That’s what Evan said right before giving me a quick surprise kiss at the trailhead, immediately following a miserably soggy commute from his parents house to the snowy woods that we were so excited to ride. It was still snowing—wet, slushy flakes that turned the highways into a nasty stew of water, salt, and road grime that quickly permeated my pants and fleece gloves, and had somehow made its way down the tops of my 45NRTH Wolvhammers. Not so long prior, as we made our way through idyllic, snow-covered fields, I had remarked how my new purchase for this winter was making all the difference in keeping my feet warm. Not anymore—my feet were standing in an inch of water inside the boot, and quickly becoming thoroughly cold.
But other than that, things were pretty great. We were off the road, on awesome trails that I had been looking forward to riding for weeks, in an absolutely beautiful winter wonderland. A little cold was not going to get in the way of this. So, despite my cold feet and Evan’s cold hands, we embraced it. Yes, we were wet. But we were here. We were going to ride.
So we rode, and had a lot of fun, splashing through puddles and mud, successfully ignoring the cold for a while. In fact, if you had told me I could have this much fun being soaking wet in 35-degree weather, I probably would have told you that you’re crazy. But it was happening. My core was still warm, and I was still happy, gaining the sort of strange enjoyment that I tend to do out of doing outdoor activities in adverse and slightly uncomfortable conditions.
Then something happened. After a small climb, I felt myself starting to get hungry, weak. I needed some fuel. I took a bite of Clif Bar, and we continued. My bike slipped on some slush, and I fell over, right into a deep puddle of water. Though I was already soaked, the sudden blast of icy liquid seemed to go right to my bones, and perhaps that’s when it all started going downhill. We got back on the road for a bit, the water splashing in my face, the cold in my feet beginning to creep up into my legs and becoming increasingly harder to ignore.
We started uphill again, back on a trail. Good, an uphill. Maybe I’ll warm up a little. Instead, I found all my energy was gone. I tried to pedal, and my legs had no power. It was as if my muscles were frozen along with my feet. I got off the bike and walked for a while. Still, it felt like I was moving in slow motion. I wanted to run, or hop back on the bike and power my way to the top—but I just couldn’t. It was the strangest sensation, to just not be able to move any faster. Kind of scary, too.
I was unable to even come close to keeping up with Evan in the state I was in, and after stopping to wait for me time and time again, he told me we needed to call his mom to come pick us up. There was no way he could keep stopping—he couldn’t feel his fingers anymore, and I’m sure he could tell that I was not okay, even if at the moment, I was still trying to deny to myself that hypothermia was beginning to set in.
So we called, and waited for about 15 minutes in the small parking lot, me shivering uncontrollably, hyperventilating, tears welling up for reasons unknown. I could feel my mental state steadily declining—it wasn’t simply a matter of being uncomfortable anymore. Uncomfortable, I can handle. This was something totally different, a level of cold that was making me crazy. Evan stood stoic, and though I knew he was freezing too, I was grateful for his strength. I felt horrible about our predicament, knowing that if it weren’t for me, he could have made it back to his parents no problem. Maybe he was in fact frustrated, or annoyed, or bummed. But in those frigid moments, he made me feel like it was all okay.
B arrived in my truck, we climbed in, and began the process of getting warm. In the shower, my feet changed colors more times than I’ve ever seen before—from red to white to purple and back to white—and tingled and burned for a good half hour. But soon enough, we were back to normal—warm and toasty and feeling sane again.
If you can ride in this, you can ride in anything. We didn’t complete our entire intended ride, but we made it for a good three and a half hours before throwing in the towel—and I’m glad we did when we did. I was colder than I’ve ever been in my life. I started out miserable, soaking wet, but put that aside for several hours and just kept going, having a lot of fun in the process. But there’s a difference between uncomfortable and hypothermic, and when things tipped towards the latter, it was time to quit.
It was still a good ride though, and certainly a memorable one.