The Art of Exploration · a diary of day trips, natural places, and miscellaneous adventures

Acclimation

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010 in Illinois
Acclimation

This caliber of cold takes some getting used to. I thought I would ease myself into it by going for a short ten-minute walk to get acclimated to the arctic air. But it was so beautiful out, that I did my best to ignore the temperature and hiked for more than an hour.

It takes so long to gear up for this kind of weather that it’s hardly worth a short excursion. I spent a good half-hour gathering all the winter clothes and gear I needed to tackle the single-digit temperatures that awaited me outside—two layers of long underwear, turtleneck, ski pants, oversized sweatshirt, water bottle, sunglasses, Kleenex, ski jacket, hat, neck gaiter, earband, gloves, glove liners, wool socks, balaclava, and super-warm boots. I was sweating bullets by the time I was ready to leave the house. The blast of ice air that hit me as I stepped out the back door was refreshing. This isn’t that bad, I thought. I can handle this.

I drove to Independence Grove and parked at the north end of the lake. I set out, camera in hand, hoping to snap a few images of cool colbalt skies and raw sienna grasses. At first, the winter landscape seemed barren. But after a few moments, I looked closer and realized how much there really was to catch the eye. Dry seed heads still clung to the blackened skeletons of wildflowers. They rattled in the wind. Bright-breasted goldfinches bounced and glided from one shrub to the next. An assortment of animal tracks wove between clumps of grasses and out onto the frozen lake.

The snow had a memory for tracks. There was one patch on the lake where some kind of skirmish must have taken place. A half-dozen tracks converged from all directions and then blurred into a mass of skidmarks and scuffles. I know nothing of how to identify tracks, so I’m not sure what animals had been involved in this apparant fracas.

As I hiked, I kept considering whether or not to turn around. There always seemed to be one more thing to photograph, just up ahead, so I put the decision off for another moment, another few dozen feet of trail. I did this until I reached the half-way mark around the lake at which point there was no point in turning back.

I thought the second half of the hike would be quite easy, just like the first half of the walk had been. The one factor I had overlooked was the wind. The wind had been at my back for most of the hike to this point and when I rounded the bend just past the three-quarter mark around the lake, I was met with a fierce arctic blast head-on.

After ten minutes of walking into the wind I was in pain. My lips were wind-chapped, my cheeks were starting to go numb and my nose was stinging from the cold. For a while I walked backwards which, although it meant slow progress, was a good way to warm up. Despite how goofy I would have looked, I would have loved to have been wearing a Talus ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava. When I finally arrived at the parking lot I was relieved to seek shelter in my car. There was no doubt in my mind. I would still need to work on getting used to this caliber of cold.

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