I am determined to be a Weather Weenie no more.
I’ve already written about the magical Fall mornings I have experienced in the crisp air around Barton’s Creek at Falls Lake here in Raleigh. The 48-degree temps were manageable with the right kit. Then, we had what may have been our last 75+ degree day for a while and I found myself back on the board in shorts, loving the autumn colors all around and the noticeable lack of boat traffic on the water, and the freedom of bare legs.
This morning, though, it got real.
I woke up to 4:00 am (well, actually 3:30 am, thank you, Amy Pond, the feline,) 38 degrees and clouds. I was prepared for that: we’ve been hearing about the pending Polar Vortex for some time. What I wasn’t prepared for was the wet. My board, my car, my parking pad, my street….all of it wet. But not with rain, rather a very heavy mist. I was already ensconced in my neoprene pants, long sleeve paddle tee base layer and zip-up fleece mid-layer. I pondered, staring at the damp asphalt.
“If it’s not raining hard enough to TELL if it’s really rain, then I probably should go ahead and go,” the little voice inside my head reasoned. “Besides, the mocha is already in the thermos, the board is on the car, and the bod is in the gear.”
Just go up there and see, I told myself. If it’s coming down hard, or if the dock is wet and slick, you don’t have to paddle.
That is my Numero UNO hack/flow process for getting out the door on mornings like this. Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Tell yourself you are already awake and you might as well make coffee and get dressed.
Step 2: Drink your coffee and eat a little something. Then tell yourself you’ve already had your coffee so you can’t go back to sleep. And you’ve already eaten something so you have to work it off.
Step 3: Get in the car and tell yourself you’ll just go check out conditions.
The Last Step: I’m already here so I might as well just paddle. Even if it’s just for a few minutes.
(Note: If these tricks fail, think of your friends in Wisconsin and then you’ll immediately feel like a wuss. And you’ll FORCE yourself to go.)
PRO TIP: it can work for any kind of workout, not just paddling.
I’ve decided beating the Winter Blues isn’t about meteorological challenges. It’s just a mental game.
Well, at least if you live in North Carolina. You know, the state that panics if ONE snow flake falls.
It does pay to have the right gear to make it more comfy, safe and manageable.
Before we go any farther – let’s talk about cold water safety. Cold shock response is a thing, a serious thing, and can be life threatening, even in water above 50 degrees. The best thing you can do when paddling in the winter is wear a PFD (preferably NOT an inflatable one) and some sort of thermal protection – either neoprene or full wetsuit or dry suit. Read more about that here.
Back to the kit. Katie has already written about her favorite winter paddling gear in an excellent post, so I thought I’d mention a few things that are not necessarily paddling specific that have made my forays into the cold much more palatable.
Full Disclosure: I work for a large outdoor retailer and while some of the items I mention have been purchased with an employee discount, they were all done so of my own accord and choosing, with my own funds.
Winter Gear-During the Paddle
The Cyclone Buff: The Original Buff is a must-have for any outdoor activity, but the Cyclone goes several steps further when the temps get cold and the wind kicks up. The lower half of the Buff (which is essentially a tubular scarf) is made of thick Gor-Tex Windpro fleece and will keep the wind from blowing down your neck, while keeping your exposed skin warm. The upper half is double layer of seamless polyester microfiber which you can pull up over your chin, the lower part of your face, ears or even your head, in multiple configurations. You can wear it under a hat or helmet or use it as a balaclava to help keep the cold, dry air from searing your lungs. While pricey, it can be used for any sport, or daily use when the weather sucks. It’s super multifunctional.
Fleece beanie: I find a good, lightweight fleece cap to be indispensable while paddling. We all know about how much heat we lose from our noggins. Microfleece is awesome because if it gets wet, it will still keep you warm, plus it will keep sweat from dripping into your eyes. Then, it’s small enough to cram in a pocket if you get too hot and want to take it off. Like the Buff, it’s got many other applications too, like backpacking, running, hiking, or daily use. Many companies make them, just be sure it’s microfleece. Here’s the one I prefer, by Mountain Hardwear.
