Winter Reprise Surprise Run

Sunday Runday, and yesterday morning I did some work in the yard, took the dog for a lovely spring walk, sat in the grass, cleaned up some flower beds, and generally enjoyed the spring.

This morning we met for a run on icy sidewalks and through ankle-deep snow.

These woodpecker winter days are nothing too surprising for anyone who has lived here very long. The gentle-jabbing joke that quickly circulates on text threads between local friends is “ok, who put their snow shovels away for the winter! It must be your fault!”

So, surprise… no.

But it is still very much a shock to the system when one is expecting something slightly warmer when planning a spring run.

I’d already cleaned up and packed away all my winter running gear. The mitts, hats, heavy jackets all tucked into the closets once again. The shoe spikes hidden away for next winter.

Maybe it was my fault the snow came back for a reprise.

We immediately made for the trees and escaped the icy city streets dropping into the river valley trails. The snow was deeper there but the ice was far less dangerous.

The snow storm had blown in quickly and aggressively, dropping a near-horizontal storm on the whole region. Somewhere between five and ten centimeters of fresh white powder covered the ground and then also the west side of everything. Wind. Horizontal snow. It sticks in unexpected places. The fluffy white kiss of winter’s last gasp clung to the trunks of trees and every branch of every tree creating a magical scene along the trails.

I spent almost as much time snapping photos as I did running.

As much as we’re used to a fresh snowfall here, it never ceases to be a breathtakingly beautiful opportunity to inhabit these familiar spaces as they are temporarily dressed in an all-encompassing snowy veil.

And temporary is the key word.

Even on the loop back I could see the melt begin.

Have you ever felt that sensation of momentary awe when you witness some bit of slow-motion nature happen in real time. Like, when you walk through the woods and a branch tumbles to the ground from high up in a tree. It has been growing there for years attached to the trunk of an even older tree, and then in that one moment as you pass by it happens to reach a critical tipping point between gravity and connection, and it falls down to the ground.

This morning was like that, except in high speed clumps of snow were loosing from their grip on the woods, tumbling through the lower branches and releasing a puff of snow as they crashed to the ground, here, there, here, over there, and there too.

Even the slippery city walks had mostly thawed as we returned to our vehicles and stopped our GPS watches for another successful Sunday run.

And by next Sunday, likely as not we will be back to treading through familiar spring trails and snowy paths will be just another week gone by.

Gear: Garmin Fenix 3

I’ve owned and used my current GPS watch for the better part of four years.

But before you read this know that the Fenix 3 is far from the latest model of Garmin’s multisport watch. Also know that I’m not a “latest and greatest” kind of guy, usually sticking with the “tried and true” until I absolutely need an upgrade.

Still, of the three models I’ve used, the Fenix has by far been my favourite.

It’s climbed mountains.

It’s competed triathlon.

It’s logged half and full marathons.

It’s plotted a thousand and more runs, rides, and other sports.

It’s been a couple years since, but I used to get pulled in to our local running clinics and asked to give a talk for new runners about effectively using technology while running.

Watches, apps, software, etc.

When I started this there were only a small number of sport tracking watches on the market and I could easily answer the question of “which one should I buy?” Today there are multiple brands and as many as a dozen current models per brand. That’s a tougher question.

I look for a few simple things, and would want similar features in an upgrade:

Fast start-to-running time. From when I turn on the watch outside to when I can start running needs to be quick. Pre-pandemic, when I still ran with a sizable group, there was a clear difference between the good watches and the cheap watches. Solo, this just means waiting around on your own to start. In a group, it could mean the group is waiting around on you.

Connectivity with my phone. I used to need to plug in my old watches to a dock and upload the tracking files to a computer. This was only something I could do at home. The Fenix has let me upload wirelessly via my phone, which is not only precious ability on those Sunday morning runs sharing our route over coffees, but while traveling the world has let me log hikes and walks and races long before coming home to rest.

Long battery life. The photo in this post was taken while backpacking near Lake Louise, Alberta, on a day hike circumnavigating Mount Skoki. If I recall, this took about six hours with breaks. I had used the watch in the days before on our fourteen hour ascent up the mountain and on another six-plus hour hike. A cheap watch will get you through the four or five hours of a slow marathon. A better watch will take you up an all day mountain climb.

Note: this is a piece of gear that I have purchased privately and that I’ve owned for long enough to offer an opinion about. This post is not an endorsement (at least, it’s not a paid one.)

Looking for Treasure with Help from a Satellite

Does anyone geocache anymore?

More than a decade ago I bought myself a little handheld GPS unit. The Garmin took a pair of AA batteries, warmed up for at least five minutes, and hung on a little lanyard. I would connect it to the computer after downloading a small selection of local cache coordinates, send them into the little device, and then trek out into the local river valley to hunt down the hidden containers.

The game required that I bring along some trinkets to trade, and a pencil to record my username. If after pinning down the location tracked to by my GPS I was able to find the box or capsule or plastic container hidden under a rock or between some cleverly placed natural camouflage, it was important to record that I had found it.

Eventually I ditched the GPS for a geocaching app on my phone. Convenient, yes, though it took some of the fun out of preparing to go out on a treasure-hunting adventure when I could just spontaneously load up the app and see if something happened to be nearby.

Then ultimately I got serious about distance running, traded my lanyard GPS for a wrist-watch version and couldn’t be bothered slow down to hunt for caches anymore.

Yet today I found myself thinking about this global hide-and-seek game.

Are people still fascinated by hiding mysterious containers in their local wilderness for others to find?

Do people feel safe during a pandemic opening boxes and canisters left in the woods by strangers?

Is there still a place for simple treasure hunting in an era of Pokémon-type GPS games that reward you a hundred times a day, rather than just once or twice?

I’m sure I’ve got my old Garmin in a drawer somewhere. And probably even some AA batteries. Maybe I should play again.