Earbuds in, podcast on, Strava started, headlamp pointed bravely into the dark. I yank my gloves on over already frozen hands and shuffle gingerly down the snow-covered hill that leads to my regular route. The snow is blowing so hard that I have to turn my headlamp off in spite of the dark to avoid being blinded by the flashing flakes that are zipping past the beam and into my face. Without the beam I run through the shadowy landscape of windblown snow dunes, guided by the moonlight and the orange glow of the truck chain-up station, alternating between slipping through deeply piled snow and feeling my ice cleats scrape against the sections whisked bare by the constant wind.
My wind blocking tights and jacket are keeping the worst of the cold from reaching my core, but my toes and face ache as I push against the headwind on the ‘out’ part of my route. The windy struggle finally gives way to solitude and quiet as I turn onto the snowshoe trail portion of my route, where the fir trees soften the wind and I stop shivering long enough to appreciate the snow-reflected glow of the half-full moon.
I savor a few minutes of quiet, and then turn around, feeling the wind return, now pushing firmly at my back. My headlight is back on now, with the snowflakes catching only the periphery of the light as they blow around the sides of my head and out into the swirling night in front of me. I see one other runner out in the night, a headlamp and flashing feet bobbing through the dark – I laugh to myself, surprised to see someone else out battling the elements instead of doing the sensible thing and finding a treadmill, or better yet a cozy couch on which to spend the evening.
No, instead we’re out here choking on inhaled snowflakes and trying to avoid catastrophe on the slippery patches of ice and snow. We dream of hard-earned hot cocoa, of the next momentary mid-run respite from the brutal wind, or perhaps of the strength building in our legs that, in several months, may carry us up warm, sun-dappled trails. But no, the thought of summer is too much – with several months of blizzards still to come I must not dream of shorts and sunshine and runs where nothing aches with cold. Instead, I focus on the utter hilarity of my arctic-explorer get-up, the added challenge and forced focus created by the snow and wind, and the treat of allowing myself a stream of music and words to replace the landscape views now hidden in the winter evening darkness. It is time for persevering through the ice and dark, the season for re-discovering the chilly beauty of moonlight on snow.
I shove the summer dreams out of my mind and into the blizzard, leaving them to wait buried in the snow, and carry on towards the promise of a warm kitchen, hot cocoa, and a post-run winter evening rendered happily drowsy by the miles and elements.