Autopsy: Arctic Bike Journey

by   June 12, 2009 at 3:47PM  |  Views: 868

No matter how you cut it, the cold sucks. To make matters worse, having to perform in extreme cold, so far north that even trees can’t survive, seems like a bad idea right from the start. But for Jesse, it is just another challenge that he will have to face, man up, or freeze out.Sure you’ve witnessed sport being played in the bitter cold of winter in Green Bay, or even played yourself, in a pile of snow making angels. But you have had several factors on your side to combat the chill and prevent hypothermia from setting in. Even for some hardened shirtless fans, there is warmth in numbers, and other creature comforts that make the likelihood of frostbite next to zero, let alone death.

Jesse will have to perform the ride of his life in an environment so inhospitable, even the polar bears are second guessing themselves. Extreme cold has many effects, but the most dangerous is the inability for a person to gain heat back once it is lost when nothing outside can warm you. Of course Jesse could burn his bike to heat himself up, but then he would lose his ride back home and freeze to death a day later. The weather that far north is so cold, your normal thermometers won’t even read there. Although yearly average temperatures are around 10 F, in the winters it would be considered a nice day if got to -20F with some days dropping to -65F and lower. But the cold itself can be further plagued by wind. With just a 10mph windchill, you lose another 25F and that continues to drop 20F for every 10mph on top!  That means, as his bike is speeding along, Jesse will be constantly under an additional wind chilling effect. This ride is less about the challenge of riding on ice then surviving the onslaught of the environment.

Hypothermia is the term used to describe the body as its core temperature drops below a level that is safe for long-term human survival. While the body is very good at controlling homeostasis (the fancy term for normalcy) it does not do well when it gets outside its comfort range, somewhere between 97.5 and 100 degrees depending on your environment. At extremes, the body begins to shut down, conserving energy for maintaining specific brain, heart, and core functioning, while shutting off blood supply everywhere else. As your temperature drops below 97 degrees, your hypothalamus (an area in the brain responsible for thermoregulation among other tasks) begins to talk to the nervous system and specialized glands to attempt to get the body to self regulate. This process starts the shivering mechanism which produces heat in an attempt to try to warm you up. But also during this shivering process, you lose the ability to maintain fine motor control. Under normal circumstances you shiver on and off, and for the most part, it is semi-controllable allowing you to get to a warmer place. As core temperature continues to drop below 95 degrees, hypothermia sets in and shivering becomes uncontrollable. Erratic shivering, and heat loss, reduces dexterity and physical function, making the timing and sequencing of muscle movement more difficult. And that could mean disaster. Holding on to the bike is already difficult due to the vibration and physical strain. Add shivering, and slowed reaction time and physical movement and it would be like trying to grab hold of a loose jackhammer in a mine field – things could get ugly fast. But that is not the only issue. As the body continues dropping below 94 degrees, mental acuity, perception, and decision making become difficult, starting a downward spiral that commonly leads to death. Most outdoor hypothermia related deaths are due to the inability to make good decisions forcing victims to become disoriented, lost and then freezing to death. Jesse’s thirst for proving his ability could be his own worst enemy if he thinks he can beat hypothermia without help. Once your core temperature dips below 92 degrees, the only possible way of jump starting the heating process is external, and when nothing but ice, wind, and cold are the only things within reach, death is far more likely then survival. Without external heat, hypothermia will become uncontrollable and death inevitable.

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