Winter Gray

Just me and the bird — a goshawk, I think.

We all know people who view the world in a very black and white fashion, but I am all about gray. I once infuriated an Austrian with who I went wine tasting. “Do you love it?” he would ask. “I don’t love it, but it is interesting.” “So you hate it,” he said. “No, I don’t hate it.” He didn’t understand the vast possibilities of the middle.

I spend a lot less time loving winter than I do the other seasons, but I don’t hate it. There are things that I like, things that I like less, and it requires greater amounts of conscious action to stay in the happy place. Some good things about winter: fresh snow is sparkly and pretty, dogs love snow, even fewer people on trails, down, wool, finding yourself warm from working out outside, same old places look and feel new.

Weather is a pretty big deal for people who organize their lives around the outdoors. It determines where you will go for the weekend, what gear you’ll need to take or help you decide that staying local is the best option. There are people far geekier about the weather than I am (hello Wasatch Snow Forecast, a fantastically geeky blog about snow) but I can usually be counted on to know what time the rain will start and how long it will last. And I look at forecasts and storm blob patterns often enough to do a decent job of finding good weekend destinations. Plug that in with best guesses of where the masses will not be and voila! There might be a plan.

It is one thing to chase decent weather, another thing to become okay with less than perfect weather. I think we all have a pretty good idea about what bad weather is, and quite possibly it is not the same as someone else’s idea of bad weather. Some can’t stand humidity, others hate the heat or the rain or the wind or the cold, or any combination of these things. And, of course, it is all relative to what you are doing outside. Sailors like the wind, right? But tennis players maybe don’t. And that could be the same person, just doing two different things. In general, I am not a person that loves cold weather, but lately, I’ve been teasing with my cold weather limit on my morning runs. I look at temperature, humidity, the chance of sunlight (vs cloud cover or sun below the horizon), amount of ice/snow/mud on the ground, which running clothes are clean, air quality, as well as future forecasts. The factors all go into my brain, get weighed accordingly, and out pops a decision whether to run, go to the gym or stay in bed.

The other morning, for example, was forecasted to be in the low teens, but when I woke up it was actually 23! Which seemed downright balmy, especially when I looked at the low humidity. It would be dark, but there was a light layer of snow, which might be enough to provide traction on the ice. I was running late, but that meant that Mack could go with me, plus my warmest tights were clean. And perhaps most importantly, the next morning was supposed to be 13 degrees. Obviously, looking at these factors, I went running.

The traction was perfect, with a thin but substantial layer of snow (on the substantial ice) that squeaked under my shoes. I hit a time window where I was the only car in the parking lot and never saw another person until the end. Blurred clouds were haloing the Oquirrh Mountains, whose tops were glowing with light from the first rays of the sun, against the slate gray background of the sky. I slayed two trail demons. It was a magical morning, so props to my mental computer for making the choice to go.

There was a morning not too long ago, though, that chilled me so thoroughly that only a long and hot shower could bring the blood back to my hands and the feeling back to my arms. The method isn’t perfect, but I am up to the task of tweaking the system. Yesterday morning we had rain, which turned the trails into 3 inches of freezing slush puddles, slippery ice, and goopy mud. After soaking my feet and being casually warned of the mess ahead by another runner, I knew there was no way was this going to work out. I bailed and felt pretty good about that decision. There has to be room for changing your mind in the winter, taking full advantage of the gray zone.

Because time outside in the morning makes sitting at a desk all day much more tolerable, even in the winter, even when it is cold, and even when the trail is more like a luge course than a trail. Be careful not to slip, take your headlamp and listen for coyotes.

Laurel Hunter

Laurel Hunter

Central Oregon, USA