7.24.2007,11:43 AM
Rider in a Storm II
Beep, beep, beep, beep......
"Grrrrr........." Whack!!!!

This morning came way too soon; I wasn't ready for it. I don't think I moved all night. Still sore and tired, I pounded the sleep button on the alarm while growling my displeasure.

What began as a lovely sunny and warm summer day in Texas ended with a malevolent storm which tossed me a curve. As usual for my morning commute, I left the mesh jacket on the bike's seat, boots and socks in one side bag and helmet in the tail bag on the luggage rack. This week was the second for the new bike cover. I wore the mesh pants with leggings underneath, a jersey over my tank top and barefoot in water sandals on the morning train, carrying shorts that I change into after I reach the office. From past experience, I always keep my rain suit in the bike's side bags, but last night they didn't keep me dry. I was soaked before I made it to the bike.

Standing on the train platform to board the train home, nothing in the sky portended a storm was on its way. Although hazy, Dallas was sunny with a few puffy clouds. Nothing ominous. As usual, the train motion soon coaxed my eyes closed and most of the ride was in a state of semi-consciousness. I was fully alert shortly before the train reached the station before my final destination; I noticed the sky was dark with an unsettling gray-blue color.

Uh oh.

Half a mile before my station to disembark, rain was pelting the ground and the sky dark enough that all the street lights were on at 6:45 pm. "This is not good", I thought to myself. When the train conductor opened the door of the stopped train, rain blew in through the doors and spears of lightning were all around us like sparks from a giant sparkler.

Instantly I decided to head for cover on one portion of the platform that also sported two walls of tempered glass. As I ran for it, I was joined by another fellow rider that commutes on the same train. We shouted at each other "I'm not riding in this!!!" as we both sprinted for cover.

We reached one end of the platform only to discover the wind was driving the rain underneath the roof from the northwest. We both ran for the other end where a wall on that direction blocked more of the wind and exposed us to the south. Regardless, the wind still drove some rain in under the roof between the wall and we both were soaked.

My shorts were limply hanging off my hips and I looked like I had just participated in a wet tank-top contest. My hair was hanging in dripping ringlets around my face, getting water in my eyes, as I clutched my bag of gear and clothes to me. The book and paper in the outer pocket of my lunch box were wet but I zipped it closed to protect it from further damage.

The wind and rain were cold; I found myself uncontrollably shivering despite wrapping my arms around my torso. The spasms became stronger as I got colder.

Brain: "Hey down there, core temperature's dropping! We need some heat production: thermogenesis! And we need emergency glucose for that! Get those muscles contracting!"

You wouldn't think that hypothermia in the middle of a Texas summer would be possible, but in cold, windy and wet conditions, anything is possible. Wet skin (and clothes) and a cool wind will increase evaporative cooling; this is how many organisms stay cool. But when the body can't replenish the heat lost to the surroundings, an internal reflex switches on to generate the heat needed to maintain normal body function. Even a fraction of a degree in core body temperature and cold signals from the skin and spinal cord will trigger the shivering reflex. A message from the primary motor center in the brain triggers quick contractions of muscles around vital organs and what we call 'shivering'. The more heat required, the more widespread these spasms become.

Body fat is a good insulator as well as storage for energy, but I don't carry much fat on my upper body and back. So I lose body heat relatively quicker than others that have more fat to insulate their muscles, bone and blood vessels from the cold. Cold air is one thing. But cold wet wind is another, and it was sucking the heat out of me. To maintain body temperature, quickly contracting muscles burn glycogen which is stored sugar in the tissue to generate energy and heat. It's like a big furnace and the thermostat had been kicked on in force.

With my torso, arms and low back shivering, I knew I needed to either dry off or protect myself from the wind. Nothing nearby was going to allow me to dry off. Remembering my jersey in the bag, I fished it out and put it on. The shivering in my torso immediately stopped, but not for long. As it the jersey became damp from the wet shirt and water on my skin, I could feel the creeping shivers starting to return.

While all this was going on inside and outside of me, I was becoming conscious that I was hungry.
Muscles: "Yo, we need lots of mitochondria to help out here!! Come'on!! We need some fuel."

