As those of us in the North endure the coldest and darkest days of the year, everything seems to shut down. Some of this is a good thing – the holiday season brings with it plenty of time away from work and school. But some of it is rubbish as well – I am seeing drastically fewer bikers and walkers out there, and parents are even driving their kids to school to protect them from my area’s not-very-punishing winter.
Last month, a friend of mine reported his total biking miles to commemorate “the end of the biking season”, as if there were some imaginary and tragic season when we had to stop using our bikes. And at the risk of causing a domestic dispute, I must admit I am dismayed to notice that my own wife has started using the climate controlled motorized throne for her weekly grocery run, despite the fact that we live only a mile from the grocery store. Even YOU might find yourself spending more time indoors in the winter, taking shelter from the discomfort that lurks outside.
Beware of this tendency, for it is a perfect example of Bullshit Lifestyle Creep. You experience discomfort or inconvenience, and your efficient but misguided survival mechanisms kick in, gently nudging you to avoid the discomfort. You stay cozy inside, knitting on the couch or watching a quality series on Netflix, and the winter passes safely by outside your window. And you miss all the benefits she has to offer.
So in case you forgot, let me remind you: going outside is FANTASTIC. Especially in cold or rainy weather.
Sure, you already knew that a stroll outside on a beautiful day is a good thing. Everyone does that, and many of us fly great distances just to be able to have the experience during a Northern winter. But it turns out it is not the warm sunshine that is making that experience so worthwhile – that’s just the comfortable and convenient layer on top. The real benefit is just the fact that you are outside, walking, moving, and working on things as you are meant to be doing. And as it turns out, all of these things are possible in any weather, and they are even more rewarding in adverse conditions.
When you go out in cold and darkness, it is an adventure. You have to prepare in advance. It actually takes some brainpower to strategically design your outfit, because you could die if you spent too long out there without clothes. Do you need a hat? Gloves? Thermal underwear or a wind layer? A mobile phone and flashlight, just in case? Awesome.
You step outside and suddenly your world expands dramatically. There’s the black sky far above.
Says the moon as it looks straight down at you. Do you realize that thing is 250,000 miles away? And yet it hovers perfectly in the sky, because it’s really whipping around your planet, held by a quarter million mile gravitational bungie cord. That is infinitely more amazing than whatever you were doing before you stepped out for this walk.
But wait, look at all those stars scattered everywhere else. Some of them are really planets in our own solar system – Venus is a big one at 100 million miles away, but the stars of the Big Dipper are 100 light years away, which is more like 590 trillion miles. And yet there they are, presented for your amusement as you stand there to take it all in.
If you’re lucky, it is damned cold out here. The air bites just a bit at your well-protected cheeks and your mouth can shoot out a good 3-foot plume of steam when you exhale. You start to walk.
Nobody else is out tonight. As you travel down the silent street, you can see the ridiculous lights flashing in the window of every home and apartment. These suckers are all wasting away their precious time watching TV, while you are out here being alive. In our future Badass Utopia, this experience will be different. Everyone will be outside, reverently taking in the beauty of the night and the freshness of the air. Every night will be like a Midnight Mass, with the Cosmos as the host. But for now, you’ve got the place to yourself. You are the pioneer of the evening walk.
This meditative feeling you have is like hitting the mental reset button. All of your stresses, worries and bad moods become less with each step you take. If you do this often enough, they will be gone altogether. But it’s not just the machinery atop your neck that is getting a tuneup, the rest of your body is jumping for joy as well.
Every one of your physical systems is coming alive. Clean blood is circulating through, healing the pipes from the damages of sitting down too long. Fat cells are being drained and deflated, while muscles are pumping up. And the exposure to cold air is having mysterious positive effects on your metabolism and everything else, best summed up as General Badassity.
You might even break into a little jog at this point. The jog feels so good that you keep it up for a while. And just to prove you’re really alive you decide to SPRINT for this next little bit of your journey, just until you reach those two trees way up there. Everything is whipping by now – the air is roaring in your ears and your eyes are watering from the cold wind. You can think of those as tears of joy from your cardiovascular system. You run out of sprint power and return to walking, with heart pumping and steam drifting from all exposed skin, and turn back toward home.
As you return to your warm, bright home you are the hero. Alive, glowing, creative and invincible. You are a mysterious force to anybody who chose the wimpier path of staying inside or taking the car. You are someone who has finally figured out how life is meant to be lived.
Now grab a pen and paper and list a few additional ways you’re going to make your life better from now on.