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Monday, 24 March 2014

Hogtown Diaries, Part Three (and featuring a guest appearance from The Hammer): Fox-trotting with the Polar Vortex

Growing up in England, snow was a rare bird. When it came the nation rejoiced. Well the kids did. A chance to frolic and play in a new kind of nature, raid the carrot drawer for that snowman’s nose ~ and often bag a day off school.

Even those who loved school danced on the (snowcapped) rooftops, secretly craving a break-from-the-norm. The adults enjoyed the scenery, watching their kids play and chuckling at the mandatory traffic chaos. Providing they weren’t caught up in it.

One way or another, the excitement was palpable.

But the snow spells didn’t last. We blinked and, as fast as they came, they’d gone again.

In Canada, of course, winters are ~ on the whole ~ a different story.

My first seven years as an adopted Canuck were out west, where B.C.’s rainy winters mirrored England’s. A little depressing at times, but more a mental test.

Out east, as people would often remind me, the climate’s a tad cooler.

As I can now verify.

In a nutshell... it’s been FREAKIN’ COLD! Granted this season’s been one for the ages ~ but still. Nothing could quite prepare me for what lay in store.

~  ~  ~

I mainly travel by foot right now ~ so daily tasks, such as grabbing groceries, have come with unique challenges.

This past December and January I was living in downtown Toronto, on the crust of Little Italy. Scuttling back from Mirvish Village during a blizzard, lugging several bags of shopping as the bone-gnawingly chilly wind howled like a lonely werewolf and mucus gushed from each nostril like a Niagara fall, forced me to dig deep. First for a foot-long Kleenex. Then an extra layer of resolve.

I felt my fingers turning blue as my army camouflage Honest Ed specials caved under the pressure of keeping my hands warm. Or at least a degree of blood circling.

Things rose to a new level on a recent trip in my new hometown, Hamilton. Power-walking back from Fortino’s, I made a restaurant pit-stop and howled in agony as I defrosted my durable digits. The eatery’s owners must have wondered who on earth they’d (very kindly) ushered into their washroom. This was a new kind of washing.

I’m an avid runner and train almost daily. Aside from a trio of ice-heavy days during the Polar Vortex stretch, I’ve braved the elements ~ however Arctic-like they’ve been.

Ploughing through the teeth of a freezing flurry, my eyelashes often formed icicles during an easy 10. I had to prise them open with garden shears after surviving the expedition, squirrels scampering for their lives as mini-shards of ice pinged randomly into the cityscape.

On two successive runs in December I grew a stalactite on my chin ~ C for chin as opposed to ceiling ~ after drooling for umpteen miles into my freezing balaclava. I resembled a 17th Century poet who’d time-travelled back to the Ice Age.

~  ~  ~

I’ve been in Hamilton over seven weeks now and am impressed how the city handles the cold. Rolling up its metaphorical sleeves and embracing the challenge.

During my first week we had a fresh batch of snow. Gearing up for a run as darkness fell, I expected challenging conditions. How wrong I was. Most of the floodlit streets were bordered by blissfully ploughed sidewalks. Like freshly shorn sheep or beautifully sculpted art. I’d had a magical route carved out for me by a generous blend of man and machine working in orchestral-like harmony. It was very cool. In every sense.

Our biggest foe, of course, in tackling the freezing froid is the ice. If you’re good on skates it helps. I grew up gliding around on studs (cleats) ~ not blades ~ but have tapped into my inner Charles Hamelin (during his first Sochi 2014 event) these past few months to develop Olympic-like prowess on the slippery stuff. It’s served me well.

To the Ontarians, and every other Canadian province whose folk strap shovels to their backs and stoically endure these eyeball-popping spells year-after-year, I salute you.

Because, make no bones about it, these winters are an endurance sport ~ and this one’s been an Arctic version of America’s Badwater Ultra-Marathon (thankfully our Witney Portal ~ spring ~ is now in sight... PLEASE GOD!).

But I’m glad I’ve gone toe-to-toe with it.

Experiencing my first full-ON Ontarian winter I’ve found out what I’m made of.

That skinny white boys from Her Majesty’s fair isle can stoically adapt.

And that you can look bad-ass in tights.

Providing you add a balaclava or three.