Staying Toasty on Trails:
Ken Kolk's wife Judy, undeterred by snow on the White Pine Trail State Park in Michigan.
Russ Harris' wife Jeannie on the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota's Black Hills.
RTC's Karl Wirsing in his snow bib in South Dakota. If it were feasible to wear it while he runs during the winter, he would.
In January, we asked you to tell us how you stay warm on rail-trails during the winter. Some folks are lucky enough to live in warmer climes and enjoy year-round comfort outdoors. But others have learned all sorts of tricks to stay active even when winter revs up its worst. Judging from these responses, though, it's clear that for many of you every season is rail-trail season.
Ken Kolk — Shelbyville, Mich., and Holiday, Fla.
Living so many years through western Michigan's nasty winters before we retired, my wife Judy and I always tried to get out and ride in every month. During the "winter thaws," when the local rail-trails were free enough of snow, we'd take our recumbents out on them.
Dealing with the cold means you must use layering. We found that it works best to start with a layer of wicking material (usually an Under Armour® t-shirt) over our regular underwear, then a long sleeve cotton shirt and jeans over wicking long underwear if it was really cold. Then we put on a sweater, and finally over all a wind-resistant "wind shirt" and nylon athletic "warm-up" pants, which are also wind-resistant.
Although we ride recumbents (Rans V-Rexes at present, having started with BikeEs), we prefer platform-type peddles, as these allow us to use arctic boots (rubber-footed, leather-topped lace-up boots made famous by L.L. Bean). They are large enough to wear two pairs of socks, wool over cotton, which kept our feet warm down to temperatures in the single figures. We pulled the socks over the jeans and used Velcro® straps to seal the warm-up pants to the boots.
To keep our hands warm, we used "snowmobile" mittens with long cuffs that went over the sleeves of the wind shirt. A balaclava tucked into the collar of the wind shirt with an insulated stocking cap, and a scarf around the neck, finished off the outfit for dealing with extreme cold while riding. None of these layers restricted our movements. The nice thing about layers is that you can remove a layer or two if you find that you are getting warm.
The last thing you want when riding in the very cold weather is to begin to perspire, as ultimately that will make you colder. So before you begin to perspire you should remove a layer. It is always better to be on the cool side in severe cold. We have ridden hundreds of miles in the extremely cold weather of western Michigan. Fortunately, we now are free to load up our bikes and head for warmer southern states, where we can ride in shorts and t-shirts. Coming from Michigan, any temperatures in the mid-60s and up is warm enough for shorts and t-shirts. So we can't believe the number of people we see on Florida rail-trails wearing insulated jackets while we are wearing shorts, t-shirts and sandals!
Jeff Mason — Albuquerque, N.M.
My wife and I visited relatives in Dallas, Texas, around Christmas and did some jogging on the Katy Trail in downtown Dallas. The temperatures were in the 60s and 70s, so we were definitely warm. The Katy in Dallas is a very unique trail, as it runs through the densest part of downtown Dallas. It is paved with parallel concrete and rubber paths to accommodate multiple uses. The trail has a nice variety of trees and vegetation, as well as architecturally interesting buildings along its elevated route over the busy city streets. This beautiful trail, even in December, is a wonderful example of a well-executed urban trail conversion.
Bruce Kulik — Medford, Mass.
Over the past two years, I have become an avid bicycle commuter and now average close to 70 percent for year-round commuting trips. In the warmer months from April though November, I make well over 90 percent of my commuter trips by bike, but in the remaining months, it drops to about 40 percent.
This winter, I have been experimenting with pushing harder in less desirable weather, and I now have a system which seems to be good down to about 15 degrees. I use a thermal nylon-polyester base layer for top and bottom. The brand name is Under Armor®. On top of that, I wear nylon water-resistant snow pants by Charles River Apparel, and a medium-weight nylon water-resistant, polyester, insulated, cotton- lined spring/fall jacket by Eddie Bauer. If I think the wind chill may be more severe, I will also wear a fleece pullover under the jacket, but then I sometimes find I am too warm by the end of my half-hour commute.
For shoes I wear a product from New Balance that has Vibram soles; it's somewhere between a leather sneaker and a light-weight hiking boot. I think the warmth comes mostly from the wool socks I wear inside them (only one layer of socks). I have several different pairs of gloves. All are nylon with some sort of polyester/foam insulation. One of the brand names is Thinsulate. Although they all claim to be breathable, I find that I sweat into them, so I bring a second pair for the return trip in the evening, because the first pair is moist. I also wear a wool and acrylic knit hat with "earlobes" under my helmet. My ears, face and head have never been cold with this combination.
Finally, I cover everything up with a safety-green reflective vest that is of the same quality as those worn by road work crews, as I am both in traffic and on trail. My trip home is usually in the dark in the winter. And, although not clothing, I have very bright strobe-like LED lights front and back. It's apparent from their behavior that drivers can see me quite well.
Russ Harris — Santa Cruz, Calif.
My wife Jeannie and I ride year-round, which is easy in California. Today, for example, we rode 20 miles through the Napa Valley. Although warmer than most of the country, it nonetheless does get a tad cold at times. I wear silk undergarments sold by Eddie Bauer or by a catalog company called Winter Silks. Then I layer up with the usual bicycle clothes, sometimes augmenting with a sweatshirt.
When we go rail-trail-in, we have saddlebaggs with burley rain gear and more clothes. We have been stuck out there at times in pretty cold conditions. Last year, for example, we were on the George Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota and got pretty cold one day. Having a lot of extra stuff with us saved the day. We have ridden in 32 states. Eighteen more to go!
Bill Moore — Baltimore, Md.
Having ran in South Dakota in the winter, the wind makes all the difference in the world. If the wind speed is tolerable, always make sure your head, neck and hands are covered and stay warm. And always run into the wind going out, and run with it coming back. Running into the wind when you have worked up a sweat is not pleasant. Or better yet, try to run so you have a cross wind.
Karl Wirsing — Washington, D.C.
Reading Bill Moore's response inspired me to write one of my own. My parents live on a small farm near Gregory, S.D., and I visit a few times a year, including over the winter holidays. I used to spend every summer of my childhood on the farm. These days, though, I seem to catch the cold season more often. And South Dakota, as Bill says, has some of the coldest and windiest winters around. The air temperature routinely stays well below zero, with wind gusts pushing the wind chill into the deep negatives.
On a few unwise occassions, I've decided I still needed to get in a run. Not a mistake I intend to repeat. When a below-zero wind is ripping into your body, there's very little you can do to stay cozy and mobile. You have to cover every inch of skin in multiple layers. Eventually, you feel like a marshmallow getting beaten around in the gusts.
What I learned recently is that the proper gear, though, can make an enormous difference. With sweat-wicking tights and tops (Marmot and Under Armour® have worked really well for me), and then another light but efficient layer on top, I'm able to stay comfortably active outside when it's in the teens. It certainly beats wrapping myself in the entire closet, and it keeps me warmer. Still, I've made a pact with myself never to go for a run when the tempature is below zero degrees, especially if even the slightest wind is blowing!
Sandy Colina — Reno, Nev.
My husband and I live in Reno, Nev., where winters can sometimes be cold and very windy. But this has been a great biking year for us. My husband purchased a pair of Hot Chilis long underwear at a local ski shop, and I wear Under Armour® from REI. We have biked with temps in the upper 40s and strong winds, but lots of sunshine. Note: we are in our mid-60s and often bike 10-plus miles through the open area of the wetlands near our home. Biking is beautiful here.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy does not endorse any of the products or brands mentioned in the above "Tell Us" responses. All expressed preferences are solely the opinions of eNews subscribers, not Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.