Earlier this week I was reminded in somewhat dramatic fashion of the extra challenges that come with outdoor exercise during a Northwest autumn.
I was taking my dog on a quick 3-mile jog/walk when I stepped off the curb and directly into the path of a gray minivan.
I probably deserved to become a hood ornament. I had headphones in and was a little distracted by my dog, who had just started acting a little weird. But I had looked both ways before crossing the street and somehow didn’t see the gray vehicle rolling on gray asphalt beneath the gray sky.
Luckily, the driver saw me. I waved, hoping the movement of my arm would somehow simultaneously send the messages “Sorry,” “Thanks for not killing me and my dog” and “Please, turn on your lights.”
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We made it home safely, but I’m pretty sure if my dog had his way, next time I’d be the one wearing the leash and he’d be the one determining when it’s safe to cross the street.
From safety to comfort to caring for your gear, a little extra effort is required when heading out into the gray, cold and wet days of fall and winter. Sure you could just go out on the nice days, but in the Northwest that’ll probably cost you half a year of perfectly suitable outdoor exercise opportunities.
The days might be gray and little damp, but the Northwest’s temperatures are rarely harsh enough to make a run, walk or bike ride truly miserable or unsafe.
If you go about it the right way, that is. Here are some tips.
I wear headphones when I run and walk my dog. That’s hardly much of a confession. So do most runners and walkers.
While the music may keep you entertained, it is also guaranteed to impact your ability to pay attention to your surroundings. Head phones are a bad idea when walking on the side of the road, and even on a sidewalk. Leaving one earpiece out — or at least popping it out at intersections — can help keep you safe. Some runners choose not use them at all.
You don’t want to be the doofus who steps out in front of the minivan.
As for cyclists, the only time you should ride with headphones in is when your bike is on the trainer.
LOOK OUT BELOW
While staying alert for motorists and cyclists is important, also be aware the surface below you can be much different in the fall and winter than it is on 75-degree summer days.
Metal grates and painted lines can be quite slippery. Wet logs and leaves on trails can also be slippery enough to take you down whether you’re on foot or your bike. And cyclists are bound to find more debris on the edges of the road.
DRESS TO BE SEEN
Pedestrians and cyclists can be hard for motorists to see on gray, wet days but colorful, reflective clothing and lights can help fix that problem.
Dogs make excellent running partners because most aren’t going to wimp out on you just because it’s raining. But they too need to be wearing something bright or reflective.
Proper outdoor clothing can be expensive, but you don’t necessarily need to break the budget. Keep it simple. A hat, glasses, a couple layers, gloves, good shoes and socks and you’re likely going to be fine for a 5-mile run around the neighborhood.
A light source can be vital in the fall. Not only does it make you easier to be seen, but with the number of daylight hours shrinking (and daylight saving time ending Nov. 2) it could also be what helps you find your way back to the car.
CARE FOR YOUR GEAR
If all you do is hose down your muddy bike after a fall ride, don’t be surprised to see signs of rust a few hours later.
Cleaning your bike soon after a ride in the muck is important to keeping it in good shape. Mud and dirt can play havoc on the drive train. A good degreaser, lube and chain cleaning tool is vital for caring for your bike.
Don’t get too caught up in caring for gear that you don’t make time to take care of yourself.
Sure, after a run in the rain and cold, you probably can’t wait to hop in the shower. But your body would probably be better served by first stretching and maybe even spending a few minutes on a foam roller.
Take care of yourself throughout the winter, so you’re healthy and ready to go when the weather gets better next spring.