Twenty Words For Freezing

It’s freezing outside; or at least I’m freezing outside. The calendar says that the sun is coming up earlier, promises that spring is right around the corner, but it’s still pitch black out and I’ve been up for an hour and now I’m outside, running down a street lit by street lights. Freezing.

It’s often said that the Inuit have 20-some words for snow and while I have no idea if this is true, I do know that I have at least a dozen, several of which aren’t for polite company and the rest describe its consistency in relation to things that most would never think about running through: oatmeal, wet concrete, Styrofoam.

All this being said, I love winter, and not just a little. I relish forecasts that leave weather folks shaking their heads (recently a well known Canadian comedian, Rick Mercer, described my end of Canada by saying “and the east, well, it’s a snowbank”), I thoroughly enjoy shoveling the driveway (over and over and over), and can’t wait to get out to go snowshoeing or skiing or whatever else is going on any given weekend. Like The Band said, “set my compass north/I got winter in my blood”.

Many of my friends and family think I’m nuts because, as I said, in addition to loving winter, I am still freezing. The wind from the northeast, in particular, actually made me stop on my run the other day because it was blowing so hard; I stopped and out loud, without a hint of irony, said, “the wind is HURTING MY FACE!”

But I keep going. Like Shackleton and Sir Edmund Hilary, like Ann Trason and Maria Leijerstam and Ray Zahab, I just keep on keeping on. The winter urges me to do so–as Annie Dillard once said, “You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.” Winter doesn’t need you to be outside, but if you would like push some boundaries in a most life-affirming way, freezing helps.

To this end, and besides all of the sage advice you will find in any number of excellent trail running magazines, I humbly offer the following: wear layers, especially ones made of Merino; water in the bottle freezes, eat snow; take a dog with you, they never complain and they are apt to make you feel great when you start to think that maybe complaining would be okay; run the sun up, run the sun down; ski; snowshoe; only drink real hot chocolate, as in chocolate that has been melted and then mixed with warm milk; if you’re a man grow a beard, if you’re a woman buy a buff; take friends with you, freezing loves company, and finally; take pride, all great spirits recognize and honour crazy when they see it. And trust me, it’s worth it to have them on your side.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • While, as Andrew says, winter doesn’t need you to be outside, but do you need winter? Do you need time out in the cold, snow, and dark? Why or why not?
  • What makes the human species seek out challenges that are made more difficult by climactic extremes, when those extremes aren’t necessarily conducive to human life?
Andrew Titus

used to run far; however, like some ol' wise guy once said, "the job of the athlete is simple: to keep moving." So, that's what he does, whether in his hiking boots, on cross-country skis, or astride a bike. A writer, teacher, father, and husband, you are sure to see him cruising the forests of his St. John River Valley home in New Brunswick, Canada, still happy as can be–even without the running.

There are 2 comments

  1. kjz

    i need winter. I need fierce weather w all four seasons–makes me feel aliiiiiiiiiiiiiive! I love talking w other runners about conditions because of how descriptive we can be w snow, mud, ice, rocks, wind, temp, humidity, etc. :)

  2. BernieD

    Great Article Andrew! I always learn to love winter running more when I am out for a LR with you. Keep shouting at that wind bruddah!

  3. northacrosseurope

    "All this being said, I love winter, and not just a little. I relish forecasts that leave weather folks shaking their heads …" Me too! :-)

    And here are two more words for 'freezing': play time!

    (And I know it's undoubtedly bad form to post pictures and links on here, but winter makes me feel exuberant and do all manner of things I probably shouldn't!… )

  4. northacrosseurope

    Also, I wrote this a while back for British backpacking magazine 'The Great Outdoors'. The story described a moonlit winter ascent of a mountain during a night of roaring chinook winds, and this paragraph from close to the end answers Meghan's questions in a round about way…

    "The summit was no airy perch… just a modest plateau studded with thrusting outcrops of granite and a few wind-bent pines. And tonight snow, great piles of it. The view stretched across two contrasting worlds: endless plains to the east and the high Rockies to the west. But it wasn't the view I noticed but the wind. It hit hard, screaming like a banshee, almost knocking me over once again, flinging spindrift at my face. Strangely though, it wasn't unpleasant. It wasn't something to fight, a foe to overcome. It wasn't out to get me; it was just the wind. Setting my feet apart, rooting myself firmly, I let the chinook rush into me. Facing it, I threw my arms wide and stood exposed, thinking: why should we cower from the worst weather, from howling winds like these, from pouring rains, from driving snow? Instead, why shouldn't we embrace such storms, and let them run around us and into us so that they can touch every sense that we are lucky enough to possess? Why shouldn't we put ourselves out there sometimes and let the world remind us that we are here, that we are alive?"

  5. Max

    unless someone sees temperatures colder than -20F often, the only valid complaint about winter is 'It's too damn warm for this time of year'.
    I love winter. I love winter more than summer. Frankly, if an ice age magically appeared and I had to ski everywhere (and not run another rocky step in my life), I'd be pretty damn happy.

  6. @chuckgnomis

    Why do some folks consume the hottest peppers on earth? I find this question the same as tempting the elements to ‘hurt my face’ on winter outings – because of passive vindictiveness. This might be easiest to explain using a metaphor: A Ghost chili pepper has no ill will towards me or conscious thoughts of inflicting harm, but to survive it has evolved innards of hell-fire. (Fun fact, the seeded area of a pepper is known as the placenta). And just like an ultrarunner during Badwater, so hot it will leave you wondering why you thought it was a good idea in the first place. I realize this is a long way to go for weather analogy, but the phrase “because it was there” doesn’t follow the same avenue I’m headed on, so I’ll elaborate just a bit more.
    I do it because I'm not supposed to. Cold weather personified, like the pepper, passively inflicts itself on me with malicious intent to the point of biting cold that drove us into shelters for 2 million years, only venturing out for necessity. Running out in the snow, over slippery ice, in sub-zero temperatures earns me the annual look of 'weirdo' in my office when I arrive, ice beard in tow. That narrow section of ideal temperatures when we wander about in shorts and a t-shirt is a harsh contrast to when it’s raining so hard visibility is down to 20 feet or winds blow cows across corn fields. The latter two situations are just plain dangerous, and that’s a street full of riff-raff I don’t want to eggshell past. Plants, animals and insects hibernate, essentially going into a coma when the mercury drops below 0 Celsius. Many birds can go into a state of self-imposed hypothermia just to brave the winter cold. Clearly, we the hairless apes should be hunkered back into our modern caves of warmth to wait out the storm. I say ‘Eff-U mother nature.’ And that’s all the reason I need.

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