The morning started out okay... just after 6 a.m., I set out on my trusty steed, lights on and music set to shuffle. From the waist up, I was pretty warm: Four layers, including a down-filled vest, and a full balaclava and ski mask (the latter being a recent and very welcome addition to my winter gear) formed a pretty much impenetrable barrier between me and the -32 degrees Celsius (with windchill) outdoor early morning temperatures.
My lower legs were okay, too, as I had remembered to wear my 80s throwback leg warmers over my warm winter boots and two pairs of pants.
No, the initial troubles were not with the rider, but rather with the ride.
It would appear my bike was not built to withstand these subarctic Toronto-Mississauga temperatures: By Evans and Royal York, halfway through a Beethoven concerto, my derailleur stopped cooperating, and I could not downshift. My bike, essentially, became single speed, stuck for the rest of the 14-km ride thankfully somewhere in a middle gear.
The unexpected extra cardio was admittedly an unwelcome addition to my morning ride, and neither Corey Hart nor Elton John, nor even Rush's New World Man could ease the pain of the the various laborious traffic light starts and surprisingly and suddenly ubiquitous little inclines enroute.
By the time I reached the East Mall and Queensway, however, a more pressing matter had begun to dominate my mind: My butt and upper thighs were FREEZING!!!! My second pair of pants was -- foolishly -- not a pair of snowpants, but rather my trusty waterproof pants that I generally wear more as protection against the rain rather than as a layer of warmth. Though my upper body and my shins (thanks to the legwarmers) were quite toasty, the parts in the middle were... well, ... not so much!
By the time I turned north on Dixie and pushed my way uphill through whatever godforsaken gear the stupid bike was stuck on, my middle parts had warmed up considerably from the extra workout. But now my expensive but somewhat very old (circa 1998, I think) winter/hiking boots were starting to show their age, and my one-sock-layer-ensconced toes were FREEZING!!!!
To be honest, I was not convinced that I would make it to school alive. But what else could I do?
I thought of the words of my wise (and much more bike-savvy and considerably more stamina-endowed) girlfriend, who once told me, "the good thing about biking is you know if you just keep pedalling, no matter how slowly, eventually you'll reach your destination".
I kept pedalling.
Very. Very. Slowly.
And, miracle of miracles, I eventually arrived at school! Exhausted... starving... parts of my ass possibly frostbitten... but I was there, and with time to spare, even.
I got off my bike, wheeled it into the building, unlocked my classroom door, and sat down to thaw out. Weakly, I dragged myself back out into the hall to my bike to unpack my oatmeal and half grapefruit from one of the panniers, and my work clothes from the other.
20 minutes later, I was defrosted, fed and sitting at a before-school meeting with two colleagues, doing some long-overdue planning a project we've been working on.
My bike is still in my classroom -- I took the bus home tonight.