Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Scrape Snap Crack Dink 

Playing Hockey, 1912

Scrape, snap, crack… dink. That’s the reverie of the outdoor rink on a -15°C night. Each sound chased by an echo, which in turn throws its shadow against the neighbouring houses. That’s something I’ve missed from my winter runs; the crisp sounds of the streets which seem to travel faster and louder in cold air (does sound travel faster in cold air? Nope, but maybe further.) This was the second of my subzero runs of the season. The first was terrible. I was both over-dressed and under-dressed. Too many of the wrong layers left me sweating and freezing as a knife-edge wind cut through the fabric like sharp shears. This run was much better. The correct items of clothing placed in the correct order let me wick away the wet and block out the breeze just like the advertising promises. Gore-tex is at its best in cold weather when you layer properly underneath and are working up a horsey sweat that beads on your coat.

I also gave my lungs the time to acclimatize a little before sucking down the frigid air. Previously I stepped from the warm house and started running, immediately putting the chill in my chest which was enough to trigger some asthmatic wheezing. That didn’t happen this time which allowed me to go further for a little longer, loping in a bit of a lazy stride acquired from being utterly unfit due to my current station – meaning: being entirely stationary.

Winter in the city is neither kind nor pretty but exudes a dull cruelness that is hard to avoid. Sometimes it can be hidden beneath a dusting of snow but at the moment the dirt and grime are frozen to the pavement and bare trees look windswept and dead. I noticed how the Don River looked violently frozen as though it had been fighting to the end, its serpentine current full of heaving cracks and crusted ice. It’s odd how in the summer, running at night, the sulphurous security lights found throughout laneways cast an amber, nostalgic hue but in the winter the same light feels harsh and ugly. I guess that’s my imagination. Heading out for a winter run is also like running in the rain in the summer, in that you really do not want to step into it but once you’re going it feels better than fine. There’s that two sided nature of how your skin can be so cold against the air and so hot against your blood. There’s nothing quite like a hot shower after a cold run. Afterwards you feel like you do after a swim or a massage or maybe like a sauna. It’s almost like your limbs have been annealed by heat, hammer strikes and dunks in water the way Japanese swords are made.

What really makes running in the winter possible is the dryness. Here in Toronto we had a wet dump of snow quickly freeze but then followed by a couple of days of rain that ate away the snow. Then the wind came up, blowing the streets dry and the temperature dropped making the sidewalks bare and clear for the most part. The ice that is left is diamond hard and would easily take off your bumper if your car hit it. Unfortunately, another round of snow, rain and slush is happening right now, so my brief flirtation with running outside may be again delayed leaving me no choice but to languish on the treadmill indoors looking out.

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