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What's the coldest you've ever been?

Columnist Steve Lange revisits his coldest moment, which actually took place in summer.

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Winter, and this probably goes unsaid, lends itself to life's coldest moments.

The insides of my bones still feel hollow whenever I think back on my first Polar Plunge (not really a sanctioned event, but more of a 1990s Lake Superior hot tub party gone terribly wrong).

Or the time I was skiing at Welch Village and I managed to fall so that the waist opening of my snowpants was directly facing one of the giant fans that was creating, then blowing, large quantities of freezing water. Into my underpants.

Or night two of a solo Wilderness Survival class in northern Wisconsin, when I was on all fours hunched over my tiny fire, trying to keep the sleet from dousing it while, simultaneously, attempting to warm my belly button, which had become dangerously cold.

But, when I think back on it, possibly my coldest-ever moment came in summer.

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In July 2008, on a motorcycle trip with my dad to Colorado, we headed north of Rocky Mountain National Park for a leisurely 300-mile ride in comfortable summer temps.

Before we left, I took the windshield off my bike.

"I cannot understand why you do that," my father admonished. "What's the point of not having your windshield?"

I said something like, "Yeah, it's so I can feel the freedom of the wind on my face, Old Man. That's just how you roll when you're living on the edge."

To reinforce my rebelliousness, I made a show of throwing my leather jacket onto my bed in our Best Western Plus.

I methodically plan the itinerary on our motorcycle trips, down to the mile, down to the minute. It may seem like we're winging it, but, oh, I've done my research. So when we were near that Wyoming/Colorado border, near dusk, I knew from my hours of online research — and my on-bike Garmin — that we were only 80 or so miles from our hotel. An hour and a half, tops, through an even-more scenic route than the one we took to get here.

My father hates riding the motorcycles after dark, especially in deer country. He told me so. I said something like, "This is life on the Harleys, Pops. We're letting Momma Wind blow us wherever that ol' girl wants to carry us."

When we started back, we realized that the 80 miles were going to include about two miles up and two miles down over each of three mountains, each of which featured winding roads with hairpin turns and sheer, guardrail-less drop-offs just feet from the shoulder.

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When we reached the peak of mountain number one, the temperature was dropping quickly. In the fading daylight, we could see mountain goats. Those mountain goats were below us.

By the time we reached the top of mountain number two, it was pitch dark. The thermostat on my dad's bike read 30 degrees. I was wearing a T-shirt. That first mountain had taken an hour.

We pulled over to weigh our options, and realized we had none. We were halfway to the hotel, with no place to warm up in sight. Nothing. I put on every piece of clothing I had in my small saddlebag, which consisted of a light sweatshirt.

Luckily, when we got back on the bikes and started riding, the biting cold wind took my mind off the danger of the weird elk-like creatures that — and this had to be by their own design — walked across the road in every hairpin.

We rode on. By the top of mountain three, maybe 13,000 feet, I was repeatedly screaming "Daddy! I need your windshield! And, Daddy, your leather coat!"

Near the bottom of mountain three, I was losing my sanity. There was a moment — I remember this clearly — that I considered motioning my father off to the side of that dark road to tell him something I remembered from some movie, a trick that might save me from my unbearable cold.

Then I realized that movie was "Empire Strikes Back." And that the scene I was thinking off was when Luke cut open that Tauntaun and climbed inside it to warm up. And that my dad would be the Tauntaun.

When we finally got near our hotel, my dad missed the turn. That will mean another four minutes, Daddy! I pulled alongside to yell at him, but my lips were frozen shut.

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Though I'm sure he could tell how angry I was by the tears frozen on my cheeks.

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

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Opinion by Steve Lange
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