Monday, December 22, 2008


Down in the basement, our furnace is working overtime.

Overnight, still-air temps fell to zero. With 20mph winds gusting to 35mph, the chill dipped below -20°F.

At the moment, the prospect of moving to Montana has lost its appeal.

We don't have to deal with this kind of deep freeze often, really, or for very long. Actually, according to the forecast, we'll see the mid-50s on Christmas Eve. It's just another whipsaw winter here in central Ohio.

Whenever it gets stupid-cold, the west side of our hilltop home takes the brunt of the blast. The upstairs plumbing is prone to freezing, so last night we left a thread of water running in each sink and set the washing machine to run during the wee hours. As usual, the frigid wind exposed some previously undiscovered thermal leaks and a few windows that don't quite seal. We plugged the gaps temporarily with caulk and covered the cracks with duct tape.

Pretty is as pretty does. We can make it beautiful later.

About an hour after sunset yesterday, we ventured out to a local restaurant to celebrate a birthday in the family. It was snowing, just tiny dry crystals, and the winds were at their peak -- not a good time to be outdoors for more than a few minutes.

I said recently that waiting for the school bus taught me how to dress for cold weather, but while traipsing back to the truck after dinner last night it occurred to me that my bus-stop experience was only a primer -- I didn't truly "go to school" until I started riding motorcycles.

On a moving motorcycle, wind is a fact of life. The blessed breeze that refreshes during summer months, however, becomes a poorly dressed rider's cursed critic when the temperature drops.

Think about it -- in still air, 60°F is comfortable, but at 60mph the wind chill approaches 30°F. Most bikers stop riding when the weather gets "cool." A few of us figure out how to dress for it and keep riding.

I'm not discouraged when autumn brings the 40s, and I get excited when early-spring temps finally rise into the 30s. Once, in a fit of bravado, I did a 25-mile freeway jaunt when it was 7°F. (Never again, by the way.) The principles I've learned are both invaluable and simple, and they apply directly to other relatively sedentary cold-weather pursuits (like life, for example).

Dress in loose layers, with a wind-blocking layer on top. Gear up right before going out. Cotton kills; fleece is a friend. Cover exposed skin, including the face. If it's too cold to keep riding, stop, get off the bike and warm up.

The enemy isn't frostbite, it's hypothermia. Cold hands, cold feet and uncontrollable shivering are signs that the body's core temperature has dropped too low. That's the time to stop, add another insulating layer and try again -- or just stop.

Staying reasonably comfortable in everyday cold weather isn't rocket science. And living with sub-zero wind chill is something we do around here every winter, if not necessarily every day.

As I finish this post, I see that the mercury has climbed to 4°F. Maybe I'll gear up, fire up and go for a quick motorcycle ride.

When frozen pigs fly.