in colder weather. There was that time in the eighties when I was a kid. It was below 10 degrees and they had cancelled school. I was still sent to go get the newspaper in the morning. We lived in the woods and the driveway was dirt, twisty and a couple hundred yards long. I was in a t-shirt and no shoes. I wasn’t out there long but it got cold quick. There was the time in the nineties in Colorado when we climbed up the monte cristo mountains (they’re really called something else, but the name was close enough to nickname them after the Bennigans sandwich). Us mountain bikers hiked high, beyond the aspens, across a frozen-over creek and finally into a snow covered mountain top valley that had a lake. We skiid on our butts. Big Worm got pissed. His ankles were fried and we did not bring enough food. We were in shorts and pull over jackets, but we were exercising and the sun was out. It was cool but not cold. Last year I was able to go skiing in Breckenridge. Lot’s of time on the Internet searching deals turned a $10,000 vacation into actual cost of $3,000 for a family of four (this included transportation). It was one of the best times of my life and want to ski again someday – maybe January of 2011. It was very cold with good snow. But the sun was out and, here’s the biggest thing, we were dressed properly. It also helped we were staying on the slopes and could get warm at any time.
So it was we found ourselves getting dressed on an uncommonly cold morning in High Springs, Florida. It can be cold in the morning in Florida, especially in January. But the sun always promises to come out, and the temperature almost always rises above 50. Some of the years we’ve ridden the Tour de San Felasco it has even been warm, like 70 degrees warm. It’s also been cold, albeit cold by Florida standards, so we know to layer. Watching the forecast on the relic of a TV at the ball scratch inn, we know it’s going to be cold. So we begrudgingly suited up. Each of layering up as we always do. All of us expecting to shed some, maybe even most of this gear by lunch. We even went with head gear. Reminding ourselves you can always take it off.
We’re late as usual and most of the 300 riders have started the Tour. It was cold in the hotel parking lot as we leave and even colder when we arrive at the frost covered parking area at the San Felasco State Preserve. We are all bitching about the cold but we still have that promise of warmth as the day goes on. The high was nearly in the sixties yesterday so it’s not going to be that cold, right? We’re all dicking around with our bikes and gear. The ground crunches under our feet as each of us goes through our own pre-ride rituals. I just want to get going cause I know riding will get us warmer. Especially when you get in the singletrack. Normally the woods are colder. There’s no ambient heat to draw from, like from buildings, asphalt, etc… But on cold days like this singletrack can be your friend because there is no wind.
It’s been five years now so the details are a little fuzzy. But I can tell you I mostly remember being very, very cold. When we started out the temperature was somewhere around 40 degrees (maybe a little colder). It never got warmer. In fact, this was one of those odd ball days where it actually gets colder as the day goes on. Compounding the cold is the lack of sun. Cloudy skies are topped off with wind. By the first check/feed station we’re all complaining. As we get closer to lunch everybody starts talking about the soup I hate. They’re also day-dreaming out loud about going to the car and warming up for awhile before tackling the second half of the Tour. I myself am in pain. The weather is not that bad by northern standards but for under dressed Florida boys it is very cold. We’ve been in the elements for about three hours and my feet are hurt the worst.
The idea of going to the heater sounds good. The cold has me feeling like somebody slipped a ruffie in my water bottle. I’m hallucinating about warmth. I have just enough of my bearings to know that if I go to the truck I’ll never come back out. I’d be done for the day – not something I want on my riding resume. There is still some lobbying as we approach lunch. There is always sun at lunch, where you can usually see people spread out resting and eating. There’s none of this today as people are huddled together, sipping soup and sniffling their pink noses. I don’t care about any of this. I’m in survivor mode. I know what I’m looking for but I can’t find it anywhere. Finally I break down to scavenger mode. I pull out my multi-tool and cut out two big sections of a used trash bag. These are the heavy duty thick and black variety so I think they will be a good substitute. I go find a place in the grass. I wipe off excess waste from the crappy soup and discarded half eaten PBandJs. I cut the heavy plastic some more and then I’m faced with a choice. At this point it’s like removing a piece of wood or glass from an artery. You know it going to be worse but you have to do it at some point to fix the problem.
I finally work up the nerve to do it. I remove my shoes and touch my feet. They hurt to touch because they have that numb, tingly feeling. I wrap each foot in the plastic. I then force these frozen plastic burritos back into the shoes. They are a force fit but I’d rather have an uncomfortable fit if it means they can be a little warmer.
We saddle back up and complete the ride. I can’t remember much else, other than being miserable. I do remember the thawing process back in the car. How it hurt but felt good at the same time. I remember thinking I’m never doing this Tour again. The official high and low for that day were 42 and 26. It was cold and miserable. I’m hoping for just miserable next week.