I’m doubled over in the shower, the lukewarm water an agony. I’m balancing on my heels so my toes don’t touch anything. They’re on fire, they’re cramped with pain, and I can barely stand it. I’m frenetically rubbing my legs because if I stop I can feel the pain even more intensely, and pushing the water down my quads helps keep the water off my feet. If I stop I can feel every agonizing drop, like hot lava, or searing acid, and I try to hold my numb toes but can’t stand even that gentle pressure. I try to sit down so I can curl up and wait it out but I find that I can’t physically do it; I just crouch wretchedly, trying to get the courage to touch my toes to the tile so I can sit down and not finding it, and then force myself back up and double over, rubbing my legs again. I try to take my mind away like that pararescuer told me and it doesn’t work, only maybe it works a little because the leg rubbing thing is keeping me sane. I know if the pain gets even a little bit worse I won’t be able to hold myself up and I might start making uncontrollable noise. “Five minutes,” I tell myself, “five minutes and it will be over.”
Five minutes later it was.
I know this pain well. It may have all started back in high school when I got so cold one day on the snowmachine that it took me about an hour to warm my feet, and all I could do was writhe in agony on the couch. I’ve been usually pretty good at managing it because I know how much it hurts and I don’t let my feet get that cold if I can help it. Unfortunately for me I’ve gotten really into riding bikes and that is a great way to get cold feet immediately.
My feet go numb in benign conditions. I’ve turned my group around one mile into a 20 mile ride because I was already in trouble. Skiing with me is an exercise in not stopping because I can’t afford to stop any longer than it takes to ski to the bottom of the run. I suffer on chairlifts. I took up tele last year because even though being a newbie limited my ski options, my feet were much healthier. Chemical warmers, dry socks, plastic bags, huge boots; these are all in my stay-warm arsenal but sometimes I mess up, like I did today.
“Another ten minutes and my feet were gonna get cold!” said Todd at the car, after a truly chilling forty minute descent, both of us giggling nervously at our slowly freezing bodies and dying headlamps. My feet had been blocks of ice since the strenuous climb, and I was wearing big Arctic boots which should have had my feet swimming with sweat. Todd was only wearing light winter cycling boots complete with clipless pedals, and temps were in the single digits down low to probably upper teens up high. Todd was chilled but his feet weren’t cold. I was chilled but my feet were ridiculously insensate. I shouldn’t have gotten that cold, but I knew it was coming. It always does.
About halfway down, Todd had issued the truly quotable “I’m extremely, extremely cold but I’m not hypothermic!” which made me laugh and laugh. I’m going to use that quote a lot. I ran around the parking lot to get some stirrings of sensation, then drove home anxiously to face the inevitable agonizing lukewarm shower.
It doesn’t seem so bad now, even though my feet are still achy, but “It can’t go on like this,” was one of the few coherent thoughts I had while I was doubled over scrubbing maniacally at my legs, “I can’t go on like this. Maybe I can’t live here anymore.” What a depressing (and untrue) thought. But what if it IS true? Where would I go? What would I do? I don’t really like it anywhere else, believe me, I’ve tried. But my physical limitation is really starting to get to me. Big climbs and long trips seem to contain an element of risk they never did before. Losing digits is a real possibility. Maybe I don’t need to go up high anymore; or worse, maybe I can’t go up high anymore. What if snow biking becomes an impossibility too?
So, can it go on like this? Sometimes it has to. There’s little alternative. So I’m off to research a portable way to power my Firstgear heated motorcycling socks. They plug into my Ducati along with my heated pants and jacket, keeping me warm at 70mph in the ridiculously short shoulder motorcycling seasons here in Alaska, but my snow bike doesn’t have a battery other than yours truly, who has proved to be woefully inadequate at heating. But I have to go on like this so I’ll find a way.