Saturday, October 27, 2012

Attitude Adjustment

Living at the base of the mountains, I have seen snow in August and in May. But somehow I had convinced myself there was still time, weeks and weeks of yellow larches, leaves in golden piles, a few more runs up to the alpine. Time ran out this week, snow spiraling lazily down from a serious sky. Winter, all of a sudden, was here.

Winter in October, too early it seemed. In this corner of Oregon, brushing up against Idaho and Washington, winter is an erratic force. The only constant is that it lasts and lasts. In between, it can ice up, freeze, blizzard. It is no place for the timid. Slide off a road here and it could be days before you are found. That's why we drive with all the survival gear: sleeping bags, food, water, shovels, chains, sand bags.

It didn't matter that I wasn't ready, hadn't recovered from the long spell of summer. It was coming anyway. For the first time, I wondered if I was cut out for winter. I split large rounds of wood. Put all the backpacking gear away. Brought out running tights, hats, mittens, ice creepers. But I wasn't happy about it.

Winter would be different if I lived in a snowbound village where there was no need to drive, and where you could ski from your house into the big woods. Here, that is sometimes possible, but not always. Snow flirts with the town, sometimes making us hike for it, other times risk the white-knuckle mountain road to 6,000 feet. It's not an easy season for me to love.

I've lived in two places with one season: South Florida with its perpetual summer, and Southeast Alaska with its own particular brand of endless fall. It always felt a little out of balance. Something was missing.

Today we slogged through half a foot of new snow, scouting. There is something about the warmth you feel when exercising in winter that isn't replicated any other time: the tingle as blood comes back to your Reynaud-afflicted fingers, the slow delicious heat that makes you shed layers when it is below freezing. I like that.

I just need to look at winter differently, not as if it is stealing summer from me. There's more time to bake bread, to finish the fire memoir, to visit the long-neglected gym. To decide if I am going to do part of the Washington PCT, and if so, which parts (Sections J, K, and L are too long when combined, so how to split them). Figure out if the Alaska novel is still worth shopping around. Ice skate, a lot. Ski. Snowshoe. Winter camp, this time more successfully (a closed cell foam pad and a dog would be helpful).  Do yoga, not just say I am doing it.

Another benefit of winter? A chance to rock the down skirt!
Summer will always be my first love and this one was a wild romance. Thirty nghts spent backpacking, more than 500 miles hiked. It's hard to let go. But winter, I'm giving you a chance here. Let's do this.


  1. Tell me more of this down skirt idea. I constantly freeze my lady bits.

    I feel the same way about winter in California. All the snow is up so high that I'm terrified of driving mountain roads in my tiny Ford Focus (whom I just put road tires back this summer when I finally burned through the studless Alaska tires).

    It makes it harder for me to find cross country ski options that aren't hilly and I won't lose an arm trying to navigate. But when I go out for those days, my god, I love it.

    But think of winter backpacking as an entirely different sport, because it really is. It kinda rocks that way though. :)

  2. Reynaud-afflicted fingers. Thanks now I know why my fingers turn white and numb in the middle of summer. I hope we get snow this year.

  3. Sounds like reynauds syndrome, Robert. Means we probably can't climb Everest and come back with all of our fingers.

  4. Karen, I love my down skirts. I have two, a sierra designs and mountain hardwear. The snap button ones aren't so great for anything that you might do that involves leg lifting, otherwise you flash the neighborhood, although if you wear tights underneath, no big deal. They permit a lot of freedom of movement and aren't as constricting as pants.

  5. I am having serious winter envy right now. And I'm also a big fan of down skirts. Honestly, I have no concept of frozen lady bits (really? Seems to me those body parts are pretty well protected from the cold. And I sometimes spend long hours sitting on frozen bicycle saddles. :-)

    However, I am a long-time sufferer of cold ass syndrome, and down skirts are perfect for that. Down pants often provide too much warmth, but skirts are perfect for protecting the problem zones (in my case, my butt) while allowing the hard-working legs to wick moisture through breathable tights. I even sold my boyfriend on the wonders of skirts last winter. He made himself one. We call it an "action kilt."

  6. I've never had trouble with freedom of movement in the pants I wear, and I often wear 3 layers for snowshoeing (tights, polarstretch, and a stretchy shield pant over like REI's Mistral pant). If you wear a skirt, what do you wear under it to stay dry? I count on my shell pants and gaiters to shed the snow.
    I know they are supposed to help pool the heat, but I just haven't worked out a way to make them seem feasible 'out there'.

  7. I'm always ready for the next season to come about two months into the current season. Last year, though, it came early in the form of a hugh snowfall while the trees were still in leaf, doing massive damage and leaving us without power for eight days. This year we only got a hurricane, (on the very same day, 29 Oct.). (I know that other areas were devastated by Sandy, but in Conn. (at least where I am, away from the shore) last year's storm was much worse.)

    I was once hiking in the mountains in the winter when my hiking partner had an attack of Reynaud's. She kept telling me she was OK and the pain would pass, but it really worried me, because she clearly wasn't OK, but I had no idea what I could do to help. The pain did pass, though, and there wasn't really anything I could have done, but it was a bit scary there.

    As to skirts, I have a friend who always hikes in a skirt in all seasons. He doesn't have any lady bits, though.

  8. With my down skirt, I wear either long underwear (if it isn't super cold) or regular softshells. I know that goes against what I said about being constricted. I just really, really don't like wearing pants. Any kind of pants. But, basically the skirt for me is an extra layer of warmth. Jill wears hers in really, really cold temps--I'm not sure what she wears with it.


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