Iced Windows

cold draft, I shiver
and firm up my will
sunrise view obscured
through ice on the sill

sub-thirty degrees
beyond two glass panes
breach fortress of warmth
amid frosted plains

one finger to glass
turns frost into tears
releasing brief drops
from chill winters fears

raw radiant chill
bracing, brisk and bold
I draw shut the blinds
and hide from the cold

- bardo

It has been thirty degrees below zero for three nights in a row, meaning that as even as we shut up the house each night and snuggle into the warmth of our beds, the chill creeps through the cracks and turns the windows into sheets of frost.

I have reserved some space on this blog each week to be creative, and to post some fiction, poetry, art or prose. Writing a daily blog could easily get repetitive and turn into driveling updates. Instead, Wordy Wednesdays give me a bit of a creative nudge when inspiration strikes.

How should you dress to run in winter?

The saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad wardrobe choices.

Yet, as I prepare to post these words on this Sunday Runday it is -34 degrees Celsius on the other side of my front door and this morning I’m leaning on the fallacy of that statement: that’s actually pretty bad weather.

I do run in the cold, frequently.

When I run in the cold a few simple rules apply.

Layer. Head to toes, it’s generally seems more effective when I have multiple varied layers of clothing than fewer. Layering not only traps warm air in the spaces between the layers, which is what keeps you insulated and warm, but it provides opportunity to select different fabrics for different jobs: insulation, wicking, wind breaking. It also allows you to shed a layer as you warm up.

Tuck. As valuable as lots of layers are, I find they are even more valuable as things are tucked into other things. Sock cuffs pulled over long underwear legs. Shirt hems slipped between skin and the underwear band. Neck buff squeezed under the shirt collar. Half way into your winter run is no time to figure out that there is a freezing breeze sneaking through a gap in your clothing defence.

Head. I often apply the layering and tucking rules to the head and neck as well, but I call it out here because getting the right gear on your noggin is a specifically important point worth mentioning. Ears get frostbite very easily. The neck line and face are tough to work around with the need to breath and all that. And you can make a snug-fit inner hat by turning a buff inside out, twisting it a three-quarter turn at the 60/40 split point, then inverting the longer side over the shorter.

Traction. Often overlooked in cold weather running is proper footwear. Ice is everywhere when the weather turns cold, and deep snow can slip into the air vents of shoes quickly freezing toes and packing into the tips of toes leading to injury on long runs. Specialized shoes are a great investment if you’re a dedicated winter runner. Or, if you’re only sticking to cleared pathways a pair of pull-over traction grips like Yaktrax will last you multiple seasons and store conveniently with your winter gear or in the backseat of a vehicle.

Support. Having a support line is too often taken for granted in cold weather running. If your winter wardrobe doesn’t include easy access to a running partner, or a phone if you’re going out solo, don’t go. Someone always knows where I am on my winter runs. Things can go bad so much more quickly in the cold, and after a few kilometers of sweaty exercise, a damp runner who slips on the ice or twists their ankle in a snowbank can be in huge trouble.

Snowshoes on a Frozen Suburban Creek

After a bitterly cold week the sun broke through the chill for a few hours on a recent Saturday afternoon. I met with some friends to explore a local creek, frozen and snowy, on a pair of trusty snowshoes.

Adventure journal.

I live in a winter city.

It is cold, bitterly cold, freeze your cheeks frostbite cold for at least three months of the year. Nearly a million people live here. While not all of them savour the dark, chilly winters, most everyone embraces the hard reality of the climate. A hardy few revel in the snow and cold, and seek adventures unique to our northern location.

In this winter city, I live in a suburban neighbourhood framed on three sides by preserved wilderness. Incredibly, the city has made an active planning effort to avoid development (apart from trails and bridges) of the river valley (to my west and north) and the twisting feeder creek bed (to the east).

This means that I can access a vast ribbon of natural area on foot in fifteen. Alternatively, by driving for a mere few minutes I can find a place to park and step in.

As the local pandemic restrictions loosened over the last week, I met some of my running crew for a snowy hike in the aforementioned creek bed.

We wore snowshoes.

Admittedly, these were unneccessary for ninety percent of the hike.

Yet there seemed to be something more interesting about story called “Going Snowshoeing on a Frozen Creek” than a tale merely titled “Winter Hiking!

The Whitemud Creek feeds into the North Saskatchewan River to the north. This is a broad, shallow river that flows east across multiple Canadian provinces and eventually drains into the Hudson’s Bay, whereas the feeder creek is a half dozen meters wide at best. Though I’ve never actually tested it I would guess I could stand in the centre in springtime and not get my shirt wet.

The creek is frozen nearly solid by January each year, or at least solid enough to safely walk atop it. Thus, after a fresh fall of snow the creek makes for a smooth, flat course, and one boxed in on each side by an alternating combination steep banks as high as twenty or thirty meters, natural boreal forest, and a single track trail that paces through the woods that we often run in spring, summer or fall.

By far the best part of the two hour, seven kilometer hike was time spent with three friends. I had not seen in any of them in person for over two months. Over the holidays we video chatted, texted, and shared pictures and stories. This is not the same as walking beside someone through the snow, even if they are wearing a pandemic mask.

The ice crackled underfoot.

We climbed like giddy kids under and around multiple fallen trees that had not yet been cleared away by municipal maintenance crews.

We skidded across patches of bare ice on snowshoes meant for trudging through deep snow.

The sun warmed the air with a loving apricity as we paused for breath, or conversation, or just to take in the simple natural views. Even the clean, crisp air of a suburban creek bed was a brilliant change from the hour spent hunkered down in our houses simultaneously avoiding the cold and a contagious virus.

A winter city adventure, and a local travel adventure for a strange, frustrating year.

I don’t think I could have traded it for a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

My Winter Runs Need to Get a Grip

Sunday Run Day and for the first time in two months I took part in a group run with a small cohort of friends.

Our locality has been on pandemic-related lockdown since late November, and all my runs have been solo. But COVID-related hospitalizations have been down. New case numbers have been declining. And the doctors say we can ease gently away from some of the stricter restrictions… like avoiding all non-essential personal contact. In other words, we can run together again.

Of course, it also happens to be that we are in the middle of winter. In the middle of a cold snap. In the middle of temperatures averaging minus twenty and offering up moderate quantities of snow.

Over a series of early morning text messages we pushed our usual eight-thirty meetup time by a couple hours to tempt the sun’s generosity. Also, given that it’s been months since we’ve seen each other in person, it was decided that a location more interesting than the regular high school parking lot was on the table for debate.

Luckily I never take my grips out of the backseat of my truck in the winter, and when we converged in a river valley parking lot to engage the single-track snow-bound trails therein I easily added some necessary traction to my street sneakers.

Some winters I splurge and buy myself winter trainers. They are extra grippy and have a bit more insulation. It makes it necessary to get out into the rough for longer, colder runs for a season or two … y’know, to justify the cost.

But in a pinch, a pair of, wrap-on traction grips will substitute.

We ran.

Into the trails.

Across a bridge.

Into a meadow.

Up and down, left and right.

Between towering poplar dusted with snow.

Eight kilometers later, twisting and turning through trail packed by a hundred other feets and a few dozen fat-bike tires, threaded between fresh knee-deep snow, we had logged the first group run of 2021.

I missed those.