NiteRider Lumnia 220: Winter means lack of light. Doesn’t matter if it’s morning or night, it’s pitch-black-God-awful dark out there; it just seems cold temps increase the darkness density by at least 50 percent. Good illumination on the board is essential. I have been using the Lumina all through the summer for Dawn Patrol and continue to use it for my after work paddles now. This is a 220 Lumen bike light that has some waterproofing and is USB rechargeable. I “McGyvered” its handlebar mount to fit in the GoPro mount on my deck. That way I have plenty of light thrown in front of my board to lessen the likelihood that I get thrown into the water because I’ve hit something. Very impressed with the waterproofing, too, ‘cause it’s been dunked in its share of boat wake. Only drawback – you have to remember to recharge it.
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp: Along the same lines, a headlamp is key to beating back the dark. It helps you in the loading/unloading process, increases your visibility and ability to see on the water and provides you with a great way to blind your paddle partner, which is always lots of fun at 6:00 in the morning. The Storm is fully waterproof and sends a 160 Lumen-strong beam of light out 100 meters. Great for spotting the deer on the side of the lake or that beaver that’s about to slap his tail at you. It also has a red night vision mode, which can help you stay out of trouble with that paddle partner. Great for camping, keeping in the car glove box for emergencies, and other activities, too.
Skratch Labs Apple and Cinnamon Exercise Hydration Mix: Just because you don’t seem to be sweating now as much as you do in August doesn’t mean you don’t need hydration. If you’re working hard, regardless of the temps, you are losing electrolytes and they need replacing. The good folks at Skratch not only have made a drink mix designed to be imbibed HOT, but in an Apple and Cinnamon flavor even I like. Unless it’s my famous deep-dish apple cobbler, I am usually not a fan of this flavor, but this stuff is awesome. Grab a good insulated water bottle and fill it up with this stuff and it will not only help keep you hydrated, but it will warm you up, too.
Winter Gear Apres Paddle
Hydro Flask Thermos: GET ONE. They are amazing. Don’t believe me? Well, it garnered FIVE Mullets in this review. Hot beverages stay hot for 12 hours, cold beverages for 24. And carbonated drinks stay fizzy. Really. Fill one of these up with coffee, tea, hot cocoa or more Skratch Apples and Cinnamon and leave it in the car for after your paddle. Makes all the difference in the world. Promise, you’ll be smiling all the way home.
Via Starbucks Mocha Latte: Here’s another suggestion for apres paddle refreshment. Creamy, chocolaty, coffeeish warm yummy goodness. And it’s instant, so heat up some water in the microwave and it won’t slow you down as you try to get out the door. I actually make a Café Americano and add one packet of this stuff for a little extra kick. Having a reward like this waiting for you in the car makes all the difference in the world when it comes to motivation.
Monster and Sea Windchill Scarf and Coffee Shop Beanie: Once you’re out of the water and you’re not working as hard, getting the wet stuff off is critical. When I am loading my board and stowing my gear for the trip home, that’s when I tend to feel the cold the most. First thing I do is start the car and get the heater going. I leave my stuff on til the heavy lifting is done, then I get the wet gear off, including the Buff and the microfleece cap. Then these two things come on. The scarf is made of material similar to that used in the Original Buff, but it’s a long, traditional style scarf that’s extra wide and extra soft. It has so many other uses though – heck, I could even use it as a towel if necessary. I love, love, love this and wear it almost every day. It’s so nice to get this cuddly warm scarf around me after a chilly paddle.
Likewise the beanie. Soft but not too heavy. It’s a great combination of acrylic and wool, in a classic design that’s good around the water, campfire, or like its name suggests, at the local coffee house. I chose the olive color to go with the camo scarf. It’s light enough I can stuff it in a pocket easily too. It’s really great to be able to put on a DRY warm cap like this one after getting all sweaty out on the board.
Usually I leave the neoprene pants on for the ride home, after getting the sweaty top layers off and into a hoody. However, I have ordered several changing towel/parka/poncho thingies that I will no doubt write about they’ve been fully tested.
Winter may be coming, but with the right gear, we don’t have to be weenies.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.