Friday, January 14, 2011

Winter - The cold, hard truth!

Slush, ice, cold hands and feet - what's not to love about winter? (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

I always know what Super Bowl is coming up, even if I can’t read Roman numerals all that well, because it’s whatever age I am at the time. This year, for instance, will be Super Bowl 45 (XLV – that one’s easy).

This year also marks the 45th year of my life spending winter north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

I think it’s pretty safe to say I like the Super Bowl better.

I’m not really sure what happened, or when my disdain for winter actually began. Maybe it was the Cleveland Browns game I had to photograph back in 1985 when the wind chill was 59 degrees below zero. Or maybe it was sometime before that. Whatever, now I pretty much spend November through March searching for reasons why I should enjoy six hours of daylight, perpetual gray skies, cold feet, cracked lips, and static cling.

So far the only thing I’ve come up with is this: it’s really fun to karate kick frozen chunks of snow and ice off the fender walls of my car.

Cold day in hell, or Cleveland, Ohio - what's the difference? (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

It’s not that I haven’t tried to enjoy winter; I even went so far as to take not just one, but two fall/winter internships in Muskegon, MI. -- the poster child for lake-effect snow! (In a typical Muskegon winter, 48-60 inches of snow isn’t all that uncommon, and, in fact, is somewhat expected).

Folks in Muskegon not only embraced winter, they actually looked forward to it. They even went so far as to build a luge run at Muskegon State Park, becoming, perhaps, the only non-Winter Olympic town in the world to have such a thing.

There also was this crazy ice fishing phenomenon that seemed to infect the entire town, or at least the men. Divorce rates were startlingly low in Muskegon, I think mostly because every man in town spent the better part of winter holed up in an ice shanty drinking beer and catching toxic perch on Muskegon Lake. Death rates, on the other hand, were startlingly high, probably because most of those same men often refused to quit drinking beer long enough get their shanties off the lake until sometime between the end of March and “way too late.” (There also were a fair number of snowmobile riders coming home without heads thanks to unseen clotheslines and barbed wire fences ridden into at great amounts of speed.)

In hindsight, maybe I should have given those winter hobbies a try. But I didn’t really see the point in ice fishing and I wasn’t about to go flying down some man-made frozen tube at 800 mph on nothing but a skimpy little sled being steered by my feet, nor was the thought of being decapitated on top a Ski-Do all that enticing. The only thing I really got out of my two winters in Muskegon was the notoriety that comes with being the sixth car in a 12-car pile while driving in a white out on US 31 near Spring Lake.

Welcome to beautiful Muskegon - take my word for it, if you could see it, it would be beautiful. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

You’d think that after being stuck in the middle of what looked like an automobile ice cube tray, I would have sought greener, or at least warmer, pastures, but no, like an idiot, I swept the remains of my Ford Escort into a dustpan and moved even further north to Midland.

Midland winters were nothing at all like Muskegon’s - they were worse!

At least Muskegon had snow that was pretty. Midland had snow that was pretty ugly. Sure, every now and then they’d get one of those postcard snowfalls that sticks to tree branches and makes you want to sit by the fireplace in a turtleneck and drink hot cocoa, but for the most part it was just dry and icy and blasted your face like 100-grit sandpaper in bitter-cold wind.

Midland’s topography didn’t help much either. Apart from the Rocky Mountains, there really wasn’t much to block the wind, so it was fairly miserable most of the time. The only nice thing I can say about Midland winters was that I only had to endure three of them before I finally got the hell out of there and moved south … to Ann Arbor!

Once I moved to Ann Arbor, winter took on a whole new meaning because that’s when my first kid was born. Fortunately for me, she was born in late fall just before winter hit, and since I wasn’t going to be doing much for the better part of that first year beyond changing diapers and picking gooey Cheerios off the floor, I’m pretty sure that particular winter didn’t bother me much. (Apart, of course, from the fact it was too cold to open the windows and air out the accumulating and somewhat overwhelming stench of roughly 1,600 fully-loaded Huggies).

