01 February 2019

Biking in the Cold

I'm teaching in two places this semester. My home institution, Monmouth University, has graciously given me permission to teach at New York University, where I have the absolutely amazing privilege to run a graduate seminar on Medieval Ecocriticisms. What that means, though, is a lot more travel, and I'm trying not to drive if possible.

So  yesterday I biked 2.5 miles from my place on the Lower East Side to the NYU English Department, and then a few hours later, biked home again. It was probably at or close to the day's high of 17 degrees when I left, and down to 15 or so for my trip home. This morning, when I walked from my Long Branch rental to campus at Monmouth, it was five degrees.

I am not a hero, I am not an amazon, and I am not a monster. I'm just well prepared. For my bike ride yesterday, I wore a dress with warm leggings and a wool sweater -- and over that, snowboarding pants, a down vest, a warm winter jacket, down-lined gloves, a hat, and a gore-tex helmet cover. Plus Dermatone, a Swedish ointment that's kind of like lip gloss for the face (and, importantly, does not make me break out), to keep exposed skin from frostbite.

In the United States, our lives are organized, economically and culturally, in ways based on a historic sense of natural resources being endless. And on this large continent, for many decades we could reasonably believe that they were.

Twenty years ago I'd have said biking in single-digit temperatures was impossible. But I learned how to do it, and biking at 15 degrees yesterday was brisk, but not uncomfortable. I got cold hands and feet, but there are degrees of cold, ranging from tolerable to dangerous, and I was nowhere near danger.

Even as it's becoming clear that we not longer can operate on the assumption of limitless resources, we have built lives that are structured on that idea. Which means changing our lives means changing our ideas about how housing and communities and commutes are organized, among many other things. That's complicated, but it's not impossible. We can change our behavior, individually, and we can lobby our elected officials and hold corporations accountable. It's hard, but we can do it.

Also: Choosing to commute in the cold without the warm cocoon of a car is a good reminder that there are many people who don't have a choice: their jobs require them to be outdoors in all kinds of weather.