Almost all cells in the body have tiny powerhouses called 'mitochondria'. These little organelles generate chemical energy for cells and tissues. Muscle fibers contain mitochondria which fuels them and their neighbors, whereas fat cells have very few mitochondria. However, a certain type called 'brown' fat cells is packed with these little powerplants; in fact, that's what imparts the fat cell's brown tint. Although newborns have plenty of brown fat cells, they are usually only found around vital organs in adult humans. Their function in generating heat is more associated with non-shivering circumstances, but they can be called into action during continued shivering as well.

Standing on the platform and shivering, watching the lightening bolts sear the bruised looking sky, we heard a tornado siren off in the distance. The wind and rain confused which direction it emanated from but we looked at each other and said "Uh oh!" Looking up we saw low clouds moving in one direction and another layer of clouds moving in the other direction. Not good.

I strained to see vehicles splash walls of water under the highway overpass and knew that the streets were flooding. Flashing emergency vehicle lights across the highway indicated that the on-ramp to the highway was now barricaded and closed. Fire trucks and other emergency vehicles loudly raced to a rescue down the road in front of the station and lightening continued to strike all around us. We decided to stay put until the rain let up and the electrical danger passed.

As the wind decreased and the rain wasn't driven into our shelter, I pulled out my mesh pants and donned them. I stood barefoot on the bricks which were warmer than my soaking wet water sandals. I shivered less as the wind died down but I was still wet and chilled. I kept thinking how nice it would be to have my rain gear but it was in the side bags on my bike several hundred yards across the parking lot. And I wondered how dry everything would be under the new bike cover.

An hour passed and the rain was only a drizzle now. Drew and I had run out of conversation after talking about his recent bike trip to the Pacific Northwest. We both were getting tired and hungry. I jokingly suggested having hot coffee and pizza delivered to our shelter. My hunger and desire for a big bowl of hot stew caused me to consider stopping on the way home for a bite to eat. I knew I needed to replace some energy and I was starting to yawn.

We each walked rapidly towards our bikes in the drizzle, trying to avoid the large puddles of water in the parking lot. Removing the new bike cover, I saw that my mesh jacket on the seat was soaking wet, my sidebags were wet inside. Luckily the boots were not facing up thus didn't have water pooled in them. But my socks were wet.

After pulling on the rest of my gear, the shivering commenced again. The rain pants and jacket helped cut any wind and served to keep some of my body heat in despite that I was still wet all the way through.

Drew rode up to my spot on his Triumph Sprint and mentioned that two of his routes home were closed.
After a short discussion on what roads might be navigable home, we both decided to take the higher frontage road and then turn on our respective routes home. I led the way, circumnavigating the flooded areas and at one point lifted my legs and feet up as I rode through five inches of water. Since my favored route home was blocked due to flooding, I chose another route only to find another flooded section that was barricaded.

I veered north knowing that eventually I would end up near the major highway that I normally rode home. Carefully avoiding deep flooded areas on the road and using both front and back brakes to stop, I finally made it onto the highway. Traffic was progressing at a cautious speed and I kept a long distance behind the vehicles in front of me to reduce road spray. By then the drizzle had stopped and the skies were beginning to clear. Behind me.

Riding west, I rode into a dark azure blue boasting a tint of wet black. Sure enough big droplets started hitting my face and windshields. I hoped to race this storm home before getting caught in the middle of it. I boycotted the thoughts of stopping for something to eat or at a grocery store to pick up food for home as I had planned to do after work. Time was of the essence: get home!

Two hours and fifteen minutes after disembarking the train and 32 miles later, I maneuvered the bike carefully over waterlogged gravel and mud, feathered the front brake and came to a stop in a drizzle at home. Although I was still wet, the rain gear prevented most of the wind from chilling me further and trapped what body heat I was able to produce under the wet clothes and jacket. After peeling off the wet garments, a hot shower warmed me, a glass of warm wine relaxed the stiff and tight muscles, and I crawled under my down comforter with a heating pad to sleep.

The next morning I woke in the exact same position I fell asleep.

And then got the bike's rear wheel stuck in waterlogged mud and grass the next morning!


posted by Macrobe
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