Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Big Chill

Along with much of the rest of the country, Northwest Oregon is experiencing record-breaking cold. When joined with the infamous Gorge Winds that I have written of before, this makes for a wind chill factor of minus12 degrees which is right on the cusp of where frost bite will set in rather quickly. Undeterred, Phil and I donned long johns and our Columbia Sportswear gear (thanks, Andy) and ventured forth for the first hands-on (“feet-on”) field trip for our Friends of the Columbia Gorge Hike Leader Training.

Driving up Highway 84 this morning, my sturdy SUV was being whipped all over the road with wind gusts of up to 50 mph. At Catherine Creek parking lot, we exited the warm car into the rather frigid morning, layered up, and shouldered our packs. After a short period of milling around and commenting on each others’ hats, we took off. Nineteen hikers in two groups warming up as we hiked along different routes to the same destination. Our group was defined as those who had done six miles or more during the past week and were able to keep up a brisk pace. The Wimpy Group were the strollers who took a shorter less steep trail. As the day moved toward noon and we moved toward The Arch, the wind died down to a stiff breeze and some of the many layers of clothing became unnecessary.

The groups met up at noon and at the lunch break, we stretched out on the ground and ate our meal at leisure, no one in a hurry to get back on the trail. We all agreed that it was a good thing that the hike was not cancelled as had been discussed yesterday when the winds were really blowing. We all felt intrepid and able to embrace the big chill.

It is important for me to add that you should not try this at home. At least not without the proper gear and a plan to cut things short if any of the group experiences any symptoms of hypothermia or other ill-effects. The admonition to seniors to stay inside and warm is probably good advice for the majority of folks who are out of condition and unused to cold weather.

But, after walking every below freezing day of a long winter in Osceola, I felt I was on a springtime stroll today. I didn’t even wear the giant down Cabela coat. That was an absolutely required garment in Missouri. I left behind the fur-lined boots and the giant boxing glove style mittens. My friend back there and I used to meet on the street near my house and barely recognize each other under all the piled on clothes. We knew who it was primarily because we were the only ones brave enough to venture out. Today was cold for Oregon but not so much for me. Nevertheless, there are cold warnings for tonight and records are being broken for this time of year. So tomorrow I will stay in and have a toasty Sunday.


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