Saturday, January 26, 2013

Winter survival tips

Earlier this week, Ottawa earned the title of coldest capital on earth, when temperatures dipped down to -32C (-41C with the windchill). For my American friends, that is -24F (-42F).

Quel honneur!

The thing about this little deep freeze that I am finding particularly astonishing is that everyone is talking about it. As though it never, ever gets cold here. In Canada. The country known for its prowess at sports played entirely on ice. Which is frozen water. Which is what happens when it gets, you know, cold....

So why are my Facebook and Twitter feeds full of comments about the weather (a crime for which, by the way, I am also guilty)? And why is it that the first thing that anybody says to me - whether it's on the bus or at the office or in my local Starbucks - is something like "Man, it sure is cold out there today"? And why are the national media outlets leading with stories about winter every single day? Did we all collectively forget that last year, we went through winter as well? And the year before that? And the year before that? And the year before that? And the year... well, you get the point...

Why is the weather so newsworthy?

I just don't know the answer to that. But I do know that everyone - myself included - is getting tired and cranky of all of this cold. Particularly since the second most popular batch of comments on Facebook and Twitter are from those jerks I know friends who are vacationing on the beaches of the Caribbean, where it is approximately 70 degrees warmer than it is here and where we would all rather be.

Well, everyone, that is, except for the Beast.

Earlier this week, one of my friends posted this PSA about pets and winter on Facebook. Pet stores and vets across the city are reminding people that they should lessen their pets' exposure to the elements during frigid times like these. And other human companions I know keep telling me that their dogs don't want to set foot outside right now, not even to pee.

Fergus didn't get any of these memos. Not one. He still insists on spending 2+ hours outside every single day. This weather doesn't stop him. In fact, he seems even more energetic these days.

He may be an Aussie by breed, but that is surely Canadian blood - or ice - running through his canine veins.

So, faced with the plight of being the human companion to a dog who wants nothing more than to be outside running across icy rivers and rolling around in banks of snow, I have decided that I have no choice but to embrace this cold, barren, Canadian winterscape and make the best of it. And to do so, I am taking my cues from Fergus. Here are the top five winter survival tips that I have learned from my dog.

5. It is never too cold to run

I know what you are all thinking. Somebody, somewhere - probably at the Running Room - once told you that there are temperatures below which you just shouldn't run. "You'll develop ice crystals on your lungs," they say. Or "Ice is slippery," they say. And I admit it. I believed it too for awhile. I never ran outside if it was colder than -17C (1F). Instead, I'd go back to sleep. Because I wouldn't want to inadvertently freeze my lungs while making my way to the gym to run on a treadmill either...

This all changed when the F-Bomb became my running partner. Regardless of the bad news delivered to me by the local weatherman when my alarm goes off at 5:00am, Fergus is right by my bedside, licking my face and wagging his bum, urging me to do the exact opposite of staying warm, curling up, and going back to sleep. Up I must get, and outside I must go. And if you're going to be outside at -32C, you might as well run and get the exercise part over with sooner, right? Which is why, just this past week, I found myself running three times, in windchill temperatures of -28C, -41C, and -31C respectively. This is what I looked like coming back from a breezy run at -28C.

Frosty, n'est-ce pas? There are no pictures of me coming back from a run at -41C or -31C, by the way, because when I pulled my iPhone out, it seized up and died of hypothermia. So just picture this shot, with about three times more frost, blocking up all the air holes on my lovely neck gaiter.

I, however, did not suffer the ill effects of cold induced hypothermia. Neither did Fergus. And so, my friends, as long as you are appropriately covered, it is evidently never to cold to run. (Although admittedly, I hope that I never have to test out that theory in temperatures colder than -41C).

(And if you don't believe Fergus, you can check out this article as well)

2. Layers and anti-chafing products will increase your enjoyment of the outdoors in extreme weather

Fergus recommends that everyone needs at least two good layers - a nice soft undercoat that can easily be shed when it is too warm (and which is currently all over my floor), and a long, fuzzy overcoat that protects against the elements.

