I’ve been a year round utility cyclist since the 1980s. Whilst living in Illinois and Colorado, that meant cycling to work in occasionally extreme weather. You just deal with it.
Six years in California, however, has softened me.
Those of you who live in truly cold weather will laugh at those who wear long underwear and face masks for the mildly cool temperatures we occasionally experience in the San Francisco Bay Area. Go ahead, mock us. And then allow me to relate my story.
I began Cyclelicious when I lived in Longmont, Colorado. If conditions were cold and dry, my usual bike-to-work garb was Bridgedale wool hiking socks (which, incidentally, I still highly recommend as a gift), a couple of thin layers on my legs, a couple of thin layers over my torso covered by a wind-blocking cycling jacket, mid-weight full gloves, and a fleece hat. That was good down to about 10°F (-12°C). Below that, I add another layer to my torso, use heavier gloves and cover my face with a balaclava. With snow or rain, I’d cover that with plastic rain gear. I was always cozy during my six mile commute.
I was caught out late last night and accidentally caught the wrong bus home. Instead of dropping me off within a mile of my home, this bus dumped me off at a park-and-ride five miles away. It’s 30°F (-1°C) out, but no problem — I’m wearing my Colorado winter cycling gear! Besides that, I have 400 feet of elevation gain built into this ride, guaranteeing heat generation as I push out the watts to go uphill.
When I arrived at home, my toes and hands were numb and I was shivering with mild hypothermia. I felt so pathetic.
But that leads me to wonder: Are there physiological adaptations to cold weather? In other words, how do our bodies change in response to constant exposure to the cold? I know about the immediate responses such as vasoconstriction and so forth, but how does body adapt for long term cold exposure?