I went for a ride this afternoon, at warmest point of the day. The temperature was just below zero, but a northerly breeze drove the windchill down in the negative teens. I found the conditions eminently manageable, and in fact had to adjust my clothing to keep from overheating. Part of the purpose of the ride, in fact, was to get my clothing “dialed in” for the Arrowhead 135 race at the end of the month.
As I made my way through the barren cornfields, I thought about why I like being outside in the winter – a frequent topic of contemplation when I’m outside in the winter – and specifically about being cold. I don’t think I like being cold, any more than other people do, but I do enjoy the challenge of overcoming the feeling of being cold. I like figuring out which clothes will work best in various conditions, for instance. And I really like looking forward to the post-outing warm-up process: fireplace, hot cocoa, a shower. Perhaps a little snort of whiskey later, when it’s not completely necessary.
But I also enjoy, maybe more than I should, the psychological aspects of being cold, the perversity of learning to enjoy the discomfort. I like feeling my fingers tingling and my cheeks getting frosted and telling myself, “It’s just cold. It’ll pass.” Everything about those sensations is designed to send a person back to warmth, and they’re amplified by a little hint of panic – a prickling sense that something is going wrong, that pedaling a ridiculous bike further from home is not just kinda dumb, but dangerous.
But none of that is true. The sensations aren’t really problems, and despite what the shiny talking heads on the TV say, the conditions aren’t really dangerous. Keep going, and (unless something is really and truly wrong) the body will find ways to get everything back to equilibrium, just like it’s designed to do. And that might be my favorite part of being cold: feeling my body will do what it’s supposed to do.