Trail Dispatch – Keeping in the heat

keepingintheheat_03.jpg Coordinates: 69.51.114 N, 78.11.071 W
Distance Traveled: 34.16 mi / 54.98 km
Temperature: 3 °F / -16 °C
Wind: 10 MPH / 6 KPH
Barometric Pressure: 1059 hPa
Cloud Cover: Clear skies
Sunrise: 3:17 a.m.
Sunset: 11:07p.m.


Have you ever taken a nap sprawled out on top of a moving dogsled? I did today as I rode with Lukie. Lukie prefers that his dog-teaming companions ride instead of ski, and I was happy to take a break from skiing.

The one downside of riding instead of skiing is that it is easy to get cold. When I’m skiing I often stay comfortably warm in just a few light layers, even on the coldest of days. My goal when skiing is to not break a sweat. To do this, I shed layers just before I start to overheat. Then when we stop for a snack break, I don my big coat to keep warm until we start moving again.

When riding, in contrast, I wear my several long-underwear layers, a wool sweater and my big puffy coat. This morning, however, even with all these layers on, I was feeling cold sitting on Lukie’s sled. The temperature was a bit cooler than it had been for the last week or so and there was a strong breeze in my face. The muscles in my back tensed up and I could feel my core temperature starting to fall. I knew soon, if I didn’t take some action, I would start to shiver. The sled was moving too quickly, however, for me to try to warm up by running along side through the deep snow.

“How do the animals who live in the Arctic do it?” I asked myself. Then I remembered watching our sled dogs curl up in snow storms and tuck their noses under their tails. Their tails trap the warm, moist air they exhale and then warm and humidify the air before they breathe in. Arctic land animals like polar bears, musk oxen and caribou also have noses that are well-adapted to the cold. Their noses warm and humidify the air the animals breathe.

keepingintheheat_02.jpgA human, on the other hand, can lose more than half of the heat his or her body produces each hour just by breathing in cold, dry air. Our bodies have to spend a lot of energy to heat that air and humidify it, but then we lose all that heat energy when we breathe the air back out.

Luckily for me today, I had a BreathXChange mask handy. It is made of windstopper fleece and fits snugly around my head, face, and neck. Over my mouth it has a filter that, much like the nose on a polar bear, traps the heat and moisture from my exhalations and warms and humidifies the air I breathe.

I put on the mask and pulled my hood with the fur ruff tightly around my face. Soon I was warm enough to start to feel relaxed, just like a polar bear basking in the sun. The gentle rocking and lurching of the sled as it glided silently over the snowdrifts soon made me sleepy. I leaned back on my backpack, closed my eyes and had some Arctic dreams.



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