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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Death on a Stick

A couple weeks ago, Ironic Catholic recollected her novice days in Minnesota, wherein she pondered our seeming obsession with the weather. As she was to learn, "Weather kills you in this state!"

In college, I was on  the Nordic Ski team, and our differing class schedules combined with the individual nature of our sport meant that we all tended to practice when we had time as opposed to a more regulated schedule as demanded by team sports.

So it was that when the temps dipped after a storm, I was all excited to hit the bluffs for a good training session. I was even MORE excited when our University cancelled classes, citing the danger of the -75 windchill, can't recall the actual temps but they might have been about -50.

In any case, those actual ambient temps were probably the lowest I'd ever known, and I grew up in these frigid states...and wasn't about to be waylaid by mere cryogenics!

Taking my opportunity, I bundled up in a layer or two more than usual and went to the College Center to get the key to the ski room. Looking at me oddly, the freshman work-study student handed me the key and as soon as I had my stuff, I headed out to the groomed trails, recognizing immediately that they didn't make a wax for these temps; the snow was stickier than styrofoam and much....grippier!

Doggedly I continued, though, until, maybe a half mile or so further, I couldn't feel my fingers.Unfortunately I couldn't turn around yet. I was already deep in the bluffs when I finally recognized I was really in trouble.

My entire body had begun to go numb. I kid you not. The headwall was before me, but....could I even make it that far, or would the wind from my descent cause me to freeze in place even half-way down?

I'd never been so relieved to see a turnaround, and realized it had been built for idiots such as me, so I used it without another thought, pulling my mask further up, wishing I'd taken my team-mates' advise to invest in goggles for days like this.

There wasn't another soul out there that day, and even the ubiquitous deer were smart enough to huddle in some shelter...leaving me to realize my utter solitude and very real likelihood of death should I falter at all.

I was truly frightened that day, certain I would freeze to death, shocked at how easy it would be.

In 6th grade as part of a Great Books program, I'd read "To Build a Fire" and wondered when I'd start to feel warm...and knew that if that happened, it was finished. I couldn't start a fire...I had all kinds of wood but no spark and no shelter and no kindling.

As I skied back home, out of the bluffs, I knew I had one choice only: to get back..

I knew I was a total idiot for setting out in the first place!

The warm light of the College Center was a mirage;  I didn't believe it was really there until I'd descended to store my equipment and then turn in the key. I'm quite certain I was very blue or purple by the time I handed that thing over...the girl at the desk stared at me in horror, paused, asked me if I was all right, and let me go on my frigid way.

It took me the rest of the day to warm up.

I never told my coach I went out that day..I'm quite certain he'd have had a lot to say to me about that, but my lesson was learned just the same.

Yeah, we in the cold climates learn to live with it and play in it, and we find all sorts of sticks to play with in the snow...but ultimately, if we forget that this stuff will kill us, then we've lost the game entirely.

As I nearly did that day.

 Take this post as a warning, ya'all. No matter how tough you are, the weather will one-up you every time.

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