Staying active outdoors in winter is exhilarating

  • 4/30/2011: B1: PC: Gary Helfrich is the new executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. CC

Cyclist Gary Helfrich gauges how cold the winter morning is by how much his water bottle freezes as he pedals to work from the west county to Santa Rosa.

"So far this year there's been mostly a crust on it," he said, "but one time is was frozen all the way through."

As executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, Helfrich's preferred mode of transportation is no surprise, but his all-weather desire to go by bike might be, especially to those who think winter calls for staying cozy indoors.

"Most people think I'm nuts," said Helfrich who used to bicycle year-round in New England before moving here.

Helfrich is one of those winter people who doesn't let temperatures or precipitation get in the way of doing what they love. But how do such hardy souls stay healthy? And dry and warm?

Helfrich, who's found it's better to be wet than cold, opts for clothing designed for mountaineering and skiing over bicycling gear. That includes a jacket "that fits loose and flaps in the wind, which lets you layer up underneath." Plus thermal skiing underwear, which is "way cheaper than bike tights and a lot warmer." He wears a polypropylene beanie under his bike helmet to wick moisture, open-air sandals because they drain and polypropylene socks "that get soaked but will keep your feet warm."

"If you get cold, you're not wearing the right base layers," said Helfrich, who lives in Camp Meeker but cuts his winter commute short by starting in Graton.

"I don't have the nerve to ride Graton Road in the dark."

Santa Rosa dentist Conrad Block says winter is one of the best times to surf, which he does most weekends at Marin County's Dillon Beach.

In winter, he said, "the swells come in more frequently and are a little bigger, but the weather is often better for surfing because the wind is not up or is blowing offshore."

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