Yesterday and today were the kind of winter days that Canada is famous for. Sunny, cloudless, light wind, fresh snow pillowing the ground. It looks delightful, a winter wonderland, the stuff of Christmas cards, but there is a catch. It has been bitterly cold both days, close to zero Fahrenheit (about -17 Celsius). Yesterday I walked with my loaded backpack for a little over two hours. Because it was so sunny and warm inside the house, I elected to wear only a pair of summer pants over my legs. The rest of me was warmly bundled up with a fleece and a parka and my trusty Tilley winter hat. I also wore light gloves, the same ones that I will be wearing when I go for my walk in April. My reasoning was that I might be cold for the first few minutes, then my body would warm up and I would be fine. My reasoning was flawed.
You would think that I would know better after all the years in Canadian winters, but apparently not. I was cold for the first 15 minutes or so, then warmed up and was good for the better part of two hours. After that, however, my body got cold – my core temperature was dropping and I could not keep warm. By the time I got home my hands were numb. I opened the door with some difficulty, then had to wait about ten minutes before I had enough feeling in my fingers to undo the laces and get my boots off. I could have avoided this potential disaster if I had worn long johns under my pants. I just had too much of my body exposed to the cold and I radiated off a lot of heat over two hours, enough to be hypothermic.
Today I walked about an hour (with my long johns on) and although my hands got quite cool, they were never so numb that I could not use them. The message? Don’t fool with mother nature. She is neither benign or malign. She is indifferent. If I am too stupid or careless to put on sufficient and appropriate clothing for the conditions, nature just does not care. I won’t, I hope, make that mistake again.