It wasn’t until all three of my kids were born and walking independently (pretty much my entire 30’s) that I even knew what season it was. That’s when it dawned on me that I may again have to venture out into the world of ice and slush and really dirty, salt-sprayed windshields – you know, the completely opaque kind that always come on impossibly sunny days when you’re fresh out of wiper solvent. (Is there anything worse, or more embarrassing than pulling off the road to scoop up a fresh armload of snow to toss on your dirty windshield in an effort to clean them off and see where you’re going?)

Whose kids are these anyway? (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

Oddly enough, it turns out my kids love winter - especially my son. I think he might even be part Eskimo. He was born in the winter, maybe that’s why. Whatever the reason, a couple of years ago he told me it was his favorite time of the year. He even got me to thinking that I might have liked it too at one time… probably when I was 8. Certainly it was before I ever had to drive in it, shovel it, or scrape it off the car windows every morning. Yeah, it was kind of fun … I guess.

The past few winters I’ve honestly been trying to conjure up at least one positive feeling about being cold. But it hasn’t been easy. Two years ago, at the suggestion of my middle daughter, I even went so far as to pull off the dumbest-ass stunt of my life by jumping into Ford Lake with a bunch of other idiots on Valentine’s Day.

Most of them had been drinking all day as a way to try and parlay hypothermia into something fun. Me? I’d been drinking all day too - hot chocolate. I figured storing two or three gallons piping hot cocoa in my ready-to-burst bladder would provide a nice blanket of warmth around my midsection once released in the frozen lake. I had no idea urine could freeze that quickly. It didn’t help matters any when one of the volunteers pulling me out of the lake told me the water was so polluted he wouldn’t jump in it in the middle of the summer, much less the winter.

Get out of the way, I gotta go! (Photo by Ella Horwedel)

It took me a while to feel any part of my body that was more than six inches from my torso after the plunge, but eventually I got most of the feeling back, if not my senses, because last year I decided it was time, once again, for the “if you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em” motto to take over the common sense part of my brain. The end result was a broken right elbow I obtained in my effort to beat the Wright brother’s record for sustained flight … only using a plastic sled instead of an airplane.

My 37-second flight off a snow ramp through the skies above Veteran’s Memorial Park was a good one – even by kid standards, but the next three months of trying to wipe my ass with my non-dominant hand were not.

I bet the Wright brothers never broke their elbows flying the Kittyhawk, huh! (X-Ray by the University of Michigan Medical Center)

Now I’ve sworn off polar plunges and sledding (not to mention skating, and for the most part, shoveling). The only thing I haven’t sworn off, I suppose, is swearing. Really, it’s the only thing about winter I look forward to anymore, probably because the constant stream of obscenities spewing out of my mouth is the only thing keeping me warm.

I guess you might say that being cold is really, truly what I hate most about winter - that, and a lack of sure footing. If I just had warmth and traction, I’d probably love it. The problem is, the older I get, the colder I get, so these days, I pretty much live in a perpetual hoodie … and gloves … and a coat … and a stocking cap – even when I’m inside! It’s gotten so bad that lately I’ve started growing a beard as soon as the temperature drops below 60 degrees.

It’s not that I like being hot either. Hot summer days can be just as nauseatingly cruel. But how many of those do we really have? And heat is just inconvenient; it doesn’t actually physically hurt the way cold does.

Being cold is painful. Your fingers and toes never get so cold you can’t feel them. You can always feel them. They ache like hell, even if they are numb. To make matters worse, they hurt even more when you run them under warm water. It’s a no-win situation!

I just wish it was a no-winter situation!

Signing off until Spring! (Photo by Lon Horwedel)


  1. Tell me that's hot chocolate... or tea!
    Funny article on winter. And I second that emotion.

  2. Lon- suck it up and grow a pair. You just have to find gloves with hand warmers, and heated socks. Have you tried snowmobiling? Let Mark or Paul take you out. They'll keep it under 50 if you want. By the way, Loved your MI hat.
    Please don't eat the yellow snow.

  3. The picture with the caption "Slush, ice, cold hands and feet ..." is awesome!