Tuesday, December 7, 2010

If the Toes Ain't Happy, Then NOBODY Is Happy

Last winter, I got a little frostbite on the tips of a couple of my toes.

I didn't really even notice it at the time. It was a really cold day, and I was wearing my sandals with two pairs of socks. I had not really checked the weather that morning, but was running late. My feet hurt when I left the house on the way to work, and when I finally got to work an hour later they felt like lumps of wet cold clay. I rubbed them until they started to hurt, and then rubbed them some more.

A couple of days later I rode outside again, and the tips of a few of my toes hurt ... a lot. This wasn't the kind of hurt that they get when they're cold, though; this was a "Aw, gee, you're doing this to me again" kind of hurt -- a whining, nagging kind of hurt that is going to regularly admonisher you for the rest of your life. My toes were making me feel as if I had missed the birth of my third child because I was off on a fishing trip with two high school buddies and an exotic dancer named "Sindy."

Those toes bitched all winter, then grumbled during the spring. They even gave me a few harsh looks on temperate mornings this past summer.

So, when fall came, and I told them to "Harden The Heck Up" ... or something to that effect ... they replied by hurting.

Well, I'm not one to argue with toes, so I bought a new pair of shoes. Yes: Not sandals. Shoes. With a solid surface covering the toes -- a thing for which shoes are semi-famous (and sandals are not). Said solid surface will supposedly retain heat, deflect cold, and protect tender toes.

I got the Specialized BG Pro Carbon Mountain Biking Shoe:

To give credit where it's due, I bought these based on the recommendation of another cycling blogger: Fat Cyclist. He got a pair of them about a year ago, and he does almost as many miles as I do and still loves them. I went over to Gran Fondo Cycles (a.k.a., the Greatest Bike Shop Ever in This or Most Other Known Universes ... and Some Universes that Not Even Stephen Hawking Has Theorized About), and they had one pair of these, and they were my size. That's what I call "fate."

Now, for years I have been a big proponent of wearing sandals for ultracycling. Most of the "real" ultracyclists that I know told me when I first started that sandals were more comfortable for distance rides. You don't get hot-foot with sandals (or, at least, you get less hot-foot). On wet rides, your socks dry out in sandals, as opposed to just getting musty and rotting your feet the way they do with shoes.

But sandals are heavy. When I went to work the next morning in my new Specialized shoes with their carbon fiber soles, I was amazed at the difference that a pound of weight loss on your foot can make. They don't squeak as much as my sandals do, either, which was kind of nice. And I'm not saying that I may not go back to sandals come spring ... but I do have to wonder.

It was 18 degrees outside when I left the house for work this morning. I had watched the weather, so I knew what to expect and had prepared properly ... particularly protecting my toes. Here's what I put on my feet:

  1. Base pair of regular cycling socks
  2. On top of the socks, near the tips of my toes, I stuck a chemical toe warmer.
  3. On the bottom of the socks, I stuck a Grabber chemical foot warmer. These are kind of like shoe insoles, but hot.
  4. Over this I put a pair of Rapha wool socks.
  5. Then, finally, I put on my shoes.

All of this was accompanied by my Assos outerwear, of course, with bibs and a long-sleeve jersey underneath. Cold legs yield cold feet. If you don't think that running a warm fluid through a chilled tube (e.g., your legs en route to your feet) will chill that fluid, you do not understand how your car's radiator works.

The result of this swaddling? Happy feet. If anything, I had to hurry outside and start riding, since the chemical warmers sealed within the extra socks and solid shoes were starting to toast my toes.

Of course, the downsides are that it costs me almost $2 in chemical toe warmers to get to and from work, not to mention that it takes me an extra 15 minutes to layer up and strip back down for my commute. But if this will get my toes to shut up and forget about the fishing trip with Bud, Lou, and Sindy, I'll take it.


  1. I wish I could have read your thoughts before today's polar bear ride. 23 at the start and 28 after only 30 miles. My toes was froze. with 1 wool pair of socks, 1 regular pair of bike socks, and shoe booties, it wasn't enough. My feet, actually hurt in the shower. Wont do it again w/o warmers and better shoes.

  2. I wish that I had followed my advice for the ride home last night. Chemical warmers on the top of the feet weren't enough -- even for a one-hour ride. Gotta use the sole warmers, too.