In his case, this 2-layer system seems to do the trick, no matter the weather. In my case, there are a few variables that need to be taken into consideration. How cold is it? What type of activity am I going to be doing? How much will I be exerting myself? How cold is it? It's taken me a bit of trial and error, but I've now got a flow chart to help me figure out what to wear when I go outside with the dog. And it works. Very well. Whether we are snowshoeing, running, or just going for a casual stroll downtown, we both stay good and warm.

As for chafing, there is a lot of salt out there on those sidewalks in the winter. And since Mr. Princess refuses to wear his dog booties, we've learned to protect delicate puppy paws in other ways. Vaseline, my friends. Make sure you have some Vaseline. Also works to prevent sweat-induced runner's chafing under that nasty sports bra. And, according to Fergus, it also tastes good. At least I assume it does. Why else would he walk around the house licking the Vaseline tracks that he leaves after I slather his feet with the stuff. He is so gross... 

3. Embrace snow. Because there is no such thing as too much of it.

Nothing has the power to cripple a city like a snow storm. School buses get cancelled. People call their bosses to say that they won't be in because it would be too dangerous to drive to work. Double Decker buses flip over and land in ditches.

You'd think Canadians had never seen snow the way we react to a few centimetres of the stuff.

And the whining about snow. My God. It's like the eighth plague that the Bible left out or something. Did we all forget how much fun we used to have as kids building snow forts?

Admittedly, I used to be a snow hater. A few years back, Ottawa was about 20cm shy of setting a new record for the greatest amount of snow accumulated over the course of the year (the record being 444.1cm). Local media went around interviewing people, asking them if they wanted us to get a bit more snow before the spring thaw so we could beat the record. At the time, I remember wanting to swing my snow shovel to the back of the happy-go-lucky heads of those people who kept saying "Ohhhhhh.... I hope we get a bit more snow so we can beat that record!"

But Fergus taught me that the best part about winter is snow. And nowadays, I love the white fluffy stuff. I love it so much that I went out and bought snow shoes just last year so that him and I could go hiking through the woods on the snowiest of snowy days.

I check the weather each and every day to see if we are going to get more snow. And when we do, I wake up early, throw on my snow pants and my snowshoes, grab Fergus' toys, and head out the door, with him bouncing along beside me. Sometimes, we play fetch:

Sometimes, we make snow angels:

And sometimes, we just run around like crazy:

And we always have fun. So if you want to survive winter, you'd better just learn to love snow!

2. Shovelling is not a chore. It is good fun and lots of exercise too.

Nobody likes to shovel, I know. It's hard work, especially when snow is heavy and wet. And then there is that snow plow jerk who comes by to clean the road, leaving that ridge at the end of your driveway. And if you leave it there too long, it freezes over, and is impossible to remove. And you can't justify buying a snow blower because your driveway is too short. And your wife won't let you hire someone to do the shovelling for you because you are able bodied, and it would thus be a ridiculous expense. So you just have to keep [expletive] shovelling all that [expletive] snow.

But then again, shovelling can be good exercise. And more importantly, it can be loads of fun.

Don't take my word for it. Watch these videos instead, and see how much Fergus enjoys shovelling!

1. Spend time outside with your best friends.

If misery loves company, and winter makes people miserable, than winter must love company too. (At least I think that's how I remember logic working from my first year philosophy class!) At any rate, spending time with Fergus outdoors in the winter is loads of fun. But it is loads more fun when our best buddies tag along. So if you want to survive winter, go grab some of your best friends and get out there. Fergus guarantees that it will put a smile on your face!

And with that, my friends, Fergus and I are off. It is -22 outside this Saturday morning, and it is promising to be a clear, sunny, albeit cold day. I think we will go find ourselves some woods to hike through.

Happy winter!