BRRR…it’s cold in here.

2 Feb

An Australian January involves slipping on a shirt, a pair of shorts and some thongs.

A North American January, however, involves a few more layers.

Underwear and ankle socks. Singlet tucked into tights. Thin socks over tights. Long sleeve tshirt tucked into jeans. Woolen socks over jeans. [Depending on how close the temperature is to zero] A thin/thick jumper over tshirt. Scarf. Beanie. Coat. Boots. Gloves. Check.


Each day I faced a decision in how many layers was enough. For the majority of January I was travelling in sub-zero temperatures – anything from a mild -1 to -11 with wind. I learnt many things. Firstly, the sun gives a false sense of warmth, when rather the truth was, it was generally colder on blue sky days. Secondly, Sydney does not get cold, just cool.

The cold first began in late September when the ECU vs. UNC football game dropped below freezing. I was unprepared. Well, I thought I was prepared but apparently a cardigan and 2 pairs of socks was not enough. Mary-Claire took me to Raleigh to buy a coat the following weekend.

Although, with $400 worth of coats in my wardrobe, the mercury didn’t drop to breath-visible temperatures again until late November – and even during December I wore a pair of shorts! I heard countless times, ‘Mel, how will you survive?!’ Truth be told, I didn’t know. In my mind, temperatures below 10 degrees are infuriatingly cold – unless there’s snow. Snow is a legitimate reason for cold-ness. But an increasingly cause for concern was the lack of snow in North America until mid-January.

But then it hit. My first morning in Toronto, I looked out the window of the guest bathroom into white gold – a good few inches on every surface and white snowflakes fluttering around. I couldn’t stop smiling. My white North American winter had begun.

Unfortunately I hadn’t thought through everything. With snow all over the ground and only black leather boots [now featuring smooth soles from wearing them daily] I was in a bit of a pickle. Thankfully, Kim, who I was staying with, had a spare pair of UGG Australia boots – leather boots with warm fuzzy black wool inside. Despite not looking my classy, model-like self anymore, I was warm and looked the part.

I admit, it was cold. My face burned from the cold, my finger tips were numb when I had to flip up my mitten part to use my iPhone and my ear lopes tingled from being the only exposed part of my body. But that was only the beginning.

After 2 days in Toronto I set out for Peterborough, a city about an hour north of Toronto. It had been snowing all day again and the -11 degree temperature was expected to drop further. The issue? The plan was to go cross-country skiing.

The following morning we [Marcus, Jen, Piper, Elia and I] woke to find out ski lessons were cancelled enabling us to go for a ski ourselves.  The reason? It was below -15 degrees. [Insert ice-breaking shriek here] The current mercury reading at the country ski club was -17 degrees with a wind chill factor of -25 degrees. Thinking back to my ideal January temperatures [25-30degrees], I was about 50 degrees out of my comfort zone. Yet, under careful instruction I prepared myself for 2 hours in the cold. Like an obedient child, I followed Jen’s instructions, ‘No cotton allowed,’ and layered up in a mountain of borrowed clothes. I was ready.

Prior to this trip, the coldest temperature I had experienced was negative 5 in Seattle in 2007. But here I was, somewhere in the Canadian wilderness skiing in -16degrees [and thankfully the wind had died down]. Surprisingly I wasn’t cold. Yes, my face burnt. Yes, I couldn’t feel my toes. Yes, the snot in my nose was frozen, but no, I was not cold – especially after cross-country skiing for 10minutes. It was the most strenuous activity I have done in a long time. It involved coordination I often lack, the skis felt like a millimetre thick and suddenly snow plowing down the smallest of declines was terrifying. A snow plow?! I’ve been skiing for 5 years and I was unable to snowplow?!

Just as I was mastering the art we reached the midway hut. I was thankful – I was sweating like a pig [Side note: do pigs actually sweat or is it just a saying like ‘slept like a baby’ with knowledge babies wake 2 or 3 times a night?]. After a drink and snack break we set out for the clubhouse. Suddenly I was cold. The once warm gloves were now sweat soaked and ice cold. My fingers were quickly losing all sensation. Stopping to crack some hand warmers, sensation slowly return as a slow burn with the thawing of my fingers. And with cheeky post-ski treat of chips and gravy, I had survived.

The following week I was in Vancouver and it was snowing there too. While Whistler had ‘artic wind outflow’ warnings, Vancouver dropped to -10. But after almost a week of freezing temperatures I was prepared. The ice burn and constant sniffling was becoming habit. One morning I decided it would be fun to go for a hike. It was only -5 degrees, some rainfall had melted the snow and it was perfect. After a suspension bridge over a river and 20 minutes down a snow-dusted track, I had only seen 3 people. The river was beautiful and I ducked off the track to take some photos. The river stones above the water line were covered in an inch of snow, while the rushing water was a dark shade of aqua. The only thing to overshadow the breath-taking scene was a single line of footprints as I returned to the track. Although I had passed more dogs than people, there weren’t enough footprints to belong to them. Then it dawned on me, it wasn’t a dog and it wasn’t a human. It was a bear. Welcome to Canada! I’m still thankful I saw the sign of a bear not the bear itself. Spot the fish out of water now – a lonely Australian hiking alone in the Canadian wilderness.

By the time I arrived in Portland [via. Seattle], the positive temperatures were pleasant. No need for a beanie or gloves. No need for an extra jumper. A simple shirt and coat was sufficient. Departing my hotel in Portland at 5.30am, a thin cardigan held up again the 7 degrees just fine. But, ah, the joy when I arrived in Hawaii. 27 sweet degrees. I was happy.

I had survived my North American winter [Well, one month of it anyway!]


One Response to “BRRR…it’s cold in here.”

  1. vyorkston February 2, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    “Snow is a legitimate reason for cold-ness.” Love it And I quite agree.

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