What do you mean, cold?

Each day I arrive at work on my bicycle I am greeted by colleagues who always have some words of envy, disbelief or congratulations to share: “I wish I was that ambitious” or “not a very nice day for a bike ride” or “that’s awesome that you take your bike to work”. 

Today it was “you looked cold”.  Hmmm? What does cold look like I wondered? I definitely didn’t feel cold.  In fact it was a beautiful, almost cozy ride in to work. It was a seasonal -20C, and there was a westerly wind, but it wasn’t “cold”.  Besides, I was dressed perfectly for the ride.  Wool socks in Blundstone boots, jeans, gloves and a long sleeve T under a wool sweater all wrapped up in an awesome jacket meant I had the upper hand in staying warm once I left the house. My wool cycling cap and the collar of my jacket left only my eyes and nose exposed.  Once I began to pedal, my muscles started generating enough heat that warm air rose up around my neck and kept even my nose from being able to tell the true outdoor temperature.


So what did I do to look like someone who was loosing heat? Or was it something else, an assumption, that was the basis of the “You looked cold” comment. If you want to encourage more people to ride a bicycle to work, and in the winter, you certainly shouldn’t look cold doing it yourself.

So I thought about what I saw on the ride in. There were construction workers bundled up, their breath condensing on exhale.  Car exhaust also rose up thick and white as cars stopped and started as they moved through the construction. But maybe more noticeable than the rest was the was the continuous stream of drivers that looked frozen to their cars’ steering wheels. To me they looked cold.




The conclusion I came to?  That sitting still in a cold car, with cold air blowing on your while you wait for the engine to warm up (which it never does on a 15 minute commute), dressed fashionably rather than practically for the climate controlled office meant that most drivers were in fact cold. And since we have come to believe that the separation between inside (indoors) and outside (outdoors) determines whether someone is cold or not, I was viewed as the one cold. 

My hypothesis that “cars are cold” was supported just the other day when I awoke early, threw on a thin jacket, left unzipped, no hat, no mitts and jumped in our van to get milk at the convenience store just 550 metres (.3 mi) away. I nearly froze. I drew my limbs in as close to my core as much as I could and proceeded to drive with only a single thumb on the lower part of the steering wheel. I was, and looked, cold. Somehow we have be conditioned to think they once inside a vehicle we are spared from the elements and that proper clothing is optional.  No wonder so many people dislike winter, when the day starts out with a hypothermic 15 minutes drive to work. 

On the very same day, I was leaving the office to get a coffee and do some marking at the nearby Tim’s.  As I was leaving I greeted a student with “How are you doing?” Her reply, a single word: “Cold!” I retorted with a smile and an equally simple phrase “Wear more clothes.” It seems we either have forgotten how to live in winter or convenience has made us lazy and fashion has conned us in to thinking it is not necessary to dress warmly.

Last winter during all the weather media reports, Rick Mercer of The Mercer Report had this to say: http://www.cbc.ca/mercerreport/videos/clips/ricks-rant-weather-amnesia; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EQdXyKiFY4, with apologies to Torontonians. Maybe he is right.

By coincidence I just finished reading Frost Bike by Tom Bain.  There is a chapter on how we, and other nations, deal with winter. It is becoming clear that we simply lack the desire and knowledge, or more so wisdom, to face and embrace winter.  And the cost is our health, happiness and the loss of opportunity to enjoy life at it fullest for a full quarter of the year.

Cold? Maybe a little transfixed on the scenery or the physical sensations of exercise, but cold? Far from it. My apologizes for looking that way but I was, in Maritime colloquial terms, warm as toast!

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