Thursday, December 25, 2014

All I Want for Christmas is a Little Snow

A white Christmas is not just a line from a song or a Hollywood-esque, commercial vision for me. It’s something that I grew up with. My family would spend the holiday vacation on the farm with our grandparents and relatives, feeding cattle and building snow forts.

One winter vacation, when I was running on the high school cross country and track team, I went for a run in the freshly fallen snow. I ran several miles up the road and past the neighboring farm. By the time I turned to come back my tracks had vanished beneath a fresh carpet of powder. When I finished the run, my hair was covered in a layer of white dust and my proud, teenage goatee was coated in my own frozen breath.

It was an amazing experience, running alone in completely baffled silence through the thickly falling flakes. It was also an experience that I would not repeat for many years. Through several moves, and Army dictated adventures, I would not enjoy very many white Christmases for more than a decade.

Until now.

Char and I flew to Wyoming for the Christmas holiday to see her family before we left the states for a three-year extended vacation overseas.

Ok, pretty much everything I do is one form of a vacation or other.

The weather reports looked pretty solid to bring us some new snow on Christmas Day. When we woke up, sure enough, it was snowing. There was a solid two inches already sticking on the ground.

Yup, that's a white Christmas, alright.
I got what I wanted for Christmas, so I decided to unwrap my gift the best way I know how.

Char and I slipped on some winter gear, prepped for the mid-20-degree temperature waiting for us, and took off down the road.

The road out of town led up into the hills out of the valley. My lungs were burning from the extra 6,000 feet of elevation and the steady climbing of the lonely, snow-covered road.

That is a long and lonesome road when you're on foot.
 A mile into the run I stopped at the wild horse holding facility to see the horses and burros milling about in corrals, thick and fuzzy with their winter coats. The neigh of a wild horse is like nothing I’ve heard before. Imagine a horse whinny and a pig squeal mashed together and you’ve just about got it.

The road continued to wind slowly up into the hills and the silence grew more profound, more complete. The sounds of the city behind us, of people waking up to a wintery Christmas morning, were obscured behind thick curtains of falling flakes.

I must admit, I find supreme joy in the solitary enterprise of running. The solitude brought on by the snowstorm, along with the physical challenge of running through snowdrifts, left me ecstatic.

There’s something special and moving about leaving tracks in freshly fallen snow where no one else has yet tread.

Close to my turnaround time I came to what looked like a mountain rising up from the road. I just had to climb it. Slowly, I trotted carefully up the slick trail towards the peak, picking my way carefully across the snowdrifts and subtly hidden rocks. Twice I stopped to catch my breath and enjoy the view back into the valley, my lungs were on fire and my legs were starting to give out. At the top, I realized my mountain was only the edge of the prairie that sits above the town nestled in the river valley. The view was pretty awesome, even though the snow was now falling much heavier and quickly swallowing up the surrounding landscape.

Catching up to Charla, we could barely
see each other from a distance.
During most of the run, I had felt quite warm and even a little sweaty. Now, the wind was picking up and the flakes were falling hard and fast. It was time to go home. I started to pick my way down the hill back to the road when I realized that I might be in serious trouble.

One of the most important rules about running in the snow: Don’t lose your own tracks, or you won’t know how to get home. And I came real close to doing just that. For a minute or two I wandered across the face of the hill, searching the snowdrifts before I found my own trail that led me back to my road home. Getting lost in a snowstorm would have been pretty embarrassing. And a little cold.

The run home was only slightly less peaceful with wind and snow blowing into my face and clogging up my glasses with ice. But, it was all downhill, and I made good time following footprints left by Charla, trotting along in the snow somewhere ahead of me.

Her hair is completely frozen.
I couldn't help but laugh.
We came together just a few blocks from the end, and jogged slowly together, savoring this silent winter wonderland that we had been given.

It really did feel like the empty road and falling snow was a Christmas gift, just for us. And we made sure to unwrap it right away.

How else do you finish a run this awesome?